Hello Cambo(dia)

Oct 24, 2017

I’m finally on my way to a new country, all by my lonesome. The past 7 weeks I’ve been traveling with people I’ve met along the way. I’ve met Liv & Josh literally my first day in Bangkok, it was all our first days and after speaking we realized we were doing the same route. We met Ida in Pai and Sam & Mike and Hannah & Charolette, the 2 UK duos on the slowboat to Lao which was basically 4 weeks ago. Now, after splitting, it’s a bittersweet moment for me. I’ve grown so attached to these people who’ve basically been my family. I basically don’t know how to travel “solo” without them. But, alas, this moment had to come and I was thrown to the wolves.

Just kidding. Sean was there the morning I left Saigon to say bye to me. At least I was able to transition slowly. We took the bus together and went to the new hostel together. The only real time I was alone was on the bus from Vietnam to Cambodia, and it really wasn’t bad. First off, this really cute little Vietnamese girl was very playful. She was playing with me for a good hour, and I gave her one of my animal erasers. She thought it would be a game to give it back to me and I would give it back to her. The game evolved to her taking the pieces apart and throwing them, then once she started to put the small little pieces in her mouth I told her no and her parents took back. I think they knew she was acting up but didn’t want to be rude to me and tell me to stop.

Anyways, the bus went smoothly. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories across the border. Apparently, the visa is only supposed to cost $30, but the bus facilitators usually say it’s $35. This is for their “service fee” because they basically do everything for you. We just fill out the papers, they give it to the peoples at the Vietnam border, get it stamped and shit, tell us to go to the Cambodian border, give all the paperwork, and all we have to do is follow orders. So, I guess it’s worth it since I wouldn’t be able to understand the Vietnamese/Cambodians since they don’t speak good English anyways. I’ve heard stories of people refusing to pay the extra $5, the bus people telling them to do it by themselves, then after it takes so long, they eventually get left at the border and the people left have to take a motortaxi to catch up to their bus. Moral of the story, it’s more efficient and easier if you just pay the extra $5 to get that shit taken care of than being left at the border to fend for yourself.

On the bus, I met the only other Westerner, another guy from the UK (wow, big surprise) named James. He asked me what hostel I was staying at, and said that he would share a tuk tuk with me to see if they had any space. Once we got to Phnom Penh we found a tuk tuk that took us to our hostel, Mad Monkey. I wasn’t feeling well at this point, I definitely had the common cold. So after finishing my blog in my room (which happened to be right next to the really loud bar), I went downstairs to get some food at their restaurant. I got BoBo (rice porridge, I know…big shock) because I needed something soothing for my throat, which was getting worse. James and I sat downstairs, just talking about life until I told him I needed to go upstairs and get some sleep. I was NOT feeling well and we needed to wake up semi early for the Killing Fields/S21 Prison we booked in the morning and I need to be mentally and physically prepared for that.

Oct 25, 2017

So, I didn’t eat eggs today (WOW). But that’s because breakfast isn’t really included in Cambodian hostels. Another weird thing is that they take USD here, and whatever is less than a dollar you get back in Cambodia Riel. This is a good and bad thing, it’s good because I brought a lot of USD here so I don’t need to withdraw anything and spend more $$ on fees, plus I know how what’s a good deal and what’s not (sorta). The bad thing is that they can charge way more than other countries because things are on the dollar. They can charge $1 and we can’t really go lower than that since no one really carries riel. So, poop on that. But I got a nice big fruit bowl for breakfast with yogurt. I woke up still sick, but I was determined to be productive today.

The tuk tuk driver that took us to our hostel from the bus yesterday picked us up around 10:30. Our first stop was the Killing Fields, the place during the Khmer Rouge where they took thousands of Cambodians to their death. Now, I’ve only recently heard about the Cambodian Genocide, I mean I remember briefly hearing about it in bits and pieces, but never really delving deep into what happened, why it happened, and the whole reasoning behind it. When preparing for trip, was when I actually realized that this genocide impacted the country HUGELY (out of 8 million Cambodians, ~2.5 million died in the genocide) that’s basically 1/3 or 1 out of 4 people that you know, gone.

So, the Khmer Rouge brought people here to die. From 1974-1979, Pol Pot wanted Cambodians to get back to an agrarian society, back to basics and farming, a classsless society. Anyone with light skin, a college degree, glasses, spoke a foreign language, had soft hands, or protested, he killed. Anyone he thought was going to overthrow his government, he brought to this and other killing fields to die. But, he didn’t kill them in any humane way. The Khmer Rouge used objects like axes, bamboo poles, machetes, sticks, farming tools, and tools alike to cause blunt trauma to the head (because bullets were too expensive) and slit their throats, then put them in a pile. They then sprinkled chemicals on them, if they were still alive, to finish the job. Here, at the killing fields, is where they explained what happened here and why (via audio guide). There were so many bodies in mass graves here, that from time to time, especially during the rainy season, bones, teeth, and clothes wash to the surface. There’s even a tree, where the Rouge would smash babies/infants/kids skulls on and throw them into a pit, named the “Killing Tree”.

