Battambang to Siem Reap via River Boat

Posted in Cambodia on February 17th, 2010 by Vagablonding – Be the first to comment

Wednesday, February 17th, was mostly spent in transit via boat from Battambang to Siem Reap. At 7am we boarded a little boat with 2 rows of seats, a roof, and a tiny 4 foot tall squat bathroom so precarious I was the only one that dared to use it, which I did twice. I have good balance. We floated down the Battambang River for 5 hours; it was much more fun than I was expecting! We’re probably the last Intrepid group to go to Siem Reap by boat rather than by bus this season because the river is getting very low and we got stuck a few times. From our boat we saw a side of Cambodian life that few tourists get to see. The people that live on the river live in either little huts on stilts, floating huts, or their boats with rickety walls and a roof. They bathe in the river (which is filthy), wash their clothes and dishes in the river, and fish in the river to get their food.

Battambang River, Cambodia

Battambang River, Cambodia

Battambang River, Cambodia

Battambang River, Cambodia

Battambang River, Cambodia

Battambang River, Cambodia

Battambang River, Cambodia

Gas station - Battambang River, Cambodia

Battambang River, Cambodia

Battambang River, Cambodia

There were lots of ridiculously cute kids along the river that would run up to the edge of the water to wave at us and yell “bye bye!!!” I got quite the arm workout from all the waving. I’d post pics of them but I think I would get in trouble with the law since most of the kids were half or fully naked.

After 5 hours on the river we got to the Tonle Sap Lake. Tonle Sap lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and it is the reason the ancient Khmer civilization was centered at Angkor (and why the temples were built there). But from my vantage point on the boat, Tonle Sap Lake was large, brown, and boring. I took a picture for posterity.

Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

We crossed the lake in about an hour and were soon at the docks near Siem Reap.

Siem Reap docks, Cambodia

We got off the boat and onto a bus that took us to Siem Reap proper. I was tired so I spent the rest of the evening sleeping. Tomorrow is temple time!

Rice Rice Rice… Circus!

Posted in Cambodia on February 17th, 2010 by Vagablonding – 1 Comment

Tuesday, February 16th, was spent riding around in a tuk-tuk visiting all kinds of villages and wonderful charity centers around Battambang.

First we went to the Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO which takes in children and teaches them music, painting, computer animation, and circus performance. Some of the kids are housed, clothed, and fed there, and many others just come during the day. There are kids of all ages, from those who can just barely walk, to adults around age 22. It’s an excellent NGO, one of the best in Cambodia, and they are doing great work. Definitely don’t miss a visit if you’re ever in Battambang.

Music practice - Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO, Battambang, Cambodia

Kids - Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO, Battambang, Cambodia

Then we had a short stop at an orphanage where we met some cute kids.

Orphanage - Battambang, Cambodia

Orphanage - Battambang, Cambodia

Next we went to a village where bamboo sticky rice is made. I bought some, and as you can see below one of the tuk-tuk drivers wanted to steal it from me.

Bamboo sticky rice - Battambang, Cambodia

Hey pal, back off my sticky rice!

Bamboo sticky rice - Battambang, Cambodia

After that we went to a village where they make rice noodles. After being cooked the rice is made into a gooey paste.

Rice noodles - Battambang, Cambodia

Then the paste is pressed through little holes into boiling hot water.

Rice noodles - Battambang, Cambodia

The noodles are then rinsed in cool water and the noodles are ready to be sold.

Rice noodles - Battambang, Cambodia

We also visited a rice paper making village. Below you can see some drying on a rack.

Rice paper - Battambang, Cambodia

While there I made a little friend. She looked worried until she saw herself on the camera screen, then she was all smiles.

Girl - Battambang, Cambodia

Girl smiling - Battambang, Cambodia

We stopped at the Ptea Teuk Dong Street Family Center for a delicious lunch ($4). PTD takes in street families and abused women and teaches them vocational skills for 1 year including sewing, weaving, furniture making, food preparation, and agriculture. After a family completes the program they are given a plot of land with a small wooden house and start-up funds for a small business. Besides buying lunch I bought a super cute handmade purse for $5.

Lunch - Ptea Teuk Dong, Battambang, Cambodia

I had been feeling really dizzy all morning so mom and I ditched the rest of the tour and chilled out in the hotel for the afternoon. At 6:30pm we went back to the Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO for an hour long circus performance ($8). It was lots of fun. There are no animals, just people doing acrobatics and juggling. There were stories being acted out so I guess you could say it was like a play on uppers. The performers were very talented; the pictures don’t do them justice.

