A Travellerspoint blog

Sihanoukville- Otres Beach.

Sea and Sand. A beach!

sunny 32 °C

After a bus journey with all the usual Cambodian frills (delays, use as a rice transporter and then more delays) we landed at Sihanoukville. We had heard and read a lot of bad stuff about this place. Bought by the Russians. Gun shoot outs. Massive prostitution problems. However our desire to get some R+R on the beach was just too great. But we gave the town and local party beaches a miss and got the tuk tuk out of there. We landed in Otres beach and a new Aussie owned guesthouse called "wish you were here." It was Australia day. 50c a beer, vegemite on toast and snag in a roll. What a rippa!!!

WARNING- contains swear words. Mum, Dad and Mumsmum!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

This is Stephan, His name is Stephan, man ...............

So what did we do? Absolutely nothing. We read. We ate. Lynne had her nails done. Despite the calls of "hairy legs" from the local hawkers she resisted her legs being threaded. We generally did nothing.

Waiting and waiting for our bus in Phnom Penh

Waiting and waiting for our bus in Phnom Penh

Wish you were here

Wish you were here

A beach- Otres

A beach- Otres


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Happy Pizza. Non happy versions available. Super happy versions also available.

Sunset on Otres beach

Sunset on Otres beach

We had landed well and truly on the banana pancake trail and we were loving it.

2 days later and we are revitalised and couldn't wait to crack on with some more exploring. Next stop Kampot. (Yes of the pepper fame!)

DID YOU KNOW?:
During the Vietnam War Sihanouk became an intensive military port first in the service of National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam and after 1970, with the regime of General Lon Nol, at the service of the United States. With the success of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas in April 1975, the port was the last place to be evacuated by the US army. The SS Mayagüez was captured by militants of the new regime on 12 May. The US claimed that the ship was on international sea lanes, but the Khmer Rouge said that it was on Cambodian territory. This was the last official battle of the United States army in the Vietnam War. It is known as the Mayagüez incident.

LAND MINES IN CAMBODIA:
So I'm in trouble for not mentioning the fact we went to the land mine museum in Siem Reap. It was set up by Aki Ra. A former Khmer Rouge child soldier. He is clearly rock hard. He started by just helping out locals using his skills he learnt in fighting to de-arm land mines and make their land safe. But more and more people asked for his help and so he made it his full time work. Now a internationally backed NGO he has been forced to use a more internationally recognised method of destroying mines ie- blowing them up when you find them. His old method of stabbing around with a knife, knocking out the detonator and then steaming the dynamite out just won't do these days with Elf and safety around.

Mines are cruel. They last for decades and more. They are designed to maim. Some sick people make them to look like pretty plastic butterflies so children will pick them up and have their limbs blown off. Cambodia has an estimated 4-6 million land mines undiscovered. The country has over 40.000 amputees (one of the highest rates in the world). The centre was not only educational but gave a home and school to children who had been victims of land mines.

Shamefully a number of big countries will not sign up to their banning. USA, Russia, China.

Posted by Justin Woolley 02:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Visit to S-21 (Day 8)

I am not an expert on Cambodian history. I've paraphrased the following summary of Cambodia’s recent political history from the Lonely Planet.

The Khmer Rouge, a Cambodian revolutionary movement, took control of Cambodia on 1975. Leading the Khmer Rouge was Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot. The Khmer Rouge implemented one of the most radical and brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a peasant-dominated agrarian cooperative – to basically set the country back to year 0. In reality this involved entire populations from cities being forced to work long hours with little food in the countryside. Disease stalked many of these work camps. Intellectuals were systematically wiped out – speaking foreign languages, being able to read or even wearing glasses was reason enough to be killed.

The Vietnamese, who liberated an almost empty Phnom Penh on 7 January 1979, brought the Khmer Rouge rule to an end. It is still not known how many people died during the Khmer Rouge rule. The most excepted estimate is at least 1.7 million people or 21% of the country's population. Yale University have been collating and mapping key events and documents to ensure information on this period is open to the public - www.yale.edu/cgp.

