Cambodia… first weeks from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Pehn

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Cambodia… first weeks from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Pehn

Kuala Lumpur

So… the first weeks flew by! It feels like we’ve been traveling for a month! It all started in the airplane on the 31’th of december. On our way to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) we saw the New Years eve fireworks in the Netherlands from our airplane window. Pretty cool, like camera flashes in a stadium concert. At 00:00 (Dutch time) everybody got some champagne and Abba’s Happy New Year came blaring over the speakers… other from that, the flight went on as usual. No major turbulence or a bumpy landing. After arriving in KL everything went pretty smooth, found the cheap bus that took us to the centre of the city and walked through the very busy chinatown to find our hostel (there were two with the same name!!). It stood in a very busy street shopping district… Culture shock #1! After putting our stuff in the hotel, we thought we might as well dive head first into the street food and get a sense of the culture. Which worked! Really nice food. After some planning we decided to take the bus to Malacca next morning, there where some flooding in the north and because of the rain season it wasn’t an option to go to the perhentian islands… so Melacca, here we come! but first: Travelnight 1! ZzZzZz oh wait, jetlag!

Blije Gup in Chinatown - Kuala Lumpur

Happy Camper – Kuala Lumpur

Malacca
Cozy little town, easy and cheap to get to by bus. It used to be in hands of the Dutch (1795-1818). Because of the dutch ruling there is now a Dutch Heritage route, we haven’t seen the whole route but some of the structures that are in dutch colonial style are still standing today. It’s all pretty touristy in Melacca, almost everyday we walked through Jonker Street to be surprised by the diversity that’s being sold on the Jonker Walk… on this night market they sell everything from cheap souvenirs, telephone accessories, little pancakes with a baked egg on top, deep fried icecream, all sorts of dried fish, squid and chocolade ice-cream that looks like a little potted plant (they serve it in a brown plant pot… looks like they’re eating sand!) Amazing and delicious! We tried to get to the beach on three different occasions, we suspect they aren’t the beach goers we thought they might be. Almost every beach we saw existed of big stone blocks and littered with trash. Wim saw a sort of Komodo monitor Dragon which scared the crap out of him! So back to Jonker street and our little research spot Limau Limau café for our daily fix of fresh juice… We had some delicious food in Malacca, one of the best indian food spots was at Pak Putra and we had some great burgers in the Baboon House (also a beautiful and hidden spot). If you find the time you should join the locals on one of their karaoke nights at the beginning of Jonker street. People of all ages present their often hilariously bad singing skills on a big stage in front of a lot of people… oh and cheap beer!

All in all we didn’t do that much in Malaysia, we only had one week and a lot of planning for Cambodia and Vietnam to do… so after one more night in KL we got on our plane to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Sidenote: we had one of the creepiest flight attendants on our flight to Siem Reap, also the food was horrible… Wim stuffed the chicken sandwich as fast as he could into his face… so he didn’t have to look at it anymore. Terima kasih!

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Melaka – Jongker street food

Siem Reap

After the plane landed, we had to go through customs… which is an attraction on itself, your passport gets looked at by a dozen uninterested customs officials. You have to pay in dollars to get a visum, there is one little ATM so a long waiting line. We arranged our stay at Velkommen Hostel in Siem Reap, a little bit out of centre but a great place to stay. We tried to arrange our hostel/hotel stays one day in advance through tripadvisor, airBnB, trivago, agoda, hotels.com or any other app/site we could find… it really works to look for deals on internet, often you get a great deal on a nice hotelroom! And we Dutch people like it cheapcheap!

The day after our arrivel we jumped in a tuk tuk at 5 a.m. to go to Angkor Wat. We tried to capture the Temple by sunset, but the weather didn’t work to get that best shot you want. So we decided to skip the big temple and go on to the other temples to stay ahead of the crowds (which worked!). You have a couple of options: a big tour

The temples surrounding Ankor Wat are really beautiful and Ta Prohm (the tomb raider temple) is especially beautiful and haunting with the overgrown walls, little passages and crumbling walls… you can’t imagine how it must have been when it was in full glory but after a lot of temples you get a little bit of temple overkill, so we headed to the hostel and got some great cambodian food. Some kind of table grill where you grill the meat and that slowly loses his juices in a soup that is collected around the grill.