Circus - Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO, Battambang, Cambodia

Circus - Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO, Battambang, Cambodia

Circus - Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO, Battambang, Cambodia

Circus - Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO, Battambang, Cambodia

Afterward we had dinner at the restaurant there. It was very good, except for the questionable squid things that looked exactly like squid, with eyes and everything, but the chefs insisted was imitation squid… I skipped that dish.

Tomorrow we have a long-ass 6.5 hour boat ride down the river and across Tonle Sap Lake to Siem Reap. I hope it’s fun :p

Smokin’ Pot in Battambang

Posted in Cambodia on February 15th, 2010 by Vagablonding – 9 Comments

Smokin' Pot Cooking School - Battambang, Cambodia

The morning of Monday, February 15th, was spent riding the public bus for 6 hours to Battambang. The air-con was on full blast so it was freezing and there was a tv blaring loud hilarious music videos of teenage Cambodian boys singing American rap songs in Khmer. But thanks to my anti-nausea medication I was able to sleep through most of it.

At 3pm we went to the Smokin’ Pot Thai-Cambodian Cooking School. We were going to make 3 dishes: Vegetable Amok Curry, Lok Lok Veggies, and a Spicy Cabbage Salad. Mom and I made ours vegetarian but the other people in our group made the first dish with fish and the second with beef.

First we went to market and bought all the ingredients.

Market - Battambang, Cambodia

Market - Battambang, Cambodia

Then we walked to the Smokin’ Pot restaurant to cook. It was incredibly fun. We ate each dish as they were finished and by the end I was so full I gave the rest of my salad and mom’s salad to a begging girl and her baby.

Vegetable Amok Curry veggies:

Amok curry vegetables

Vegetable Amok Curry spices:

Amok curry spices

Cooking the curry:

Cooking Vegetarian Amok

All done! Yum 🙂

Vegetarian Amok Curry

Now for the Lok Lok stir fry:

Lok Lok vegetables

Lok Lok

And finally the spicy salad:

spicy cabbage salad

The Misery Tour

Posted in Cambodia on February 14th, 2010 by Vagablonding – Be the first to comment

Sunday, February 14th, was Valentine’s day and the start of the Chinese New Year. On this day we went on an hour long cyclo tour of the city in the morning during which we stopped at the waterfront, a place I can’t remember the name of with a photo of the current king, and Wat Phnom, the city’s namesake. We also saw monkeys climbing along electric wires and children getting rides on an elephant in the park. The tour cost $3, plus a $1 tip, and the proceeds went to the Cyclo Center, a company that works to increase the income of the few cyclo drivers left in the city by providing them with weekly English classes and help for them and their families.

Mom and I grabbed a snack of pear and coconut ice cream ($2.80), new flipflops for me ($2.50) and vegetarian pizza ($3.40 for a small and very yummy pizza) for lunch at a nearby bakery before we met with our Intrepid group at 1:30pm for the misery tour.

I have to warn you, the following isn’t really for the faint of heart, but I think you should read on because it is important to know the dark history of this beautiful country.

Skulls - Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

First we went to the Tuol Sleng, or S-21, Genocide Museum. Tuol Sleng was once a school, but it was turned into a prison by Pol Pot’s orders in 1975. By 1978 the prison had seen 5,765 prisoners (this number doesn’t include the children of the prisoners, estimated at around 20,000), all but 21 of whom were eventually killed in the Killing Fields. Of the last 21, 14 were brutally murdered in the prison before the S-21 personnel were forced to flee, and 7 managed to hide themselves in toilets and under steps to narrowly escape death. The bodies of the 14 were left by the S-21 personnel and discovered by the liberators later in a nasty state of decomposition. They were the last people to be tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng, and they are buried in 14 graves out front to honor this.

Tuol Sleng is made up of 4 buildings: A, B, C, and D. The first floor of building A was converted into a set of small rooms with glass windows to keep the screams in. The rooms were used by the Khmer Rouge to torture and interrogate prisoners to make them confess crimes they may or may not have committed, and also give intelligence to the Pol Pot regime. The rooms had metal beds and leg shackles where the prisoners were forced to stay when not being tortured.