Our final morning in Phnom Penh was spent on a harrowing visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum at the former security office 21 (S21). Previously the area had been a primary and high school, but it was converted into an office designed for the detention, interrogation and torture detainees; many of who were accused of being foreign spies or of trying to lead uprisings against the Khmer Rouge.

We spent an hour wandering around the building blocks one by one. There were stories from survivors as well as the prison guards. There were also autobiographies of all the key members of the Khmer Rouge. Some of the rooms held pictures of the bodies found in them when S21 was liberated.
Some of the classrooms had been made into small wooden or brick cells

Some of the classrooms had been made into small wooden or brick cells

The outside of the school buildings - covered in barbed wire to prevent escape and suicide

The outside of the school buildings - covered in barbed wire to prevent escape and suicide

Every prisoner arriving at S21 was photographed. Thousands of these haunting photographs consume room after room. It was very hard to walk through each room and see the men, women and young children, the vast majority of whom were executed at Choeung Ek, staring back at you.
Room after room filled with sombre portrait shots of the prisoners of S21. Very few survived.

Room after room filled with sombre portrait shots of the prisoners of S21. Very few survived.

A very depressing way to spend a morning, but we were both glad we went. The museum aims to keep the atrocities that happened in places like S21 in the memory of both foreign visitors and Cambodians, in the hope that this will never be allowed to happen again.

Posted by Lynne Woolley 07:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

I want to ride my bicycle (Day 7)

sunny 30 °C

It was an early start today. We jumped on some bikes with Grasshopper Adventures to go for a 60km cycle into the countryside with our wonderful guides Thearith and Srey Mom. We were riding with Ulrike from Germany. Ulrike had recently completed a cycle tour of the Laos mountain ranges and gave us lots of helpful travel advice.

The first part of our trip was along the train track slums out of Phnom Penh. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the assault on your senses that takes place as you go through the middle of a slum. There were naked children everywhere playing in the heaps of rubbish (although always smiling and waving) and the smell of human excrement was overpowering in places. Ulricke almost ended up skidding into what can only be described as a cesspit. This was a world away from the luxury cars and bars of central Phnom Penh.
Start of our cycle ride

Start of our cycle ride

Children hunt through bins for plastic bottles and cans (picture found on NGO website as mine were blurry)

Children hunt through bins for plastic bottles and cans (picture found on NGO website as mine were blurry)

Travelling through some of Cambodia's poorest communities

Travelling through some of Cambodia's poorest communities

From here we headed into the countryside. The rice fields had just been harvested and were being ploughed for the new watermelon crops. We stopped off in lots of villages along the way and met shy (and not so shy) villagers happy to show us their homes and businesses. When the children saw us cycling through they would run to the road to wave as we went past (hello hello hello, high five, bye bye bye bye bye bye), but the minute you stopped they would hide behind their mums legs or a nearby doorway occasionally peeking out or edging closer until you looked around and they disappeared again.
Cute Cambodian children...shame about their taste in football club

Cute Cambodian children...shame about their taste in football club


Srey Mom, one of our guides, explaining what is grown in the local fields

Srey Mom, one of our guides, explaining what is grown in the local fields


After heating until bubbling you stir the sugar palm until it starts to go hard and then you pour it into a mould to set

After heating until bubbling you stir the sugar palm until it starts to go hard and then you pour it into a mould to set

We ended our journey at Oudong Mountain. It is the last day of Chinese New Year so it was absolutely rammed.
One of the temples on Oudong Mountain

One of the temples on Oudong Mountain

Putting money into a basket under the animal of your birth year

Putting money into a basket under the animal of your birth year


Monks in one of the temples on the Oudong Mountain

Monks in one of the temples on the Oudong Mountain


Ulrike posing as 'scary catfish'. Some great chicken broth, fried chicken and mango salads at the end of our cycle and walk

Ulrike posing as 'scary catfish'. Some great chicken broth, fried chicken and mango salads at the end of our cycle and walk

Posted by Lynne Woolley 07:43 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Journey to Phnom Penh (Day 6)

sunny 30 °C

So we are on our way from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) by ‘luxury limousine’ coach – you even get little snack boxes and cold water. It’s official - Cambodian roads have more potholes than Manchester’s roads. The bus driver skilfully swerves from one side of the road to the other to avoid them. In many ways I’d prefer just to drive through them on the right side of the road, especially when we end up on a headlong collision course with another vehicle (usually a petrol truck or moto with two adults and five children hanging on for dear life).

