Travel Diaries: Cambodia

15 March 2018

I have honestly struggled so much to write this post, I'm not sure why I've found it so hard to write about my travels. Probably because I have no experience writing travel posts, and I always ramble on when I shouldn't. Anyway, here we go!

So I went away for just over a month exploring Southeast Asia with a company called G-Adventures, I booked the tour through an organisation called Gap360. My time away was amazing, as were some of the people I met. Coming home was greatly dreaded, but fate (my bank account) wouldn't let me stay any longer. It's okay though, because I have a million new, great memories and a few new great friends and it has made me excited for all my future travels.  ps- my first day was actually spent in Bangkok, but for ease of these posts I have separated the posts by countries, as I also spent a few days at the end in Thailand as well. 

SIEM REAP
We spent 2 nights in Siem Reap, and it was great. When we first got there I went for a stroll with someone else from the group around our hotel and literally within 5 minutes I found out what people meant when they say Cambodian people are some of the friendliest you will ever meet. We walked past a school and all the kids ran at us waving and saying hello. Their enthusiasm was so heartwarming and the welcome feeling the kids gave us stayed throughout the entire time we were in Cambodia. The adults were equally as friendly, albeit minus the obvious enthusiasm, but adults smiled at us after a few questioning glances and some would speak to us, asking basic questions as a way to practice their English which was just really lovely. 

NEW HOPE RESTAURANT
Going for dinner at the New Hope Restaurant is a must if you're in Siem Reap, as it stands on really great morals. The restaurant is surrounded by a school, and all the money from the restaurant goes to help fund the school. Not only this, but the restaurant works uses local woman as their chefs, training them up so they can become qualified as real chefs so that they can move on to work in other restaurants and better their lives. 

We were lucky enough to go into into one of the English lessons which was a bit strange, we were definitely intruding but no one seemed to mind. We were told to just talk to the students, but surprise surprise- me being awkward isn't limited to England. I pretty much sat in silence next to a girl after a mini conversation, I could hear everyone else chatting but for some reason no words came to my head. One of the girls in my group told me that after she told the boys she was talking to that she was 19 they were all shocked that she she wasn't married yet, which was a bit sad but honestly the school is so great.  The school really seems to care about their students, checking up on them if they haven't been in for a while and if there is a problem with money they try and figure out if there is a way to resolve it.

There are many ways to help what the people at New Hope do- or if you're ever in Cambodia you should 100% go to the restaurant. Just click here to have a look.



ANGKOR WAT
We woke up at the actual crack of dawn so that we could see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, and let me tell you it was definitely worth it. If you go to Angkor Wat, you have to go and see the sunrise because you may have seen a 1000 beautiful sunrises before, but they're all magnificent and no photo or words can explain what it felt like seeing the sun peak through behind the temple, or just how many colours illuminated the sky or the way the water ripped with the colours of the sunset and reflection of the temple. So if you're in Cambodia, go check it out! It was sad there though, as kids were rushing about collecting cans and waiting for you to drop some rubbish, then I found out that they do this because they get paid for collecting a certain amount of cans. When I say kids I mean young kids as well, ones who shouldn't have to worry about picking up tourists litter. 

We then spent hours exploring the temples, we had a guide but to be completely honest he sort of repeated the same things over and over again just in different ways, so it got quite confusing trying to understand what he was going on about so I haven't really come back with any fun facts other than the temple that inspired tomb raider is there. Angkor Wat is massive, there are so many temples to see but it has to be done. We didn't see all the temples and I can't remember the names of all the ones we saw but all of them were beautiful and had so much detail put in to the tiniest things. When we were walking in-between temples our tour guide kept telling us not to touch any monkeys, which let me tell you was the last thing on my mind. I'm pretty sure my entire time away the word RABIES was constantly pulsing in my head. 

