Tag Archives: Phnom Penh

Vietnam to Cambodia, and Back Again.

24 Dec

Currently

When I last left you I had wrapped up my first day in Saigon. More than a week has passed since then, and now I am on a bus riding through Cambodia, and on it’s way back to Saigon. That’s right, I am going back. The past few days have been somewhat chaotic which has led me to this moment, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind.

Củ Chi Tunnels and Realizing What a Small World It Really Is

Wednesday morning, Mike (New Yorker) and I were informed last minute by Vivian (Singaporean) that she would be joining a tour to visit the Củ Chi Tunnels, and if we’d like to tag along we would have less than an hour to get ready, leave our hostels, and arrive at her hotel. No pressure, it’s cool haha. Mike shares the same “why not?” attitude that I have while traveling, so we went for it and made it to Vivian’s hotel, with extra time to spare to grab coffees and some snacks.
*I’d like to take a moment here and advise those recovering from food poisoning that going on a two hour, bumpy bus ride is not the wisest choice you might make, but you won’t know if it’s worth it unless you try it. 😀 *

As we were picking up different passengers for the tour, I noticed that one of the faces was quite familiar. Enter Mike, from Wisconsin, not to be confused with New York Mike. For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to him as Mike 2, while the other one will be Mike 1. Are you keeping up with me, or have I lost you? :p Moving on. Mike 2 and I were on the same flight from Seoul and ran into each other again at the immigration office in the Saigon airport because neither of us had cash for our visas, so we wandered around searching for an ATM. Once we found one, and collected our passports, we wished each other luck and parted ways. And now here he was, on the same tour! A small world indeed. You might be able to imagine how my “everything is a coincidence” attitude faltered for a moment, especially with Vivian next to me the whole time whispering about how it was fate haha. My romantic friend.

The tour itself was not only educational, but it was also fun, and we had a great tour guide who had an incredibly dry sense of humor, which kept us on our toes, always second guessing whether he was joking with us or not.
But the most interesting part to me of the tour was a video that they had us watch at the beginning. I’ve never seen something so boldly propagandic before. I’m not sure if it was just a reenactment, or real footage, but it seemed sort of surreal. I would later see this same theme appear in the War Museum, but either way I appreciated getting to experience another perspective about the Vietnam War, especially since American textbooks don’t really like to go into detail about the facts of the event.

After the video we got to see how people in the village lived during wartime, with a whole network of tunnels created to hide underground, away from the enemy. We also saw the different booby traps that were created by the Vietnamese to trap their enemies, and then we had the opportunity to crawl through a tunnel that was about 100 meters. Nobody wanted to volunteer to go first, so I went ahead, (with an ice cream cone in my hand, I might add) and led the rest of the group in. I surprisingly didn’t experience any claustrophobia, but I didn’t find the fit to be too tight, and for once I found my compactness to be a blessing. Once out of the tunnel, we were greeted with what would be our dinner. Some potato-like vegetable. I guess the point was to experience what the villagers had to eat. Needless to say, we were still hungry and after the tour, Mike 1 and 2, Vivian, and myself went in search of a famous vegetarian restaurant Vivian had heard about (I love you Vivian!!!!). The restaurant was just my style, with a very open and simple decor. Everyone agreed the food was delicious, although I think Mike 1 didn’t feel quite satisfied without meat in his dish. After dinner, we said our goodbyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike 2 and I run into one another again in the future as we will both be in Seoul, and I know that Vivian and I will meet again in the New Year when she stops over in Seoul for work.

Changing Districts and More City Exploring

The next day Mike and I met again as he had talked me into staying at the hostel where he was, because my reservation was finished and I really didn’t like staying in the party district. His hostel was a welcome surprise and was located in a local neighborhood, with very few foreigners to be seen. We spent the day walking around the city again and visited the War Museum shortly before it was scheduled to close. I was disappointed at first that we arrived so late, but after being in the rooms that showed the cruel acts American soldiers had commited against Vietnamese people, I don’t know if I could have taken much more. But I do believe that it is important for us to learn about and face past events, no matter how uncomfortable they might make us feel.

While at the museum, we had met up with another Couchsurfer, Kai, a very cool Vietnamese university student. The three of us walked around and talked, while Kai showed us some local spots, including a noodle soup restaurant and a very cheap, bubble tea vendor that he visits regularly. At the end of the night Mike and I were ready to book massages, and Kai was nice enough to patiently walk around with us as I kept finding reasons not to go inside the different spas. Finally, Mike had enough and googled one with good reviews, and that’s how we came across the best massage I experienced during my trip. We had to go back to the party district and walk down a super seedy alleyway to reach the spa. But once we were inside, the atmosphere felt relaxing and professional, unlike previous spas we had visited. It was here that I experienced my first Thai massage, and it was amazing. Thai massages are a bit more tough than your typical relaxing sort, and include a lot of twisting, stretching, and pressing on pressure points. I don’t think I can ever go back to a regular massage again! And I even made friends with the owner, who has family in West Virginia and has asked to meet up with me in the States the next time she visits. Friends can be found anywhere and everywhere is what I am learning!

