Tagged: cambodia

Koh Rong, Cambodia – Xmas

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Koh Rong is a 40 minute speed boat or 3 hour slow boat south west of Sihanoukville. The main beach is very small, less than a mile long I’d guess. But the dense area of guesthouses/restaurants is less than a 5 minute walk from one end to the other. The beach front is lined with guesthouses. Each has a bar/restaurant downstairs and rooms upstairs. Each property sets up tables and chairs; however, there are no lounge chairs during the day. Every morning the tide is up to the guesthouses making it impossible to lay out early morning (the majority of mornings.)

The island turns off electricity sometime between 12:30am and 2:30am depending on the night. After that it’s up to generators to keep the party going, but there’s always somewhere going. There’s also very little wifi aka even those that have don’t work.

I stayed at Island Boys my first night which was a mistake. I ran off the ferry thinking there was going to be a lack of rooms so I grabbed the first one I found. Turns out Mangos right next door is the late night bar that plays music until 5am every night with their generator. It was a rough night of sleep but I lucked out by meeting another girl traveling alone in my dorm. The next morning we moved into a private room together at Bongs.

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For breakfast every morning I ate $1 chicken noodle soup with chilies. It tasted just like the soup I used to get in Laos which I loved. Plus I think the hot soup and spice killed everything that was inside of me each day.

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Everyone staying on the island had something wrong with them. I had an infected mosquito bite on my wrist. I was forced to take antibiotics because it was getting worse each day. It became an open wound that swelled, which I had to clean and wrap-up 3 times a day. I was also scolded not to go into the water anymore, which is apparently how it got infected in the first place. That put a real damper on my beach vacation.

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Other people also had infections and were on antibiotics. Almost everyone had food poisoning or a stomach bug too. However, this did not stop anyone from drinking and partying through the holiday.

I ran into almost everyone I’d met in the past two months in Koh Rong, including my German guy friend from Bangkok/Koh Tao, and my Canadian girl friend from Chiang Mai/Pai. We had no idea we’d both be there so that was a great surprise. Also, another girl we were with in Chiang Mai is now working at Coco’s in Koh Rong. I saw people from all over Laos, and a British guy whom I recently met in Phnom Penh. I ended up hanging out mostly with him and his two guy friends who now live in Singapore. All in their thirties and just on vacation- it was a nice break from hanging out with backpackers in their early twenties.

Our first night was at SkyBar which was my favorite night. It’s the only bar that’s not directly on the beach but just up a slight mountain. The walk was great exercise (that I actually did once daily anyway.) The bar is completely open walled which allowed for a nice breeze. All the other bars on the beach are mostly enclosed and incredibly hot inside. On any given night the hot spots were Coco’s or Bunna’s. Mango’s and Island Boy’s were good for late night, and Bong’s was more chill.

Christmas on the island didn’t feel like Christmas. Although I’ve spent Christmas on the beach before this year was different. Normally I’m leaving the cold weather for a lovely holiday, but after spending so much time in the heat, Christmas here just seemed like a themed weekend. Nonetheless it was a fun week. Unique trees and “snowmen” scattered in front of different bars.

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My last day on the island I took a solo walk around the bend of the beach. About 45 minutes away from the main beach, through a mini-forest and across a mini-island lays a pristine beach. I did the full walk although I ended up coming a bit back to find a secluded spot in the shade. I spent the day napping and reading. I did take a dip in the ocean without wetting my wrist (because I just needed to,) and it was well worth it.

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I had expected all days to be this relaxing on Koh Rong.

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My last day most of my friends had gone. It was just a few chill people left so it ended up being a relaxing early night which is exactly what I needed.

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The next day I left. My Canadian and I chilled, ate fried rice from our cheap place, and took the fast boat back together. It was a good end to a good week. Especially since we were both crippled- her toe and my wrist. We’re always same same. Adios beach.. For now.

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Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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I came to Sihanoukville with the intention to work at JJ’s Playground for 2-3 weeks for the holidays. Sihanoukville consists of mainly 2 streets- the beach front which is lined with restaurant and bars with plenty of outdoor beach seating and lounges. During the day local women walk the beach selling massages, threading, mani/pedis, fruits, shrimp, and grilled baby squid. At night the beach restaurants all set-up BBQs, which are quite popular. And all day long there are children roaming selling bracelets and hair wraps.

