Travel Blog for Fredrik and Gunnhild


Phnom Penh to Chau Doc

In the morning we went to the laundry to pick up our clean clothes. The tuk tuk driver turned out to be the same that took us there last time, so he knew where to go. When we got back we had breakfast, and checked out of the hotel. We were picked up by a tuk tuk at 11.45 AM, and after some paperwork at the dock we left Phnom Penh in a speedboat at 12.15 PM. We shared the boat with an Australian couple and Portuguese couple.

P1060847It was a lot to see on the trip down the Mekong river to Chau Doc. Temples everywhere, small boats, big boats, daily life along the river, farmers and fishermen. We had to go a shore twice to pass the border, first to leave Cambodia, then to enter Vietnam. We were lucky, and were the only ones there, so it didn’t take much time at all. We arrived in Chau Doc at 4.30 PM, and left the boat at Victoria Hotel’s private dock. The other passengers had done some more research than us, and booked cheaper hotels. We just accepted the suggestion from the travel agent, and didn’t know that we were staying at a luxurious colonoial-style riverfront hotel. But since Fredrik had a flu, it was nice with a bit of luxury.

P1060888We were welcomed with cold wet towel and a cup of tea, and told that we had been upgraded to a room with a view over the river. It was large, stylish and very comfortable, with timber floors and a French balcony. Our guide book said that they also had the best restaurant in town, so we didn’t bother to go anywhere else. We ordered Okra hot pot, which turned out to be fish and vegetables cooked at our table. Very good! After dinner we had a beer at the terrace, watching the lightning all around us. It was blinking almost constantly. So Gunnhild went out to find an ATM and get some Vietnamese money, and got back just before the rain started. We packed what we needed for the boat trip in a backpack, since we didn’t expect our cabin to have room to open two suitcases. We were right.

Phnom Penh 2

Yesterday we decided that we didn’t want to rush the sightseeing, so we booked an extra night at the hotel. Our room (twin) was already booked though, so we had to move to a double room instead. After sending an inquiry for a 3 day Mekong river tour ending in Ho Chi Minh City, we packed our bags and left them in the room. We found a tuk tuk to take us to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng (S-21), and actually confirmed the tour from the tuk tuk a bit later (we have bought a local sim card for internet access).

P1060790First we drove the 14 km to Choeung Ek, where the most famous of many, many killing fields in Cambodia are located. We had read some history before we arrived, but it was completely different to walk around the area where it all happened, and listen to the stories of the survivers on the audio guide. There were quite a few visitors, but hardly any talking. People walked slowly around the area, taking in the stories, looking at the mass graves and the remains found. Several people left colorful bracelets around the mass graves to show their respect for the victims. We were also told to stay on the paths and watch where we were going, because when it rains clothes and bone fragments are still coming to the surface.

P1060818From 1975 to 1979 the Communist Party of Kampuchea (known as Khmer Rouge) was the ruling party in Cambodia. Their goal was to transform the country into a peasant-dominated communist society, self-sufficient even in the supply of medicine. This led to a widespread famine, and thousands of people died from treatable diseases like malaria. Around two million people were forced to leave the cities to become farmers in labor camps, where several died from hunger and exhaustion. In addition the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed “intellectuals” (everyone with an education, all English-speaking people and people wearing glasses), suspected capitalists, city-dwellers, people with connections to the former or foreign governments, minority groups, anyone participating in religious rituals, possible traitors, people trying to escape and anyone not following the rules (by picking wild berries for instance). The leader, Pol Pot, said “It’s better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake.”. Around two million people (of a population of 8 million) died during the regime, about half from executions.

Several people were killed instantly, while the rest were taken to killing fields where they often had to dig their own graves before being killed. To save bullets they used farming equipment, sharpened bamboo sticks etc. as weapons. In some cases the children and infants of adult victims were killed by having their heads bashed against the trunks of Chankiri trees (to stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents’ deaths). In the killing fields in Choeung Ek mass graves containing 8895 bodies have been discovered. The area has been made a memorial, marked by a buddhist stupa filled with more than 5000 human sculls, many shattered or smashed in.

P1060819We continued to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The site is a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime.
It was one of at least 150 interrogation centers in the country, and as many as 20,000 prisoners there were killed. Most prisoners were held there for 2 to 3 months and tortured into naming family, friends and neighbors, who were then arrested, tortured and killed. In the museum we saw the tiny cells the prisoners were held in, pictures of hundreds of prisoners (several of them just kids) and lots of terrible torture devices.