Torture room - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Torture room - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Torture room - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Sometimes the prisoners were taken outside to a pole to be tortured and interrogated. The prisoner would have his hands tied behind his back and then tied to a rope which was slung over the tall horizontal pole. The prisoner would be hoisted up by his tied hands repeatedly until he lost consciousness, then taken down and dunked head first into filthy water to shock him back awake. The torture and interrogation would start again as soon as the prisoner was conscious.

Buildings B, C, and D were used to house prisoners. Some floors had cells made of brick, some had smaller cells made of wood, and some had larger rooms where many prisoners were held together, all wearing leg shackles.

Cells - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Cell - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

The prisoners were only allowed to “shower” once every two weeks. A shower was really just a guard coming in with a fire hose and spraying down the prisoner and his cell. The women prisoners were allowed to “shower” every 2 weeks as well, but only after being raped first. Prisoners flung themselves from the higher floors to commit suicide, but soon a fishnet pattern of barbed wire was installed on every floor to put a stop to that.

Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Today, the photos that were taken of the prisoners when they got to Tuol Sleng are on display inside some of the rooms.

Victims - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Victim - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Victims - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Victims - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Victim - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh

Most of the prisoners were taken to the nearby Killing Fields where they were executed and buried in mass graves. The men were bound, blindfolded, and forced onto their knees before being beaten to death with a metal bar and pushed into the graves. Many were not dead after the beating and ended up buried alive. The women were always raped before being murdered. To kill a baby a soldier would grab her by the legs and swing her like a bat into a tree to crush her skull. Soldiers poured lyme into the graves to suppress the smell before bringing in new victims. Truckloads of victims were brought to the Killing Fields every 2 weeks to be executed.

Graves - Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

Some of the mass graves have been excavated and the skulls of the victims put on display. But everywhere you walk in the Killing Fields you are stepping on and over pieces of bone and teeth. The rain washes the dirt away and exposes more all the time.

Bone - Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

Bone - Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

Bone - Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

The sign below says “Mass grave of 166 victims without heads”:

Mass grave - Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

Everyone that lives in Cambodia today has been affected by the massacre in some way. The guide that took us on the tour lost 5 siblings and his father. He was 6 years old when the terror started. Over 50% of Phnom Penh’s population of 2,000,000 is under the age of 18 because so many of the people who would be older now were murdered. More than 1,700,000 people were killed under Pol Pot, and over 1,000,000 more died of disease or went missing, bringing the total lives lost to about 3,000,000.

Now Cambodia is no longer a war torn country, but its problems are not over. Cambodia’s government is one of the most corrupt in the world, and the corruption is rampant on every level. Even children and their families must pay their teachers bribes or they will not pass their classes, no matter how smart they are. Degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re written on; money can buy any degree you want. Former leaders of the Khmer Rouge are now government officials. They make a lot of money being corrupt and you see them driving around town in brand new Lexus cars. Corruption is so deeply ingrained that there is little hope for change. Every child wants to grow up to be a policeman or a doctor because they see that this will make them rich from bribes.

Money lets you escape justice as well. For many years, some of the highest officials of the Khmer Rouge lived in total freedom, but some have recently been arrested and are now being held awaiting trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Even so, these criminals live better in jail than 80% of Cambodia’s population lives free. They have nice clothes, huge cells, good food, television, radios, internet, etc. 80% of Cambodia’s people have none of these things.

Skulls - Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

It is absolutely mind blowing to experience the incredible good will and happy nature of the Cambodian people after all they have been through. I have never heard of a more resilient people, and you see examples of it here daily. I am amazed.

Phnom Penh: Colorful Cambodia’s Capital City

Posted in Cambodia on February 13th, 2010 by Vagablonding – 2 Comments

Mom and I landed in Phnom Penh late at night on Friday, February 12th, after many hours of flying. The immigration process was painless; the visa cost $20 and customs stamped a lot of stuff I couldn’t see and took my picture. Unfortunately the official taxi stand closes around 10pm so we had to hire a random taxi which cost $9. From the taxi I saw a guy getting the crap kicked out of him by two other guys on the side of the road. Ouch.

We stayed the night at the Town View Hotel where we had a room with two twin beds, air-con, hot water, mini-fridge, and tv for $17 a night. It was very nice.

On the morning of Saturday, February 13th, we went to the top floor of our hotel and enjoyed the view before walking to a restaurant for breakfast.