After the great food we we went to a cambodian circus called Phare (http://pharecambodiancircus.org/), really recommend it! By buying a ticket you also support the school that gets young kids of the street and offer them education in the arts (from music, dancing to painting). It’s really beautiful to see the enthusiasm, strength and quality of the performers. Afterwards we off course went for the photo-opp! After the show we went for a drink in the Pub street for some cheap drinks, it’s a bit like being in Spain or Turkey with the pubs overcrowded with party people… after some cocktails, mekong whisky and cheap beer we headed back to the hostel.

Today we did the big tour of Angkor Wat… again a lot! of temples. Unbeleavable 400km² full of temple ruins and forgotten places. The grandeur and quantity of the temples is mindblowing… (although it can be a bit of an overkill being around the temples all day). One of the most beautiful ones is Banteay Srei a the temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva that was completed in 967. They call it the lady temple because of all the details in the bass relief carvings on the temple, they could only be made by small lady hands! Also the colour of the hard red sandstone adds to the beauty off it all. After some more little temple stops and some great food, Seafood Amok served in a coconut, we finely arrived at Angkor Wat. Even though it’s the largest religious monument on earth, we were a bit afraid it wouldn’t have that much of an impact after seeing all the temples the past two days. Boy, we were wrong! Along with a lot of other tourists we walked the bridge into the temple… when you walk through the gate you get to see just how big it is… amazing. After exploring the outer regions of the temple we went in the central structure and climbed to the towers to get an amazing view over the scenery around the temple.

One thing we found difficult to handle around Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, are the begging children. It’s really sad to see, but by giving them money you only encourage them to beg for more money and skip school. Aside from that it’s also a very corrupt and you don’t know if the kids can keep the money for themselves or if they have to give it away to other people. One of the most heard frases is ‘Hello Laaaady, Mieeester… wanna baaay?? one dolla pleeease??’. Even about the ticket price of the Angkor Wat complex ($40 dollars for three day’s and $20 for one day) is a lot of speculation… is it really going back to preserving the temple complex?? That being said, you should do at least 2 day’s, 3 if possible. Get yourselves an English speaking tuk tuk driver or even better… a guide and go really early to catch the sun rise, stay one day to see the sunset and go see the Banteay Srei Temple. Don’t go to fast you will miss some temples but that’s alright, there are just to many to see in three days.
A good English speaking Tuk Tuk driver can give some good information about the temples… a guide is better. We tagged along with some english speaking guides here and there to catch info about the temples. Our Tuk Tuk driver said he’s really good at speaking English… But after offering him a Banana he answered ‘Exactly’. He was nice and friendly, but not much help.

Battambang

January 9’th. By boat from Siem Reap to Battambang. In the morning we got picked up with a little van… with a lot of creativity the van got packed with fellow boat-goers and their luggage. Not much later we were dropped off on the sidewalk near a busy intersection with the following info ‘change bus here’ and nothing more. A little while later the same bus came back with more people, and a little while later even more! It got weirder when the same bus picked up some people from our spot and drove off without any information. After 45 minutes without decent information with a group of confused tourists standing on a sidewalk there finally came a bigger bus. But not that big of a bus… an old lady jammed us inside pointing to the location we had to sit. There were four places next to each other, with a fifth chair folding out in the middle aisle. We think there were 35 to 40 people in a bus designed for 20… backpacks stacked and people standing against it. Memorable trip! but we were relieved when we could get out of the driving death trap.
At about 08:00 we were allowed to enter the boat. It took around 6 to 7 hours to get to Battambang, the motor made a lot of noise and the pillows on the hard plastic chairs were thin… the price of the trip was 24 dollars each while the bus that did the same trip in about 3 hours only costs 6,5$ a person. All in all a rough trip, we wouldn’t recommend it… only if you really want to see the floating villages. Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad we did it but it’s a really long boat trip through some sketchy situations where we don’t think the villagers are actually happy that a boat full of tourists is rampaging through their fishing spots. Some weird kind of safari where the tourists are watching the native people from their big boat, felt kind of shameful on our part. The boat stopped sometimes to pick up or drop off something or someone. Other people came with their boat to pick them up and drive off to their floating home. Also a lot of old wooden fishing constructions… it’s like time stood still. After arriving in Battambang and picking one of the many tuk tuk drivers presenting themselves we checked in at our hotel, freshened up and went to explore the city. At night we ate at Jaan Baai, which was really nice! it has a hip european vibe (English owner) and the restaurant helps out the local youth by giving them employment and training in the restaurant business. The food and service was really great, especially for Cambodian standards. Tried some Mekong Khmer Whisky… smelled and tasted like glue. Not much later we went to sleep at 21:00… Totally (ship)wrecked!