NIGHT MARKET & PUB STREET
Siem Reap has the best night life out of everywhere we went in Cambodia. It has a street just full of pubs and is also round the corner from the night market. Let me tell you, both are equally as crazy as each other. The night market is so hectic, you turn your head slightly and someone is bargaining about the price of something you haven't even seen yet. The market wasn't as bad as they are in Vietnam, but the stall owners don't really have any qualms about touching you to get your attention (which I found uncomfortable) but they are all very polite about it but some other markets I went to in other places the stall owners could be quite rude. Supporting the fact Cambodians are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet! I got my best elephant pants from here, but alas I have now shrunk all but one of my comfy pants. 
Pub street is equally as fun, I won't lie- I don't remember much. The drinks are so strong in Cambodia  and are ridiculously cheap. I'm pretty sure drinks are 9/10 alcohol 1/10 mixer. Also so many straws are given to you! Forget the environment (to be fair I do feel like Cambodia has more pressing matters than the environment) but Jesus Christ they don't hold back on the straw front. Also, I don't know if it was just the club place we went to but there were fire dancers there which was sort of terrifying as throwing about fire whilst surrounded by drunk people doesn't sound safe (fyi I wasn't drunk by this point so I was full of pure fear) however all the drunk people seemed to love it, and no one got hurt. Although they then set up a limbo game, and the stick was on fire. Healthy and safety?!! I don't think so. It was a fun night though, the fact we had a super long coach journey the next morning didn't seem to stop anyone.

PHNOMH PENH

Phnomh Penh was strange, as you the streets were dirty and run down and randomly there would just be a really expensive, modern looking building. I feel like by just looking at the street, it seemed as if an architect were made to draw the unequal disposition of wealth of Cambodia in city form. That didn't make sense. Anyway, it was strange and a lot busier than Siem Reap. I think this was one of my least favourite cities- but essential to get exposed to the history of Cambodia and also there is no denying the centre of Phnomh Penh has some beautiful sights.

Briefly about night life... This place is full of roof top bars! Fancy ones or basic back packer ones, their is always something to do at night although it can be hard to find which place is the most popping.


THE KILLING FIELDS & TOOL SLENG GENOCIDE MUSEUM 
We done both of these on the same day and oh my god was it a heavy day. Knowing the history is one thing, but going to the actual place where such horrors happened was life changing and I can't quite put it into my words. I spoke to my sisters boyfriend about it, and he said when he went to The Killing Fields there were really graphic murals of what happened there, but they aren't there anymore. If you go to the Killing Fields you should definitely get a tour guide, the S21 Museum there are things up explaining what you're seeing (a tour guide is still recommend though in my opinion) but in the Killing Fields you have to. 

I think the thing that got to me most about the Killing Fields is how well preserved everything still is. The tree that provided the guards with poisonous fruits to feed the victims was still there, remains of the victims clothes were still on the floor and in some places you could see victims bones peeping through the ground. It was awful and especially having been in the country a few days and already having recognised the Cambodians as such friendly people, I don't know it just still shocks me how people who have been through so much are still able to form such a friendly and welcoming community. I'm not going to go into depth about some of the things we were told (I'm sure a lot of information is online but you can ask as well) but I still find it unfathomable the murder techniques used, because they didn't kill just to end lives but the guards made sure the victims had the most painful deaths possible (physically and emotionally- mothers had to watch their own children go through the most gruesome deaths). I wasn't aware of the fact the rest of the country didn't know what was going on at the time, in the fields you can still see the poles that held the speakers which played music to cover the sounds of the victims screams.  There is a building that shows some skulls of the victims and there's signs to let you know how they died and some of the victims ages. It felt weird, seeing the wound that actually ended their lives and the amount of skulls made me become a bit desensitised to the fact that those were the actual skeletons of people who were alive not even that long ago. Sad doesn't do it justice, but after going to the Killing Fields we were all just unable to talk. I don't really know how to explain how much going here changed me, going to the Killing Fields is something you have to do in your life.(Top tip, of course we can't just all jet off to Cambodia so a good film to watch to understand more is 'At First They Killed My Father'. Be prepared to cry) 

The Tool Sleng Genocide Museum was equally as jarring as the Killing Fields, and in the same way as the Killing Fields, so much is still in tact there as well. The floors inside some rooms are still stained from blood and bed frames that victims were chained to are still up. It was just such a shock seeing it at first as well, as I had expected it to no longer look like school considering the gruesome events that happened in there; but it still looked exactly like a school. Outside there were even some exercise bars up from the school still, but then we were told about how the soldiers used the bars as a way to torture their victims. It was just so bizarre because seeing schools and typical playground things is so familiar to me, like my brain just automatically links these things to childhood. Yet being somewhere where the link is so different to what is natural to me, especially where the link is one to such extreme tragedy was so strange and twisted.  Hearing more about the torture techniques was shocking as well as it's just hard to imagine anything but a monster doing such dreadful things, replacing the monster with what looks like a man is just impossible to do. In the museum there are rooms dedicated to showing the victims, and one of the victims was a relative of our tour guide. Not even a distant relative. It's not that the history hadn't really hit me by this point as the Killing Fields kind of gave me the moment where my brain shoved aside the label of 'history' and replaced it with reality (if that makes sense?) but being with someone so connected with it all seemed strange. Ah it's so hard to explain and I've said strange so many times. Moral of the story, being in a place where so many lives were lost, in a place which changed the world felt completely different to how I expected it to.  We were able to met two of the known survivors of the prison, Chum Mey and Buo Meng. How they have the strength to go back to a place where they were tortured relentlessly is beyond me. Here's what got me most though, when Chum Mey saw us he was waving and beaming at us and he just seemed to be radiating positivity and when he spoke to us those vibes didn't fade. I bought his book and got a photo with him. I think both men are the a lot of the time, so if you ever go you will most likely get to meet these incredible men. 

