So I have been back from vacation for over 2 weeks now. Yes, I am just getting to my blog. I got back in on a Sunday morning and Monday hit hard getting back into the work routine and then it kept getting pushed lower and lower on the to do list.On January 18th, Kiwi (Laura from New Zealand) and I caught a train to Seoul to fly out to Phuket Thailand. The flight to Phuket was five and a half hours. Arriving a little after midnight we found a taxi and headed to out hotel. The hotel was super nice and a great staff. Day 1 in Phuket we walked around and decided to go to a lady boy cabaret show that evening. Thailand is famous for lady boys, and let me tell you, you could not tell that these performers were not female. Day 2 was supposed to be spent going to Phi Phi and other small islands, unfortunately the pick up service had our room number wrong so we missed the bus. Luckily we got an early start on the day and headed to the beach. Being on the beach around 830, we were one of a few out there that early. The day was spent relaxing and people watching. After being out there for what we thought was a good and safe amount of time we headed in to take a nap. After getting back to our room we realized just how brutal the Thai sun is. We were both sunburned like no other. Having a olive complexion and tanning very easily I figured it would be tan by the morning. Boy was I wrong; it was the sunburn that seemed to never go away.
It actually kept us inside the next day, making this day 2 of missing our boat tour. Finally on the 4th day in Phuket we made it to the boat tour. It was an all day tour going to about 5 different locations. The first was to Monkey Island. All of the monkeys were so adorable. Some people had fruit to feed them or drinks to give them. We then went snorkeling off another set of islands. For lunch we docked at Phi Phi and had lunch at a hotel restaurant. After lunch the boat took us to the area in which the movie “The Beach” was filmed. This was a beautiful place. I wish we could have had more than 30 minutes there, but still happy to have gotten that much time but with us being so sunburned so badly it was not as fun as it could have been but still a great day.
In order to get to Bangkok we had to take a 12-hour bus ride through the Thailand country side. It wasn’t as long a grueling as we imagined. I slept most of the way. Granted it was s double decker bus and super nice. After arriving we got a cab to Khaosan Road where our hostel was we were out and the search started. We eventually found it. Since I went to Bangkok this past summer I let Kiwi pick whatever she wanted to do, as I’ve been to the palace and other of the high lights. The first day we took a boat ride on the river and called it a day. That evening we met up with Andrew. Andrew graduated from Lander also. He teaches at a university in Bangkok and also taught with me at the English camp in Bangkok. It was great to have a familiar face around and share a few buckets. Saturday Kiwi and I went to the Etowah museum. This museum has a huge structure of a 3-headed elephant. It was incredible. We had to call it an early night that night in order to catch the 5:55 AM train to Cambodia.
We left our hostel around 4:45 because we were unsure how long of a taxi ride it would be to the train station, luckily it was less then 10 minutes. the train ride was around five and a half hours through the Thai country side. It was rather depressing seeing old villages and very little life. When we made it to the last stop of the train we got a tuk-tuk to the border. There we had to go through immigration and then cross over to get out visa and our passports scanned. Finally after 3 and a half hours we were making our way by bus (2.5 hours) to Siem Reap.
Siem Reap was my favorite of all of the places that we traveled to. It is home to Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. It was build by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. We were picked up by out tuk-tuk driver just before 5 AM so we could go and watch the sun rise, as this is the most popular thing to do at Angkor Wat. It was an over cast morning but still a beautiful and calming experience. As much as I hate to admit it I did not know much about Cambodia before we decided to go there. Now that I am back and surfing the internet it seems that every travel site I read Angkor Wat is at the top of the list. The Wat is build with a moat around it. For it to be so old it is still a breath taking structure. Angkor Wat is not the only temple in this area. After sunrise we made our wat to a few other different ones. After a while they all started looking the same but still had their own unique style. My favorite was the one that had many faces carved all over the structures. We spent over 8 hours out there that day. Taking a short break to take a vegetarian cooking class at a local restaurant.
