Category Archives: Cambodia

Monkey Island in Cambodia: Beauty in all forms

It was a beautiful two weeks in Cambodia, with the most beautiful experience of staying on Monkey Island in Cambodia, and I can honestly say I was sad to leave.
Our hostel, Monkey Republic, in Sihanoukville was one of those hostels where when you’re sitting there during happy hour or eating breakfast in the morning, you look around and realize you’re a backpacker. It’s just such a relaxed atmosphere, with people lounging around on the benches, falling asleep in the big, comfortable chairs, watching movies or sharing stories about the chaos that unfolded the night before.
We definitely made the most of our time in Sihanoukville. We ate seafood barbeque on the beach for 3 dollars while watching the sunset and awaiting our delicious and well-worth every penny kebobs.
One of the nights while we were eating dinner, three little girls who were supposed to be selling roses (the only downside is all of the peddlars bothering you every minute) decided they wanted to be kids for 20 minutes or so. They put the roses down on our table and just played in the sand, falling off the dunes onto one another, doing cartwheels, taking pictures with us and of one other with our camera. It sort of melted my heart in both a good and bad way; it’s like, do they ever really get to do this and just be kids?
One of the little girls had enough, and as I dozed off in my chair, she crawled in beside me and took a nap with me. She couldn’t have been any older than 7, and all the jumping around knocked her out. She found herself a little nook, moved around here and there, but for the most part she fell asleep nestled in my arms for a good 15 minutes. She was so precious, and she had on this huge T-shirt that said, “Kiss me Plese”. Downside to having a random little kid take a nap against you: Her hair smelled like it hadn’t been washed in ages; however, that almost made me like her all the more. All I hear about myself from my family when I was little is that I would scream if anyone came close to trying to put a brush through my hair, so in a way, the little girl and I were “same same but different” as they say here in Asia.
Our last day was probably spent in a way that I could never truly put into words. We four girls and our Kiwi friend, Murray, decided to take a boat to an island off Cambodia for the night, which was by far the best decision we’ve made this entire trip.

“Monkey Island in Cambodia

We docked to turquoise waters, a white, sandy beach dotted with ramshackle houses of all blues, pinks, purples and yellows, and a peace and quiet you can only find in a place that’s undiscovered. The five of us rented a bungalow right on the water for 20 bucks with a hammock on our deck and stepped off it onto the softest sand my feet have ever touched.
We trekked up a waterfall practically upon our arrival, swimming in the different pools and climbing over jagged rocks, slippery rocks, small rocks and boulders that my legs had a hard time reaching over. Our ‘local’ guide, Shay, a guide from the UK who found himself on the island and ended up not leaving, could have flown up and down the rocks with his eyes closed if he wanted, but he paced himself for us. We climbed and climbed and climbed some more but didn’t even come close to the top. We wanted to make sure we made it down safely and unscathed before the sun went down.
We went for a swim in the ocean before dinner, sat around playing cards with a French girls and two Aussie kids, then went for a night swim which was unlike any experience I’ve ever had. We swam in Phosphorscent algae, and the water lights up in the darks. We kicked around our legs, swooshed around our feet and swirled around our hands and watched the colors dart out and dance in front of us. It was beyond words incredible. It felt like we were creating life with our every touch.
The night was beyond comprehension brilliant in every sense of the word. We had a blanket of stars and the lull of the ocean to help us drift off to sleep and awake to an amazing sunrise.

Sunrise over Monkey Island in Cambodia

It was definitely a place I didn’t want to leave. All I could think of was how I wished my dad could see what I was seeiing, and how my trip took me to an island off the coast of Cambodia where life is so still that it almost feels brand new. I really have so many moments throughout the day when I just stop and take in all that’s going on around me, like time stops and all I can think of is how lucky I am and how happy I will be when I look back on my life years from now.
But sadly we had to say good bye to Cambodia, a place I have absolutely fallen in love with. It was rough around the edges but had a heart that was so soft, we felt right at home.
We arrived in Saigon, Vietnam early this morning and the only way to describe it as a beautiful mess. More to come throughout my journey through Nam.

