Eye-opening trip to Cambodia

I’m sorry for my lack of posts lately! I have been very busy in the past few weeks and actually left Sydney four days ago to travel throughout parts of South-East Asia for three weeks. I promise I will make up for it though as I have many things to share about my trip already! So, let me begin by sharing my thoughts about the Cambodian culture.

Phnom Penh

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Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is an amazing city. It’s a place of extremes, chaos but one that somehow captivates you through the charming faces of its people. At first, I had trouble getting used to the chaotic atmosphere of the city – the traffic is absolutely crazy, local markets are very busy, rubbish and strong smells submerge every street corner and the look of the many beggars’ faces is impossible to escape or forget. However, I soon became much more comfortable walking throughout these busy streets as, somehow, I felt welcomed and safe.

By visiting the Tuol Sleng Geneocide Musem and the Killing Fields I was exposed to some of the hardest things I have ever seen/heard in my life. Our guide, Ly, shared some intimate life stories with us and I realised how almost every person living in Cambodia today has been affected either directly or indirectly by the horrors of the past. Even if you were not directly arrested by the Khmer Rouge, members of your family or friends were (note that you were arrested for simply being educated, for having a job or for being against the government, etc). Even if you were too young to be arrested your youth was still shattered. For example, Ly explained to us that when the Khmer Rouge took power he was only aged three years old and he was taken away from his family. He was forced to work in rice fields where he was fed once a day a tiny portion of rice (1kg of rice was served to 100 children). The conditions of work were very harsh as in summer the heat was unbearable and during the monsoon season disease were very common in the wet fields while leaches would grab on to your feet as you were harvesting. Miraculously, Ly was found by his mother at 7 years old (after the fall of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese entered into Cambodia), thanks to a photograph of Ly which was previously kept by his mother throughout the years of separation and terror. A few years onwards, one of Ly’s brother stepped on a land mine and lost his foot – sadly, he was only one of the many victims of the mines (note: the land mines were placed to stop Cambodians from escaping to neighbouring countries).

I could go on and on about the shocking information that I learnt in Cambodia. The most depressing part of it all was that, firstly, these horrific events happened not so long ago and, secondly, most people have no idea about any of it and will never even find out because the Cambodian history is not taught in schools much. So even though there is nothing I can really do to change what happened in the past I feel that learning about it at least gives me the opportunity to treasure what I have and to support good causes which work towards building a better future for Cambodia.

Siem Reap

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I preferred the town of Siem Reap over Phnom Penh. Maybe because it was a bit less busy than the capital and the streets were very charming. One of the best areas was ‘Pub Street’ as well as the Old Markets (one of the best markets I have ever been too – cheap and clean!) But Siem Reap is mostly known for the many temples and most notably Angkot Wat which is definitely worth visiting. The sunrise is extraordinary and well worth waking up at 4:45am for!

Summary of the sights and activities I would recommend you to do if you are going to Phnon Penh and Siem Reap on a small budget:

Phnon Penh

– Tuol Sleng, Museum
– Killing Fields of Chorung Ek
– Royal Palace

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– Wat Phnom

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– Get some massages done! There are tones of cheap places around.

Siem Reap

– Angkor Wat

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– Angkor Thom City Bayon
– Elephant terrace to watch sunset (note: the sunset is not as impressive as the sunrise at Angkor Wat but the elephant terrace is one of the best places to watch the sunset)
– Jungle Temple
– Banteay Srey Temple

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– ACCB (Angkor Centre for Conservation and Biodiversity) http://www.accb-cambodia.org/en/news.php?id=2
– Cooking class at the Temple Club located on Pub Street (only costs $10 and includes starter, meal, desert, t-shirt and visit to local markets – I will discuss this more in details in my next post!)

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– Pub Street at night

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– Old and night markets

That’s it for me! I hope this post gave you a concise insight of Cambodia’s culture and the activities you can do when visiting the country’s two largest cities!

For some more detailed information about these two places visit these two useful traveling websites:

http://www.tripadvisor.com
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cambodia

Coming soon: Guide to eating and accommodation for Phnom Penh and Siem Reap :)

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