The 2nd day in Siem Reap was spent walking around the market and enjoying local life. The market was huge with tons and tons of touristy things to buy and local foods and spices. I took a little time out to enjoy a fish massage. This basically consist of putting your feet and legs up to mid calf in a fish tank and letting the fish eat dead skin off of you. At first it is a bit painful but then it feels good. Part of the reason I fell in love with Cambodia was the food. Never in my life have I had such flavorsome food. Yes, Italian food is known to be some of the finest in the world but Khmer food is out of this world. Every dish I had was different. The spices used are perfect and bring out the most amazing flavors. The food isn’t spicy or bland. It is just perfect. All of it was very healthy and non-fattening, so many fresh veggies used and very little frying if any. Siem Reap has a great street called “Pub-Street.” This is where the nightlife happens, great food and of course great drink deals. Who could turn down 50 cents beer and buy one-get one cocktails (cocktails costing less than $3).
As much as I hated to see our time in the fun city end it was time to take another long bus ride (5 hours) to the capital city of Phnom Penh. Riding there put me in a very sad mood. The houses and villages we rode through were so sad. The best way to give you an idea is to imagine the worst living conditions and multiplying it by three. But yet when our large bus was riding down the dirt roads the kids and adults all were waving and smiling to us. It goes to show you can have the bare minimum and still be the happiest person on Earth.
Once we arrived in Phnom Penh w got a tuk-tuk to our hotel. Keep in mind I booked all of the hotels on Trip Advisor and was very unsure of how each place would turn out. We had luck with all of them. But the one in Phnom Penh was by far the best. Located right on the river and one black from the Palace. So it was in the heart of the city. Unfortunately we were there during the time of the cremation ceremony of the former king so during the day many streets were blocked and shops/restaurants closed until late afternoon.
The first day we visited the Killing Fields. I have been to Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor and the beaches of Normandy, but this is by far the most depressing place I have ever visited. to know that in 1975 the Khmer Rouge decide that they wanted to get rid of everyone that had an education, money, good jobs and many more non sense reasons was just heart breaking. It did not matter how old or young, male, female or babies everyone that they thought was a threat was killed. It is estimated that 2.2 million were killed between 1975-1979 by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The place we visited, Choeng Ek, was 15 kilometers outside of the city. There were 129 mass graves here and a total of 20,000 were killed here. Before being shipped here they were held prisoner at “S-21”. It was a former high school but the Rouge used it as head quarters an a torture center. At Choeng Ek we saw the mass graves, skeletal remains and clothing remains. The hardest part of the tour was seeing the tree that was used to smash baby’s heads against before they were thrown into the mass graves. After the sad tour at the killing fields we went on the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. This was “S-21.” Here we saw the cells that prisoners lived in and wall after wall of the pictures of the prisoners as they were taken in. after a few rooms I couldn’t take it anymore. It was just so sad a heart breaking seeing elderly and children (of all ages babies included) and knowing what they went through.
To know that many of the people we saw as we were walking around the town of Phnom Penh were survivors of this horrible era in Cambodia’s history was heartbreaking. Having their life and family ripped away from them and being tortured for 4 years and not knowing if they would ever see their family again had to be pure Hell. On a lighter note the country of Cambodia is very friendly. They use US currency over their own. I would say that 95% of the people we interacted with in the two cities we visited spoke perfect English. Even little kids, age 5, trying to sell you things on the streets spoke great English. It amazed me because I have trouble getting my students to even tell me how their weekend was. But as someone said when it becomes an essential tool for survival you will do anything. That is true because other wise they could not make money off of tourist if English was not sure a widely spoken language. But prior to the Khmer Rouge taken over the other language spoken and taught in schools was French. But now English is more widely spoken.
Visiting Cambodia taught me a lot. I am so thankful for what I have in my life, to be from a country that is stable and to have the opportunity to visit other places to see exactly how lucky I am. I do want to visit Cambodia one day again to see the progress that it has made. It is still mind blowing knowing how much progress the larger cities have made in the last 33 years since the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
Traveling is a great way to broaden your horizons and make you think outside of the box. I cannot wait for my next adventure wherever that may be. I am nowhere near ready to settle down.
Now it is time for two more weeks of desk warming. The next semester starts the first Monday of March. I will have one new co-teacher, which I am very excited about. Hoping a new school year brings even more great memories with my students and friends.