As promised, here’s the video of me eating a fried spider in Cambodia
More videos from Cambodia, Indonesia, and Costa Rica to come soon!
As promised, here’s the video of me eating a fried spider in Cambodia
More videos from Cambodia, Indonesia, and Costa Rica to come soon!
On Saturday, March 6th, after a long day of classes in the morning, afternoon, and evening, 5 of us English teachers (3 girls 2 guys) took a tuk-tuk to Phnom Penh and went to the bars by the Boeung Kak Lake (big backpacker area). We hung around the area having a great time until around 3am when we went to the Heart of Darkness, one of Phnom Penh’s most popular clubs. We had a blast dancing with the security guards and laughing at all the ugly old white guys with their hookers. We stayed till closing at about 4:30am. We figured since we were still so awake we’d walk to the river to watch the sunrise.
We didn’t make it to the river. As we were walking and laughing, all in a great tipsy mood, something terrible happened. A motorbike drove by and grabbed the purse of one of the other girls to try to steal it, but the strap didn’t break. She was lifted up, swept along, and slammed into the ground, landing on her shoulder and head. I didn’t see it because I was ahead of her, but I turned around when one of the guys yelled her name. She was lying in the road and was unconscious until we ran to her and shook her awake. We sat her up and the other girl and I held her up supporting her head while one of the guys got a tuk-tuk.
The tuk-tuk driver took us to Calmette Hospital, a Cambodian hospital where they don’t speak English much at all. I wanted to go to the International SOS Medical Center, a clinic for tourists where they speak perfect English and have Western doctors, but the other 3 in the group decided we should stay where we were. We communicated to the doctors that her head hurt and she couldn’t hear out of one ear. She was very confused, but conscious, and bleeding out of her ear at this point. The doctors decided to do a cat scan, this cost $115 and we all pooled our money to pay for it, but we were still $3 short and they wouldn’t do it. I guess we found another $3, I don’t know I was on my way to the SOS clinic to see if they were open (they were, they’re 24 hours), but anyway they did the scan.
The cat scan results came back and the doctors said everything was ok. There was one more bill to pay and I waited in the bill line forever and started getting upset because I was very frustrated, worried, overwhelmed, dehydrated and still drunk by now. It was 8:30am. The 4 others went back to SCAO and I went back to Okay Guesthouse.
We all slept the entire next day.
They day after that, Monday, March 8th, I went to SCAO and the girl still wasn’t feeling well at all. Her head still hurt a lot and she still couldn’t hear, so she decided to go to the SOS clinic. The doctors there took her injury very seriously and decided to medevac her to Bangkok in a private plane that night. In Bangkok she got another cat scan and it turns out she has a skull fracture.
She’s fine now and currently recovering in the super posh Bangkok hospital, but man was it a scary experience!
Lesson learned: Do NOT walk around in the streets that late at night, no matter how short the distance is or how safe you feel in a group. This can happen to anyone. Be careful; we weren’t careful enough.
For the past week I have been volunteering every day at the Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO). SCAO is both an orphanage housing 19 children and an English school where about 100 village children total each attend 1 of 4 English classes every day except Sunday. SCAO charges nothing for the classes; it is a non-profit NGO. Located 7km North of Phnom Penh in Boeng Chhouk village, SCAO is run by Mr. Sath Samith who is one of the kindest people I have ever met.
One of the lessons for the Lets Go 1 and 2 kids. English words with Khmer translation written next to them. Notice that coat, jacket, pajamas, and sweater are all the same word in Khmer. It doesn’t really get cold in Cambodia….
The 19 children, Mr. and Mrs. Samith, their wonderful cook Poly, and usually 5-7 volunteer English teachers all live together in a 4 bedroom house. Hanging out there is amazing; I have never seen a more cohesive and loving family. The children range in age from 3 to 20. Most are from poor single-parent families that can’t afford to support them. Many of the older children lost parents in the fight against the Khmer Rouge. 2 of the children are Mr. and Mrs. Samith’s own.
SCAO always needs volunteers to teach the English classes. If you want to volunteer it is best to first call ahead and then come sit in on one of the classes and meet the kids. If you like it you are welcome to come volunteer as much as you want, and even stay at the center if you choose, after talking with Mr. Samith of course.