We spent about an hour, hour and a half, just listening and taking everything in. We even bought flowers and incense to put at the memorial. At the stupah is where they showcased some of these skulls found in the pits, and how they died. You can see that a lot are cracked skulls, some have holes in them, and they put a marker indicating how they died. After there, we went to the Tuol Sleng Prison or S21, where they tortured thousands of people.

This prison, before the Khmer Rouge, was a high school. They turned the classrooms into makeshift jail cells and torture chambers. They basically made everyone write confessions about them being spies for the US and FBI. I’m not sure why they would make them do that even when a lot of Cambodians didn’t even know who the FBI were. The Rouge was really good at documenting their work, much like the Nazis. There are pictures of everyone who went through the prison, being displayed throughout each of the buildings. They killed everyone who went through these prisons, sparing only 12 people. One of the survivors, was an artist who painted the horrors that went on in the prison. He actually spends his days there, selling people his book and trying to educate people of the inhumane crimes went on at this prison.

Whew, it was a really heavy day. I was getting lightheaded while walking around. It was getting to me, the stories, I was also fatigued because of my sickness. So all of that combined plus we didn’t eat lunch made me a bit weak. Once we got back I scarfed down eggplant & minced pork which is one of their main dishes here (and absolutely fucking delish). I booked my bus for Siem Reap and went upstairs to take a nap. I guess I was really sick because I napped for 2 hours. I woke up, went to get dinner, then came back to my bunk to watch some Netflix before I slept again.

Oct 26, 2017

I had to wake up a little early today because my bus departs at 9:45, but I had to be ready by 8:45. I checked out pretty early, got a yummy breakfast wrap but couldn’t finish it because the shuttle picked me up to go to the bus. I took the luxury bus company, Giant Ibis, to go to Siem Reap because, treat yo self. I slept basically the whole time, it’s 6 hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap too. I only woke up when we stopped for lunch. I didn’t eat any of the over priced food and instead ate the other half of my breakfast wrap (hehe, I’m getting smart). I stayed up for about an hour after lunch then slept again until we got to Siem Reap. My sickness makes me really fatigued and I guess my body really just needs to nap and refuel.

Once in Siem Reap, I took a tuk tuk to my hostel, the Mekong Hostel. I was recommended this hostel by my friend Nicole, who stayed here. She said it would be really easy to meet people and it wasn’t a crazy party hostel. Since I was sick, I thought I wouldn’t be doing a lot of partying anyways, but I wanted to meet people to hang out with. I checked into my room (an all girls dorm) and immediately met Emily, a girl from Georgia (yay American), who was staying in my room. We talked, went downstairs and I got some fries to snack on. We also met another girl in our room, Kirsten (from SJ yay! Someone from the Bay). We decided to hang out that night and go to the night market. 

On the way to the market we stopped at this Cambodian Restaurant where I got Amok chicken, another one of their dishes. It’s chicken and probably some curry baked in a banana leaf, so tasty. At the market I did some souvenir shopping for my friends and family (and bought stuff for myself). Yenno how I said everything is in dollars, well it makes everything seem way more expensive, and it probably is. Kirsten wanted to look for pants for the temple while Emily bought this traditional skirt to also wear to the temples. Back at the hostel, we all just chilled. I was still sick so I didn’t want to go out. So we had an early night.

Oct 27, 2017

I wanted to sleep in because I thought my body needed it, but I guess sleeping in means before 10 (because my body is just used to waking up at that time now, even though there’s no free breakfast). Emily had to check out and was moving hostels, but we told her we’d tell her our plans for Angkor Wat at sunrise. Kirsten and I just chilled in the morning. She still hadn’t gotten her pants so we went to the Old Market by Pub Street to see if we could find some.

We first got food at a small Cambodian restaurant and I got curry chicken. We roamed around the market to see if we could find pants. The Cambodian sales people are really aggressive and if you even look at their product they’re swarming you. At one of the stalls, this really young girl was speaking to us like people (not like money bags) and her English was really good. We decided to give her our business and we both bought pants. She told us she was 15 and on her lunch break. She said she would go back to school at 1:30 and that this shop was her mom’s. So cute. After walking around a bit more I started to get sleepy, so we went back to the hostel. I took a solid 2 hour nap again. Which is weird for me because I don’t usually nap and for such a long time.

