Asia, Cambodia, Travel

Poverty in Phnom Penh

Arriving in Phnom Penh late at night we saw the city for what it truly was: a messy, dirty, crowded maze of tiny street lanes with hidden signposts and an attitude towards health and safety that would shock many. Our first thoughts of Phnom Penh were ones of distaste and regret. However as daylight approached, we saw the Khmer Rouge and French influences of architecture reflected on the Royal Palace, the National Museum and the various prestigious monuments dotted near the Mekong River. Getting awkwardly stuck in a rainstorm meant that hiding for shelter by the Royal Palace allowed us to take a closer look at its grandeur.

Phnom PenhOur main purpose to stay in this city was to visit the killing fields, the most popular site: Choeung Ek, which is one of the mass graves where millions of victims bodies were buried, or more likely, dumped in the genocide by the tyrants of the Khmer Rouge. Walking around on a beautiful sunny day through the killing fields provides a stark contrast to the horrors and atrocities you listen to on an audio tour, of how the Khmer Rouge savagely destroyed families and people for ‘the good of the regime’, the contrast makes the experience more surreal and sickening. Although deeply depressing and emotional, a visit to the killing fields is a must so you are enlightened by Cambodian’s dark history and the sufferings each member of the country has been through which initiates moral perspective to each tourist whom chooses to visit.

Phnom Penh We also visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, commonly known as S-21, a former torture, interrogation and execution centre used by the Khmer Rouge. With the 14 thousand people who came in here, only 7 people survived. As you walk along the empty walls, you feel the unspeakable pain though the atmosphere of the place, as if the lost souls that went through such cruelty, suffering and torture still live in these halls. The silence within S-21 as well as the avid documentation of the unjust handiwork of the Khmer Rouge, means each visitor is shocked to the very core of their being, disgusted by the regimes brutality and enjoyment of capturing their acts. The place leaves you speechless, and acts as a reminder to all what the world as a society, should never let something like this occur again.

Phnom Penh

Phnom PenhThis city is strange. It juxtaposes grandeur and lavish beauty of monuments and ornate temples, with horrendously poor and unwell locals constantly begging for money, hoping to look for some support or guidance, reminders of a haunted past within the city. Go here to experience Cambodia’s true history, but this is no holiday.

 

Asia, Cambodia, Travel

Sun and Sea in Sihanoukville

Surrounded by swaying palm trees and cloudless skies, its easy to lose track of time whilst in Sihanoukville. And why should’t you? This location is directly on the seafront and is numbered with restaurants and bars, perfect for tourists to soak up the sun. Although an ideal location, the tourism industry has transformed its main beaches, such as where we stayed Serendipity Beach, into a congested and dirty beach swarming with drunk backpackers, and old foreign men with young prostitutes.

No tranquillity or peace will be found here, so for many it is a let down. Head to Otres Beach where the beaches are filled with fresh faced smiling tourists, rather than hungover moaning ones. One can escape the pestering young children whom sell bracelets on the beach at Serendipity here, you are more likely to find table service to your sun lounger. This beach used to be quite empty and unheard of, although over time, and the recurrent attitude one finds in Asia of finding somewhere beautiful- development soon began. There has been some restraints, mainly the government enforcing no hotels, instead boutique bungalows are in place, which still allows this beach a level of sophistication, without an overload of all inclusive tourists. Come here to escape the mania of Serendipity and spend the day paddle boarding, wind surfing or kayaking.

Or, if you fancy a more rustic experience, head to one of the islands off the Cambodian shore. The most famous is Koh Rong, famous for its backpacker vibe and insane full moon parties. However, when I travelled around Cambodia (back in my day), the islands were untouched natural wonders of beauty. No electricity was on the islands and finding transport there meant making friends with a local fisherman, but as tourism floods South East Asia, each island off the coast of Cambodia has been explored and ventured, made into new travel destinations. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, as accessibility to the islands has improved, however finding an island to transport you to harmonious solitude might be much harder than you necessarily thought. I would advise visiting whichever island you feel fits you best, I look back and wish I did the same.

Backpackers come to this area of Cambodia to relax and rejuvenate, enjoying themselves by taking in the essential vitamin C from the sun, and the glorious Chang from the bar. I am afraid during our stay here we did nothing which could be seen as a cultural experience- unless having a dance off with a prostitute is classed as one? Days we spent sunbathing and nights we spent obliterating our livers. I would recommend going to the bar right at the end of the dock at some point and staring out to the sea, it truly is enchanting. We spent most of our nights starting at JJ’s watching the fire shows and leading on to Dolphin Bar for cheap drinks and an always packed dance floor, and finally, ending up at Utopia to chill in their hot tub.

