A Travellerspoint blog

Phnom Penh

S-21 and the Killing Fields

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From reports from fellow travellers, we knew that the Cambodian capital was not going to be a particularly easy visit. As a city, Phnom Penh is grim. However, it was an important part of our travels through Cambodia, in order for us to truly understand the terrible recent events of the country's history.

We visited Tuol Sleng Museum (also known as S-21 prison), where nearly 17,000 people were detained and tortured during the four year Khmer Rouge campaign. The cells and rooms in the first and third blocks were left exactly as they were found when the Khmer Rouge finally fell. It was pretty traumatic to see the horrific conditions, torture rooms and tiny cells where the prisoners were shackled to the floor. However the most heart-breaking part was seeing the mug-shots of the prisoners, some of which were only children and babies.

We spent over three hours in this place, completely engrossed in the testimony and photographs that are exhibited in some of the rooms. We learnt so much about the Khmer Rouge campaign and the prison, and we both left S-21 feeling emotionally drained and angry about the stupidity and insanity of this brutal and unnecessary regime.

After this we visited the Killing Fields, where tens of thousands of people from all over the country (including prisoners from S-21) were taken to be killed. Seeing the memorial and walking through the mass graves that are still there was incredibly difficult, especially where clothes and remains could be seen in the dirt.

Reflecting back on our visit, we are still really moved and upset by what we saw. Writing this blog was really difficult and we hope it isn't too uncomfortable to read. This aspect of Cambodian history is so terrible, yet so painfully recent that nobody seems to be ready to talk about it. However, it also made us realise how far the country has come in a relatively short period of time.

Posted by Tom and Jo 04:11 Archived in Cambodia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Siem Reap

Angkor Wat?

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Our expedition to Cambodia began in Koh Tao and finished in Siem Reap, 20 hours later. The epic journey consisted of a pick-up truck, a ferry, a coach, a tuk-tuk, a bus, another tuk-tuk, a short walk over the borders, another bus, a share taxi and finally one last tuk-tuk before arriving, exhausted, at our guesthouse!

Cambodia is very different to Thailand, and it was quite a culture shock coming from a reasonably well-developed country to Siem Reap, which is extremely poor, and relies desperately upon tourism. It seemed that every local we met was trying to sell us something, and soon the cries of "Hey Lady/Mister! You want cold water?" became really tedious. Nevertheless, everyone was really friendly, particularly our tuk-tuk driver David, who spent three days taking us around the temples of Angkor Wat.

One of the highlights of our temple-hopping trip was a long drive that we took to some of the more remote temples. The journey took us away from the main tourist hub, and through some small villages, where it was really fun to watch the locals going about their daily lives; children playing with homemade toys, adults sleeping in hammocks under the shade of trees and people working in the surrounding paddy fields. This area was once plagued by mines and unexploded bombs from both the Vietnam/American War and various battles involving the Khmer Rouge. We visited a landmine museum which was set up by a former Khmer Rouge child fighter who has dedicated his later life to freeing the land from danger. We were shocked by how cruel and brutal this type of warfare is, and unfortunately it's effects are still painfully visible on the streets of Siem Reap, where victims of landmines beg for money or food.

The temples of Angkor Wat are so grand and so many that it is hard to put into words how beautiful they are. Our favourites were Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom, which we visited on the final day of our tour. Angkor Wat had fantastic bas-reliefs and carvings that even today look immaculate. Bayon has loads of huge towers with the face of the Emperor engraved on all four sides; we constantly felt like we were being watched by the smiling faces as we walked around the towers and corridors. Finally, the ruins of Ta Phrom (featured heavily in the Tomb Raider movie), is an amazing feat of architecture, which has now been reclaimed by nature. The crumbling ruins now cling on to the huge roots and trees of the jungle that surround it.

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Another highlight of our time at Angkor Wat, was taking a ride on Chiben the elephant from the South Gate of Angkor Thom to the Bayon. Wicked!

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Posted by Tom and Jo 03:20 Archived in Cambodia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Koh Tao

Heaven on Earth

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Wow!