The torture system was designed to make prisoners confess to whatever crimes they were charged with. Prisoners were routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, searing hot metal instruments, cut with knives, suffocated with plastic bags, got their fingernails pulled out etc. In the gallows they hung the prisoners upside down until they passed out, then dipped their head into a jar of fertilizer water to wake them up and continue the interrogations. In addition sleep deprivation, hunger and diseases helped force them to confess to the most absurd accusations. For the first year of S-21’s existence, corpses were buried near the prison. But they soon ran out of burial spaces, and the prisoners were sent to the killing fields of Choeung Ek instead.

After an emotional day with lots of impressions to process, we needed a few hours back at the hotel. They had moved our luggage into a new room which was more or less a suite with a separate lounge area. They had put an extra bed in here, so it almost felt like we had our own bedrooms. After booking a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, we went to the central market to buy a few things before the trip. The only thing we were not able to find was sunscreen. They only had sunblock and skin whitener… We had a couple of beers at the Frangipani Sky Bar, and then a great dinner at Khmer Saravan. For our last dinner in Cambodia we had to order our favorite Khmer dishes, Amok and Lok lok.

Phnom Penh

Our first goal in Phnom Penh was to get some laundry done. With 30 degrees Celsius, dusty roads and quad biking we were running out of clean shorts. We stopped by a laundry we spotted last night on our way to the Russian Market. The laundry took a bit longer than expected, so we bought a couple of shorts each for almost nothing at the market. They sold pretty much everything there, but it was crowded and hot, so we didn’t stay to buy anything else. We found a nice café close by with huge fans and sat down for a late breakfast/early lunch to cool down.

P1060757In the afternoon we went to see The Royal Palace and The Silver Pagoda. It was a huge area with temples, pagodas and lots of other buildings with the classic Khmer roofs and ornate glidings. We walked from the palace to the riverfront (only a few hundred meters, but hot as hell), and sat down at the first bar we found for a beer. After cooling down a bit, we walked along the entire riverfront and ended up at Wat Phnom (meaning Hill Temple, although the “hill” is only 27 meters high). According to the legend the first temple here was built in 1373 by a lady named Penh to house four Buddha statuse that she found floating in the Mekong. And that’s how the city got it’s name.

We took a tuk tuk to Hamiwari microbrewery, located in a 5 star hotel by the river. The service there was kind of slow, but we had a comfy couch, great views of the river, good food, and very good beer. We had a sampler of all four beers available, and were pleasantly surprised with the quality. While we were trying to find the Munich beer garden a new thunderstorm came along, and we jumped into a tuk tuk to go to a microbrewery closer to our hotel instead. When we got there they told us they stopped brewing a year ago, so we took another tuk tuk to the pub street. It wasn’t quite what we expected, and most of the restaurants served western food. We ended up at a small local bar, with European tables and chairs but the kitchen on a cart by the road. Great food!

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a mini mart and bought all the dark beers we could find. The tuk tuk driver didn’t know where to go, but it turned out that we did. 🙂 We enjoyed our beer in the “lounge” at the hotel, while catching up on blogging, reviews, news etc.

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

After packing, we went down for breakfast at 09.30AM (just 30 minutes before pickup). For some reason everything took a bit longer time than we had planned, so when the tuk tuk arrived, we were still eating breakfast. But as with everything else here no one is in an hurry, so we were told to relax and finish our breakfast. The bill turned out to be a lot smaller than expected. 135 USD for 3 nights, Angkor Wat tour, mini-van to Phnom Penh, lots of food and even more beer! After saying goodbye to everyone, we where taken to  the mini-van “bus station”, and at 10.30 AM we were on our way to Phnom Penh.

P1060702The van was a new Ford Transit, with 12 seats in the back and homemade neck pillows. The car was full, and the driver drove like he had stolen the car (100Km/h in 40Km/h zone). The first 3,5 hours of the drive was on quite good roads with hardly any pot holes, but the last part was bumpy and dusty. It was a lot to see on the drive (crazy traffic, farmers, water buffalos, ox carriages, small villages, markets, whole families on small motorbikes, plenty of temples, trucks with loads twice their own height, people sleeping on home made luggage racks on the back of cars etc.).