I feel the need to say this but I wasn't sure how to slot it in. Opposite the Killing Fields there is a School that was full of children playing in their uniforms. When we left Phnom Penh we went past the University of Phnom Penh, and the roads were often filled with teenagers going to and from school. Cambodia is an amazing country. It has been through so much and the people are still struggling so greatly, but they are moving forward. It was heartwarming seeing all the schools, yet it was still tinged with sadness as it's hard to forget so many people were killed purely for being educated- or not even educated, some were killed just for looking educated. Considering all the educated people they lost though, it's amazing how many schools and places for education they have, and how many children attend. 



SIHANOUKSVILLE
This was the beach part of Cambodia and it was nice, but it wasn't anything overly impressive. The most we done there was relax on the beach, and the beach wasn't overly nice or anything. There are a few good bars in Sihanoukville though, apparently there are some along the beach but I didn't see them. It was nice and had things to do but there wasn't an overwhelming list of things to do.


SNORKELLING TRIP
On the second day in Sihanoukville some of us went on a boat trip (one of the girls was so hungover, it was pretty funny but also felt quite bad for her) to a little island with the most beautiful beach. The boat was nothing fancy, but it was fun. The sun was beaming down on to our backs, and it was so quiet- we were so far away from any other people and the feeling of isolation created such a blissful and relaxing feeling. It were if the sea was protecting us from any negativity. In saying that, it was fun and relaxing but it wasn't the most amazing experience of my life. That's not to sound ungrateful, but I easily could have stayed on the beach all day. I don't really like snorkelling, and despite knowing this about myself I still went. To be fair, to say I snorkelled is a bit of a stretch. I pretty much just swam with a pair of snorkelling goggles on my head, whilst in a constant state of nerves due to the threat of fish and sea urchins. I just really hate fish, I hate the thought of one touching me and I don't want to see them, which is rude of me since I am entering their home by going in the sea. The beach where we stopped for a while was absolutely beautiful, we spent a few hours lazing about here, trying not to forget a single detail of the beautiful scenery, before heading back. 


Two extra things. Firstly, in Cambodia you have to try an amok curry- it's a classic Cambodian dish and they are delicious (although it is restaurant dependent). Also, in Siem Reap you can go to a circus  show, which is pretty cool. By circus I mean acrobats who dance and do gymnastics- I just thought I'd include that as I found it really nice that they still have time to appreciate the arts and show off their skills. I am a bit delirious now as this post has genuinely taken me a week to write. So with that, I bid you good bye and will do my Vietnam adventures next!

8 comments

  1. I love hearing about your travels, it's nice to read an honest post rather than sugar coated post about places people travel. Loved your bit about the nightlife in Siem Reap, sounds like madness but my kind of place. The pictures are all so pretty, it's definitely giving me the travel bug!

    Lucy Jane | Infinity of Fashion

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    1. Ah thanks Lucy- I found it so hard to take picture aha. Siem Reap was mad but so fun!x

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  2. YAS, it sounds like you had the best time and I adore the pics (especially the sunset one). Can't wait for the Vietnam so I can live vicariously through your amazing trip hahah

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  4. The pictures you took are so dreamy and it also sounds like you had the most amazing time. I feel like I need to book a trip Cambodia right this moment!

    Fran | www.franciscarockey.co.uk

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  5. I absolutely loved this post Libby and it sounds like you had an incredible time in Cambodia. It seems like an incredible country and the photos are so gorgeous! Maybe one day I'll get myself out there!

    Lucy | Forever September

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  6. Gorgeous photos Libby!! Looks and sounds like you had a wonderful time, I love the sound of the New Hope Restaurant. The sunrise at Angkor Wat sounds amazing too! I so want to go xoxo

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