Cambodia

Central Market and a Night of Regret

A 40 minute walk in Vancouver is considered a casual stroll. However in Cambodia, it is a sweating nightmare.

On this fateful day, it began with our arrival back to Phnom Penh via sleeper bus. For foreign passengers, you never truly know where your stop is at on a sleeper bus unless you use a map or when you are at the last stop. This is where the bus driver either shouts in Khmer, or starts blasting music through the speakers.

We returned so early that the hotelier at the Lucky Star was still sleeping on the floor behind the counter so we had to get one of the hotel guards to wake her up. It turns out they had no vacancy so we were sent across the street to another building. Cockcroach aside, the hotel was clean. (Thanks Jon for killing it and leaving it behind the bed.)

Tip: Use WiFi to save offline maps in the Google Maps app on your phone.  You will be able to track your position when you’re away from WiFi because GPS relies on cellular towers for location rather than data. You just need to:

  1. Make sure your phone is connected to the local cell network.
  2. Turn off roaming or cellular data to avoid being charged overseas data usage by your carrier

We set out for the Central Market near downtown Phnom Penh. Clarence led the way and told us that it was within walk able distance. It turned out to be at least a 25 minute walk. It was not too bad, just unexpected for Lawrence and Jonathan (walking 25 minutes in the sun is not the same in Phnom Penh as it is in Vancouver).

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The central atrium of Central Market features a dome ceiling illuminated by natural light filtering through skylights, and artificial lighting from the shopping stalls

Here you can find counterfeit electronics including iPhones, Android phones, and watches.

The atrium branches off into a maze of wings that sell very inexpensive clothing, shoes, and backpacks.

We ate at a stall where Lawrence did THE Mark Wiens impression. Video to come!

We then left the market and bought our next ticket to Ho Chi Minh City for $10 (We saw the same bus ticket just around the corner for $8).

Tip: Always shop around. Travel agencies are usually grouped together so it only takes a few minutes to get a handful of prices. Agencies are likely selling tickets for the same bus anyway so save those dollars where you can and use them toward meals instead!

We then proceeded to a supermarket to buy some snacks for the 6 hour bus ride the next morning to HCMC.

We headed back to our hotel at 3pm and that was the end… we slept until the next day, skipping dinner. We thought about buying dinner at the local mall, but we all saw each other sleeping at different moments and gave up.

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Cambodia

Ankor Wat, Siem Reap and a “Very Attractive Show”

Rude Awakening

Our bus slowed to a stop, but something was different.

There was a growing din of Cambodian music and the groggy groans of other passengers. We heard a voice shouting in Khmer which we assumed was telling us to get off the bus. Fondling our way through the darkness, we reached the bus exit and were surrounded by a crowd of almost thirty people.

We knew this was our final stop in Siem Reap when we saw our bags piled up on the dusty ground. It turns out the people crowd comprised passengers waiting to board and tuk-tuk drivers offering to give us a lift.

Despite many travellers online warning not to take a night bus due to poor road quality and frequent crashes, we found it is a good way to save time and hotel costs.

After gathering our belongings and our senses, one of the staff members that was on our bus told us he could tuk-tuk us to the inner city where there were restaurants. We had two hours to spare before our tour started so we decided to go with him. Of course he wanted to make a quick buck, but we thought it would be a good idea to buy some more water and find WiFi.

After breakfast at the Blue Pumpkin, a Western-style restaurant (with Western prices) we met with our bus driver, a youngish, bald man donning a distinctive red fedora. When we asked him why he became a tour guide, he said that he has no choice; that is difficult to make a living in Cambodia. We remarked about the small number of ex-pat Cambodians, and the driver said that this is because most Cambodians are poor and never get to visit another country. It made me realize how fortunate all three of us were to be able to save enough money in a few months to travel across the world and enjoy God’s creation and people.

First Disappointment

When we arrived at the temple area we were disappointed that our “tour guide” was just a driver who did not follow us into the temples to tell us their history. He did, however, tell us the general direction we should tour and where to meet him after each temple.

Left to our own devices, we took the opportunity to climb the temples and admire their beauty from the top.

At the Bayon temple and other smaller temples, Cambodians will try to start a friendly conversation by first guessing where you are from, and then asking what you do. They will follow you and show you good angles to take pictures — it is very easy to be captivated by their friendliness.

You have to remember that you are at a tourist area and everyone is trying to make money off you. While I don’t doubt those guides are informative, don’t expect them to be cajoling you because you are special. If you don’t want a tour, just firmly say no and explain you wish to explore the temples yourself.