 

Inwoners uit een van de drijvende dorpjes

Inwoners uit een van de drijvende dorpjes

een van de "floating villages"

one of the “floating villages”

 

Next day we arranged a TukTuk driver that would drive us around Battambang. At first we went to the Bamboo train, which we didn’t want to do at first… but it was kinda nice… except for the 30 begging children at the half way station. You can’t do anything with them… if you give them something you only encourage them. But you can’t ignore them as it’s a tourist trap… there isn’t anything around the station but a few souvenir shops and the children waiting for you.

WoopWoop

WoopWoop

Heul erg stoere kerel

Badass!

While the history of the bamboo train is very interesting there is very little information about it available. You’ll have to ask. When we got back at the beginning of the track we couldn’t find our tuk tuk driver.There was a guy claiming to be our tuk tuk driver’s brother… handydandy! It turned out to be a really nice guy that spoke relatively good English and gave us passionately information and his opinion about the current situation Cambodia is in (and also about the past). His name is Ya-Ya, if you’re staying at the Royal hotel in Battambang, ask for him! Funny dude! We could call him by his special name, Sneyder ;). He took us from the Bamboo train to the Killing cave, first on the tuk tuk and then we got over on the scooter with which we raced to the top of the mountain. On the mountain, people were held prisoner during Paul Pot’s regime… people trying to escape got shot or bludgeoned and dropped to their death into the cave that is on top of the mountain. When the bodies started to smell to much they set the whole cave on fire. During Pol Pots regime everyone that was intelligent, sick or rebellious could get arrested and killed without any further reason… because of the vague reasons everybody had to fear for his life… even soft hands could be a reason to get arrested. A small stairwell led to the bottom of the cave where a small shrine stood, filled with skulls of victims. Bizarre to be in such a morbid place. After a while we went back down the mountain on one scooter (Mris was terrified!), to see the bats!

Monnik bij de tempel waar mensen gevangen gehouden werden tijdens het khmer rouge regime

Monk at the temple on Boat Mountain

Gibbon bij de tempel

Gibbon bij de tempel

Around 18:00 we gathered, with a lot of people, at the bottom of the mountain… after a couple of minutes a really large sling of bats flew out of one of the caves in the side of the mountain. Everyday at least 3 million bats fly out of their cave to hunt for food on the farmlands in the vicinity. A sight to see!

OMG. Bats!

O.M.G. Bats!

Phnom Penh (a.k.a. the wild west of Cambodja)
Chaos, garbage, food vendors, tuk tuk in every direction, people parking in the middle of the street and unfortunately a lot of sex tourism. This is Phnom Penh. Oh and it’s always happy hour somewhere in the city! Negotiating with the tuk tuk drivers still is hard to tackle but we’re getting better at it! We have this scheme where we ask the price, say something in dutch to each other and walk away… Most tuk tuk drivers immediately drop their prices and follow you.
12’th of January. We did this coconut carving workshop at Backstreet Academy, Wim’s jigsawing skills are better than expected! Also, the money for the workshops goes directly to the music and art school Backstreet Academy is connected to. Afterwards we went to the Russian Market, everything is for sale here… designer clothes, motor parts to jewelry, but cheap cheap (and mostly fake)). Mris got a light dress and Wim a T-shirt. Afterwards we went for some coffee and in the evening for a walk to find the shuffleboard lounge. The lounge unfortenatly doesn’t excist anymore, boy did we look forward to a couple rounds of tabletop curling! On the way back to the hotel we walked past the royal palace… strange to see how much money the put into a palace.

Hier kan dus alles, chaos op straat, afval op straat, eten op straat, tuk tuks over op straat, parkeren midden op straat en jammer genoeg ook veel sex tourisme. Plus bijna altijd wel ergens happy hour!
12 Januari – rustig ochtendje gehad, daarna een workshop coconut carving bij backstreet academy. Erg leuk, Wim kan toch beter figuurzagen dan we hadden verwacht! Opbrengsten hiervan gaan naar een goed doel.
Onderhandelen met tuk tuk drivers blijft lastig maar we worden er wel beter in. Nog even naar de Russian Market geweest, supergrote overdekte (zwarte) markt waar vroeger russen hun spullen kochten, vandaar de naam Russian Market. Ze hebben er vanalles, t-shirts tot sieraden en motoronderdelen. Wim n T-shirt en Mris een jurkje gekocht, voor n prikkie natuurlijk en voor de verandering ergens koffie gaan drinken. ‘S avonds naar de shuffleboard lounge gezocht voor een potje tabletop curling… maar helaas… het hotel waar in het zou zijn bestaat niet meer. Wat hadden wij graag een keer tabletop curling gedaan! Terug gewandeld langs the royal palace, maf om te zien hoe veel geld ze spenderen aan een paleis terwijl het land zo arm is.

13 Januari. Heftige dag, naar de killing fields gegaan. Massagraven waar je letterlijk over botresten en kledingstukken van slachtoffers van de Khmer Rouge loopt. Via een goede nederlandstalige audiotour hoorde we alles over de geschiedenis van het executie kamp. Daarna de school bezocht die tijdens die periode als martelgevangenis diende (genaamd S21). Door slecht onderhoud was het nogal vervallen en was er weinig informatie. Niets is helemaal af en goed gepresenteerd,er is weinig geld en ook de vervolging van de Khmer Rouge leiders is nogsteeds in volle gang. Een sombere plek waar je je ondanks de niets verhullende foto’s niks voor kunt stellen bij hoe die tijd geweest moet zijn. Ook door het tropisch klimaat is het moeilijk om je voor te stellen dat er hier een genocide heeft plaatsgevonden. In onze hoofden is dat toch iets grauws en zit het verder weg in de geschiedenis. Maar het is hier nog maar 40 jaar geleden gebeurd en daar wordt je veel aan herinnerd. Bijvoorbeeld door de miljoenen landmijnen die in het land zijn geplaatst waardoor je hier niet zomaar van de wegen af mag, de bedelaars die na de val van de Khmer Rouge alsnog ledematen kwijt zijn geraakt en mini tempels (vogel huisjes formaat) die bij vele huizen staan om de doden te herdenken.

Losse opmerkingen:
– Fruitsappen! super cheap, heel lekker en op iedere staathoek te vinden.
– Cambodjaans landschap is erg mooi, maar zo erg vervuild.
– Straat namen en nummers in Phnom Pen slaan echt nergens op! Wij zijn er nu nog steeds niet achter hoe deze precies werken… en de tuk tuk drivers overigens ook niet.
– Verkeersregels kennen ze hier niet… diegene die het hardst rijd heeft voorrang ongeacht aan welke kant van de straat hij rijd. Inhalen links, rechts of in de tegengestelde richting rijden het maakt echt niks uit.
– tot nu toe was alles wat we gegeten hebben nog lekker of gewoon prima. Behalve de broodjes op het vliegveld en in het vliegtuig… blegh.
– Mensen willen je hier zó graag ergens naartoe brengen… Je hoeft maar één stap buiten te zetten of je hoort vanuit alle windrichtingen “hello sir, hello lady need tuk tuk? where you wanna go?” en ze lachen je uit wanneer je gaat lopen
– Liquid café te Phnom Penh,  waarschuwing: ze draaien hier zomaar twee nickelback cd’s back to back.
– vandaag was het fris… we denken dat het 25 graden was… toch blij dat we ieder een fleece vest bij hebben!
– de mode voor vrouwen hier; een bloemetjes pyjama (lange mouwen) broek en top van dezelfde stof