Farewell to Asia

On Dec 16th, we left Cambodia by bus. From Phnom Penh it was about 14 hours to Bangkok. It wasn’t the best bus ride of my life, but it wasn’t as bad as many others I’ve been on. As usual in Cambodia, there were beggars at every one of the truck stops we went to. I watched one for a few minutes and worked out that, if she earned that same amount for every busload of passengers, she’d be earning about $10 in a few hours. While that may be very little here, that’s a lot of money in Cambodia.

We arrived in Bangkok around 9pm. I went straight to the guesthouse where we had a room booked for us, while Jos, Holly, and Ron went straight to the suit maker who was to have their suits ready for them to pick up. Then we went shopping like mad before the stalls all closed down, and Ron and I ate street vendor food. It’s the cheapest hot meal you can find, and it’s tasty and a lot less dodgy than it may appear. I got three big spring rolls for 25 bhat, which is a little less than a Canadian dollar.

The next day we went to the MBK mall, a massive mall in Bangkok, to do some last minute shopping, then grabbed our stuff, caught a cab to the airport, and got on a plane bound for Singapore. Holly flew out of Bangkok later that day to Kuala Lumpur to catch her flight back to Calgary. Yet another photo of clouds from a flight:

We arrived in Singapore, got a cab to a guesthouse in Little India, the area in which I’ve stayed every time I’ve been in Singapore (not including when I stayed free as a guest at NC’s home). The place was pretty shabby, and didn’t fit the description of the Lonely Planet so well, but it was good enough and cheap. There was a bird sitting in the distance outside our window.

The next day I went to hang out with some friends of mine, while Jos and Ron went to pick up their stored luggage at another guy’s place. My friends and I went to the beach at Sentosa Island, a small island connected by a causeway to the main Singapore “mainland” (which is, of course, a small island itself). My friends all do Parkour (sometimes called Freerunning in English), tricking, and fight scenes, so they practised in the safe environment. Landing in sand or water is much better than landing on grass or concrete.

It may look like NC fell while flipping in the first pic, thereby covering his face in sand. In fact, he did his wall flip just fine off the tree, but Torched (nickname of another guy who is a police officer) wanted to show me the techniques the police force is trained to use against people. So he twisted fingers, arms, and all sorts of crazy pressure points that looked very painful, using NC as his subject. Thus, NC’s face got very much covered in sand.

Jos and Ron met us at the beach after a while, and we convinced Ron to learn to do a back flip. Azri, the guy on the right, is a gymnastics teacher at an international school in Singapore, and is a very accomplished gymnast himself. George is also a gymnast I believe, and is experienced in helping people learn to flip.

Ron tried hard, and sort of flipped, but in the end sprained his ankle and had to stop.

The sunset was nifty, and although I have a gazillion sunset photos from various places, this one seemed unique enough to put up.

That evening we went to NC’s home where his aunt had prepared us a massive meal of Indian food.

[Me, George, NC, and Ashton on the MRT]

[Me, Jos, Ashton, George, Azri, and Ron at NC’s place for supper]

It was soooo good! We ate as much as we possibly could, Ashton left to get back to army base before curfew, then some time later we grabbed my luggage which was stored there, and headed back to our guesthouse. I had re-injured my knee for about the 10th time in a year while playing frisbee before Ron and Jos got to the beach. With two large suitcases and a 25 kg sidebag carry-on between three people, it was funny to see Jos pulling the largest suitcase as well as the huge and heavy carry-on bag, while Ron hobbled very slowly carrying nothing, and I limped along, pulling the small suitcase behind me. Countless people stared and laughed at us!

The following morning, the 19th, we got up early and caught a minibus taxi to fit all our luggage, and headed for the airport. We met up with Azri and George there for about 5 minutes, as they were flying to Bangkok for a week’s vacation, then we checked in at the airline counter and headed through security and all that.

Our plane was decorated with Christmas decorations! It was kinda cool. And Singapore Air is always good service, so it was about as good as a 17 hour flight can be. We stopped in Seoul, Korea for an hour which was annoying. We did that last year as well going the other way, because it’s the refuelling stop. The only reason I was annoyed both times is that I severely overload my carry-on baggage to keep my checked luggage under the weight limit, so walking through the plane and airport, having to go through security again and everything, with this massive sidebag, is not fun.