The closer we got to Phnom Penh, the more we saw of the flood which was the main reason for the bad roads. Several places we could see trees and utility poles in the middle of what looked as a lake. The traffic into the city was terrible, but soon an ambulance with the siren on caught up with us, and our driver stayed on it’s tail until we were only a couple of blocks from the “bus station”. That way we arrived 30 minutes earlier than expected (4 PM), and took a tuk tuk to the hotel. We were welcomed with a drink, and got a large twin room. It started to rain quite heavily, so we had some food and beer at the hotel before we went for a walk in the neighborhood when the thunderstorm passed. We bought some dark beer at a gas station, and had a relaxed evening at the hotel.

Siem Reap 2

Pub StreetWe had another great lunch at the hotel before our tuk tuk to the hot air balloon came to pick us up. We only got a few hundred meters from the hotel before the driver got a phone call from Lucky, telling him that they had technical problems with the balloon and that it would be out of service for at least one week. We turned around and went back to the hotel. Bummer! At 7 PM we walked to the city center, and tried to buy a local SIM-card on the way. But the owner was not able to get it to work, even with help from all the other shops around him, so we ended up getting our money back.

When we got to the city center we walked through the night marked (too touristy for us) before we got to the pub street, a street mainly for tourists with several restaurants and of course plenty of pubs (as the name suggests).  We sat down on one resturant and had a beer berfore we finally found a SIM card that worked at a nearby shop. We had dinner at Khmer Family Restaurant, where they had great food and our favourite Cambodian lager (Angkor) on tap for only 0,5 USD.

The tuk tuk driver home wanted 5 USD, but when we said we would walk home instead he agreed on 2. We had a few beers at the hotel bar, sharing travel stories with a retired American living in Equador. After a couple of roundes of pool, we were ready for bed before midnight (long day!).

For our last full day in Siem Riep, the main plan was to relax and really enjoy being on vacation. We had a slow morning, relaxing in the garden and reading our books in the hammock, but soon agreed that we had to find some activity, and we booked a 2 hour quad bike trip.

Quad BikeWe where picked up at 3.30 PM, and went to their garage for a quick training and a short test ride around the block. We both got a hang of it very quickly and went off into the country side with our guide. We met several groups coming back and they were all around 10 people, so we were probably very lucky to have a guide to ourselves. In the beginning there were a little bit of traffic to pay attention to, but we soon got to the country side where we mainly drove on small dirt roads between the rice fields and past small farms. It was quite bumpy, but after a very short while that was just fun! Driving slow was actually the most difficult part. Kids along the road were waving at us, and with some of them we did “high five’s” while driving by.

We stopped at a large monastery in a small village. The old temple was very small, but a new one had been built only 2 years ago. We saw several young kids in orange robes, and our guide told us that for poor families sending their sons to the monestary was the best solution. Fredrik’s bike had a problem with the gear, so a guy from the garage came with a new bike for him. Since our next stop was an orphanage, we decided to spend the waiting time to buy some food to give them. The guide suggested a box of noodles, but we ended up buying that and 50 kg of rice as well.

P1060677At the orphanage a young boy showed us around. It was started by one family and not backed by any organization, but they had  several class rooms, big bed rooms and a large area to play on. They all went to public school, but had language classes at the orphanage as well, and his English was excellent, so they obviously had great teachers. Several of the buildings were donated by tourists who had been there to visit.

We also bought some lollipops while waiting for the new quad bike. The plan was to hand these out to the kids we drove past, but becuase of the gear problem, we were a bit late to see the sunset at the best spot. Our guide said that he had several spots which was good, but since we were more than willing to drive fast he aimed for the best spot. After driving like crazy, having to brake very hard at a few occations (dogs, oxes etc.) we maid it just in time for the sunset over the green rice fields. Beautiful!!!

SunsetWe turned on the headlights, and started our drive back to the city via even smaller dirt roads. Now we had plenty of time to stop, so all kids we drove past got a lollipop, and they were all jumping with joy. Fun! Back at the garage we washed of most of the dust and got in a tuk tuk back to the hotel. We jumped off at the mini mart 200 meters from the hotel, and bought some “fancy” local beer (stouts and dark lager), because we planned to take a shower and go to bed early. But we stopped at the bar for one beer, and started talking to a couple from Brisbane, Australia. We had so much fun that we ended up opening and sharing the beer we bought, and suddenly it was dinner time. We stayed at the bar all evening, but both managed to sneak in a quick shower in between the beers and conversations. A guy from New Zealand had bought some Cambodian whisky that he shared with us. It was actually quite good (but only 23%), and of course we had to go get our Norwegian aquavit to share with him and Mr. Lucky. Great night again, but as usual we got to bed a bit later than planned.

Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)

Angkor WatAt 0430 the alarm went off, playing heavy metal (internet radio) on high level. It was a bit of a shock, but we got up and were ready to leave at 5 AM. Lucky had packed breakfast for us, and gave us tea and coffee to enjoy on the Tuk Tuk ride to Angkor Wat. We bought day passes for 20 USD each, and arrived outside Angkor Wat at dawn. It was hardly any clouds this morning, so we didn’t get the red sunrise we were hoping for, but it was still beautiful. After taking lots of pictures, we sat down and enjoyed our breakfast with a view of the five towers of Angkor Wat reflected in the still water of the moat.

Angkor Wat is the single largest religious monument in the world and was built during the 12th century. It was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, and is shaped like a lotus flower, but several Buddhas can also be found. The detailed carvings of dancing girls, warriors etc was really impressive. And even with a lot of visitors it felt spacious and tranquil.Angkor Thom

Our next stop was the ancient city of Angkor Thom. It was also built during the 12th century’ and was at one time the largest city in the Khmer Empire. In the center of the complex is the temple Bayon, where the towers are decorated with large smiling faces. We also saw Bauphon (built in a pyramidal form to represent Mount Meru), The Royal Palace Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants (300 m long, mainly used for royal reviews of military and other parades) and Terrace of the Leper King.

We continued to the Ta Prohm temple complex, which was originally built as a Buddhist monastery. It was used as a location in the movie Tomb Raider, and has crumbling towers, enclosed courtyards, narrow corridors and ancient trees growing on top of and around the ruins. Very cool, and we also appreciated the shade provided by the large trees, since it was 30 degrees Celsius and sunny.Ta Prohm

Our last stop was Banteay Kdei, also known as Citadel of Monks. This was the smallest temple we visited, and it was in pretty bad shape because of faulty construction and poor quality sandstone. At around 10 AM we were warm, tired, full of impressions and ready to go back to the hotel. Everyone were surprised to see us, because most people spend several hours longer on this trip. But we felt that we had a great day (morning), and got to see everything we had been looking forward to for so long. We had a long chat with one of the guys working here over a beer, before heading to our room for a small siesta and some blogging! What a day, and it’s still early! If you want to read more, click here.

Hanoi to Siem Reap

Hanoi Old QuarterWe got up at 10 AM, a bit tired after a late night, packed our bags and checked out of the hotel. We got the tickets for our flight, and booked a taxi to the airport an hour later. We went for an English breakfast at a hostel where most of the other guests seemed to have had more beer and less sleep than us, and spent the rest of our time in Hanoi walking around in the old quarter.

The check in at the airport was very chaotic. There were several large groups at the desk where we were supposed to check in, so we were moved to another line handling all international flights with Vietnam Air. Several of the people there spent a lot of time at  the counter because they had too much luggage or couldn’t find their passports or visas. But we got through security in time, and took off towards Siem Reap, Cambodia at 3.30 PM.

The flight took less than two hours, and we had some nice views at the end, but sadly not of any of the famous temples. We had to fill out several papers during the flight, and one additional one at the airport. Because of this we expected it to take some time, but it was really efficient and we were out  of the airport with our bags in no time. The visa application was a bit funny, because we were obviously supposed to bring a photo (which we didn’t), but if we just paid one dollar extra no photo was needed.

Angkor Secret Garden HotelLucky from Angkor Secret Garden Hotel picked us up at the airport in a Tuk Tuk. His English was really good, and he told us a lot about Cambodia, Siem Reap and his hotel during the 20 minute ride. The hotel was very nice with large rooms, and a cosy backyard with hammocks, a bar and a pool table. We soon decided that we wanted to stay there an extra night (3 instead of the 2 we had booked). Lucky gave us a map and explained what to see and do over a beer in the bar. We booked a trip to Angkor Wat the next morning (leaving at 5 AM!), had some great local food and talked to several of the other guests. We went to our room early to pack, relax and try to get tired, but we didn’t go to bed until 11 PM.

One week and we’re going to Vietnam and Cambodia

This year we are going east.

We have not planned this trip in detail, but we will fly into Hanoi and travel south to Ho Chi Minh City with a few stops on the way (probably Hue and Hoi An). From there we will go in to Cambodia and up to Angkor Wat. We have a flight back to Norway from Bangkok, so we might spend a day or two there at the end of our 3 week adventure.

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