macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

6Aug/060

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

After leaving Siem Reap, I once again for the second time headed back down to Phnom Penh en route to Sihanoukville for beaches. Unfortunately, the roads are extremely bad here. The national highway system is a clusterfuck of sorts. Dirt roads, muddy streets and badly paved roads. Generally speaking, in order to get anywhere in the country you need to head back to Phnom Penh where the majority of the bus companies are located. This can be seemingly difficult to understand being that you may actually be closer to your destination elsewhere but in order to get there it's cheaper and quicker to backtrack to Phnom Penh. Nevertheless, the bus ride back to Phnom Penh wasn't nearly as bad as getting to Siem Reap.

Once I arrived in Phnom Penh I was greeted by the all too familiar sight of sleazy motodrivers and tuk-tuks. I explained to one of them where I wanted to go and agreed on the price, this was good I thought; no bullshit. 10 minutes later I find myself passing the guesthouse I wanted to stay at; I explained this to the motodriver who just smiled and said "yes yes." Another 10 minutes later the moto-dop arrives at another guesthouse claiming that Lakeside Guesthouse was "full" and that this one was better. Un-fucking-believable. I called him on his bullshit, explaining that i'd been to Phnom Penh before and that this ritual wasn't going to work on me. Mad that I didn't want to stay at his "friend's guesthouse" (so he wouldn't get a commission), he finally took me to Lakeside Guesthouse where I stayed before. That's the end of the story pretty much, I got off the bike and didn't pay him a cent. Morale of the story I told him, don't be a fucking scam artist and maybe you'll get paid next time.

Naturally, this story may sound bad here to someone just reading it and not accustomed to typical guesthouse scams in SE Asia but I can assure you it's not a big deal. The guesthouse the driver had taken me probably wasn't bad. In fact, they're all the same. Nevertheless, this type of shit happens daily to unsuspecting travelers who don't know any better. It's important not to lose face or get aggressive in these situations, it won't help. Just politely explain or rather sternly explain that this is not where you wanted to go with a smile and eventually after the dismay of the motodriver who has just lost his commission you will be taken there with no harm done. After a while these scams become more of a delay or setback than something to worry about. The bottom line is that you'll eventually get to where you want to go as long as your persistent.

Anyway, I ended up staying one night in Phnom Penh again and got the bus to Sihanoukvile at 7:00AM in the morning. I don't remember how long it took because I was mostly asleep and trying to cloud out the noise from the bus and cars with my headphones. When I got here I was greatly by exactly what I expected hundreds of moto-dops and touts trying to take you to "their friend's guesthouse" (whom will pay them the highest commission) Of course, all of these guys are your "friend" or "mate." Why wouldn't you trust them!? I can compare the experience to a cross between being attacked by a rabid pack of animals trying to devour their prey and a thousand Wallstreet businessmen trying to fight off their last bid of a stock before the market closes. This is the low season here so tourist numbers diminish exponentially this time of year.

I really had no clue where to stay even after reading various travel guides and websites so I figured I would wing it. I remember someone in Siem Reap mention they stayed at a guesthouse called GST and that it wasn't too bad. Once I saw the sign advertising that guesthouse I had already made up my mind. The place itself isn't really bad but it seems like during the tourist season it's not so much as a guesthouse but a factory that pumps tourists in and out by the truckloads. The guesthouse must no doubt pay a good commission to all the motodrivers who are easily seen hanging out in front or bringing in new prey. The service is a bit impersonal but the food is good enough. The restaurant staff is comprised of about 10 young kids aged between 9-17 whom work for approximately 2 dollars a day. To them all westerners look-alike. No less than five times when I ordered food it generally ended up at the wrong table of westerners until they realized their mistake. Not a big deal, just a bit frustrating. The guesthouse is really big by most standards. Lots of empty roams. Due to it being low season, I got a decent but bare room for 3 USD a night with a comfortable bed, a bathroom, fan and more importantly a T.V. which I haven't had in any of my rooms for about 1.5 months.