Then there’s the street vertical to the beach which is full of guesthouses and restaurants. All the popular guesthouses are on this street, along with a few nice western restaurants.

JJ’s is the late night backpacker bar on the far end of the beach street. I heard about the job from a girl I met in Vang Vieng, and then later heard horror stories about the job from a girl in Phnom Penh. Regardless I decided to give it a go. The bar/hostel jobs are all unpaid but you get free room, board and alcohol.

I arrived in Sihanoukville around 7pm at night and went straight to the bar. Within 5 minutes I knew I wasn’t going to last. The dorm is behind the bar through a dark alley of trash. You then need to then walk on wooden planks through wet trash before reaching the door. The dorm itself consists of one large room with 7 bunkbeds, no windows or ceilings fans. There were 2 small fans on the ground and of course I got put in a top bunk in a corner. Walking into the room felt like hell. The trash smell lingered from people’s feet and the place was never cleaned. The bathroom was outside the room and we shared it with a local family. That first night I got ready while everyone else was out flyer-ing. I walked into the shower and there was a little girl standing inside (at the time I didn’t know about the local family.) The girl refused to get out but eventually I tricked her and locked her out. Within seconds she was hysterically crying and it took minutes before a family member came to get her.

The bar job had a daily schedule. At 1:30pm, 5:30pm and 9:30pm we would meet at the bar to flyer. In the morning/afternoon you can order a meal (ex. Fried rice) at the bar. At 7pm after flyer-ing we’d have dinner together at the bar, and after nighttime flyer-ing you go straight out at the bar. You have to stay out partying and dancing until 3am every night.

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The western staff (those who were in the dorm) were really nice people, but the locals who owned the bar were not. They were disrespectful and crude. I didn’t mind the working schedule and payment; I actually liked flyer-ing the streets and talking to new people. However, I should have worked at a different bar but at the time I didn’t know that. I needed to get out of that place.

It took me two nights to get out of the dorm. It seems easy but it’s very easy to get sucked into there. You’re constantly sleep deprived and over-heated, too much so to do anything. But I made it out and moved my stuff to Led Zephyr. I quit my third night but I did worked the next day as well for better lack of something to do.

On Saturday we did a daytime booze cruise. The cruise was fun although nothing spectacular. But the scenery was beautiful and swimming in the open ocean made the trip well worth it. That night JJ’s had a UV paint party.

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I ate breakfast every morning at Utopia Mum’s Kitchen which had shakhauka, and I got a massage at Bliss Spa which felt fancy although the prices were the same.

I left for Koh Rong for Christmas. When I returned I stayed at Utopia for one night, a dorm room that resembles army barracks. But for $3 I couldn’t complain (I forgot to book somewhere legit ahead of time.) That night I ate at a Mexican restaurant called Maybe Later. The first Mexican I’ve had since being away and it was actually really good. I spent 2 days relaxing and watching Christmas movies before I left for Vietnam.

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The bus to Vietnam was supposed to be 12 hours. I was picked up in Sihanoukville at 7pm and we got to Phnom Penh at 12am. The bus to Ho Chi Minh was supposed to come at 12:30am but it didn’t arrive. We waited in this horrific smelling bus station watching Asian porn on the big TV screen. I didn’t even know that existed over here- blue lighting and slow creepy sounding music. At around 3am a bread man came buy and I bought an onion baguette that ended up being filled with pork; surprising at first but delicious.

At 4am the bus arrived and we got to Ho Chi Minh around 11:30am. Total trip time 16.5 hours.

Both buses were sleeper. The first was normal but the second was the most uncomfortable bus I’ve been on. A sleeper lined with metal bars and the length went as far as my knees. I definitely need a massage ASAP.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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In Phnom Penh I stayed at Eighty8 Backpackers. The hostel was recommended by a friend I met in Chiang Mai. The hostel was great. It was modern with a large lounge and bar area, a pool and a pool table. The dorms had 8 biggish beds (no bunks) and private bathrooms.

The city is very dirty and depressing. There is trash everywhere and the city is over populated. You can really feel how recent the genocide was- it ended in 1979. Every local in the city whose older than 40 remembers what it was like, and you can’t help but think about them on a regular basis.

The city is slowly being put back together but the locals are stuck in a rut.

