Really, I think we deserved a vacation after volunteering for a week with special needs kids. It is so rewarding, and so necessary…but so exhausting. Just like when I was in Peru, I leave this experience respecting care givers even more than ever. We have another week ahead of us now but we had the last 10 days off due to Khmer new Year.
….Khmer New Year…my 4th New year of the 2013 calendar year; including the international New Year, Chinese New Year, Balinese New Year (Nyepi, coinciding with the Hindu Calendar), and now Khmer which is what Cambodians are technically called…this new year is also celebrated by Thailand, and Laos.
So, for this vacation from our travels we headed out of Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (the Angkor Wat city) and to Battambang, then got back to PP for the weekend to hit up the S21 museum and killing fields. If I may say so myself, we’ve had a rather stellar 10 days. This post may be a long one…I’ll write a post all about volunteering to follow, and obviously upload some money shots of Angkor.
So we started the week on Saturday morning jumping on a 7am bus from pp to siem reap…it may have been 2 hours late, which is good for Asia I suppose…Anyway, we were welcomed with a “Welcome Anika & friends” sign and tuk tuk to take us to our 3 dollar a night, 92% hostelworld rating Mangolo-Angkor guest house…
Pretty luxurious…in all fairness, those were the comfiest pillows and mattresses any of the 3 of us had slept on in weeks…on the other hand, even with that mosquito contraption we all walked away with at least 5 more bites most nights. Referencing the 3 of us, my friend Stacey who I met in high school, saw in Melbourne, and is volunteering with me in PP. Also, my friend Alyssa that I met in Ubud Bali during my yoga-Soma(raw food cafe)-volcano hike days. So the room was tiny…but we had enough space on the deck to do yoga in the mornings and the staff spoke English, French, and Khmer fluently. They also had bikes for us to rent and ride to Angkor in the mornings.
Siem Reap…great place. Definitely a change from where we are staying in PP at Chantrea Guest house. It is a great place, close to what we need…however very far from the touristy parts of PP…it made being in the atmosphere of white folk, English menus, and copious souvenir markets seem ever so much more like a vacation. We hit up the night market, shopped the many community project shops that either teach street kids skills or give them jobs, and lounged at sustainable cafes. We quite enjoyed our carrot cakes and peanut butter cookies at Peace Cafe where they have yoga and free buddha chats/khmer lessons on weekends! We got dollar foot massages, raided the 50% off discounts at the bakery from 7pm til close (come to think of it, they may be concerned we haven’t returned…), got lots of ice cream from Blue Pumpkin (BEST ice cream and bakery in SR and PP!!), and had our fair share of 50 cent drafts on Pub Street. There are also great Khmer restaurants on the side of the Old Market opposite the river…Best curries we’ve had in Cambodia for 2 dollars including rice and drinks.
Angkor Wat…I feel like we almost forgot we were in SR to go to Angkor, we were so busy soaking up the touristy vibe we forgot we were actually there to see the largest religious building in the world, and honorary 8th wonder of the world. Knowing myself I opted to do the 1 day pass for 20 dollars…if you buy after 5pm the day before you can get it for the next day, so you can do sunset one day and rise the next…however if its cloudy, like it was when we biked 6km to get there, they may just decide that they want to go home and don’t let you go to the view points to watch. So what better thing to do than go get tons of free beer/wine/avocado/coffee/energy drink samples from the festival tents that were up for the new year!
Sunriseeeee, Alyssa and I have a thing for sunrises…in Bali we stayed up til 2 then did a hike up a volcano to see mt batur get illuminated to start the day…every time it seems like the worst decision…until this is your view:
Defo worth fighting the tripod-packing asians for a spot by the pond. Also, climbing up to the actual temple of Angkor doesn’t open until 7:30 and sunrise is at like 6. So if you don’t want to spend an hour and a half doing the exterior, head to Bayon in the Angkor Thom complex and come back to angkor in the afternoon. It’s so busy in the morning and eve prior to sunset, but it actually is the most shady temple to hide from heat in mid day. As for Bayon, probably actually my favourite temple…I thought it was stunning, and more original. Not that Angkor wasn’t stunning…but like when you’ve seen hundreds of photos of the Eiffel Tower, it looks like the postcards.