The T.V. has since proved to be quite entertaining. I've been here 5 days and it's been raining nonstop with heavy downpouring. I've watched more television in 1 day than I have in probably 2 months of traveling. I've also read about 3 books. It's funny, back home I might buy a book and read it over a week or so when I wasn't busy. Now, I average one book a day at about 500 pages.

Today I finally saw the first glimpse of sunshine so I took to the beach all day. Probably did a good 5km walk on the beaches. The beaches here are disgusting, at least on this side though perhaps i'm a bit jaded since Thailand has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. While the populated ones are alright minus the hoards of beggar children, the other beaches on the farside away from development look like trash dumps.  Straws, soda cans, plastic bags, paper, anything and everything. The most disturbing thing I found on the beach were a couple of syringes laying in the sand.  After this, I sort of lost interest in walking any further on that beach.  If you know where i'm from then the best description I can give would be that some of the beaches here make Revere Beach look like a Caribbean oasis, not an understatement.
Later on I moved to another beach that was a lot cleaner and more populated by locals.  The waves were pretty strong and the water seemed a bit cold though refreshing. I spent the rest of the day reading a book and watching the locals or if they weren't locals they were rich Cambodians on holiday. It's pretty funny.  Cambodians(Khmers) are deathly afraid of the sun or getting any sort of tan.  You see to them someone who has dark skin or is tanned denotes somebody who is of lower class.  It's the exact opposite of western culture where people who are tanned are considered healthy and rich because they don't work and have all the time in the world to lay on a beach and get burned.  To Khmers, it pretty much means it's someone who has been working in the field all day. So in a sense people who are white must be rich because they're not outside working.   Much to my amazement, I watched fully clothed Khmers, young and old equipped with long sleeve shirts, trousers and hats jump unhindered into the ocean. If I hadn't seen them at the beach, the last thought on my mind would be that they were going swimming. It was a pretty interesting sight.

After all that rain from the previous days the sun was still relentless. Even though I had already built up a good base tan from months of being on the beach in Thailand and Malaysia I still managed to burn badly over my already darkened tan.  I plan on staying here one more night and then I am off to Phnom Penh for the third time enroute to Vietnam.   It pisses me off that i'm actually closer to Vietnam now but it's cheaper to backtrack all the way up to Phnom Penh again to catch a bus to Vietnam.  If I wanted to get a taxi to the Vietnamese border from Sihanoukville, it would cost me 45USD.  In Phnom Penh, the bus is something like 10 USD.

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27Jul/060

Siem Riep – Angkor Wat and Other Temples

The bus ride to Siem Riep although short compared to all the journeys i've taken in Thailand and Malaysia was absolutely the WORST and LONGEST bus ride i've ever taken in my life. The bus itself was pretty basic. Rock hard seats typical in a school bus, if not a bit more comfortable. The air conditioning did work but wasn't very cold; nor did I expect it to be for a 4 dollar bus ticket. These were actually none of the reasons why the journey was so bad. All the way from Phnom Penh to Siem Riep the bus driver found it necessary to beep the horn at EVERY SINGLE fucking bicycle, car, motorcycle, person, bird, object or piece of shit in the road. It bordered on insanity. Sometimes I think he was just doing it to taunt everyone on the bus. It was probably the loudest horn i've ever heard. No amount of loud music or airplugs would have been able to mute the sound therefore it was impossible to sleep or concentrate. Nevertheless, the reason why the bus driver beeped so often was simple but still annoying. The "National Highway" to Siem Riep is nothing more than a barely-paved scarely-thin road in most parts meaning that he had to beep to make sure everyone coming the opposite direction got out of the way, as well as the traffic in front. You would have thought this would have been perfectly clear with a massive bus coming in the other direction but nobody really seemed to move, hence the beeping was required. Personally I found it to be a bit excessive, as did everyone else on the bus. It was non-stop all the way to Siem Riep. My nerves were wrecked by the time we arrived.

