Wordless Wednesday: Life continues along the Mekong River

The Vietnamese people rely on the Mekong River for almost half the water used to irrigate their crops. The Mekong River also serves as a significant transport channel for the Vietnamese people. It is also a trading centre; as the Vietnamese hold their floating markets on the river.

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday: Life along the Mekong River

Cambodians heavily rely on the Mekong River for their food supply and livelihood. Almost 80% of the protein intake of Cambodia is dependent on the fish caught from the Mekong River.

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Sunrise on the Mekong River

Sunrise on the Mekong River
Mom and I watching the sunrise on the Mekong River

One of my most memorable experiences was watching the sunrise while floating along the Mekong River in Vietnam with my mom. The Mekong River is the 12th longest river in the world. It is about 2,700 miles long and flows through China, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Sunrise on the Mekong River
Floating down the Mekong River

My mom came to visit me in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam where I was living and teaching English in 2008. We got to “cruise” along the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh city all the way to Cambodia where we spent most of our holiday together.

One of the highlights of our Mekong Delta trip was getting up at 5am to be on the river at sunrise. We had a guide who rowed us along the river al the way to one of the rural villages along the river.

The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. It’s a water world that moves to the rhythms of the mighty Mekong, where boats, houses and markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams that criss-cross the landscape like arteries.

We had such a peaceful morning, floating past the villages on the bank of the Mekong River and even past the floating houses that are found in certain parts of this river.

Sunrise on the Mekong River
The banks of the Mekong River

This is definitely one of my top 5 travel experiences!

Weekly photo challenge: Creepy in Cambodia

 This week, share an image of something creepy. Unsettling. Eerie. Disgusting.

My most unsettling and creepy travel experience was visiting the Killing Fields of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. This mass murder site, where the Khmer Rouge executed about 17,000 people between 1975 and 1979 is definitely very unsettling. The place is filled with mass graves containing thousands of bodies , many of the dead former inmates in the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Pehn. Displaying the skulls and bones of these murdered people in a grisly tower definitely brings to home the horror of this place.

Some of the thousands of skulls dug up in the Killing Fields
This tower is filled with sculls dug out of the mass graves surrounding the area

This huge Buddhist stupa, also known as the Choeung Ek Memorial is filled with more than 5,000 human skulls; many of which are  shattered showing the brutality of the killings. It is believed that the Khmer Rouge soldiers killed their victims by smashing them on the head, in order to save on bullets.

Inside this tower is row upon row of skulls
It was very disturbing and shocking to think that thousands of people were slaughtered here!

This was one of my most disturbing visits ever. The most horific part was to be reminded how cruel humans can be towards each other.

This shows the ugly side of Cambodia which is a beautiful country!

Weekly photo Challenge: Humanity

This weeks photo challenge is photographs that capture humanity — of everyday people around the world — and that provoke compassion and an understanding of our differences.

These are some of my favourite captures of people around Asia.

My favorite photos capture the emotions of others and spark a curiosity about their lives. For me, these images reflect humanity and create connections between us.

Giant water snakes and crocodiles at Siem Reap’s Floating Villages

Floating Villages of Siem Reap
Ready for our adventure on the river to the Floating Villages of Siem Reap

This is a trip that is definitely for the adventurous traveler! It started with a dusty tuk-tuk ride down a pot hole filled road to a long open boat on the Tonle Sap lake. One of the things that make Asia so unique and special are the floating villages and markets you find on most lakes and rivers. Each floating village is quite unique with its own character and atmosphere created by the people. 

The boats we were travelling in were very basic, the small pillow didn’t quite cushion the hard seat but who needed luxury when on an adventure. 

The Floating Villages of Siem Reap
On our way to the Floating Villages we passed some fisherman taking a midday nap

My mom and I were super excited about visiting the floating village on the lake as we have heard a lot about it and it was mentioned to us by our fabulous tuk-tuk driver. He drove us out to Tonle Sap lake and helped us arrange this Floating Village tour.

Floating Villages of Siem Reap
On our way to the floating village

This was very tranquil on the lake and we were getting a glimpse of a unique lifestyle. As we floated past people would wave and some would even pose for a photo ot two. To think they spend most of their time on the water, fishing or living in a floating house. Even their shops and schools are built to float around on the lake.

Floating Villages of Siem Reap
I love that these floating houses even have their own little “gardens”

As we approached the village we were again reminded that we were outsiders observing this  unique way of living.  There were floating pigpens, flower markets and villagers going about their everyday life. On the river bank all the homes were built on stilts, and most had decks outfitted with container gardens with Lemon grass, herbs, vegetables and ornamental flowers. 

and we had soft drinks at a small floating restaurant.
The Floating houses even have their own gardens
Chong Kneas floating village
Arriving at the busy Chong Kneas floating village

Chong Kneas floating village
Woman selling bananas at Chong Kneas floating village

Our first stop was Chong Kneas floating village which featured absurdities such as small kids sporting huge water snakes and so-called crocodile farms which in reality are small ponds where dozens of crocodiles are crammed together.  