I’m watching some over dramatised karaoke videos (YouTube Mr Seng if you want to treat yourself), followed by Ronan Keatings greatest hits video…. only ten hours to go.

We’re staying at a youth hostel in central Phnom Penh. A good stagnant smell wafts out of our room as the receptionist opens the door, but that stay is short and they do a mean Vietnamese coffee (tastes like chocolate coffee) and fruit muesli so we aren’t too bothered.

We spend our first hour wandering around Wat Phnom, which sits on the city’s highest point (a hefty 27 meters high). It’s a popular place to come and pray for good luck and as it’s Chinese New Year the temple is busy and the air is thick with incense. We then head onto the main walk along the Tonle Sap.
Wat Phnom surrounded by incense smoke

Wat Phnom surrounded by incense smoke

Phnom Penh is rammed with cars, buses, tuk tuks and overcrowded motos in every orifice of the road system. Crossing the road is an art of walking very slowly to allow moto drivers to drive around you and keeping your eyes firmly closed.

Phnom Penh is also dirty. Rubbish bags line the alleyway. Children and women wearing flimsy masks rip the bags apart and scour the contents for anything to sell. On the other side of the road is a shiny regeneration project along the waterfront along which cruise expensive looking cars.
The Tonle Sap flowing into Phnom Penh. If only they had a boatclub...

The Tonle Sap flowing into Phnom Penh. If only they had a boatclub...

There is a gaping chasm here between the rich and the poor. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with approximately 30% of the population living on less than $1 a day. One-third of the population has no access to clean water and more than two thirds have no access to clean toilets.

We wander over to the top floor of the Foreign Correspondents Club to watch the sun go down. There are amazing photographs of the 1970's and 80's conflict lining the walls. There are no recent press shots of a Cambodia rebuilding. It makes Cambodia feel like a long forgotten country.

We spend the evening drinking way too many beers with a local expat who has been visited Cambodia and the surrounding region since the 1980’s. He tells us of his first visit to Angkor Wat when he was the only person there apart from the military personnel accompanying him. He hasn’t been back since and we suggest he doesn’t go back. We doubt he’d enjoy Angkor Wat as much when surrounded by over 4,000 tourists!

We pass the evening discussing anything and everything. We mention the large number of non-government organisations (NGOs). They are literally on every street corner running orphanages, schools, training centres, massage centres, restaurants and craft stalls. It feels like they are all jostling for the tourist dollar rather than trying to work together to ensure as much money as possible is being ploughed into local projects and people. Our expat guide talks about the scepticism surrounding a number of NGOs, particularly the ones where the staff drive around in expensive cars.

We’ve tried to visit a few projects recommended by guesthouses, but we’ve also heard about scam orphanages where the children are kept in poor conditions to ensure more money is raised from tourists. I've really enjoyed visiting projects that work with families (yes – I’m still in family poverty mode for any work colleagues reading this!). They focus on supporting the parents of street children into skilled employment so that their children can go to school. Primary school is compulsory for six years in Cambodia – although many children living on the street will not attend because they go out to work. These organisations also tackle wider issues caused by poverty and working on the street (e.g. http://mloptapang.org for info on one local project).

We have been constantly approached by children working on the streets begging for money to go to school (“If you don’t buy my postcard miss then I don’t go to school tomorrow”). The first few days of saying no were heartbreaking, but the more we read the more we understood the impact tourism is having in keeping children away from school. Giving to and buying from children perpetuates the cycle.

Posted by Lynne Woolley 07:09 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap. Angkor What??

Indiana Jones and Lara Croft never seemed to struggle with the heat so much.

sunny 34 °C

Day 4 of the grand tour and time for some serious temple bashing. Ok, so I know this isn't going to make me popular, but it may re-inforce my point. I feel I have seen a lot of good stuff around the world. I've been to the great Catholic church's around Europe and Russia. I've seen the great mosques and temples of UAE, India, China and Istanbul. I have seen the Mayan ruins. I have even been to the Trafford Centre .

However the Angkor ruins surpassed them all. They're good. Really good. But surprisingly Angkor Wat was the least inspiring! They seem to have the perfect balance of mystique and age. You can't help but wonder why and how they were just left for 300 years. There were stories of them in the jungle, but just that, stories. No-one went to them. Even though most have been cleaned up and repaired you still feel like you could be discovering them yourself. Every turn is a exciting. It has really brought out my inner Indy.

We started on Saturday with Bob the Tuk Tuk driver taking us around some of the peripheral temples. I'm afraid it was jaw dropping stuff right from the word "go". The only negative was the slight failure to cope with mega hot conditions during midday. Thankfully there was one group of tourists fairing worse than the English, the Russians. They were in a bad shape. The temples are a bit of a photographers dream and some lucky devils may get the full unedited slide show when we return!!!
Banteay Samre

Banteay Samre


Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei


Preah Khan- a window.

Preah Khan- a window.

Sunday saw us team up with a Grasshopper tours and a guide Sam. Angkok Wat was a bit of a let down as hinted at above. Its big. It has lots of tourists. It lacks a bit of charm. Next we cycled to Angkor Thom (the main city), up on the walls and visited the famous Bayon before heading back via the Jungle temple. Bayon was especially amazing. Each of its 54 pillars have the four faces of Buddha / Brahma depending on which of the Buddist / Hindu kings was in power. It looks amazing and then as your eyes slowly start recognising hundreds of faces the temple become spectacular. The Jungle temple is famous for its impressive tree and root formations breaking through the walls. Tomb Raider movies made it even more famous. A hot but brilliant day.
Angkor Thom- North Gate

Angkor Thom- North Gate


Lynne outside Bayon.

Lynne outside Bayon.


Jungle Temple

Jungle Temple


Tree in wall at Jungle Temple- a common site!

Tree in wall at Jungle Temple- a common site!

Monday we were back with Bob to do an Angkor Wat sunrise. Its was nice to see the temple at that time of the day but the millions of mosquitos and equal number of Chinese on holiday (it was their New Year today) took the edge off it. After this we made the short journey to Tonle Sap: Cambodia's great lake. In the summer its a lake of 2500-3000sqkm. In the winter the huge flow of the Mekong actually reverses the flow of the river out it swells to an amazing 13,000sqkm. The locals who live on the lake have had to adapt to a 6m change in water levels through the year. As well as cruising around the village waving at happy kids we spent an hour being paddled through the mangrove forest. A tough life.
Angkor Wat at dawn. Too much cloud.

Angkor Wat at dawn. Too much cloud.


Kampong Phluk village.

Kampong Phluk village.


Kampong Phluk village in back ground

Kampong Phluk village in back ground

Boat on Tonle Sap

Boat on Tonle Sap

So we close out our stay in Siem Reap. We leave for Phnom Penh in the morning. 6 hours on the bus awaits. Siem Reap has been great. Clearly booming from the 8 million or so who come to see Angkor each year. Much more like Bali's Seminyak than 3rd world city I was expecting with great food and shops aiming at the mid range traveller. Thanks to the Cashew Nut for your hospitality: .

STUPID THINGS TRAVELLER'S SAY:
A new and exciting sub heading which I can see being updated regularly. So far Lynne has not managed any entries though this will likely change.

A close call for "entry of the week" this week had to go to the annoying Australians sat next to us at lunch. Very excited by the menu they were unable to make up their mind. "Can I have the hamburger with focaccia instead of bread, oh you do soups, they sound good, do they come with garlic bread, what sort of egg is in the egg sandwhich? Whats a fritta? Don't they have a lot of food in their country!"

But winner today was the from a young blonde girl from germany? She was asking a lot of questions of the cambodian helper in the photographic exhibition. She said she was keen to take some photographs of stars. "What time do the starts come out, I know when it gets dark, but what time after that?"

Ouch.

Posted by Justin Woolley 08:58 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

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