Anyway, I play to stay in Siem Riep for about 3-4 days to see Angkor Wat. That means I have about 1 or 2 days left here. Once I finish I am sort of backtracking my way down to coast for about a week on the beaches to regain my lost tan and then I am headed to Vietnam. Staying at a really nice place called Village Garden, the room I got is a bit more expensive at 6USD/night but it's also one of the nicest rooms I've stayed in thus far. They have cheaper rooms that you can bargain down to 2USD but I figured I would treat myself. The other good thing here is the Internet is free albeit painfully slow. Since I managed to spent at least 2-4USD/night on the Internet at the previous place, the price of free Internet outweighs the cost of spending 4 dollars extra on a room.

Cambodia, like I said before is extremely cheap and probably the poorest country I've been so far. The amount of beggars is disheartening and scams are pretty rampant if you don't pay attention to the cost of things. Always ask for clarification on the prices otherwise, you may find the prices suddenly double. Cambodians themselves seem friendly enough but it's hard to tell whether it's a genuine sort of friendly or the fact that they think you're a walking bank machine with an open wallet. I guess what it all comes down to...you're probably carrying more money in your wallet than most make in a year. No exaggeration. Even inside the temples there are little 8 year old kids who speak almost perfect English and will happily tell you all there is know about the temples for 1 or 2 USD. This service is of course pushed upon you. As you walk around, kids will point out places to take pictures, cool carving, better temples. Finally, at the end of your viewing, the advice that you might have thought was free ends up finally costing you money. It's seeming benign in nature but it does get a little annoying after a while since every time you enter one temple there is always a little kid trying to pretend to be your tour guide.

As I approach August, I am beginning to realize that I may be running too short on time to visit all the countries I wanted to. I expected to be in New Zealand by the 1st or 2nd of September but that leaves me little time to visit Laos or Philippines. I may need to extend my SE Asia trip another month and go to New Zealand mid-September or October. Either that or skip Laos and Philippines altogether.

For the last two days i've been visiting Angkor Wat which so far has been the highlight of my Cambodian trip and possibly my entire trip to Southeast Asia sans drinking, girls, and beaches 🙂 It's considered in some circles to be one of the forgotten wonders of the ancient world. It's absolutely massive in scale and my words really can't describe it. My pictures don't even do it justice. Angkor Wat is just one of the many hundreds of temples around Siem Riep all in close proximity to each other by bike or tuk-tuk. Angkor Wat may be the largest one but there are also numerous smaller yet still impressive temples with elaborate carvings and designs. Some of them have enough hallways and passage ways to get you lost inside for a moment.

On my first day of trekking I woke up at 5am eager to explore and see the sunrise. That was easily the earliest i've woken up on this entire trip if you dont count the times I didn't actually go to sleep. I was able to rent a motor-taxi for about 9USD a day (18USD for two days) at my guesthouse. This is definitely needed if you want to see all the major sights. Walking is not really do-able unless you plan to spend all day walking to one temple. You could in theory rent a bicycle for 1USD a day but it would still take you an enormous amount of time. Hiring a moto-taxi to drive you around to all the temples is probably the best way to explore everything unless you're with a group then it might be better to take a tuk-tuk.

Highlights included Angkor Wat itself and actually visiting the same temples where Tomb Raider was filmed, Angelina Jolie-style. I have posted about a 110 pictures that unfortunately didn't really come out as well as I expected. Once I get to a better computer, I can edit and crop them a bit more.

Oh yeah, one other thing. For the past two nights i've actually been sort of teaching/tutoring in English. One of the cute 20 year-old Cambodian girls that works at the guesthouse was doing some sort of English homework for one of her classes and she asked me to help her with a few questions. A few questions turned into about 2 hours of tutoring because I was basically bored and didn't feel like watching television. Anyway, my classroom has somehow grown to 3 students for tonight. Basically, i'm just helping them go over homework questions and pronunciation. Pretty fun and it's better than sitting in my room all night. Trying to explain "They're/There are/Has/Have/Their/It's/Its" is infinitely complex and interesting but I think I handled it well. It would be extremely easy to get a teaching job here. The qualifications are virtually nothing with the exception that you're a native/fluent English speaker. From what I gathered, most schools here prefer American/Canadian English speakers rather than U.K. accents or non-native English speakers because our accents on T.V. are the same as most movies. Sort of funny.

23Jul/061

More of Phnom Penh explored..