After we did a 20 km route, saw the tomb raider temple and headed back to siem reap getting totally rained on…oh the joys. But, we earned a solid night out! It was coincidentally the last night of Khmer New year celebrations (3 days…they’re on to something). We headed to pub street and bounced between Angkor What and the Temple…the only two nightculbs, which had a water and powder fight slash gangnam dance shake down happening in the streets between. It was actually mostly Cambodians partying, and virtually no foreigners were participating in the water fight. Luckily for me and my hatred of make up…slash poor packing and thus wearing a bathing suit instead of a bra…I was game to join in. Fun fact, there is male and female baby powder…menthol and floral scent respectively…word the wise, don’t get male baby powder in your eye…Definitely not if you wear contacts…and to those of you who plan on getting into said situation while wasted like I was, don’t consider washing your contact lens with undrinkable tap water and putting it back in your eye. Luckily my shaky hand didn’t permit for that anyway, but sober Ani is a bit repulsed that blackout Ani considered it. …solution? Walk around blind…and don’t accidentally blind 13 year old boys…them and their posse will hunt you down for revenge…
Anyway, after such festivities I followed my friends back to their hostel which had a pool…then we weren’t allowed in it so we played pool for roughly an hour before the front desk came to ‘take one turn’…aka sink the balls our drunk asses never would so we would stop making noise and go to bed.
What better decision than to leave at 7 the next morning to Battambang? I would like to take this moment to say cheers to Capitol bus company who got us to Battambang, and subsequently to Phnom Penh ON TIME…amazing. The second trip even involved changing a flat!
Battambang…everyone seems to have loved it…we stayed at Chhaya for 2.60 a night each, so how could you not really? In the 2 days we were there we spent roughly 12 hours sitting at Sunrise Cafe enjoying delectable cinnamon buns, brownies, cookies, and omelettes….oh and coffee…oh boy, the coffee (this week is gonna be a toughy without the caffeine)…we were to be ‘reading and relaxing’ I would say roughly 50 pages of our respectful novels were actually read, however approximately 100 versions of ‘would you rather’ and where should we eat for dinner were covered in great depth.
Come to think of it…they probably think we are MIA as well…and yes, I know how fat we deserve to be after consuming that many baked goods, but we biked and walked a lot…and will be biking 14km a day this week to volunteering, AND participating in the Olympic Stadium public Zumba/Tae Bo/Tae Chi nightly…so ease off the criticism.
Back to Phnom Penh for the weekend, Stacey and I decided to get S-21, the high school turned concentration camp of Pol Pot during the Khmer Rouge revolution and Killing fields 15km southwest of PP off the to-do list. We managed to walk to S21 and get a tuk tuk for 8 bucks return, the audio and entrance at the fields was 5 bucks, admission at the museum was 2. 11 dollars for a SUPER informative, and a little depressing day. For those of you who don’t know about the Khmer rouge, it happened between 75 and 79…so when my parents were only in High school… during that time 3/8 million Cambodians were murdered as a part of the mass Genocide led by Pol Pot in his attempt to create a perfect communist nation. He did so after studying in France, and died after only 1 year of house arrest at the age of 82 in the 90’s. The killing fields houses a tree that was used to crack skulls of babies, and many mass graves of the prisoners who had been transferred from the camp at S21 where they were brutally starved, worked, interrogated, and tortured so that killing didn’t require pricey bullets, only beating and blows to the skull.
Both museums were excellent. Well done, not over done, affordable, respectful, and heart-wrenching. S21 has movies for 5 dollars at 10 am and 3pm, the museum is rooms of the detainees, photos of all detainees, examples of weapons used, history, and testimonials from survivors/reports from those arrested. The killing fields includes an audio tape in many languages explaining what was there and what used to be as well as providing personal testimonials and a brief museum. I’d say do both, do the killing fields first then you don’t have to do the video at S21 and you will appreciate it more.
After that tough day we chugged a couple bottles of 3 dollar wine and downed some ice cream to ease the emotions. Today has been a day of exploring the river side, kicking our cravings for chicken and italian food (La dulce vita…AMAZING gnocchi, coffee, and wood burning oven pizza for great prices). We bought some crazy well priced goods at Friends which supports local street kids getting skilled at trades (the restaurant re opens tomorrow and is supposed to have to die for crumble!). We went to a new super market, explored markets for my watch fetish and new notebooks to journal my time, and are about to re-emerge to get BOGO baguettes for work lunch tomorrow.
After our Angkor adventures we’ve decided to do the 8km trek to volunteering by push bike this week to get a work out and save a few bucks. If you’re looking to rent a bike in Phnom Penh check out street 107 6 ish blocks south of Sianhoukville blvd.