Koh Tao is such a beautiful place, and everything that we had wished for in a Thai island. Predominantly people come to the island to learn to scuba dive, but due to our tight budget and time restraints we were forced to spend the whole time simply lying on the beach enjoying ourselves. What a drag!

We stayed in a little bungalow set in pretty, colourful gardens about 15 metres from Sairee beach. During the day we enjoyed the usual seaside pleasures, and at night the beach came to life, restaurants firing up barbecues and bars laying out cushions for customers to sit on and watch the tide roll right up to the edges of the decking.

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Our highlights included our first evening which we spent at the Lotus bar, the liveliest of the beach bars. We sat right on the front and watched local Thai lads doing a fire show (flaming poi and batons). It was fantastic and they were so entertaining. Surprisingly one of the best was a tiny 7 year old boy who had obviously been learning from his talented older brother!

The following day we took a water taxi to nearby Nuan Yuang which is the only place in the world where three islands are linked by a natural sand bar. We hired snorkels and spent an hour exploring the coral reef and spotting rainbow coloured fish. They were very friendly and swam right up to our faces. Our favourites were the bright green parrot fish, which had strange beak-like mouths that they used to munch at the coral.

It was with real regret that we left this place, as it is truly idyllic. If we return to Thailand in the future, we have vowed to come back to Koh Tao for an extended trip and to take the popular PADI course.

Posted by Tom and Jo 08:11 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Koh Samui

Am I in Zanté?!

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After a few drinks with some fellow travellers on our last night in Chiang Mai, we decided that we would travel from Bangkok to the islands by overnight train instead of the gruelling bus journey. The train was quite an experience; we boarded at 7:30pm and it arrived in a little place called Surat Thani at 8:30am. It was interesting attempting to sleep in the narrow upper bunks whilst the train lurched about... luckily for us there were seat belts to stop you falling out!

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Koh Samui was not quite as we expected. We imagined an ideal little tropical island so were slightly surprised to find it crammed with tourists and lined with bars and clubs. Nevertheless we found a brilliantly cheap little guesthouse and spent the three days that we were there around Chaweng beach, relaxing, swimming and enjoying the nightlife (that we could afford).

Our highlight from Koh Samui was a late afternoon we spent on the beach. As the sun was beginning to set and the tourists were heading for the bars, the local Thai people began to congregate on the beach. It was lovely being among the families, watching the children play in the sea and watching hawkers selling their food from barbecues.

Next stop... Koh Tao.

Posted by Tom and Jo 07:48 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Chiang Mai

Mai favourite

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Chiang Mai is the gem of northern Thailand. We have absolutely loved our few days here and wish we could stay longer! The atmosphere is chilled and everything runs at a much slower pace (except the tuk-tuks).

Another great surprise was our Guesthouse - the Trigong Residence. Clean and pretty with ensuite for just 7 quid per night. Bargain!

We have spent two and a half fun-filled days here and have enjoyed every minute. We began our stay with a trip to another night bazaar: a huge long stretch of road lined with stalls selling clothes, jewellery, trinkets, handicrafts and knock-offs ... fantastic stuff. We took cover from the pouring rain in the Anusan food market, reknowned for its seafood, which was beautifully cooked and definitely lived up to its reputation.

Our second day was jam-packed with a 4km walk exploring the cities oldest wats. On the way we stopped off at Chiang Mai's women's prison, which has a spa attached where inmates due for release give brilliant Thai massages. We had an hour and a half massage each, and it was quite an experience. At times it was hard to tell if it hurt or felt good, but by the end we felt pummelled to perfection. That evening we went to a fantastic little Thai restaurant/bar right on the Ping river. The food was really tasty and was accompanied by a great little live band.

Today we headed out of Chiang Mai to the countryside for one of the best days of our trip so far. It was a one day Thai cookery course on an organic farm. We were shown round the local food market and taught by this funny little Thai man called Sawat. We made a whole range of dishes of which our faves were green and red curry, tom yam soup, pad thai noodles and sticky rice with gorgeous fresh mango for dessert. It was brilliant and we met some lovely people.

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Tomorrow we head down to Ko Samui (1600km away) by plane and overnight bus (groan)!

Posted by Tom and Jo 06:57 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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