Category: Asia, Cambodia

History in Cambodia

I am alive and well in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, which is probably one of my favorite placet by far. We met an awesome group of people, ate delicious barbecue by the beach last night and are living a life that others could only dream of.
Phonm Phen was a city with two faces: It had the charm and romance of a European city, situated along a river that was dotted with cafes and children playing soccer and families taking strolls. It had me captivated.
But tien you see the otherside of it, the dirt and grim that snakes its ways through and the little kids with distended bellies naked through the street.
There is a lot of history in Cambodia, and Phonm Phen is the center of the dark and grim years under Pol Pot. We visited the Toul Sleng museum, a high school- turned-camp. This was the place where Cambodians were brought to following their capturing for questioning by using various methods of torture and killing their prisoners.
The beds and tools stil remain in place in some of the classrooms. In otre building s, room after room is line d with harrowing photographs of men, women and children who were killed by Pol Pot and his government. It is a bonechilling experience to see these dark, empty, vacant eyes staring back at you- peppole Who never had the chance to live. It is brutally difficult to’ see.
The killing fields are all the more dreary, with the skulls of the victis and their tattered clothes on display in glass cases, some of which are not enclosed. The fields Are line d with Mass graves, with some 20,000 people having been killed there. A child’s shorts were at the top of the pile of clothes, a small blue pair that looks like they were for a 3-year-old boy. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach upon seeing that.
We all four walked away from that day silently, thinking about how recent a tragedy this was and how we are surrounded by survivors. All of these Cambodians are survivors. It is an incredible realization to come to.
And for me, personally, that day made me realize how desperately I want to be a foreign journalist, how it must have been to cover such a large scale massacre. I’m still young yet, only 24, but I know what I want to do, so now I’m just finding the ‘write’ way there.

Category: Asia, Cambodia

Flooding in Siem Reap 2011

Siem Reap in the floods

This was our last day in Siem Reap, shortly after the flooding in Siem Reap began. We survived the flooding in Siem Reap in Cambodia 2011.

I ran through that water (actually, I more jumped to and fro over the little ripples from passing motorbikes and tuk tusk as if I were jumping over ocean waves) from restaurant to restaurant trying to find a TV with good reception that was showing Michael’s rugby game. We thought we were going to be trapped in Siem Reap. To be honest, that picture right there sums up why I love that city so much. It was such a beautiful mess, and it was unbelievably fun to see a city still function despite being knee deep in water. The kids were out splashing around, little tuk-tuk engines that could were powering their way through the waters, and locals were out and about getting on with their day. It hasn’t flooded that much since 2005. So, as sad as I am that we didn’t get to witness the magical sunrise above Angkor Wat, I basically swam my way around that city our last day – an experience that even further solidified my reputation as a backpacker. We brave the worst of it and more, but we walk away from it all with memories that could never be replaced.

Category: Asia, Cambodia

Exploring Angkor Wat

City of Angkor Thom, and for some reason this is my favorite photo.

Siem Reap is an undeniably fascinating city that sets your spirit on fire. There is something about the every day grind here that intrigues me. It offers travelers a refuge unlike any other: the Temples of Angkor.
There aren’t many things in life that can leave me entirely speechless, but exploring Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious structure, and the surrounding temples has my mind spinning in circles. The temples are about a 20 minute tuk-tuk (cheap, cheap) ride outside the city center. You’re watching time and history and an entire civilization unfold before you as you make your way there.
We started off small the first day, doing the low lights and explored the more desolate temples. At times we were the only ones around, and these crumbling temples that were so raw and covered in moss and snaked by tree branches were our playground. Laura, Molly, Carel and I sat atop one for a while, looking out onto the lush green fields below, breathing in every moment and trying to make it last forever.
It’s crazy to think that there we were, sitting on these stones that were constructed in 950 A.D. by people who never imagined this would all become what it did. It is so surreal to be sitting there, laughing with your friends and talking about things and people and ideas that never existed back then.
But today breached the realm of reality. What we explored today exuded such extreme power and beauty and dominance and tranquility that it felt so out of this world. To think that this is my life at the moment, conquering the Temples of Angkor while at the same time letting them overtake me and bring me back in time – I feel so incredibly lucky.