Lame Pub Crawlers and the Mekong Delta Tour

After saying goodbye to Kai, and finishing our massages, Mike and I, for some reason, agreed to go on a pub crawl with a very cool, and tough young woman that Mike had met before. I think we might possibly be the world’s worst pub crawlers since Mike didn’t drink at all, and I only bought one beer. After arriving at the second bar, we both decided that we were far too relaxed from our massages to participate in such a wild activity and headed back to the hostel. We got back quite late and our host reminded us that we were signed up for a tour for 7 in the morning. Uh oh.

The next day was rough to say the least. After only a couple of hours of sleep, we got on a bus for two hours that took us out of the city and to a village on the Mekong Delta River, where we spent the whole day getting on and off of various boats of all shapes and sizes. Neither of us were particularly impressed with the tour, perhaps because it was too touristy, or maybe we were just cranky. It was fun, however, to ride on a local boat and get to participate in an activity that involved us sticking our finger into a honey comb that was surrounded by bees. Sadly though, the one reason I joined the tour was not included, and that was the floating market. I might return to the area just to see it, because I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a child, when I saw a postcard my grandmother had from Saigon of the floating market she visited when she was younger.

Goodbye Saigon, Hello Again Phnom Penh

The next morning I said my goodbyes to Mike, as he would be flying to Thailand and I would take a bus to Cambodia. I spent four days in Phnom Penh, half of which were spent with Kirsty, a traveler from New Zealand.We spent most of our time in one of my favorite cafes, Artillery, and swapped travel stories and talked about how to stop having so many expectations in life, and live with more mindfully. Spending time with Kirsty was refreshing, and in a very short time, I knew that she was someone I would travel quite a distance to see again. Here’s hoping we meet again in Fiji and New Zealand, Kirsty! ❤

The last bit of my time was spent with my good Cambodian friend, Sinorng. We had originally planned to visit his province by the sea, but we attended a birthday party that lasted a lot longer than we had expected. The party was a lot of fun, with so much food and kind people. And a few days after that party, I was invited to another one, this time a wedding anniversary. I had fun there as well, joking with one older man who could speak a little English. I think he was trying to get me drunk as he kept egging me on to “one shot”, and then the others started joining in on the cheer, but I had to decline since I was still recovering from the other event. Cambodians sure know how to party, and even more so how to drink. It’s not something I will even attempt to keep up with and I’ll leave it to the real pros.

Traveling Hiccups

All in all it was a nice time, and the only real stress I was facing was to head back to Vietnam, or to go on to Thailand. Oh the horror haha. But then, just as I was about to get a Khmer script tattoo (it’s not as random as you might think!), I checked my bank account to make sure it was an expense that I could afford, and that’s when I saw a suspicious charge for about half of what was in my account. I spent most of the day and night going back and forth between my bank and the company the charge was coming from only to be told that my card would need to be closed out and I would be allowed a short amount of time to find an ATM and take out everything that was left. I’m not really sure if the charge can be disputed, or how long it will take, or even when I’ll have access to a check card again, but I guess there could be worse things.

So now that brings us to the current moment. I’m about half way to Vietnam, waiting at a rest stop while the passengers grab snacks from the convienent store. Part of me wishes I hadn’t paid for another Vietnamese visa and just bunkered down in Phnom Penh until I get this mess situated, but as I’ve already got the visa and bus ticket, and prices in Vietnam are quite similar to Cambodia, I say why not. Worse case scenario, I find a teaching job in SEAsia again. I could imagine more terrible situations 😉
Let’s take a poll. Will I make my way back to Seoul, or will I start a new life in Vietnam?
P.s. OR That Time I Had to Bribe Thank Immigration Officers

Upon arriving at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, I was informed by the immigration officer that I would not be allowed to exit Cambodia in order to enter Vietnam because I didn’t have enough room in my passport for a stamp, although this hadn’t been a problem when the travel agency took my passport to issue the Vietnamese visa only two days before. In the midst of all of this, my bus left. I can’t say it was my finest moment, and I admittedly started to cry in front of all of the immigration officers, as they just looked at me, probably wondering how to get the crazy foreigner away from their booth.

After pulling myself together and trying to think of what to do next, one of the officers approached me and said he would let me try my luck with the Vietnamese immigration. So I walked over to the Vietnamese side and asked if they could possibly stamp my passport. They said it was no problem and there was no reason for Cambodia to not let me pass, so they sent me back, but this time with an escort, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would be paying at least this person for their “kindness” at helping me walk back to where I started.