Now, as for the temples, though time has clearly taken a toll on the stone, one can still see intricate carvings and the integrity of the structures. The gaps between the stones were tight, similar to the fit-and-finish the Mayan temples are known for. It is quite amazing to imagine people building the structures without heavy machinery.

The searing Cambodian weather was worsened by the distance between the temples where the sun bore down indiscriminately. You could try to find refuge in the temples, but the dilemma was that you are crammed with other sticky bodies and lack of air circulation.

At the base of temples you can occasionally see heads peeping from the upper levels which gave some motivation that I too could ascend and enjoy the view. Of course, you have to first climb stairs that were created before optimal rise and run ratios were discovered. I, personally, was impressed by the older tourists who seemed to be handling the ascents just fine — not to mention they were all much dryer that I was!

 

After the smaller temples, we had lunch at nearby restaurant which of course had prices of a tourist attraction (read: double at $6 USD). However, perhaps the AC and WiFi was worth the price of admission?

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With our stomachs semi-replenished and a quick wipe-down of sweat, we headed to the most iconic temple in Cambodia: Ankor Wat.

At a distance, the anticipation was building as we saw the three tops of the roofs peeking eagerly through the trees. We were dropped off pat the trees at a sandy clearing. This was the rear of Ankor Wat without the typical water you see surrounding the temple where we would eventually end up.

 

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As beautiful as the temple was, a long day of visually similar temples had dampened the excitement. We visited the many temples in Siem Reap in an afternoon evein though many would suggest multiple days. Whike visiting the temples there were many tour guides with large French and Korean groups. Unfortunately I was not able to make out any details.

Cheapskate’s tip: Learn foreign languages so you can listen in on a tour without them suspecting so. It helps to learn a language not associated with your race. E.g. Learn French if you are Chinese.

Second Disappointment

After the temples, we went to the Floating Villages which are restaurants and stores floating on the Tonle Sap Lake. We took a motor boat down the inlet to the main lake area. When we encountered another boat coming the opposite duration our boats nearly touched since only a narrow area of water deep enough to be navigable. We also got splashed with huge waves of muddy water so don’t wear your best clothes when visiting the Floating Villages!

The lake is extremely shallow and you can see people standing knee-high in some areas even though we were a few hundred meters from shore. We stopped at a restaurant/store which sold alligator leather goods and other souvenirs. We quickly perused the store and found nothing of interest.

We saw a church on the water near the floating store we were on, but apparently we could not navigate there because our boat was too big for the waters.

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The tour guide apologized because he claimed he not know that the lake was low tide or that it was going to be murky. We found that hard to believe and felt cheated of our $22 USD.

We had about two hours before dinner so we asked the driver to bring us to a mall where we cleaned ourselves off and ate some Lucky Burger, a fast food chain. Ironically the burgers were awful, but the chicken was very good and inexpensive.

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Third Disappointment

Our final destination was a buffet with a traditional Cambodian dancing show. The tour guide described it as “very attractive show” with “hundreds of food choices”. This was not my first time on a tour and I should have known that the show and buffet was of the tourist-trap variety.

Sadly, the food was very mediocre, especially for $16 USD. I normally try to get my money’s worth, but due to exchaustion and unappealing food, I stopped after my first plate — unheard of!

The Cambodian dance show did feature “attractive” dancers, but they were not very synchronized. We learned the hard way that the tour guides always try to make commission and may recommend activities that may not be worth your time.

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We still had a couple of hours before our night bus home so we find a cafe and used their WiFi for two hours (of course we bought drinks)!

It took a second to remember we were in Cambodia after spending time in the comfort of the café.

We hailed a tuk-tuk driver didn’t know where our station was and had to call for help multiple times during our ride. He even turned into a lane meant for opposite traffic (not that it really matters in Cambodia!). Thankfully we made it back to the bus station in time.

The tuk-tuk driver wanted wanted $5 for he ride because it was further than he thought, but since we already agreed on $4, we held our ground and that was the end of that.

Tip: Make sure you negotiate the price before you get in a tuk-tuk.

We will be back in Phnom Penh around 6:30am tomorrow if all goes well 😀

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Cambodia

Easy Peasy Not So Breezy

To start the day we woke up bright and early for breakfast at 7:30am at the restaurant right across the street.The noodle soup had a light clear broth that wasn’t too salty. I ordered the “Normal Noodle” using broken Khmer by pointing to the menu and saying bei (three). The store owner apparently understood and within minutes we were served hot noodles with an assortment of delicious mystery meats. The ice coffee quite strong was made rich and creamy with condensed milk.

We walked away satisfied having only paid $7.25 for breakfast and headed to our next destination — Olympic Stadium. Despite the name, the stadium never hosted the Olympics. It was not even built for the Olympics, but rather for smaller Asian sports competitions.

Walking along the perimeter, we heard a lot of sports being paid, but we couldn’t find a way in. However, we were able to find a just-open-enough gate to enter the main stadium area.

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An abandoned watchtower, perfect for sniping zombies during the apocalypse.

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Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Though we didn’t play any sports, we were sweating from the 38 degree heat. We walked back to the hotel to hail a tuk-tuk driver with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in mind.

Depressing, is a word that can sum up the emotions that are evoked when visiting the museum. The highschool-turned-genocide-grounds were where over 20,000 people were killed and it was one of over 150 such execution centres in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. If you have not heard about the Khmer Rouge, you probably want to read up on it. Unfortunately, we only hear about Hitler or Mao in high school, but we are never taught about Pol Pot (Update: May 14: we are in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, and a hostel roomate from England also shared how she never heard of Pol Pot before visiting Cambodia).

As a brief overview, when the Khmer Rouge government ruled, the crazed leader, Pol Pot, wanted to keep Cambodia an agrarian society, thus eliminating those who were deemed intelligent such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or even those who appeared intelligent (e.g. those wearing glasses).

The dark stains you see on the floor is actually prisoners’ blood that could not be cleaned.

 

Gun Range

I think we all walked away from the museum with a knot in our throats.

Almost distastefully considering the museum we just visited, the next stop planned was a shooting range, which is popular among tourists to Phnom Penh.

The tuk-tuk ride took around 45 minutes and when we arrived, we were greeted by a large, unenthusiastic man with a farmer’s hat reclined on a chair. He gave us a catalogue of guns that contained the ammo count and jacked up prices. Clarence opted for an AK-47 and was given 25 bullets while Jonathan chose a bullpup rifle and fired 20 shots. Our target was a coconut about 250 feet away.

The bullets were hard to trace and seemed to favour the left as if the barrel were crooked or if the gun were shooting blanks. Overall it was a disappointment for the price we paid ($50 USD each) but is something that we can cross off of our bucket list.

 

Aeon Mall

Because we booked tickets to Ankor Wat in Siem Reap the day before we had to check out of the hotel at 12pm, meaning today is the first day we are actually carrying our backpacks into the city.

We decided to indulge ourselves and start with the familiar shopping mall. Aeon Mall, a Japanese establishment featuring modern architecture and stores, transports you into a world that you don’t associate with “Cambodia”.

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We had too much time to burn before our trip to Siem Reap so we decided to watch Captain America (don’t judge us). the tickets cost $5 USD the 3D version plus $1 USD for 3D glasses.

The illusion of home was sutatined until a couple of minutes into the movie when “Tommy Texters”, and “Seatkicking Suzys” began in full throttle. Although there were notices to keep quiet and refrain from using cellphones, movie watchers did not appear bothered by others turning on their phone’s flashlights when going to the bathroom and having full-on conversations, both on the phone and in-person. In a way, the atmosphere was quite enjoyable and casual, although I don’t know how I would feel about the same distractions during an emotional movie.

Also, a medium popcorn in Cambodian standards is more lie a half of a small bag in Vancouver. I’m sure Cambodians would be amazed at the absurd sizes of popcorn we are able to consume. The drink size however was similar to ones back home.

As much as we enjoyed the controlled temperature and filtered air of Aeon Mall, we reminded ourselves the reason for backpacking is to try new things and immerse ourselves into the culture of the country.

So, we exited the mall and immediately combusted into sweat again. went to a night market near waterfront that we’ve passed by before. Because we had to checkout to night market to eat food.

After killing time at a bar, where Clarence got quite high, we walked to the travel agency where we bought our Siem Reap tickets, and boarded the night bus.

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The night bus was very clean and we get a blanket, AC, and a bottle of water. There were both tourists and natives taking the bus.

We’ll see you tomorrow in Siem Reap!

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Cambodia

Independence Monument, Royal Palace, and a Haircut

Independence Monument

Luckily for us the Lucky Star hotel is located near attractions that we could visit. Once such attraction is the Independence Monument which was built in 1958 for Cambodia’s independence from France.

The monument is the centrepiece of a large roundabout similar to the Arc of Triumph in Paris. From across the street we wondered if we were allowed in the Monument. However after a quick assessment of the traffic we thought: we would rather not die.

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The Independence Monument.

 

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It looks like the heat already got to him.

 

 

Haircut

While sightseeing, we were on the lookout for a barber shop for Jon. The first shop we found asked for $5 which was too much (in Cambodia). A few minutes down the street there was another store that charged $3 USD.

When we entered, the workers were very accommodating and turned up the air conditioning and asked if we wanted water. From our experience so far, Cambodians have been very friendly and always helpful.

The barber shop workers and us started talking and they asked if we were Korean (which we’ve gotten multiple times on the trip). We explained we are from Canada, and they said “Oh, Europe!”.

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After the haircut we walked through the heat to find the Royal Palace. We greatly underestimated the time it took to walk just a few kilometers in Cambodia and we definitely did not account for the obstacle course sidewalks littered with crumbled bricks, scooters, and sandy areas.

We were running on fumes and the sun was at its highest point. Even Clarence, the fittest among us, was struggling.

We took the mandatory lunch break and replenished our water supplies before heading to the Royal Palace.

Tip: Don’t bother bringing water hydration packs. You’ll go through water so quickly it’s not even worth filling them up. There are plenty of stores selling cold 1.5 L bottles of water for 40-60¢.

The bottles often have handles so you can hook them into your backpack with a carabiner.

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is definitely worth a visit if you like architectural photography. The main temple is distinctly Asian, but it seems to have more roof sections, higher rooftops and pointier extrusions than Chinese and Korean temples that I’ve seen. The result is almost a architecture of a temple.

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Cambodia

Arrived Safely at the Hotel

  • We apologize in advance for sloppy writing and typos. The posts are probably written at the end of a long day of travel day and serve as a dumping ground for all our ideas.
  • This trip was started out of our collective desire to experience something completely new before we all get too tied down with the responsibilities of life (of which we have been shirking for the longest time.

After 16 hours of flying, we were greeted by the grey, humid skies of Guangzhou. The airport was dim and quite warm, but we were able to amuse ourselves during the long walk to the arrival area with the rain running off the curved glass windows.

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It was raining extremely hard which made the curved glass a waterfall feature.

Look, we found a Blenz Coffee at the Guangzhou Airport!

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Reminds us of home.

The total came to ¥216. $32 USD or $42 CAD. The most impressive thing about the meal was not the stiff pink sheets of “ham”, but the $10 CAD iced latte.

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Definitely not like the Blenz at home though.

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We made a bet before the trip about whether our boarding gate would be changed. To our surprise, our boarding gate was changed to a completely different floor of the airport – something I’ve experienced multiple times before with China Eastern.

After almost 20 hours of traveling we finally landed in Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH). Getting our $30 USD for our tourist visas was painless – we just had to fill out a quick form and provide one passport photo (not 2 like I’ve ofree reas). We also briefly connected to the free WIFI and contacted friends and family to let them know we arrived safely.

While walking out of the airport a man called out to us from a booth to our left. The price on their window was in English saying a taxi would be $6-9 USD. We wanted to try our luck and ignore him — instead walking into the Cambodian heat with a feigned confidence.

Outside, we were greeted with even more taxi and tuk tuk drivers looking to pick up tourists. We were about to walk back to the first stall for transportation when a man accosted us and asked us where we wanted to go. He said the ride to Lucky Star Hotel would be $10 USD, which we agreed to, because at this point we just wanted to go home.

We began our trip to the hotel while constantly monitoring on our pre-loaded map making sure we were headed in the right direction. After a few questionable turns into alleyways, and taking in the bustling city sights and sounds, we finally arrived at the Lucky Star.

Tomorrow will be the first day exploring the city. See you then!

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Cambodia, Vietnam

Backpacking to South East Asia as sheltered Canadian

I think I’ve finally found a niche – a travel blog about sheltered individuals who don’t know the first thing about travelling. Don’t expect advice from a seasoned backpacker on this blog, because you’ll be in for a surprise when you end up in Laos trying to get to Vietnam by following our advice.

One common theme I’ve noticed while reading travel blogs is that the blogs often cater to travellers – people who already know what they’re doing, but perhaps need a crash course for a particular country. These blogs are absolutely great resources for any trip, but I’m sure you also want to read about people getting scammed, lost, and sick, right?

If you’re a slow-moving North American whose idea of danger is crossing an intersection when the orange hand is blinking, I hope reading about my adventures will inspire you to travel the world, or at least provide some form of entertainment.

For those reading this blog who are about to head off to a trip of your own – great! Let’s experience this amazing world together and learn along the way. You’d better enjoy this blog before I become that seasoned traveller.

 

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