So for the last 2 days i've spent the day on the back of a hired moto taxi exploring sights such as S-21, The Killing Fields, The National Musuem, the Royal Palace, The Russian Market and seeing Phnom Penh in general.  To give you a general idea, the prices for these rides range from 3USD to 5USD for almost the entire afternoon.  You go to the sights while your driver waits outside or if they speak English, for a little more you could get them to ask as sort of a tour guide.

It's funny but everything here works in U.S dollars. I don't know how to explain it.  Cambodia, being such a poor country means their own currency is worth almost nothing.  1 USD is approximately 4200 Riel (4000 to make it easier). This pretty much means it's easier to work in U.S. dollars than millions of Riel.  As a result, you will see everything quoted in U.S. dollars.  Hell, ATMs even give you change back in U.S. dollars.   The often said joke is that U.S. dollars are the official currency of Cambodia while the Riel is second; I believe it.

Cambodia (at least Phnom Penh) is a strange but interesting. place.   After being a bit more acustomed to the driving, it's not nearly as insane as my first trip on the back of a moto taxi but nevertheless it's still crazy compared to western drivers.  Vietnam is supposed make people cringe in fear.

People somhow manage to fit entire families of 4 or 5 on the back of tiny motorcycles with room to spare for packages, dead chickens, anything you can imagine.  Similar to Bangkok but a bit more extreme.  As driving stands, as long as you pay attention to what is going on in front of you and not behind you then you should be reasonably fine.

 Yesterday, I explored S-21, a former high school called Tuol Sleng that was turned into a prison that was used to detain, torture, and interrogate thousands of Cambodians, the majority whom never made it out alive.  Inside there were countless pictures of malnurished bodies, people chained together and pictures of many others subjected to torture at that prison.   Oddly, the most shocking sight was a massive pile of dirty clothing located at the bottom of one of the staircases belonging to the many that were murdered or died of starvation.   Estimates state that approximately 1.6 million peopled died as the result of the Khmer Rouge regime, nearly 20% of the population of Cambodia.

 Later that day I also visited the infamous Filling Fields where thousands of bodies were unmasked in numerous mass graves.  Inside the main temple, there are hundreds of human skulls organized by age and gender although more piles of formerly owned clothing.  Not the most pleasant sight.  Walking around the Killing Fields you can still actually see where bodies were excavated. As you walk along the paths, old pieces of human clothing pressumably owned by many who died are still covered by dirt and mud along the pathways.

Today, I spent the day visiting three famous attractions,  the National Museum, The Royal Palace, and the Russian Market.  The National Musuem was essentially exactly what you would expect.  It's a musuem that exhibits Khmer art and artifacts dating back as early as the 9th century I believe.  Lots of massive carving, bronze statues, etc.   I wouldn't call it boring, but for the most part, lots of information is still unknown about most of these artifacts.  Khmer society itself seems to have been completely destroyed at one point and lots of things are unknown.  Nevertheless, these great artifacts and structures are something of great national pride for the Cambodians, a tribute to a former powerful but long dead culture that survives in modern-day Khmers.

 The Royal Palace as you might have guessed was quite "royal".  Lots of temples and buddhist structures.  I am beginning to become "templed out" after visiting so many temples.   The architecture is fascinating and reminds me a lot of the Grand Palace of Thailand.  No doubt, the majority of the Royal Palace may have been modeled after the one in Thailand.  Anyway, not really much to say here, the pictures will speak for themselves.   Lots of things in the Royal Palace appeared to be blocked off while the Grand Palace in Thailand was mostly open and seemed bigger.

My last stop of today was the Russian Market, I guess something left over from the USSR era when the Russians provided Cambodians lots of aid.  Anyway, the Russian Market is massive.  You can buy anything from T-shirts, to silk, to jewerly, to toothpaste, to motorcycle parts, dead chickens, and squid.  Sort of like an Asian super center Walmart but slightly more dirty and "Asian".  You could easily get lost exploring the place as I did.  I ended up coming out on the otherside and had to walk around the entire building ignoring beggers and touts until I found my moto driver.  I wasn't in the mood for buying anything but I managed to buy a couple t-shirts for 1.50USD/each.  Not a bad deal and that may have even been too expensive.  I am running out of room in my backpack for t-shirts. I need to start throwing some stuff out or sending it back.