My first night I went to the bar/club area. We went to a bar then Pontoon Club. It was a regular club filled with locals, but there were also a ton of older white men. Every single local girl was a prostitute out having a good time with their friends, but also looking for some money. This one guy was is his 50s, white and bald with a gut. He wore khaki shorts, a tank top and had a gold chain necklace and glasses. He was dorky and gross. A group of girls kept rotating dancing with him, each of their faces more sad and disgusted than the last. I’m happy I went and saw what it’s like but it’s nothing I’d like to see again.

My first real day I went to the Genocide Museum, S-21, then the killing fields. The museum is in the high school/prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured citizens. The original torture rooms are still in tact, and you can see dried blood on the floors. There were 7 survivors from the prison who lived, 2 of them were at the prison that day. They were being exploited which I hated. They set them up at two different tables selling “their” autobiographies. For $10 you can get a pre-signed book and take a photo with them. However, the whole thing was like a book signing. The photo was the man holding up his book and smiling.

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We got a tour guide for the museum. She was 13 when the Khmer Rouge came. Her mother and her survived- they were forced to pick rice up near the Thailand border. Her father and brother were both murdered. It was great having the tour from a survivor because she could tell us what it was really like; however, she took it too far. She put on a whole act at the very end so we would tip her a lot. She started crying, grabbed a metal bar and stated that she’s too sad she can’t talk to us anymore. She’s definitely had a tragic life but her speech was obviously an act, one that probably works on all tourists. She does this same tour multiple times a day, every single day, for the past 6 years.

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After the museum we went to the killing fields. I found that less emotional because there wasn’t much of the original fields left. All the buildings are gone, replaced with signs. The graves are there but since the bodies have been removed it’s now rolling fields of grass. However, there are random bones in the ground still. Signs throughout ask you to please not step on them but it’s un-avoidable. The are also a few graves wooden structures surrounding graves. Bracelets cover the top of the posts. I left 2 there.

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The huge memorial in the center houses all the skulls found. They’re scientifically categorized- gender, age, then marked with a colored sticker for how they died. The Khmer Rouge didn’t use guns, they beat the victims with weapons, etc. Some of the skulls are cracked from being beaten on the head.

After we went to Central Market. It’s held in a huge white building in the center of town. A dome in the center with four grand halls shooting out in all directions. The dome is jewelry and knick knacks in glass cases, the halls are clothing, and the outskirts is food. We went for lunch but everything was overpriced so we ended up just going to a restaurant near our hostel. I ordered noodle soup with beef. They served me packaged ramen with the flavoring, with some random meats. There was beef, pork balls (I think) and some other meat on a bone. The bone meat was white on the outside, pink on the inside and had the texture of pot roast. I have absolutely no idea what animal is was but it was delicious. But all in all the soups here are not good.

My second day I went to the Aeon Mall to experience the 4D movie theater. I walked there along the riverside which is actually nice. There’s palm tree landscaping, and restaurants and hotels line the city side. For a brief moment I forgot how dirty the city was.

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The neighborhood that the mall is in is being completely built-up. There was construction everywhere and fancy foreign hotels. The mall is Japanese owned but it has shops and food from all over the world. It’s modern and brand new. There was Christmas music playing non-stop but not many decorations.

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I saw Penguins of Madagascar. The movie theater seats were raised and there was a platform for your feet. The seats tilted in all directions and vibrated. There were fans on the side and flashing white lights, and mist shot from the front. Madagascar was a great movie to see in 4D since the Penguins are constantly jumping around and doing missions.

I had lunch at Kaihomaru Sushi. It was my first sushi since being away. For $7 I got grilled mackerel with salt, salmon sashimi, rice, miso soup, and tofu. The menu is in English and yet the staff didn’t know a single word. I simply tried to point at the Bento Box picture I was getting and they still didn’t understand. They had to bring the chef out so I could show him what I wanted.

There was a huge food court and grocery store on the ground floor. I bought grape tomatoes and a cabbage to snack on (some western pleasures I haven’t had in a while.) Before leaving I stopped at a French cafe and had a tomato mozzarella pesto appetizer with olive bread. I ate well which felt good.

My last night we went out to Top Banana, the other known backpacker guesthouse that has a rooftop bar. The bar was a bit small but more crowded than our hostel. I ran into a Dutch girl I knew from the slowboat. I also tried a balloon again (did it properly this time) and I fainted. I definitely don’t understand why people like to deprive themselves of oxygen. I was fine though.

The next morning I took the 5 hour public bus to Sihanoukville with some British guys I became friends with at my hostel. It’s beach time.