Monday, November 5, 2012

Cambodia, Part 1

So my PC adventure has come to an end. I said my goodbyes (which were very hard to do), and I left on a boat from Guimaras Island for the last time for probably a long time. I don't think it has really hit me yet that I won't be going back. Probably it will hit me as I board the plane heading back to the US. But before I do, a last hoorah in Asia is a must!

So before heading back to the States, I planned a 5 week trip of Asia. I have been looking forward to this trip so much, partly because my friend from the States, Linds, is joining me, and partly because it promises to be the relaxing long travel that I have wanted. Apart from booking my flights and having a somewhat time scale of where I wanted to be and for how long, I really didn't make much of a plan. I wanted this trip to be flexible and a day-to-day planning kind of trip... And so far it is and has been great! The best way I can think to tell you about this trip is to share with you my daily journal. Most of the hostels have computers with internet for public use. So for the next couple weeks, while I travel around, I will be posting my journal entries of my trip. I hope you enjoy!


Day 1 - Getting to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

My flight to Cambodia included a 18 hour layover in Singapore. This could have been a huge headache.. however, life working out the way it does sometimes, I have a friend who just moved to Singapore for a job! And she was nice enough to offer me to stay the night with her and her cousins. When my flight got in at around midnight, I took a (rather expensive) taxi to her house (thankfully it was not too far from the airport). I am so grateful that I was able to stay with them! Otherwise I would have spend that 18 hr layover in the airport! And their house was amazing! They had an extra room and bed for me complete with comfy blankets, aircon, hot shower and completely western bathroom! What luxury to me! They also have a house helper who is from the Philippines! So I enjoyed talking with her too!

They had work and plans in the morning and their house helper offered to cook me breakfast when I woke up, but I was determined to fit in some good Singapore food while I was there! I decided to go for a walk around their part of town. After a couple of blocks I came upon one of the many food centers. While I was at the food cart trying to decipher what to eat, a nice older Singaporean man approached me and helped me order a bowl of delicious noodles with dried fish, mushrooms and greens. I sat next to him and we talked while I ate my delicious food! He even bought me a cup of coffee. I just love Asia! Where else in the world do you get treated with such hospitality just for being a foreigner?!

My lunch spot for the day.
After going back to the house and relaxing from the heat of the day in aircon, it was time to eat again! I had lunch with my friend and her cousin at another food market, where I had fresh passion fruit juice and a fried oyster omelet, complete with spicy sauces. After lunch we went for a drive so I could see the city before dropping me off at the airport. Singapore is a very clean city, with a skyline of the most unique architecture that I have ever seen. I am glad I got to see some of Singapore but the city is a little too expensive for my travel plans. I am hoping to keep a daily budget of around $30 for this trip, though I will have some more expensive days for seeing Angkor Wat and hopefully going on an overnight bird trek.

My flight from Singapore was about an hour and a half before I finally arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia! After settling in to the room I went to a Chinese restaurant near the hostel and had really amazing fried noodles with seafood! Oh the food here is so amazing and I have just begun!

The next morning I got up and decided to go for a walk around the city and also look for a different hostel to stay at. The one I stayed at the night before was too hotel like for me. I wanted a more hostel-like place where it's easy to meet fellow travelers. After walking around for a bit, I found a hostel called Tat Guesthouse. It has an upstairs outside porch area for eating and lounging about and its also a great place to meet new people. It's also owned by a Khmer family who lives there so it feels more comfortable and safe.

The view from my hostel.
I love fried noodles! Makes for a great breakfast :)
After settling into the new place and eating lunch (another meal of fried noodles and veggies - I just can't get enough!) I decided to explore the town more and walked to a local market place. It was a bustle of activity! There were floors and floors of stalls with people selling cookware, plastic ware, food, clothing and more; there were also seamstresses making clothes and people doing nails and hair. Quite the place to be!

After that I decided to go across town to find this shop called Tabitha. It is run by a NGO that supports local women, especially widows, by giving them a job making silk handicrafts. My motorcycle driver had a hard time navigating but with my guidebook in hand (thank you Lonely Planet maps!) I navigated him to the place (he also spoke no English so it was a real success when we found the place!) 

It was a neat place where you could watch the women hand weaving and making the products. I ended up buying a really cute bag and some small bracelets. It's really great to see somewhere that is safely employing women so they can care for their families and send their kids to school, especially in a country that is so poor and seen such hard times!

It was a great first day in Cambodia and I look forward to tonight when I will take a tuk-tuk to the airport to pick up my friend, Linds! After spending most of the last two days by myself I am really looking forward to having Linds here to talk to and travel with!

