Posts Tagged ‘Phnom Penh’

Attempted purse-snatching and resulting injury

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

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.

Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO)

Posted in Cambodia on March 11th, 2010 by Vagablonding – 1 Comment

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.

English School at Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

English School at Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

English School at Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

English School at Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

English School at Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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….

English School at Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

English School at Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

English School at Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, 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.

Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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.

Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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.

Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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!

Please visit the Save Poor Children in Asia Organization website to learn more, and consider making a donation to SCAO, or sponsor one of the kids so they can go to Khmer school.

Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (SCAO) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh’s Markets

Posted in Cambodia on March 11th, 2010 by Vagablonding – Be the first to comment

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.

Fabric - Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Food stalls - Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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.

Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tshirts - Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Shoes - Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Clothes - Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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.

Spider Eating and Kampot Countryside

Posted in Cambodia on February 26th, 2010 by Vagablonding – 2 Comments

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.

Fried spider - Cambodia

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.

Salt fields - Kampot, Cambodia

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.

Phnom Chhnork Caves, Kampot, Cambodia

Temple - Phnom Chhnork Caves, Kampot, Cambodia

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.

Kids - Phnom Chhnork Caves, Kampot, Cambodia

Kids on a Tuk-Tuk - Phnom Chhnork Caves, Kampot, Cambodia

The view of the countryside from the cave was nice, but I’m sure it’s much better on a sunny day.

View of the countryside - Phnom Chhnork Caves, Kampot, Cambodia

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.

Beach - Kep, Cambodia

In the evening we went on a boat ride down the Kampot River and watched the lovely sunset.

Kampot River, Cambodia

Kampot River, Cambodia

Kampot River, Cambodia

Kampot River, Cambodia

Sunset - Kampot River, Cambodia

Living on the river doesn’t mean you can’t have DirecTV!

Kampot River, Cambodia

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.

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.