Hooray! Celebrating Life Without A Compass/now renamed Live Out of the Box’s 100th post!
This is a continuation to my previous post – The Real Travel Itinerary- What Really Happened. Here I’ll be talking about what I did in Cambodia and recommended hotels, markets and sights to visit. Oh and why I think I got possessed.
Sorry for the long delay since the last post. Teaching semester has started again. Now that our college is enjoying China’s National Holiday (October 1-5), it’s time to catch up on some of the enjoyable stuff in life.
Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda $3
S21 Tuol Sleng
– Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider 1 was shot)
– $20- 1 day pass; $40- 3 days
Happy Herbs Pizza
Note on border crossing: I got my bus ticket from one of the travel agents. Specify for an AC one. It’s a 5 hour ride. You go to the Vietnam border first and give your passport to the bus conductor. He checks if you need a visa or not (since I’m Filipino, I don’t need one. Cambodia’s one of the very few countries I can get in without a visa). Then you wait in this small immigration office with others. The immigration officer has this big pile of passports on his desk. He looks at them, looks for you, the conductor gives you the you’re-free-to-go nod then off you go past the border.
When you get to the Cambodian side, you hand your passport to the conductor. He gives all the passports to this immigration officer who’s waiting outside. You stand on a line and one by one he looks at you. Passport is kept for 30 minutes (scary!) while you have lunch –not great by the way. It’s ……edible.
All prices quoted here are in US Dollars. Because of that, Cambodia is more expensive than Thailand and Vietnam because almost every transaction is done with this currency.
Ironically, it’s poorer than those two. Better bring smaller bills and people will also give you dollars back as change, especially in Siem Riep. The local areas will give you rials – Cambodian currency which has a low exchange rate.
Phnom Penh to my experience is a D-U-M-P. There’s nothing to see there. The roads are dusty and not well maintained. There’s not much to do. They got this dung colored mall (I think their only mall) near the market and there are few banks. If I were you, I’d skip this city and go straight to Siem Riep. I’ve regretted my decision to stay here.
I met this other Filipino couple who changed my mind who said I didn’t explore Phnom Penh more. There were other sights to see. I was extremely doubtful about that. Since I was traveling by myself and being petite Asian female, I got scared to walk outside at night.
I crossed off most of my list in my travel itinerary but wish I didn’t do all of the places in Phnom Penh A in one day. Why? It’s depressing.
Killing Fields- the place where about 8k Cambodians were bludgeoned to death by the Khmer Rouge
S21- the school turned prison where thousands of Khmers were tortured, raped, committed suicide, murdered, and other gruesome etc, etc.
I thought I was in for a treat you know? This was my mindset prior to visiting these places:
Cool! I get to finally see those thousand skulls. It’s going to look awesome in my facebook.
Wait till I tell the guys I’ve been to the school prison. Gotta see those cool weapons of torture!
Urgh. I’m such a numbskull.
An insensitive numbskull.
Real life has a way of hitting you in the face. I never realized how shallow I was till I was standing in the real killing fields and getting all these info about how they were murdered, seeing the tower of skulls face to face and discovering they were once real people. Same goes to S21. Geez, this is no fairy tale, it’s the goddamn truth!
There was this pervasive smell of decay and death that still lingered and an oppressive dead weight that settled on my shoulders the longer I stayed there and perhaps absorbed the chilling experience. My stomach was the queasiest it had ever been. Just reminiscing about it just gives me the shivers again.
I ate at a local restaurant across from the hotel where I stayed at. That night, I had this nightmare about being pregnant and having someone slice my belly. My insides were gushing out in russet rivulets and then I woke up vomiting.
I spent the whole night in agony and nearly fainted when I went to a tour of the Golden Palace. I couldn’t eat well and I was scared because I didn’t have proper insurance (the one I bought for only covered Vietnam). According to Lonely Planet, if you’re seriously sick in Cambodia, they might have to airlift you to Bangkok and you’ll end up paying 10-30K. I didn’t have that kind of money so I was in deep shit.
Thankfully, I recovered from the food poisoning the next day having spent the entire afternoon in the hotel resting. Tonie told me I probably got possessed because I went to those genocide places with the mindset of a tourist, that I was there to take pictures and not to pay respects to those who’ve died. Which makes sense. All I got out of it was this utter depression and feeling of finality, seeing the world in bleak shattered glasses. I wanted to go on this trip to enjoy myself not feel morose. I’ve learned my lesson and will therefore avoid any places that will stir such feelings inside me.
She also said the dream was the point where the spirit tried to possess me and my soul was in inner conflict with it. My belly being slashed open symbolized my utter triumph over the demon. It was all kinda Twilight Zone for me.
I joked that the spirit probably felt I was too dense to be its container.
Phnom Penh is cheaper than Siem Riep though so that’s one of its few perks.
Note on bus seats to Siem Riep: Everything is handwritten so there would be incidents where two people are seated on the same seat number. If you got there first, good. If not, find some unoccupied seat at the back. I was stuck there being a third/fifth wheel between two couples and a broken AC for the whole 5 hour journey. Not exactly a great road trip.
