Enjoy our photos from Cambodia. You can also access our photos on the top right “places we’ve visited” menu.
|Phnom Penh Album|
|Siem Riep and Angkor Album|
We are feeling strangely nostalgic for many of the places we have already visited on this trip. It’s not that the places we are exploring now aren’t wonderful, but it is because we feel the year slipping away from us already. Here we are on month 8, much closer to the end of the trip than we are to the beginning. It’s hard for us to imagine coming back to our real lives! But enough about the future, let’s talk about the present (well… past really) and think about our highlights of month 8!
Here are our stats for this month.
*Countries looked at: 1 (We watched sunset over Thailand, viewing it across the Mekong River from Vientiane)
Beds Slept In: 12 (This is a little higher than it could be. There were a few places, Phnom Penh and Siem Reip, where we switched hotels in the middle of our stay, and it counts one night back in Phnom Penh before our flight to Laos. *Chairs Slept In: 1 (See above about Singapore airport)
We traveled by 3 planes this month.
We traveled 5 long distance buses/minibuses.
~ We really enjoyed meeting up with an old college friend in Bali at the beginning of the month. It was great to reminisce about some college times as well as talk about future travel! There were many great moments, but one of the highlights was experiencing a birthday party for the temple in the small town we were staying in near Ubud. It was just great to be able to witness this and the evening culminated with Eric dancing onstage!
~ We had heard about the evening aerobics in Phnom Penh, but kept not making it work to go for the first few days we were there. We finally made it on our final night and it was such a wonderful time! It is hard to explain how both peaceful and exhilarating it was to see so many people getting together to exercise. There were people of all ages doing all sorts of activities. Our favorite of which was dancing, of course! We met some really nice people who welcomed us into their evening tradition. It was topped off by a lovely sunset as well. Hard to beat!
~ We didn’t know exactly what to expect from Battambang, a town in Cambodia. Most people just hit Siem Riep and Phnom Penh and move on. We had just a little bit more time so headed to Battambang on our way to the temples at Angkor. We stayed a few nights and had a wonderful time in this less bustling, less touristy city. One of our favorite memories from there was to see the Phare Circus. The performers were delightful, both funny and talented. It was a lot of fun!
~ As most people say, a trip to southeast Asia wouldn’t be complete with a visit to the famous temples at Angkor. We spent 3 days there and saw a lot of amazing temples. We enjoyed several of them, but one of our favorite moments was actually at the tail end of the second day. We had a long hot day on our ebikes, seeing several different temples. We were on our way home while the sun started to set. We rode through one of the famous complexes called Angkor Thom where we glimpsed some of the most famous temples for the first time. We headed out the south gate with the many faces, and had to immediately pause for the glorious sunset over the river/moat. We took some pictures and then continued on the ebikes where we rode past at got our very first glimpse of the most iconic temple of them all, Angkor Wat, before zipping on home. It sounds a bit anticlimactic but it was really one of our favorite times of the visit.
We are currently quite happy with the contents of our bags. After our repacking at home, we are feeling pretty good about what we have. We both are carrying some more cold weather gear which we haven’t used at all since being in Asia, but we still think we might need it for Nepal and it is comforting to know we have it.
Della has read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (4), 1984 by George Orwell (4), UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (3), Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind (3), No Birds Sing by Jo Bannister (3)
Eric has read The Blind Assassin by Margarat Atwood (3.5), Titus Groan by Mervin Peake (2.5), Gormenghast by Mervin Peake (3), Titus Alone by Mervin Peake (1)
Eric and Della have BOTH read nothing this month.
The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to look at Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.
Cambodia has always been on our itinerary, but we originally thought we would visit as part of an overland trip between Thailand and Vietnam. Instead, we ended up visiting it directly after our trip to Bali. Our friend Andrew from Denver works with an NGO in Cambodia a few months out of the year, and we found out that he would be there in February, so we switched our schedule up.
Our first stop in Cambodia was the capital and its largest city, Phnom Penh. We spent four nights there exploring many different sides of the city: seat of royalty, echoes of past horrors, and glimpses of a growing modernity.
We actually ended up staying in two different hotels during our time in Phnom Penh. The first two nights we stayed at the Khmer Surin Boutique Hotel, because that is where Andrew always stays and he was able to get us a slightly reduced rate. The room was definitely fancier than we were used to! We really enjoyed the large breakfast, where our choices included noodle soup and pad thai.
Even with the discount though, it was still a little too much for our budget. We found the Envoy Hostel just six blocks away and got a private room there with a shared bathroom. Its included breakfast was good but not nearly as fancy, but the space itself felt new, clean and friendly.
Royal Palace – Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, meaning that they have a prime minister with most of the political power but they also still have a King (like England). The King’s official residence is in Phnom Penh, and parts of it can be visited by the public. The two major attractions to see are the Throne Hall, a lavish hall where the King receives visiting dignitaries, and the Silver Pagoda, which houses many splendid objects and gets its names from the actual silver floor tiles. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside either of these structures, but were allowed to take pictures of the outside and the surrounding buildings, which were pretty impressive.
National Museum – Located next to the Royal Palace, this museum houses a large collection of ancient Khmer artifacts (the people of Cambodia are not called Cambodians but rather Khmer). It was interesting to observe the changing majority religion in the Khmer Empire as time went on. The earliest sculpture from before the 10th century AD is all Hindu, with images of Vishnu and Shiva, and so on. The apex of the Khmer empire is called the Angkor period (named after the capital, where the famous Angkor Wat is located). The sculpture from the early Angkor period is still Hindu, but then shifts to Buddhist under the influence of some influential kings. After visiting the exhibits, we spent some time relaxing in a pleasant garden in the center courtyard.
