Sunday, 11 September 2011

Travel log- Cambodia

Raya festivities over, people back at work and the slave machine resume its unforgiving reign of terror. Ah, life of a cog in the machine. I’m just glad to have had a good break, (albeit falling a little ill).

So, how was the trip you ask? Well, it was pleasant. Met some interesting people, saw some pretty sights, met some pretty people, saw some interesting sights. I’d say that the bulk of my experiences are a sum of the people I met and the sights I saw.

Spent three days in Phnom Penh. The city isn’t very impressive; a little backward in fact. Traffic lights are merely a display of colours as passing motorists zoom by, mocking its authority. The traffic comprises mainly of motorcycles (usually just called moto) and tuk-tuks. Pillions never wear helmets (of which I too am guilty of) and vehicle horns are used all the time, if not to warn other vehicles, to greet them. But it’s the things like these that tickle your sense of adventure. One of the best things about the traffic is that you get to act like it’s your grandfather’s road and noone’ll judge you. In fact, you’ll fit right in. (incidentally, I wonder what happened to your grandfather’s road anyway?)

From the map of Phnom Penh, it’s almost obvious that the layout of the streets were inherited from the French- the gridded map, long and wide boulevards and circuses. Nothing in comparison to Avenue Foch of course, but it’s still something worthy of taking note of. It’s definitely not something you expect to see in developing third world countries.

Visited tuol sleng and the killing fields. It’s rather sad. Had a chat with some locals and they were saying how a large part of a generation was wiped out when the Khmer Rouge (it means red Cambodians; rouge for red. Another legacy of the French) came into power. Most of the young adults grew up without the benefit of having parents- they had to figure it out themselves. Parental wisdom, something I (we) shouldn’t take for granted.

Most of the touristy spots are within the city; taking a long stroll was rather pleasant if not for the weather (being cheap helps me put up with minor inconveniences). The museums and palaces were alright. Things begin to get more interesting as evening approaches. The boulevards and the river bank are slowly filled with people; mainly taking strolls, playing jianzi, football, doing aerobics and dancing. Pretty remarkable. Not something you’d see in KL. I head back to the hostel. It’s getting dark and it’s a far walk. I pass by a few more dance groups. The music trails off into the night and they are still dancing. Men, women, children and grandparents, all of them dancing. Eager to live. It almost seems as if the nation were making up for the time they’ve lost during the darker days. I want to be dancing when I’m wrinkled and grey. First things first- I’ve got to learn to dance now.

Had four days to see Siem Reap. On the journey to Siem Reap the bus stopped for a break. That’s where I had my first taste of deep fried insects. 4000 riel for one can of fried insects. I asked if I could have 5 insects for 500 riel. She said no. We settled for half a can at 2000 riel. To be perfectly honest, the insects are actually quite manageable if you don’t look at it. Tastes kinda like ikan bilis but the big ones can be overly crunchy which is kinda disgusting 'coz it makes you aware of what you’re eating. Either way, I didn’t finish the insects- my conscience wouldn't allow it.

I bought a 3-day pass to see the temples. I tried to catch all 3 sunrises (to take photos) but it rained on one of the mornings and it was cloudy the other. There’s something about sunrises that I totally dig. Maybe it’s got to do with starting the day with God, maybe it’s just nice seeing the day in perspective. One thing for sure, every sunrise seems to remind me of the hymn ‘morning has broken’. At least I managed to catch one nice sunrise. Three days waking up early, forty minute bicycle ride to the temples with no promise of sunrise. Dedication to the craft- something I learnt from Alvin. Apart from the sunrise, the temples were brilliant. For the first half day at least. Then I began to understand what the lonely planet guide book meant when it says feeling ‘templed out’. Here are the places I feel deserve a special mention for being different from the other temples: Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom.

The place I stayed at in Siem Reap was cheap, clean and neat. The guesthouse staff were courteous and helpful too. If you’re travelling cheap and you’re looking for a place to stay whilst in Siem Reap, try Garden Village guesthouse. They even have beds going for 1USD a night (just a mattress and a mosquito net by a terrace). I settled for a room in a rumah panjang for 3USD a night.

Took a break after the second day of temples and headed to Kompong Phluk- village on stilts. I had the impression that they’d allow us to go up and walk around in the houses but was severely disappointed. It was just a boat tour. But boat tours are kinda nice and comfortable in its own way.


I’ll stop at the sights I saw. I’ll write on the people some other time. Enough rambling for a day, thanks for reading. Here’s something to listen to while your eyes rest.

Sunrise (over Angkor Wat). Don't think I'll ever get bored of it.


  1. Hey pete! I really like your post on Cambodia. Looks like you have seen and did pretty awesome stuff =D

    This is beautifully written. Maybe you should consider becoming a travel writer? Heheh..

  2. Those are very kind words.. haha..

    Sure sounds like a nice option to have, but we'll see where the Boss directs me. =)