Sunday Guesthouse and Restaurant
#97 Street 141
Kingdom of Cambodia
Tel: (855-23) 211 623
This lovely clean hostel is owned by nice Chinese Cambodians who immigrated from Guangzhou, China. It costs $10 per night for a single room with AC, private bathroom and satellite T.V. Cheaper than Saigon. No elevator though. It’s also got a clean restaurant with great Cambodian and Western food. I sure did not get food poisoning here! They’ll also help you with tours and bus tickets.
Siem Riep: This was better than Phnom Penh and I had a better experience here. It was more Westernized and modern since most of the money’s here because of Angkor Wat. Like Phnom Penh, I hired a tuktuk driver to take me to Angkor Wat. Actually, the bus company’s tuktuk driver even recommended a nice hotel for me to stay when I got there.
Bun Seda Angkor Wat
Number 169, Stoung Thmey Village, Svay Dangkum Commune
Siem Riep District
Siem Riep Province, Kingdom of Cambodia
Tel: (855)63 761 484 / (855)12b1839 878/ (855)11 990 140
You could ask for a discount when it’s the low season (July-August). It’s $20 (we bargained for $17) 2 beds to one room, AC, fridge and satellite T.V. No elevator but they’ll help you with your luggage. I got to share mine so it was okay. Some rooms smell of cigarettes so request for one that smells decent.
What I like about this hotel was it’s so near (walking distance) to the bar street and the night market which are civilization. It’s like HK’s Lan Kwai Fong and Beijing’s uber commercialized hutongs only bigger full of Asian and Western restaurants and shops. Please decline all of the annoying tuktuk drivers in the area who promise to take you to the Night Market. Ask the ladies in shops to direct you to where it is. It’s a 5 minute walk. You don’t need to pay a tuktuk driver $2 for that. And the Night Market is just awesome, a shopper’s paradise (probably not for guys). It’s clean and brand-new and everything’s bathed in gold light with thatched huts that serve as the shops. A few metres away from the Night Market is a roti stand (which I love – $1 for one) and Happy Herb’s Pizza which I chickened out of because I decided I didn’t want to be high on ‘shrooms for my Angkor Wat visit the next day. Happy Herb’s Pizza supposedly will spike your pizza if you asked. I don’t know if they still do it.
Explore the Bar Street. It’s got tons of great restaurants and shops. I liked every night I spent there.
Angkor Wat: I got the $20 one day pass because I’m the sort of person who once you see a temple, you’ve seen them all. So I’m certainly not one of those temple freaks. I paid $13 for my moto driver to take me 3 temples in Angkor Wat. And besides, Angkor Wat’s fuckin’ huge. Bigger than the Forbidden City in China.
The main temple, Angkor Wat is simply breathtaking. A site to behold. It took me an hour going around it and naturally, got lost looking for the exit. Ta Prohm was this cinematic image of a temple left to decay or ruin. You’d certainly get an Indian Jones/Tomb Raider feel here.
I also got scammed. Cambodia is the place it will most likely happen. There are tons of beggars especially in Angkor Wat. Here’s what happened:
I was walking along the temple grounds minding my own business when suddenly this kid appears and starting talking to me. Not wanting to be rude and since I’m by myself (which means I’m so much prone to scams), I respond with some ‘uhms, ahs, really?’ but I’m thinking, ‘when is this kid ever going to go away?’. He suggested taking a pic underneath this bridge where all these pillars were. The view was fantastic. I took one shot of him and he took a shot of me hence the picture. Afterward, when I was about to go away he asked for a dollar.
My face got all crumpled. “What??”
“For good luck, you know. For Buddha. For my school.”
I evaluated my options.
1: refuse. We were the only ones in the grounds. The others were a couple of meters away. He might attack.
2: refuse and run for it. He might take after me as well.
3. refuse and he might curse the demons on me.
5: or I can just give him the dollar and have it done and over with it.
You might’ve guessed which option I chose them. But I clearly showed it in my face that I didn’t like what he was doing and that he was a cheat because 1USD could feed a Filipino child for 2 days and here he was asking it as if it was one peso (Philippine currency)! He clearly looked embarrassed as he took it from me and said Buddha would rain a lot of blessings on me,blah blah. I immediately deleted his picture from my camera.
I don’t know about the US but it seemed one dollar was the minimum of a beggar’s wage here in Cambodia. That’s friggin’ 8x more than what the Filipino beggars ask for (we usually give them 5 pesos).
VLK Royal Tourism Co., LTD
No. A1 Sivatha Blvd., Svay Dang Kuom
Siem Riep Cambodia
Tel: (855) 63-769 888/966 333
Here’s the travel agent that was responsible for my bus trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Riep. You can ask them for any travel questions.
Before we part, I’m leaving you with a few tips for Cambodia:
- Handwritten seat numbers are not reliable.
- Being a fifth wheel is okay.
- Get rid of your rials when you exit Cambodia – you also have to pay for the airport tax. You’ll be hard pressed to find countries who will accept them to be converted.
- Avoid teens who want to chat with you to improve their English. It’s a scam. They’ll ask for a dollar later to help them with ‘school’.
- Avoid teens who want to explain temple grounds and offer to take your picture.
- Avoid beggars. Don’t be fooled by the kids. The adults are just using them as a ploy to move your heart.
- Have an angry expression on your face so beggars won’t come near you. Due to popular belief, a smiling face is indeed very approachable.
- Pay respects to those who died in the killing grounds.
- Get travel insurance when you visit Cambodia. Don’t be like a certain someone who didn’t.
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