SCAO also needs donations of money, food, clothing, and school supplies. If you visit you can also buy a tshirt, or a wallet or purse made by students at the school.
If nothing else, just drop by to play with and read to the kids for a couple hours. They love having a chance to practice their English!
Phnom Penh is an excellent place to buy cheap knockoff clothes and accessories, beautiful fabrics, and Cambodian souvenirs. The best market for everything is the Russian Market in the south part of town. I visited this market about 5 times and bought, among other things, $2 tshirts, $1 tanktops $4 purses, $4 skirts, $3 dresses, an $8 Central America on a Shoestring Lonely Planet, and a lovely stone statue of an Apsara dancer for $25. The Russian Market, so called because the Russians used to shop there, is also known as Psar Toul Tom Pong. Don’t confuse it with the Orussey Market, they are totally different and are quite far away from each other. Apparently back in the day the Russian Market was a place you could buy literally everything: guns, drugs, children, you name it. Now it is an innocent market full of bargains for tourists and locals alike. It gets going at around 8 in the morning and is totally closed at 6pm.
Another great market for clothes, bags and shoes is the Central Market. It’s in a large ugly yellow art deco nightmare of a building in the center of town. I bought a ton of clothes here, but be warned: you won’t find much if you don’t wear small sizes. I wear an extra small shirt in the US and I bought larges here. They do have a range of sizes for men, though. The Central Market is really big and confusing to navigate. I still have no idea exactly how much of it I saw on my 3 trips there. It also opens around 8am and starts closing between 5 and 6pm.
On the weekends you can go to the Night Market. The Night Market is fairly new and is aimed at tourists, so bargain hard for low prices. Anything you see at the Night Market can also be found at Russian Market or Central Market, often for a better price. Located on the Riverfront near Wat Phnom, The Night Market begins setup around 5pm and starts winding down at 9pm.
There are also many traditional markets which are great for buying fruit, ugly shoes, or getting your nails done for $1; assuming you can stand the overpowering fish smell! These markets are where Cambodians go to shop for themselves. They are full of excellent photo opportunities, as well as stalls selling those delicious little bananas I have become addicted to. Take a wander through at least one, but be prepared to hold your breath, the smell of meat and fish can be quite strong.
We had an all day island boat trip on Thursday, February 25th. At 8:30am we boarded a little boat and cruised for 1 hour to Koh Preaus. There we snorkeled a bit, but it wasn’t very good. There wasn’t much to see plus the mask provided was very scratched up, and I kept getting stung by jellyfish so I gave up after about 20 minutes.
Next we boated for 30 minutes to Koh Ta Kiev. This island is blessed with a beautiful deserted white sand beach and a waveless ocean like a bathtub that is still waist deep even 60 feet out. We spent about 2.5 hours here swimming and sunbathing.
Lunch was included on the island. There was grilled tofu for me, grilled fish for everyone else, rice, salad, baguettes, and coke in a bottle, yummy!
The boat ride home took about 1 hour 20 minutes. From the boat we got a good view of some other islands and of Otres beach. It’s a very long deserted white sand beach. I would definitely check it out if I had more time here.
Mom and I had sunset drinks on Ochheuteal Beach (aka Guilt Beach). The cheap $1.50 cocktails and $0.50 beers are sort of the only reason to go to this beach, besides that it’s the closest to most hotels.
Tomorrow we are heading back to Phnom Penh and having our final dinner with our Intrepid group. Mom is going home in a couple days and I’ll be staying in SE Asia until March 15th.
In Kampot on the morning of Tuesday, February 23rd, there was a giant monsoon rain storm with super loud thunder and a lot of rain that flooded the streets for a while. Mom and I trudged on to breakfast anyway. I can’t go without coffee! We went to a guesthouse called The Magic Sponge. They had a restaurant/bar, free internet, and minigolf. Weird, I know.
We took a short 2 hour minivan ride to Sihanoukville. 20 minutes after leaving I realized I had forgotten my computer charger in the hotel room Alan, our group leader, called and arranged to have it sent to our new hotel on another van that was about to leave. It showed up in the afternoon and only cost me $2, how awesome is that? Thanks so much Alan!