What I loved about Sihanoukville has to be the large variety of seafood restaurants on the coast whom sell fantastic fresh sea food and cook it on on a BBQ, this meal was the best meal I had in Cambodia. You have a wide choice of seafood and although so simple, it works so well with all the other ingredients, all combined together. It is a must to eat this fine dish of barbecued succulent seafood, hot buttered jacket potatoes and fresh healthy salad, whilst the sand runs in between your toes and the waves lap against the shore.

We stayed at Monkey Republic, a hostel which combined cleanliness, cheap prices and comfort, (unlike Utopia), I recommend this place as the beds are comfortable, the staff welcoming, and the food tasty.

Although this might not be the best beach or atmosphere in Asia, or even in Cambodia, Sihanoukville acts well as an express beach visit for time restrained travellers.

Asia, Cambodia, Travel

A collision of lifestyles and worlds in Siem Reap

Our first stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap, home to one of the most sought out sights and most importantly, a World UNESCO World heritage site, which is both breath taking and awe inspiring, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat plays such a pivotal role to the people of Siem Reap, that it is seen as an important aspect to Cambodian’s heritage and their livelihood. It is constantly on every local’s mind, every tourist’s agenda, on bars of soap, t-shirts and even the beer. The city of Siem Reap has a variety of artistic influences, Chinese, as well as western influences through the interjection of styles of restaurants and luxurious hotels that accommodate the influx of tourists that visit here.

Siem Reap Siem ReapAs many tourists come to Siem Reap, there are an unlimited amount of tuk tuk drivers happy to arrange trips to temples for any kind of itinerary and price. I chose to visit for a one day tour, instead of a three day tour. I began at temple Ta Prohm, where I saw large lofty branches come from out of the ground, swirling and stretching past ruins, dipping and diving past pieces of rock, till finally reaching up to touch the sky with its bushy leaves. This temple is mainly known for its starring role in the movie: Tomb Raider.

Siem Reap We then moved on to explore the Banyon Complex with its various inner sections and variation in styles of architecture and design, making us feel quite lost in a maze of identical yet different surrounding ruins. Finally, we were taken to Angkor Wat. Joining dramatically posed Russian tourists and visiting monks, we joined the surging crowd to enter one of the most sacred sights in the world. Stepping within the walls to explore the ancient carvings and historical ruins is fantastic and so incredibly beautiful and detailed, it is easy to see why so many visit here.

Siem Reap Siem Reap At the end of the day, our driver took us to the highest mountain in the surrounding area where we could watch the sunset over Angkor Wat. I would recommend getting there early as many other tourists have the same idea and the later it gets, the more you have to fight and jostle for a seat.

Siem ReapWe also had the opportunity to visit the Tonle Sap Floating Village, which says it all in the name really, a village with schools, a church and every local shop you’d usually find in your village, all floating of course, on the lake. All of their housing was so simple and laid back, open and welcoming, with children moving place to place by travelling and paddling in steel pots and families being resourceful and careful with the lake, I found it really fascinating to view a lifestyle to be so seemingly easy and happy, that your world revolved around mother earth and the natural source of the lake.

Although the surroundings of Siem Reap has much to offer, so does the city. Its colourful and lively centre houses many tasty local restaurants and luxurious restaurants (I would recommend trying a dish with Kampot Pepper), art galleries, colourful shops, and its very own markets.

Siem Reap Siem ReapThe day market was filled to the brim with the usual tourist splendour and fresh food for local Cambodians to stock up on, whilst the night market was a whole different experience. Creating a maze of stalls of local artwork, sculpture and tourist t-shirts you could pass a corner and find massage stalls, beach bars, secret shopping malls and cinemas. We spent the evening drinking cocktails whilst getting our feet massaged. Pure bliss.

Siem Reap If you want to experience Siem Reap’s night life, then head to Pub Street, although there are a large amount of bars and clubs further afield. The main bars: Angkor Wat Bar and Temple Bar have hundreds of backpackers downing buckets and dancing on tables to the latest tunes. Although if you fancy a quieter night- in volume might I add, I would recommend going to XX Bar where they have a variety of different styled nights and the late hours of opening time means you can sip cocktails and welcome the morning sun rise over the city of Siem Reap with opening arms.