Both of the above attractions would fit under the “positive vibes” category, but the other two major attractions we visited definitely do not. In 1975, in the chaos surrounding the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia and began a radical restructuring of the country. Cities were emptied and they attempted to make an agrarian Communist society. Part of this restructuring meant getting rid of anyone who didn’t fit into their plans, such as intellectuals, foreigners, or even Khmer Rouge members who didn’t seem “loyal” enough. They only ruled until 1979, but in that time over 2 million people died. We visited two attractions that played a major part in this genocide.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – This is also known as “S-21”, which was the name given to it by the Khmer Rouge when it was used as a secret prison. They used this former high school to house prisoners for long enough to torture them and force a confession for their “crimes.” The facility is left is almost the same state as it was when the Khmer Rouge fled Phnom Penh in 1979. One of the cell blocks still contains the beds in which some of the last remaining prisoners were tortured to death and left before they fled. Others still have the old makeshift cells that the prisoners were held in. Many of the rooms are filled with pictures of the victims; like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge liked to keep detailed records. This was a pretty harrowing place to visit, to say the least.
Killing Fields of Choeung Ek – After the prisoners “confessed” to their crimes, they would be thrown in the back of a truck and taken out to this site (located in a former Chinese cemetery) just outside of town, killed and dumped in a mass grave. In an attempt to save bullets, most of the killings were done with agricultural instruments. No structures remain, but many of the mass graves have been unearthed. Not all of them have though, and you can still see scraps of fabric and even bits of bone from the victims sticking out of the ground in places. An excellent audio guide helps take you through the site and gives good background information. We also really appreciated that the audio guide meant that hardly anyone was talking throughout the site, leading to an air of solemnity.
After learning about all of these recent horrors, we were feeling pretty depressed. But, the people of Phnom Penh seem pretty resilient, and we got to participate in a fun local activity at the Olympic Stadium one evening.
Our friend Andrew did a great job of guiding us through the wide range of good food that was to be found in the neighborhood that we stayed in. The variety and quality was quite impressive!
The first night we went to a barbecue place that was filled more with Khmer people than with foreigners. We split a few different grilled meats and side dishes. One of the most exciting parts of the evening was seeing a Rice hat at a neighboring table!
On the other evenings with Andrew, we ate at a French restaurant (a holdover from the colonial influence) and a Mexican restaurant (where Eric was amused to see many Texas references on the menu).
One evening Andrew couldn’t join us, so we ate at the Khmer Surin’s restaurant and had some dishes with a strong Thai influence. We also ate lunch one afternoon at Mok Mony, where we sampled a Khmer red curry (tasted pretty similar to Thai curries) and their version of fried noodles.
One thing that we were really impressed with was how cheap the beer was! At many places, you could get a glass of draft beer during happy hour for 75 cents! Sure, it was pretty plain tasting beer, but at that price it’s hard to complain!
Phnom Penh was an excellent introduction to modern Cambodia. We got to see a bit of the royal influence, learn about both the grand ancient history and the somber modern history, and get a little bit of the cosmopolitan feel of the growing city.
It has been far too long since we’ve found a good Zumba class. In Phnom Penh, we found a semi-equivalent which was even better in a couple of ways!
We had read/heard that almost every evening, many Phnom Penh residents gather in different parts of the city to do aerobics classes. The Lonely Planet recommended the Olympic Stadium as one area where you would be sure to find several groups.
We made sure to head that way one evening. We arrived as the air was cooling and the sun was starting its descent. As we approached the stadium we saw all sorts of people of all ages and genders! Some were playing volleyball or soccer, others were walking or running, and still others were just enjoying the sights and chatting with friends or family.
We entered the stadium and found not one, but at least 4 different groups of dance aerobics. Each led by a young male instructor and rocking to the beat of loud Cambodian music. We watched for a few minutes and then picked a group that seemed to be suitably high energy.
It was similar to Zumba, though a bit less choreographed, so it was quite easy to jump right in. It was a lot of fun to watch people of all ages doing the dances. There were older to middle aged to young women. There were also several men of most ages as well.
We danced for about 30 minutes before there was a break. During the break, a local woman came up and tried to chat with us. Her English was a bit difficult to understand, but her smiles and friendly shoulder taps were unmistakable.
A little later, a young man joined us as well. He was a student and tried to explain a bit more about the evening events. He explained that they do aerobics every night and then a short pause and then the “dancing” would start. We were perplexed what the difference could be, so we waited around to see.
When they started dancing again, it seemed as if everyone already knew the dances. Our young man friend explained that some were traditional dances. Then we started doing line dances! There were several, including one that seemed like it was almost the electric slide!
We absolutely loved this experience! There was something really special about a huge community coming together and dancing together. People were not self-conscious or worried what others would think! Instead, they all just moved together, people of all different ages and backgrounds. It was fantastic!
We were so enthusiastic that we made a point to go again when we returned to Phnom Penh for just one night before flying off to Laos. We were so disappointed when we got to the stadium and the dances weren’t happening!! Our only thought was that it was cancelled because of the Chinese New Year. Many shops and restaurants were closed as well. So disappointing! =( But we still really enjoyed the first experience!