When we arrived in Sihanoukville we had an included lunch at the Starfish Cafe which is part of the Starfish Project, an NGO that provides access to social services to Cambodians in need. I had some fantastic fruit salad with muesli and yogurt for $3.50. Best I’ve had so far. I also bought a shirt for $6.
In the afternoon mom and I went to Ochheuteal Beach which I have decided to rename Guilt Beach. It is very crowded, like Hawaii crowded, and you are constantly getting hassled and harassed by kids and adults selling crap. It’s not an enjoyable place to hang out, at all.
The next day, Wednesday February 24th, mom and I took a tuk-tuk to Sokha Resort’s private beach. We hung out there for an hour an a half till we were kicked out. The beach was nice, but definitely had an uppity resort vibe.
Next we took a tuk-tuk to Independence Beach which was AMAZING! It’s a lovely wide white sand beach with plenty of lounge chairs, very few people, and a nice restaurant where we had lunch. I highly recommend this beach. We spent the rest of the day there, swimming, sunning, and reading.
For dinner we went to a place called Moon Shack III where I had bbq tofu with fries, salad, garlic bread, peanuts, and 2 beers for $3! It was very tasty and so cheap because there’s a bit of a restaurant price war going on.
Tomorrow we are boating to some of the nearby islands!
We had a looooong travel day on Sunday, February 21st. First we took a 4 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, the highlight of which was me eating a fried spider and washing it down with a beer mom bought me cause I earned it They taste just like weird greasy french fries. Kind of good actually.
We had a 3 hour break in Phnom Penh and mom and I spent it at the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club), an excellent but expensive place to hang out. We had a nice lunch of beers, rice, vegetable spring rolls, and free wifi. We were back on the bus for another 5 hours to Kampot.
On Monday, February 22nd, we went to nearby Blissful Guesthouse for breakfast. Finally, a big cup of coffee!
The rest of the morning and the afternoon was spent going on a tour of the Kampot countryside with an insufferable tour guide that could not stop repeating himself. First we saw some salt fields but there wasn’t much to see as they were flooded from the rain we had that morning.
Next we went to the Phnom Chhnork caves. Inside one of the caves is a well preserved brick temple that was built in the 7th century.
We had a herd of preteen schoolboys following us around during our hike to and from the caves. It was cute, but they were just following us around trying to be our tour guides so we’d pay them money. One picked me a flower, how sweet.
The view of the countryside from the cave was nice, but I’m sure it’s much better on a sunny day.
Next we went to a pepper plantation. Kampot is known for it’s pepper, and back when the French were in control every restaurant in France had to have Kampot pepper if the were to be consider of any quality. By this part of the tour some of us were getting fairly hot, hungry, and irritable. I tried to liven it up by eating a raw pepper seed off the plant. It tasted like pepper, surprise! Mom was so sick of the tour guide by this time she said “If I had a gun I’d shoot myself.”
Finally we went to Kep, a deserted old resort town that was quite the place for Cambodia’s rich back in the 50s. It has since been mostly abandoned and there are crumbling buildings everywhere. The beach isn’t very nice either, but apparently it never was. Back in its heyday white sand was shipped in from Sihanoukville to make its beaches nicer. We had a large included lunch here that was quite tasty. I spent the rest of our time in Kep reading in a hammock.
In the evening we went on a boat ride down the Kampot River and watched the lovely sunset.
Living on the river doesn’t mean you can’t have DirecTV!
Afterward I got a Seeing Hands massage for $5. Seeing Hands trains blind people to give massages and you can find one or two in almost every city. It was better than the massage I got in Siem Reap for sure.
On the morning of Saturday, February 20th, we made the 6 hour journey to Kampong Cham via bus. There were 2 stops along the way and I mostly slept and read.
We arrived and went to our local guide’s house for lunch in the afternoon. The food was fantastic and we gobbled it down since were all very hungry by then. For us vegetarians there was vegetable curry, vegetable fried noodles (they were pink noodles… yummy, though weird looking), fried mushrooms, and a really good sauteed vegetable dish. For desert we had those mini bananas, the only kind I will eat. It was all $5.