After laying around for a while, we decided to go to the Night Market again. We stopped to get food, this time I got chicken basil yum. My goal at the night market was to exchange a shirt I got for a friend (they made me pay an extra dollar to exchange, eye roll) and get some crystals from this British lady we saw the day before. I got this amazing looking Emerald Jadeite that called to me. At first, I didn’t want to get it because it was $45, but I could tell that it was calling for me so I bought it anyways.

We went back to the hostel pretty early. We had to wake up and check out before 4:30am, when our tuk tuk would pick us up. We also bought Valiums (40 tablets for $5?!?!?!) so we popped those once we got back to ensure we would get a good nights sleep and slept around 9pm.

Oct 28, 2017

Well, I guess the Valiums wore off around 2am because both of us woke up to the loud noise of the lady checking in at 2am! She wasn’t quiet at all. You’d think, if you got in that late, you would just put your stuff down and sleep. Well she didn’t and instead decided to be really loud putting things in different places, rustling about, being really noisy. We were knocked out from the drug but still happened to wake up. After she finally went to sleep her fucking phone kept going off with messages, and it wasn’t like it was on vibrate either, that thing was on full volume dinging and shit. To make matters worse, once I fell asleep again, our dorm mate decided to come in at 3:30am with her boyfriend or whatever and was talking really loud in the bathroom (because the walls are paper thin), mind you this is an all girls dorm as well. I was irate at this point and just as I was about to go tell them to shut the fuck up they left. 

So, I was already awake by the time our alarms went off at 4am. We had to check out as well so we lugged all of our stuff downstairs, where Emily was waiting. Our tuk tuk driver first brought us to the ticket booth and we could immediately tell that it was gonna be crowded (I guess it’s this way every day). When we arrived to the main temple, the actual Angkor Wat, there were so many people there already. It was hard to get a good place to see the actual sunrise, and I wanted to do a time lapse on my little cube but that didn’t happen. It was still very beautiful, a little cloudy but enough to see colors and the sun actually rise. The temple itself is so serene and magnificent. In these historical buildings I really like like to imagine it back in it’s prime. I was even blessed by a monk!

The rest of the day consisted of going to 5 different temples. The main Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, and the one in the jungle were my favorite. The one in the jungle is the famous one with the trees growing in, on top of, and around it (that’s why a lot of it is in ruins because of the tree roots). These temples were really amazing, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to see them. It’s a bit pricey ($37 for one day) but we were tired and over it by the time noon came around. But, I can say that I saw the amazing Angkor Wat! (Quick fact: they didn’t destroy Angkor Wat during the Khmer Rouge because they thought it stood for Khmer prestige and a symbol of their power, or something like that).

Since Kirsten and I checked out, we went to our new hostel called the White Rabbit. It’s a cool, new hostel that has themed rooms and cool decor like in Alice in Wonderland. We got some food from their restaurant, I got BoBo (rice porridge) because I still didn’t feel a 100%, but definitely better than the days before. We walked around the area of our hostel, got a chocolate and lemon tart, then went back to the room to kind of relax. I did a lot of “admin”, some work for back home and took a shower and braided my hair (which takes forever but I’m finally getting so good). 

For dinner we ate at this delicious vegetarian restaurant and I finally got falafel, something I’ve been craving for forever. And we got ready to go out. Since everything is in dollars $1-2 shots didn’t seem like a lot (well I guess it’s because it’s not). We went out to Pub Street for the first time since we’ve been here. At one of the bars we put some cool glitter and face paint on. We danced and had a really good night out and it was just the 2 of us. I’m really glad I met Kirsten, she reminds me of my friends back home and it was a blast partying with her! We got back home, I somehow washed all the facepaint and glitter off (I don’t remember doing that) and smartly set my alarm before I drank (since I have to wake up at 5:45am for my 8:30am flight).

Traveling solo for the first time has been a really good experience for me. I’ve met cool people, even just for a day or two, and really got to know them and talk to them about life. I guess that’s the good thing about meeting different people (and being solo), you hear different opinions and stories. I think it helps you broaden your mind to different ways of thinking and doing things. You listen to their life story, their goals and aspirations, their reasons for traveling and wanderlusting, and it’s so cool to actually open up to complete strangers. I’m really glad that I’m traveling solo, being vulnerable in a sea of people in the same position as you can actually be a good thing. When you let your guard down and really be your raw, real self, you can really learn a lot. And, if you take something from everyone you meet, I guarantee that you’ll be a better, well-rounded person.

I’m now on a plane to Bali, I’ve spent a good amount of the morning still drunk from the night before (that’s why I’m really proud of myself that I got all my shit together and woke up to make my flight). I’ve spent 7 hours in the Kuala Lumpur airport and now I’m just really ready to get to Bali and sleep. So stayed tuned for my time in Bali and the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!

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