View from hotel - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Buildings - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

For breakfast we got bread and jam for $1, Chinese fried noddles with veggies for $1.50, coffee for $0.70, and free tea. It was yummy; the bread here is delicious thanks to the French influence.

Breakfast - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After breakfast we decided to wander in an arbitrary direction and we ended up coming upon a market full of fruit, flowers, meat, fish, and tons of people buying their food for the day.

Vegetable stall in the market - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Meat stall in the market - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Fruit stall in the market - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Market - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In the market there were many beggars. I gave this lady a dollar because she let me take her photo.

Beggar in the market - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We stopped to look in wedding shop with lovely dresses and over the top tiaras inside. There we met the people who own the shop. The man knew perfect English because he escaped from Cambodia to Australia during the massacre. He told us about the places he had been in the US, and introduced us to his wife and daughter. They invited us in and gave us cold bottles of water and a banana. The wife and daughter are learning English. The wife was too shy to practice on us, but I chatted with the 13 year old daughter for a while and her English was quite good. I exchanged emails with her and told her she can write me and keep practicing her English.

On the way back to the hotel for a rest we passed a celebration for the Chinese New Year. Men and boys dressed in red played music while men in dragon costumes danced into the temple.

Chinese New Year celebration - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Chinese New Year celebration, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

There were lots of locals watching the celebration as well and when the kids saw me taking pictures they wanted me to take their pictures too.

Local kids - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Also I saw this sign near our hotel, I think it’s hilarious:

Rambo sign - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In the late morning we rested before checking out and taking a tuk-tuk ($3) to our new hotel, the Sokha Heng Guesthouse. The guesthouse is near the Royal Palace and the waterfront where the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers meet, a much more touristy part of town. Our room has all the same amenities as the Town View Hotel. I don’t know how much it costs per night because it’s included in the trip cost of the Intrepid Travel tour we are about to start.

Family - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After checking in, mom and I wandered down to the waterfront to get some lunch. When we passed a Lebanese restaurant called Le Cedre I knew I had to get a falafel sandwich ($3.50) because they’re tasty… and also to make Ryan jealous 😉 it was very good, but I think the ones in Costa Rica were just a tad better.

Me at the waterfront - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Flags - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

There were more Chinese New Year celebrations going on at the waterfront. People were burning incense, leaving flower offerings, and releasing little birds into the air over the river for good luck. We sat in the shaded grass and people watched until it was time to go back to the hotel for our Intrepid welcome meeting.

Fruit seller - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

This guy wasn’t celebrating, just sitting on his motorcycle looking intense:

Man - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

For dinner we went out with our Intrepid group to a restaurant that employs orphaned kids, helps them learn English, and teaches them food service skills they can use to get jobs later in life. I was still full from lunch so I had a small plate of fries for $2 and an Angkor beer for $1. The kids that work there and also the beggar children know our group leader well. One little girl aged maybe 7 or 8 who was selling copied books started making fun of him saying ‘no way you don’t have a girlfriend!!!’ It was too cute. Not cute enough to get anyone to buy a book, though.

In the restaurant were THE most annoying tourists I have ever been around. This drunk middle aged fat Australian guy, along with his obscenely loud and equally pudgy daughter, was causing quite a scene when he very loudly and repeatedly asked the waiter if he could buy a marijuana cigarette from him and got douchy when told no. Apparently they are staying at our guesthouse because as I am typing this they are here in the lobby. His daughter is telling her brother about how he apparently crashed a bar playing music after leaving the restaurant, sat at the drum set and tried to play, then tripped over a stage light, broke it, and refused to pay for it, and finally got kicked out. Now he is eating a banana I just saw him pluck from the Buddhist shrine. What. An. ASS. I am trying to be all Dalai Lama and see this as just an opportunity to practice my patience but man is it hard.

Anyway, tomorrow we are going on a cyclo tour around the city in the morning. In the afternoon we are going on what our group leader has dubbed “the misery tour” where we will see evidence of Cambodia’s very dark and recent past at the Tuol Sleng torture centre and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.

I’m going to Cambodia!

Posted in Cambodia on October 9th, 2009 by Vagablonding – Be the first to comment

… and then some!

I just booked a trip to Cambodia for my mom and I in February 2010! I am so excited. We’re going on a 15 day tour of the country with Intrepid Travel. After that my mom is heading home and I am staying there to see where my feet take me. I hope to visit Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysian Borneo, and possibly Brunei and back to Indonesia.

SouthEast Asia, here I come!