In the afternoon our group walked to the market so a few people could buy traditional scarves, like the one on this lady’s head:
The rest of the afternoon was spent on our bike ride over the bamboo bridge to a 20km long, 4km wide island with 100,000 inhabitants in the Mekong River. Every year in the dry season they build a bridge out of bamboo strong and big enough to hold a single car.
The people on the island grow tobacco, sesame, and peanuts, among other things. They take their goods over the bridge via horsecart to sell in markets.
Once again there were lots of adorable little kids running out and waving at us, yelling “hello!!!” and high fiving us as we rode by.
Our first stop was at a tobacco plantation. We looked around, talked to some cute kids, then went across the street to check out a temple. The kids followed us around and a lady in our group taught one of the little girls to shake hands and say “How do you do?”
We rode on to a house where they gave us some of the local fruit and baked sweet potatoes to eat. I played volley ball and jump rope with the little kids living there. I’m way out of practice with my jump rope, though…. One kid had a new toy: a battery-operated shiny gold buffalo that walked, moo’d, and had red evil eyes. They loved it.
After the bike ride we had dinner at a charity restaurant and turned in early. We were only in Kampong Cham for 1 day so I can’t say much about the town, other than I liked it alright. Tomorrow is a loooong travel day to Kampot via Phnom Penh.
On the morning of Friday, February 19th, we got up early at 4:15am and got on the bus at 5:15am to go to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. It was gorgeous! It was crowded but it didn’t matter, there were still excellent views.
We wandered around Angkor Wat for a couple hours while the crowds were small.
Eventually we came to the line to go up to the top terrace. They only let a certain number of people up at a time because the stairs up are steep and dangerous and it would get too crowded otherwise. There were guards turning people away for not wearing the proper attire (shoulders, belly, and knees covered). The view front the top was awesome.
We left Angkor Wat and rode the bus for 45 minutes to Banteay Srey, the women’s temple. It’s a small temple with amazing relief carvings.
On the way home we had a brief stop at the Landmine Museum ($2 admission).
In the evening mom donated blood at a children’s hospital.
Then we had massages and I did the fish massage where the little fish nibble your feet. It tickled A LOT. Tomorrow we are leaving Siem Reap for Kampong Cham.
Thursday, February 18th, was day 1 of temple touring. First we bought our mandatory temple passes. The price was $20 for 1 day, $40 for 2 days, or $60 for 7 days. The thing about these passes, though, is that they are sold by a Vietnamese hotel chain called Sokha Hotel Inc. Guards are posted at all the entrances to the temples checking passes, so you have to buy one to see the temples. BUT this company does nothing to maintain the temples! They just give 15% of their profits to the very corrupt Cambodian government and keep the rest for themselves. UNESCO maintains the temples. This hotel company just has a huge scam going on to make a ton of money. It’s sickening and I’m sorry I participated in it.
The temples were all lovely, of course. First we went to Preah Khan, which ended up being my favorite. Built in the late 12th century as a Buddhist monastery, it is filled with beautiful carvings, reliefs, trees growing out of the walls, and tons of passages, rooms, and courtyards to explore. We were with our Intrepid group and we kind of rushed through, only staying for an hour. This wasn’t enough for mom and I so we ditched the group and stayed for another hour. I’m glad we did; there was so much more to see!
Next we took a tuk-tuk to Bayon, the temple with all the carved stone faces. Bayon was also very cool, but I’m glad we spent more time at Preah Khan and less at Bayon. Also Buddhist and built in the 12th century, Bayon has 37 huge towers and almost all of them have 4 large faces carved on them. We ran into our group at Bayon so we got a free ride back to the hotel. Good timing.
We had a rest at the hotel and a walk for ice cream in the afternoon before heading out to Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is famous because it was the setting for the movie Tomb Raider, and it is unfortunatly overcrowded for the same reason. It’s a lovely temple, notable for the many trees still growing out of and over it, but the large crowds and recently installed wooden walkways really detract from the expierience.
For sunset we went to Pre Rup, a Hindu temple built in the late 10th century. It’s quite tall so it made for a nice place to watch the sunset, despite the many other tourists who had the same idea.
In the evening we had dinner at a place on Pub Street called the Temple Club where they had cheap drinks and a free traditional dancing show, a fine combination.
Tomorrow we’re getting up bright and early to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat.