I don't need to say much about our 10 days on the beach. Here are a few photos:
I've decided that if Brandon and I ever get hitched, we don't really need an exotic tropical honeymoon. We've already had one, on Koh Lanta, in Southern Thailand.
I don't need to say much about our 10 days on the beach. Here are a few photos:
Let me first admit my ignorance about Angkor. I had seen photographs of Angkor Wat. Sure, it was beautiful and a must see for a tourist. But I had no idea before this trip that Angkor Wat is only one structure, among 70+ other temples and palaces that have survived since Angkor's fall from prevalance in 1431. They are both Hindu and Buddhist in flavor. The Angkor ruins are a must see and well worth the crazy $40, 3 day pass admission fee.
We decided to take a tuk tuk with driver on our first day, to catch sunrise over Angkor Wat and then some of the ruins that are further away. On our second day we rented bicycles from our guesthouse and cycled around the complex. Here's a quick overview.
First - sunrise over Angkor Wat. We hate mornings but this was magical. We joined about 150 other people, cameras pointing east, and I tried to grab some interesting shots by changing the settings on my camera.
We hopped in the tuk tuk and Mr. Naray took us out to Banteay Srei, a temple 15 miles from the main complex. The carvings at Banteay Srei are particularly detailed. It is called the "Citadel of Women" due to the intricate carvings.
We also went to Pre Rup, East Mebon, Banteay Samre, Ta Som, Neak Pean, and Preah Kahn.
"Ruining" is hard work. Actually, the sun and all the climbing up and down and over ruins is exhausting. Lucky for us, we found the best guesthouse in Siem Reap: Sam So Guesthouse.
We've stayed in a lot of places during our travels and Sam So and his family were the nicest people we've encountered (outside of friends and family of course!). We spend a couple evenings chatting over cold beers with Sam So and his family. http://samsoguesthouse.com/
One other night we tried this $3 BBQ place across the street from our guesthouse. They brought a little grill with a steamer top to our table and we cooked lots of squid, noodles, and veggies. Yum.
On day two we rented bicycles and explored the main temple complex. It took about 40 minutes to get from our guesthouse to Angkor Wat, going at a leisurely pace on our single speeds.
We cycled first to Ta Prohm, most famous now for its appearance in Tomb Raider. It used to be the home of 12,000+ people.
We stopped at Ta Keo, a temple that's not as popular with tour groups but pleasantly surprised us. The climb to the top was super steep and the climb down was not for those with fear of heights!
We also went to the Terrace of the Leper King, the Terrace of the Elephants, Thommanon, Phimeanakas. Pictures on Flickr!
Our last two stops were the two most popular: Bayon and Angkor Wat.
Bayon is the temple with all the faces. They are stunning but also a little creepy. There are 216 faces in Bayon - some day its the face of the King Jayavarman VII, other say its the face of the Buddha of Compassion (it's worth noting that the currently Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara).
Going for a perfect circle, we ended the day at Angkor Wat.
By that time, our butts hurt from the cycling (it's been a while!). What better way to fix that than spending a couple hours at the Blue Pumpkin, an awesome cafe with big couches where you can lean back, legs reclined, and catch up on some communiques!
The reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia ended 31 years ago. Though they were in power only four years, it is believed that 20% of the population died at their hands or due to illness or starvation. Their rationale for their policies was often hypocritical and fueled by paranoia. "Intellectuals" and anyone with an education were immediately declared enemies of state, yet all of the leadership were French-educated university graduates. Visiting Cambodia it is hard to put this recent history behind. As we crossed the border from Laos into Cambodia, I wondered if the older guards had been Khmer Rouge fighters.
In Phnom Penh, there is a Khmer Rouge prison, now a museum called Tuol Sleng, or S-21. It has become a must-see for tourists, in the way that Dachau is if you visit Munich. As travelers, I believe it is important to bear witness to this, even if it's difficult. It helps us understand the society and culture a little better. It is also a stark reminder that mass genocide can be committed by any society, not just "evil people."
S-21 is in the center of Phnom Penh. It's an old high school that was converted into a prison and torture center. Duch, now being tried by the ICC, was at the helm. 17,000+ people died at S21 and only 12 survived.
It is a haunting place because the brutality of the Khmer Rouge is in your face. The ground floor consists of holding cells where prisoners were tortured and killed. The metal beds that victims were shackled to are still there, as well as the instruments of torture.
All prisoners were photographed upon their arrival and now many of those photos are on display. In most faces you see fear, but in others remarkable calm. It's eerie. I wondered about their lives, each of their stories, now just swept into history.
In Cambodia they are only now beginning to teach the history of the Khmer Rouge and its atrocities to high school students. I wish there were more education about violent regimes that focused less on the personalities on top and more on the conditions that allow the mass murders to occur. I fear that the apathy that we see in our society today is one of these conditions, and it needs to be counteracted quickly.
This is my happy fun time positive post on Phnom Penh. I'm saving S-21 and the genocide talk for another post.
We spent 5 lovely nights in Phnom Penh at the home of Ellen, a friend of my dear friend Kate. Ellen left Seattle 18 years ago and has been living here since, running social services programs. She was the kind of host we couchsurfers dreams of -- offering a nice bed, good conversation, amazing meals, pointers on the city, free reign of her home and stuff --- all the while working and letting us do our thing. So thank you so much Ellen! It was awesome.
Phnom Penh is a really fun city to explore and would actually be somewhat walkable if cars and other obstructions were not on the wide sidewalks. We managed to walk quite a bit - much to the dismay of the eager drivers on every corner who wished for us to hire them.
One day we went to S-21 (more on that later) and then explored the Russian Market. It was the first of many markets for us.
Another day we went to the National Museum (good and cheap!) and I caved and bought an "American priced" tank top that caught my eye the previous day (see pink top below).
On Soiree evening, the evening I would have been running around like a crazy woman if I were still in Seattle, we all went to see a movie then grabbed dinner at the Foreign Correspondents Club.
What else did we do? Lots of browsing at the local markets. Brandon found a couple of $1.50 DVDs. We hung out at Gloria Jeans, which felt like a Cambodia Starbucks (because of the prices).
A few things of note about Cambodia. There are lots of people trying to sell stuff but we found they were mostly very nice and trying to make a living. We considered India good practice for that.
Also, the driving in PP was a little chaotic, especially since turning into oncoming traffic to make a left turn seems to be a perfectly acceptable move here. And not just in PP but apparently everywhere in Cambodia.
They use US dollars here as well as Cambodia riel. When we went to the ATM, we got US Dollars. Inconveniently, a $100 bill (thankfully easy to change in the bank).
The cats here are not nearly as nice as those in Laos. Except for Ellen's cats -- lovely little beasts who both dropped to the ground immediately upon petting them. "Plop" and continue to "pet me." I enjoyed the cat time...
More about the Khmer Rouge, and then an update on our time in Siem Reap, exploring Angkor Wat, coming soon.
I really like looking at monkeys as long as they are far enough away from me.
We started calling them bandars in India. One day we were walking down the street in Rishikesh and heard a group of kids screaming "bandar, bandar!" and then realized they were talking about the monkeys.
At Angkor, I got sucked into the monkey feeding racket. There's a highly socialized troupe of monkeys by the side of the road, who have plenty of food to eat due to the tourists feeding them bananas and some other odd fruit that local vendors sell. I couldn't resist this seemingly safe opportunity to have a moment with a baby monkey.
These guys here are more like bandars. A whole group of them attacked this motorcycle. One took to tugging on the mirror, another tried to rip off the mud flap. Mom kept watch and a couple babies were hopping around. All was fine until a baby tried to attack me and I ran away.
And finally, in monkey news of the week - Langurs have been hired to keep away those pesky macaque monkeys at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Check it out.
In the span of two days I've seen the largest spider and biggest insect I've ever seen.
Surprisingly, Laos turned out to be the most expensive country we've traveled to so far. We racked up our expenses mostly in transportation costs, where there seems to be a system in place to charge foreigners more for tickets. Our original plan was to stop at a couple of cities south of Vientiane before Pakse - Tha Khaek and Savannakhet - but bus tickets were nearly as expensive to them as to Pakse. So we decided to skip them and take the sleeper bus to Pakse, thereby eliminating the cost of one night in a guesthouse.
The sleeper bus cost around $15/ticket. I think there were 20 beds. 10 on each side of the bus, bunk style. 2 people were assigned to each bed. Not bad for us, since we were together but not so pretty for those traveling solo who were assigned to a bed with a stranger. And these were small beds requiring some physical contact. A few arguments broke out before we left and for good reason. A woman was assigned to sleep with a rather large dude, who took up the whole bed. Oh no. She refused to share with him and eventually managed to get her own bunk, after a bit of shifting (the man also got the entire bed to himself). We didn't sleep that well but it was more comfortable to lay down than to sit up all night. The bus only broke down once, a blown tire I think, and then we were off again within the hour.
When we arrived in Pakse, we spent an hour or so looking for a room. We grabbed some coffee at a new place on the main strip and met a lovely woman named "Su." She is from Vietnam and works in Laos with her sister, managing some men's clothing shops. We hit it off and hung out all day. She took us to her store and we met all her friends. It was really the highlight of Pakse, as the city itself was pretty boring. We had hoped to find a cheap tour to the Bolavan Plateau, where there are waterfalls and coffee plantations, but it cost too much. We are in serious budget balancing mode now so we skipped.
The next morning we took the "bus" (kind of like a pickup but with a roof) to the "ferry" (a longtail boat - us and the captain) to Don Det. Don Det is an island in the 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don) region of Laos, in the Mekong. There are three major islands and we stayed at the one that seemed to be the most fun. There were about 10 tourists on the island and it was completely dead. After eating amazing food for months we were completely disappointed in the food on the island. We heard later that Don Khon was a better option. What I did like was the wildlife on the island. Lots of chickens and chicks, pigs, dogs, cats, cows, and my new favorite, water buffaloes.
We rented a super cheap bungalow on our 2nd night that only cost $2. I woke up in the middle of the night scratching a fresh mosquito bit and went on a killing rampage (we were in a mosquito net but the buggers somehow got in). We strapped on our headlamps and went to work and when we were done, I laid down while Brandon was making sure we didn't miss any. Then he said "Sit up." I did and he shined the light above my pillow near the headboard, illuminating a large cockroach. It scurried across the top of the bed and then down into the crack between the mattress and the frame. Not cool. We laid down and then Brandon noticed a second one "the size of GM" on the outside of our mosquito. I said, "We're moving [tomorrow]." I was exhausted and resigned, knowing I couldn't really do anything, so I tried to get some sleep. Then I heard something under my pillow. "Brandon, I hear something under my pillow. Should I look?" He chuckled and I sat up again, lifted the pillow and sure enough a cockroach rushed out. Resignation and the cockroaches won - we fell asleep somehow - and then moved to a much nicer $3 bungalow the next day. We spent 4 nights on Don Det and didn't do much.
We walked, laid in our hammocks, talked, read books, and played lots of gin rummy. We met lots of lovely island cats, all who were super loveable and most had gnarly tails. It makes you wonder... We said happily said "bye" to Don Det, "la gon" to Laos, and continued our journey to Cambodia.
Val's Life and Travel Blog
In April 2010 I left the security of my FT job to travel for eight months -- across the US, Europe, India, and SE Asia. I spent six weeks in Spain in Feb 2013 and experimented with working remotely for an extended period of time. (It worked!) This blog is mostly about my travels and occasional life updates.
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