Back on the other side, the Cambodian immigration officers kept shaking their head in disbelief saying that it can’t be right that Vietnam said it was okay, but eventually my escort convinced them that I was telling the truth, and the Cambodian officer looked at me, smiled, and said “you’re very lucky”. Oh yes, I felt incredibly lucky.

Once I paid all of the appropriate people on the Vietnamese side, and bought another bus ticket, I was finally able to make it back to Saigon, and I felt so much relief as I arrived at my hostel. This has been the first, and hopefully the only, issue I have ever had while traveling between borders, and although I had heard stories, I kept thinking “oh, I am glad I am lucky when it comes to traveling”. Nobody is safe is what I take from this experience haha. 😛

Advertisements

Breaking up with Cambodia. :P

23 Sep

Dear Cambodia,

I’m bringing our on again and off again relationship to a close. Yes, this last month has been really great and you’ve showed me you could change, but we both knew early in the game that this wasn’t going to last for very long. I mean, I’ve already tried to leave you ….twice now, but you pulled on my hear t so I decided to give you another chance.  You threw in plenty of distractions composed of lovely people and wonderful memories, but I can’t stay in this dream like state forever.  You’re not exactly great for my health. I mean at least you didn’t try to kill me off multiple times like your big neighbor, Thailand (I still love you, Thailand!), but still. I’m tired of living out of my backpack, and I know I can’t blame that on you, but I never felt comfortable enough here to really try to settle down in a place more temporary than a guesthouse room.

Besides the aforementioned, why not stick it out and give it another go? Here’s why. I’ve learned more than I expected in less than six months and the one thing that resides with me the strongest is this, nothing is permanent. I’ve been practicing on letting go of my attachments (thank you, Nop!) to things, people, places because they are all temporary and placing so much into them does result in a suffering of sorts. I don’t mean to say that I’ve stopped or am trying to stop valuing friends and family. That’s not it at all. It’s just that, I am starting to see that it is possible to love unconditionally, but to not hang on to it and invest so deeply that I can’t see the way out. I’ve done that my whole life and even if there are an infinite amount of moments of happiness, that happiness fades at times and is replaced by other not so great “feelings”. I’ve talked about finding balance for as long as I can remember and I am finally starting to get a look in on how to do that. So yes, Cambodia, while I will technically miss you, I can’t let that fear of feeling longing for something keep me stuck. I would love to come back again, so if that opportunity happens, then awesome. If not, you have given me so much and I can’t ever forget that, so here is a list of 7 things that I love about you, and after this closure, let us part ways.

1. Seeing monks in orange robes. Even after six months it still makes my day to see monks walking around Phnom Penh.

SAMSUNG

(Being sneaky even though he had already taken a photo with me :p)

2. Cambodians. I am oddly enough a people person who isn’t really a people person. I love human kind but I am very ummm selective (I am in need of a better word!) about my personal relationships with people. Those reservations go out the window with the locals here. They are the warmest, smiliest (yeah, I just made that a word), and generous people I have yet to meet. What makes Cambodia so beautiful to me are the people.   428754_10151484187553143_1235923604_n
(SSD kids. One of my best memories of Cambodia <3)
IMG_0285
One of the sweetest girls I have ever met. We visited her family in their province and they were so generous and kind. Love you Choryee.
IMG_0381
(While I wasn’t passionate about teaching, if I were to teach anywhere it would be here.
SAMSUNG
(My little munchkins and friend, Panha.)
 3. Foreign cafes. I know this is a weird thing to list, but I have been to some of the best little foreign-owned cafes in this city. For example, The SHOP and their raspberry chocolate tarts goodness. Now I’m hungry!
So good!
4. Wat Botum Park. I love coming here when the sun is setting and the city begins to cool off and go for a run, or sit and people watch. It’s pretty empty during the day but at night it fills with families having  picnics, aerobic dancers exercising (I say this loosely as they aren’t really exerting themselves lol), and the cute couples who can finally be together without it causing too much of a fuss.
IMG_0726
(I love these beautiful overcast days.)
5. The sky. The other day I was talking with a friend about how great Cambodian clouds are lol. But seriously, they are! The sky always seems so close here and when a storm comes, it feels as if we’re enclosed in a snow globe of fluffy clouds of white. And have you seen the pictures of the sunsets?!  Beautiful. As I have been a lazy girl here, I cannot personally say the same for sunrises. Sorry sunrises, I’m sure you have plenty of fans!
IMG_07062
(This is like every day!)
IMG_0723
(Do you see how close these clouds are?!)

6.) The traffic. I know this is a weird thing to love, but I really do. I love the chaos of it all. All of the motos and tuk-tuks and people selling things in the streets. It was just so full of life.

traffic in PP

(This doesn’t do justice to what I’m talking about)

IMG_0241

(Motos everywhere!)