While in Asia somewhere, someone (I think it was Ron) suggested we all wear our suits off the plane. We decided it was too uncomfortable to wear suits for such a long ride, but then realised we could change in the Vancouver airport after arriving! Furthermore, we realised we had colour combinations that essentially matched! So after landing we took turns watching the stuff and going to the bathrooms to change into our suits. We even got questioned by a customs official who was watching us by the carousel, as to why we had changed into suits.

Well, we walked into the arrivals hall looking snazzy in our suits and immediately spotted both sets of parents waiting for us with big smiles.

And that, my friends, is the end of my overseas travels for a LONG time. I am in debt to the banks, my parents, and the government, and it’s now time to get back to reality. I’m back at UBC beginning January 4th, and looking for part-time work in good ol’ Vancouver city.

Around Phnom Penh

On the 13th, we caught a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia rated in 2005 as the 6th worst city in the world in which to live (info here). Well, at least it’s a slight improvement on being 5th worst in 2004! The bus ride was full enough, so they brought flimsy plastic lawn chairs to have people sit in the aisle.

We arrived in Phnom Penh in the evening and were surrounded by about 15 men, all pulling us one way or another, grabbing our hands and yelling all sorts of things, trying to convince us to stay at their guesthouses. Finally I asked the two I was considering if they’d give us free beer and one of them said yes, so we chose him. He took me on his motorbike, while Holly went on another motorbike and Ron and Joey went in a tuk-tuk with 3 of the bags. As you can see, my driver put my 25 kg bag in front of him.

The next morning we arranged for a tuk-tuk to take the four of us around town for the day, to see a few sights. On our way I decided to take a pic of one of the many, many motorcycles carrying huge loads of produce around town. We saw stuff way crazier than this on people’s motorbikes, like a full-size mattress, a huge glass window, a fridge, and other assorted stuff that Canadians would need a pick-up to carry.

Our first stop was the Killing Fields. There are mass graves all around Cambodia, but one particularly large set of mass graves was right outside the city and has been turned into a memorial.

While that building above looks pleasant from a distance, it is full all the way to the top with the skulls and ragged clothes of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, 1975-79, during which over 25% of Cambodians were murdered.

During the Khmer Rouge regime, anyone who had any education was killed, anyone who spoke a foreign language was killed, anyone who asked questions or made suggestions was killed, anyone who didn’t work from dawn to dusk was killed. Kids were turned against their parents, and thousands of people were brainwashed to follow the orders of the people at the top. The cities were emptied to carry out the Khmer Rouge’s psychotic plans for an agrarian society with no urban people. 25 years later, the new generations don’t walk around dwelling on this sad history, but they have been put in a bad spot, as the murders of any educated Cambodians in the 70s means there was no one to set up the universities or run the country effectively when the Khmer Rouge were finally defeated. Only in the last 10 years has there been peace in Cambodia, but hopefully this will last and the newer generations will rebuild what was considered the most advanced country in Southeast Asia forty years ago.

Our tuk-tuk driver was cool.

Since there wasn’t really room for 4 people in the back, we took turns sitting on the bit of wood over the spot where the motorcycle is hitched to the cart. I had to borrow Ron’s sunglasses to keep the dust out of my eyes!

We then stopped at Tuol Sleng prison. It had been a high school, but was turned into a prison/interrogation centre by the Khmer Rouge. Out of 14,000 people to be sent to Tuol Sleng prison, less than a dozen ever survived.

This next pic is quite boring… a normal piece of outdoor exercise equipment. To understand it, read the write-up that follows.

Photos, autobiographies and forced confessions of every prisoner held at Tuol Sleng were kept by the Khmer Rouge.

The prisoners were kept in small wood/brick cells installed in the high school classrooms, and were kept attached to leg irons all day and all night.

There were no escapes whatsoever.

Tired and with lots of stuff to think about, we spent a few minutes relaxing by the Mekong River then headed back to our guesthouse for the night.

Next post: Farewell to Asia…

Angkor What?!?

On the 13th, we visited Angkor Wat, a massive thousand year old temple complex outside Siem Reap, Cambodia. It’s one of the world’s top archaeological sites, and had been forgotten for a good while when it was rediscovered in the 1920s. It has since become one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and we obviously couldn’t skip it.

This is the main temple, called Angkor Wat (the other temples in the Angkor Wat complex have other names). It’s MASSIVE!

We had to climb some crrrrazy steep steps, and the railing going back down was VERY dodgy.

After going through the main temple, we sat down for a few minutes and heard some rustling in the thatch roof, and lo and behold a monkey popped out!