And to top of what was a brilliant afternoon meandering our way around, Carel, Molly and I had our first warm welcome to Cambodia. We sat waiting for our tuk-tuk driver to come and get us when we were encircled by a group of locals on a tour, their guide pointing at us and speaking about us in Cambodia. We had no idea what was going on but suddenly found ourselves being whisked away into family photos. The mothers and children were lined up to take pictures with us, and we must have taken them with about 15 or more families.
It made them so happy, and they all stood there beaming at us with such sincerity and warmth. These people had nothing. These kids were in dirty, tattered clothes and pajamas and the moms had smiles on their faces like we were some kind of movie stars. It made my heart float to the sky to know that I could bring them happiness from something so simple.
But now I’m exhausted, and even though there is so much more to write about, I’ll leave you all hanging. Ciao for now.

Category: Asia, Cambodia

Why you should travel to Asia when you’re young

Not now.

This is why you should travel to Asia when you’re young:
After taking some years off our lives in Vang Vieng, my friends and I headed to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I didn’t hear the greatest of things about the capital, and it really didn’t impact anything but my wallet. It was probably the most expensive of places by far. There was no street food, which means we had to resort to eating in restaurants that had 4 walls – that is more often than not beyond a backpacker’s means.
We were getting ready and excited to head to Cambodia, but after finding out that it was around a  37 hour - Lao time - bus ride, we decided to break the trip up by making a stop in 4000 Islands, Laos, which is right by the border with Cambodia.
The only way to get there was by a sleeper bus, because the trip is around like 12 hours or something. Laura, Molly, Carel, Walter and I bought our tickets, got our bags packed and readied ourselves for the trip ahead. I thought I was a sleeper bus pro after taking them in China, but this wasn’t anything like the ones I’ve taken before. My sleeper bus in China was these little, individual boxcar-type beds that were fairly clean and sanitary; this bus was actual beds. You would think that’d make for an enjoyable ride, but it was among the most disgusting sleeping conditions I’ve ever suffered through, including the time I had to share a makeshift bed with two other people in a maids’closet in Langkawi when there were no vacanies on the island.
We had a bed for four people, but Walter crashed with us since he was cozied up next to some random Lao man. The bed was at the back on the top level of this sleeper bus, and the mixture of valium, exhaust fumes and sweltering heat put me fast asleep; however, I did wake up once or twice throughout the night with a throat that was on fire from breathing in all the exhaust.
When we finally arrived at our transit point, we were told that ‘we just missed our bus’ to the dock for the islands, which was about 3 hours away. They’d arrange for us – free of charge – another form of transport: the luxurious songthaew, or basically a very small truck with two benches in the back of it. It’s rickity, raggedy and not at all comfortable, especially when it is packed with locals, but we had no choice. We needed to get to the islands.
I sat beside a young girl who was 20 and an older man who insisted on speaking to me in French, and at one point I think he told me that he had 3 wives and proposed the idea of marriage. Molly had taken out her netbook to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall and shared the 2 inch screen with a Lao woman who pleasantly watched along with her, even though she had no idea what was going on. Thankfully the netbook died before the long sex scene, a situation Molly felt would be entirely too awkward to be a part of.
As we drove through Laos, I was amazed at how these people knew where to get on the songthaew and where to get off. It isn’t like there are street names or designated bus stops or any sort of organization to it all. They just keep their eyes on the road, make their ways to the back and hop off when they approach where ever it is they live. It’s just mind boggling to me.
About 2 hours into the trip, the songthaew slowed down, and I experienced something unlike anything that has ever happened to me before. All these people started charging at us, jumping on to the truck and screaming in Lao while waving skewers of meats through the air. One lady had a whole chicken on skewers, its feet still attached with the claws wrapped around the stick and looking like they had been clinging on for dear life.
I sat in the back of this songthaew totally floored by what was happening, unable to do anything but laugh as I watched my friends try to avoid being hit in their faces by sticks of meat. It was positively insane, and a memory I will never forget as long as I live. If you could see the size of this songthaew, the amount of people that crowded into it with food and the screaming, the pulling out and exchanging of money and the meat being flung to and fro - the only thing you can really think is, “Is this actually happening right now?”
After a while, you kind of just give up, sit back and let things happen. When we were turning down random dirt roads into these weird villages and had no idea of where we were or where we were really going, we just would hope for the best that we would make it to our final destination.
It definitely took some time, and it definitely was no joy ride, but that’s the best thing about traveling: You find yourself in the most uncomfortable of situations that seem like pure misery at the moment, and then the next day you do nothing but laugh about it with your friends.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of why you should travel to Asia when you’re young.

Category: Asia, Cambodia, Laos