7.) The Markets. Though I didn’t buy much from the markets, I loved walking through them and just being there. I love how fresh the fruit is and it’s SO cheap. Sadly we don’t have markets such as those found in Asia back in the States because of food safety, or some such nonsense.

market

fresh fruit

(Fresh fruit everywhere! <3)

I am now posting this back from Virginia, and seeing all these pictures really confirms how lucky I am to have had such an experience and to see so many beautiful people and places. You’ll always hold a very special part of me, Cambodia. Thank you for all the memories and lessons. ❤

The good and the bad.

17 May

Alrighty everyone, let me catch you up to speed!

The month of May has been interesting to say the least. I’ve seen people fall apart and some put themselves back together while others are still working on it. Hell, to be honest, I did a little falling apart myself but I got back up and have learned some valuable lessons. The most important being this, nothing in this life is permanent. Sometimes things are good and sometimes they aren’t, but regardless it won’t last and there will be periods of ups and downs. I think that is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with now that I am out here on my own. Not alone though, because I have tremendous support from loved ones and I haven’t once stopped feeling that. Right, enough of my “philosophical insight”! :p

So it has happened! That’s right, I am officially a teacher. I’ve worked for about two weeks now and it is challenging to say the least. I am teaching English to three different kindergarten classes of about 20 students or so. My first week was pretty rough. I wanted to run as far away from my school and never look back because you all know that little monsters…I mean children… aren’t my strong suit, but I stuck with it and it’s getting better. Marginally. A friend of mine told me that this is an opportunity to help build a part of myself that I normally wouldn’t focus on and he was absolutely right. Teaching young children is definitely a learning experience and I am constantly being challenged. I hope to come out stronger after all of it but regardless it’s another experience that I won’t soon forget.

 

Now that I am no longer at the Marady, I am living with a really nice couple in a great apartment in a popular expat community. I’ve only been here for a couple of days now, but so far I am really thankful that I made the decision to come out.

As of  now I am content living here in the Kingdom of Wonder, but as I mentioned earlier, everything is temporary so I can’t rightly say how much longer I’ll be here. I am looking at a couple of future prospects which may take me to either a rural province about two hours outside of Phnom Penh, South Korea, or even a different South East Asian country. It’s all up in the air at the moment, but I can say that I will be grounded here for the next couple of months because Cambodia isn’t quite done with me yet.

Until next time.

Cheers!

Back in the city!

11 Apr

After a relaxing few days in Kampot, I had to return to the reality of Phnom Penh. I am quickly becoming accustomed to the way of life here and some of it isn’t anything I should be proud of. Mommy, I know you’re reading this so just know that I promise I will buy a helmet soon! The thing I am talking about which I am not proud of is that I have started using motos more often as my mode of transportation. The first time I rode on the back of one, I was absolutely terrified and swore I would never get on one again. But then I got on one again and it wasn’t as scary. The thing is, that at the moment it’s a cheaper way to get from point A to point B and not to mention faster than a tuk-tuk in this crazy traffic. Once again, Mommy, don’t kill me! 🙂

Being back in Phnom Penh is strangely comforting and I guess that’s because technically it is my home at the moment. I mean I have an apartment, friends, favorite places to eat, and a basic idea of how to get around. There are definitely times when I miss the States but I try not to dwell on those type of feelings so much because I am trying my best to embrace this new and inspiring life that I am living.

Today is the first time I have done something “touristy” in Phnom Penh since my first Sunday spent here. I visited the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Prison. I knew that it would be sad which is why I have avoided it until now but nothing could have prepared me for the feelings I felt as I walked through the school rooms that used to be holding cells for torturing innocent people. I walked through at first struggling with whether I should even take pictures of the place because it just felt so morbid and wrong, but I decided that while painful, moments in history such as the Khmer Rouge should never be  forgotten just because it is hard to face. S-21 used was a primary and high school before the Khmer Rouge turned into a detention center where they held people with political or intellectual backgrounds and tortured them until they confessed to things they had not done.  Today it is a very eerie place, made even more so by the fact that you can tell that the rooms you stand it are classrooms and even the gym in the courtyard was warped into some sick torture device.

I spent two hours wandering from room to room, standing in cells, looking at the countless number of pictures of people who would die in those rooms. While I suppose some could spend more time there, it became too overwhelming and I had to leave. I am glad that I went, but unless it is for the documentary they show at certain times, I will not be going back. I am still debating on whether or not to upload the pictures. It probably won’t seem so bad to see the pictures, but in person it was just heartbreaking. But that is something I feel you have to face here, because this whole country is surrounded by reminders of that time and it’s crazy to see it slowly rising from the ground.

Until next time.

Cheers!