Then it was on to the next temple, hidden in the jungle a bit further. This was by far my favourite of the four temples we visited. Check it out:

Amazing eh? It was really nifty, these trees are all just growing right in and around the temple buildings, through windows and doors, up over rooftops and all around the courtyards.

On our way to another temple we stopped to use the loo. I found this sign in the men’s stall, and couldn’t resist taking a pic. Am I the only person who found this funny?

At the next temple there was a band of landmine victims, playing some cool Khmer style music, so we gave them some small donations and whatnot. Turns out they were on the street and this one landmine victim started up this group to get them off the street, working as musicians and selling souvenirs and stuff.

A few little girls were following us around this particular temple, as small children often do in SE Asia, and particularly in Cambodia, trying to sell us postcards. I didn’t want any postcards, but I paid this little girl about half a cent to take a photo of her. Later on, she came back to try selling postcards again and I just took this pic instead. She honestly looked about 4 years old.

Finally we went to a temple on a 60m high “mountain” which must have been nearly impossible to build, to watch the sunset. Of course, it was packed with people because it’s such a touristy thing to do. The sunset wasn’t all that great, so I took photos of people around me like this lady with her camera.

After the sunset, we headed back down the steep track to the road and caught our tuk-tuks back to the guesthouse.

To be continued…

Cambodia!!! With 20 fun-filled illustrations!

[[ BIG WARNING TO ARACHNOPHOBES (ie /v) :: The 6th photo, after the sunset photo, has a spider. Skip from the sunset pic to the pic of Jos climbing off a bike ]]

On the 10th we caught a long bus ride from Bangkok to Siem Reap, in Cambodia. It took us over an hour to get through the border and several hundred metres of “no-man’s land” in which a handful of expensive casino resorts operate outside the laws of both Thailand and Cambodia.

To get from the border to the Cambodian bus to Siem Reap, we climbed into a remorque-moto, which is a motorcycle with a crazily flimsy ‘sidecar’ to fit all four of us and our huge and heavy bags.

We spent a bit over 4 hours in the minibus from the border to Siem Reap.

The sunset was beeeeeeeeeeeeautiful! I had to turn around backwards in the bus and put my arms out the window, on a VERY bumpy road, to get this pic, one of about 30 I took, trying to get it right with all the shaking of the bus.


When we got to Siem Reap, we got dropped off at a hotel which was nice enough and not too expensive. Up on the ceiling right above Jos and Holly’s door was a massive hairy spider. This is the massive hairy spider:

The next day we rented bikes in the morning and started cycling around at random. The first place we came to was a soccer stadium with a banner for the Siem Reap U-18 Soccer Championships. It was very rundown and there were some little kids kicking a ball and a few more on bikes, so we went in and raced the little kids around the track a couple of times.

We then headed out of the main town down some random road, and after seeing a sign pointing down a street to the Crocodile Farm, veered that way. We arrived a few minutes later, only to find that there were no crocodiles. The lady still tried to sell us entry tickets, and we asked her what we were paying to see, since there were no crocodiles, but she didn’t have any persuasive arguments so we continued on our journey.

A while later, way out in the middle of nowhere on a country road, we stopped at this family’s roadside stall to have a beer, and we decided to strike up a conversation with a guy who teaches English (I can’t remember his name offhand, but it was similar to Ron… might have been Rod)

Ron needed to use a toilet, so Rod took him across the street to his place, showed him the bachelor pad he built himself, then asked his neighbour if Ron could use his toilet since Rod doesn’t have a toilet!

They were really nice, and we learned a lot about Rod and his family and friends. The people at the stand were his cousins or something.

This older gentleman was sitting there, paying attention to our conversation and smiling a lot but not understanding what we were saying, as he didn’t speak English.

When I went over to him to show him the photo I took of him on my camera screen, I noticed he had an artificial leg from the knee down on one leg, so I asked Rod how that happened. He said his leg was shot during the Pol Pot regime (Khmer Rouge) sometime between 1975-79.

Not wanting to bother the family too much longer, we continued on our way and found another place to get a drink and some chips. While we were sitting there, a young boy came up to us and started talking to us in quite good English.

He told us about some old temple ruins nearby, so we got him to take us there. On the way we saw some cows pulling a cart. We saw lots of these, but this time I got my camera out finally.

Then we got to the temples, which were quite nifty. There was no one there, as this place is in the middle of nowhere, so the less touristy aspect definitely appealed to us.

On the ride back to the main road I saw this small child with his two cows. Mooooo.

To be continued… soon.