Day 2 (Sunday) - Getting to know Cambodia

So Linds and I are reunited after 2 years! and I am so glad for it! 
Today we went to the killing fields. It was quite sad and depressing but we both thought we should go to show respect for the people here and try to understand their very tragic past that really wasn't so long ago. From 1975-1979, Cambodia was ruled by the Kmer Rouge, who believed in a type of revolution that included performing genocide on their own people, arresting, torturing and eventually killing over 3 million. Yet today the Cambodian people are so happy, smiling and friendly! They have embraced tourism as a part of their economy, and apart from the tuk-tuk and motor drivers who constantly ask if I want a ride, the people have shown us nothing but kindness and hospitality. They are truly an amazing people!

Crazy traffic but our tuk-tuk driver knew how to handle it.
At the Killing Fields.
 After the killing fields we went to the palace and silver pagoda. It was a lot like the palace that I visited in Bangkok, with lots of gold Buddhas and elephants and monkeys but also some birds showing the Hinduism influence too. After that we walked along the river boardwalk and stopped for some food and local beer before coming back to the guesthouse for a nap. Later we went to this Vietnam restaurant for dinner and it was sooo good: pho noodles and Vietnamese pancake, yum! 

A local beer after a long day!
 P.S. While we were at the palace today I overheard some ladies speaking Filipino, so without even thinking I asked them in Tagalog where they were from. They were so surprised and told me they are from Iloilo! So I started talking to them in Ilonggo (which even further surprised them!) What are the odds I run into Filipinas who are from Iloilo and speak my dialect!! Amazing planet we live on!

Day 3 (Monday) - Last day in PP

Today was our last day in Phnom Penh. After having coffee and breakfast out on the porch at the hostel, we set out for the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary (which they also call a "zoo" here). We bargained with a tuk-tuk driver to take us there and back for $20. Everything in Cambodia is costing us a bit more than we are expecting but I guess it's because there is a lot of tourist traffic here. But today we set out to stay to my $30 a day budget (though I am beginning to realize that when we get to Siem Reap, this will be a hard budget to keep.)

It was nice to venture out of the city today, though a lot of the road was dusty. It took us about an hour to get to the sanctuary. We walked through parts of the park and our tuk-tuk driver drove us through the rest. The animals at this sanctuary are there because they were either confiscated from illegal poachers or from owners that were treating them poorly. The road leading to the park was lined with beggars and even when we arrived we were immediately approached by locals trying to sell us bananas and potatoes to feed the animals. They were friendly but we don't believe it's proper to give the animals food so we didn't buy anything. We were able to see a lot of animals that we probably won't be able to see in the wild: elephants, sun bears, tigers, crocodiles, gibbons and TONS of birds. Linds is a super bird nerd (more than me) and an excellent photographer so we totally geeked out watching for birds and taking pictures. I saw the most beautiful stork as well as a few other rare bird species. The black necked stork is the biggest and most beautiful bird I think I have ever seen and there was one who was more than willing to pose for us as we took picture after picture.

Black necked stork
After we finished taking all the animal and bird pictures our hearts desired, we left the park. But no adventure in SE Asia would be complete without.... a flat tire. On the way out of the park our tuk got a flat. We had to continue 5k down the dirt road until we reached the highway so it could be fixed. Linds and I sat in the shade and looked on to see how they repaired the flat and soon enough we were on our way back to the city.

Flat tire on our tuk-tuk!
Our driver is a pro at fixing his tuk-tuk.
We asked our driver to drop us off at the central market so we could get some good street food and buy some fruits. A friend of mine who lives in PP (but was out of town at the time of our visit) had recommended some good food stops. One such recommendation was this: "look for a food vendor in the central market. They will be two older, attractive looking women, with gray hair cut into boyish cuts and wearing aprons - their fried noodles with vegetables is amazing!" So we set out to look for them. We found what we think was the right place and set down for some food, and the noodles were delicious (of course!)

"dinner service"
After filling our stomachs, we visited the fruit vendors. Linds really wanted to try some native fruits and I wanted to have a last chance to eat my favorites since I am leaving Asia so soon. We bought a variety of my favorites that are in season: rambutan, lanzones, dragon fruit, pomelo, and my favorite - atis. When we got back to the hostel we gorged ourselves again on fruit. Delicious!
In the market.
At the fruit stand.
Thus ended our last day in PP. Tomorrow morning we will catch a bus to Siem Reap and start our much awaited week exploring Angkor Wat!

to be continued!

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