Lastly, the other sad thing about Cambodia is the amount of beggars, they're EVERYWHERE, some of them pretty sad sights.  They only ask for 1USD, not much at all but you have to realize, once you give to one, the entire street corner is going to line up and ask you why you didn't give to them. It's a depressing why to surely destroy your budget. They range from people missing limbs, to multiple limbs, to cripples, to massive burn victoms missing eyes and mared skin. The beggars even extend to 5 and 8 year old kids, they speak English perfectly and some even known the presidents and prime ministers of every country.   The best thing I could do for some of them was buy them food (for some of the adults) and give some of the kids candy bars.   You have to realize, almost none of this money goes to them nor do they rarely see any benefit.  It often goes to the person that hires them to beg or the kid's parents whom are forcing them to work on the streets.  It's better to buy them a meal, a drink or snack than to give them a dollar.   Food on the street might cost you 25 cents or 50 cents USD. If you gave every beggar one dollar, I would have quickly emptied my entire pockets full of cash.

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21Jul/060

It’s a holiday in Cambodia..Phnom Penh to be exact

Ignore, the subject unless you know the song.  I figured it would only be right to play "Holiday in Cambodia" while i was in Cambodia.  It seemed right.

After traveling Malaysia and spending ~3 days in Singapore, I am finally in Cambodia.  My flight left Kuala Lumpur around 4:00PM today and I got settled in Phnom Penh about 2-3 hours later.  Crazy country so far.  Airport/Customs was a breeze.   The ride getting to my guesthouse was not so easy to say the least.

I took a Moto taxi (a ride on the back of a motor bike) for 3USD.  The ride took approximately 40-45 wonderful minutes, all of which I thought my life was in jeopardy. Almost every paved road here is flooded because of the rain today. I spent the entire ride getting drenched because of the downpouring rain; interesting experience though. The majority of the roads are nothing more than dirt paths in some places; Of course, this is bad because rain means these dirt roads turn into mud.  Not very fun to drive in.

I was finally getting used to the cleanness of Singapore (and Kuala Lumpur).  Cambodia looks like an open sewer compared to these countries, reminds me a lot of Bangkok. The people seem friendly enough although it's hard to tell if it's genuine in big cities.

The driving here is more chaotic than Bangkok.  I can't believe I said that. In Bangkok, people don't stop at red lights.  In Phnom Penh, people literally drive on the sidewalks and drive up one way streets or drive in the opposite direction into oncoming traffic.  It takes a bit of getting used to.  Running red lights is nothing compared to the blantant traffic violations found here.  My most unpleasant experience of this ride was running two red lights on the back of the moto bike while the driver systematically shifted lanes into oncoming traffic to avoid the piles of vehicular objects crammed in the three lanes of traffic directly ahead, nevermind the cars barreling towards us.  Anyway, that was my experience.  It was a bit nerve racking but it seems to be all the norm here.  Strange enough, from what i've heard this is nothing. Vietnamese driving is supposed to on an entirely different plane of insanity.  We shall see.

I finally got settled into Lakeside Guesthouse.  I got a nice (by Asian standards) single room with a shower for 4USD/night. Local beer called Angkor Beer is approximately 1USD for a big glass or 2USD for a pitcher that fills approximately 6 glasses, you do the math. I had about 1.5 pitchers of beer as I'm writing this so i'm a bit drunk.

Anyway, figured I'd say here about 2-3 weeks then head to Vietnam.  I didn't really do much in Phnom Penh today so I sort of felt like I wasted a day.  I literally just walked around the streets (or muddy dirt paths) around my guesthouse trying to avoid countless Cambodians trying to tell me drugs, other drugs, moto bikes, clothing, tours, and more drugs.  I believe I used the words "No thanks" so many times today that I could fill entire volumes of Stephen King novels ten times over.   It's almost second nature now.  Next on the list is SR-21 (famous prison where Khmer rouge held millions) and Killing Fields (strangely enough, where millions of Cambodians were killed).   

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