Young children in small canoe like boats paddled past us and smiled broadly for photos, posing with their snakes. Women with small boats filled with fruits and vegetables docked next to the floating restaurant trying to sell their produce.

 

Chong Kneas floating village
A little boy posing with his snake at Chong Kneas floating village

Chong Kneas floating village
A girl trying to sell some fresh bananas to the tourists

Not only was there a floating restaurant but also a local temple and schoolhouse that one could visit. The floating restaurant was very basic, it had drinks and cooked shrimps for sale for very little money so this is where we had our lunch before continuing our adventure.

 

Chong Kneas floating village
The snake is even bigger than the little girl holding it!

There were no postcard pushers as in the city and all the other usual tourist sites, just village people going about their daily life in this tranquil setting.

Kompong Phluk
The quiet floating village of Kompong Phluk

We floated past Kompong Phluk a small village which is truly authentic. Thanks to its low number of visitors. It felt genuinely untouched and peaceful.

Kompong Phluk
The fisherman at Kompong Phluk busy with boat 

maintenance 

I’d recommend this as a nice restful break between temple visits if you ever have the opportunity to visit Siem Reap. 

Kompong Phluk
Kompong Phluk floating village

Root shrouded Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm Temple

The ancient city of Angkor used to be a capital of the ancient Khmer Empire of Cambodia and one of the largest cities in the world. This huge complex of buildings, covering about 600 square kilometers, was known far beyond the Khmer Empire until it was destroyed by Siamese troops in 1431.

Ta Prohm Temple
Exploring overgrown Ta Prohm Temple

Till the end of the XIXth century, more than 100 palaces and temples were concealed under the shadow of lush tropical forest, when a French naturalist Henri Mouhot rediscovered it for humanity. In year 1992 the whole territory of Angkor was taken under the protection of UNESCO.

Ta Prohm Temple
Overgrown Ta Prohm Temple

Unlike most of the temples of Angkor, Ta Prohm has been largely left to the clutches of the living jungle. This atmospheric temple ended up being my favourite Angkor Wat temple and probably the reason I ended up trying to capture every inch on film.

Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm, also known as the “Tomb raider” Temple

Shrouded in dense jungle the temple of Ta Prohm conjures up an eerie yet also romantic aura. Fig, banyan and kapok trees spreading their gigantic roots over stones, probing between the walls, intertwining to form a roof over the structures. There are tree trunks twisting up amongst the stone pillars. The temple is held in a stranglehold of trees where stone and wood are clasped together by tree roots.

Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm Temple

Overgrown Ta Prohm, the “Tomb Raider” Temple

Ta Prohm
The overgrown Temple of Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm Temple

The overgrown Ta Prohm temple is maybe best known for the part it played in the movie “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”. And yes, this is where I first learnt about this beautiful temple so I was quite excited at getting to explore this temple for myself.  Although it is known that the film took visual liberties with other Angkor temples, its scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple’s actual appearance. Only afterwards did I think that I should have dressed “Tomb Raider” for photos at this temple. Hopefully there will be a next time and then I will be prepared.

 

Ta Prohm
Thick roots crawl all over Ta Prohm temple

Ta Prohm  is a bit more than one kilometre from Angkor Thom but this time my mom and I made use of our trusted tuk-tuk driver instead of walking. I think both of us were still recovering from our adventure through the jungle in search of Ta Nei temple the previous day.

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

This beautiful temple was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. What a magnificent structure to have learnt and studied in. Although if you want to enter it now you should bring a torch with as its quite dark inside with all the narrow passages. Mom and I opted for exploring the outside of the temple as I don’t like tight spaces and mom is scared of any dark spaces so together we probably would have freaked out within a minute of trying to find our way inside this huge temple.

 

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm  itself is a quiet, sprawling monastic complex and only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth and intentionally left partially unrestored. Unlike most Angkor temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found. After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 17th century, the temple of Ta Prohm was abandoned and neglected for centuries. When the effort to conserve and restore the temples of Angkor began in the early 21st century, Ta Prohm was left largely as it had been found, as a “concession to the general taste for the picturesque.” It is said that Ta Prohm was singled out because it was “one of the most imposing temples and the one which had best merged with the jungle, but not yet to the point of becoming a part of it”. Although they have left it unrestored a lot of  work has been done to stabilize the ruins, to permit access, and to maintain “this condition of apparent neglect.”

 

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

There are massive fig and silk-cotton trees that grow from the towers and corridors offering some of the best ‘tree-in-temple’ photo opportunities ever. The combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings gives this temple a very eerie quality. We had a great adventure climbing over the fallen walls and rubble everywhere to get close to the overgrown ruins.

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

The trees growing out of the ruins are perhaps the most distinctive and definitely most striking feature of Ta Prohm, and the one feature that sets it apart from all the other temples in Angkor Wat.  All over the place there are endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants over the ruins.

 

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

Some roots are as wide as oak trees, the vines at Ta Prohm cleave massive stones in two and spill over the top of temple ramparts. The effect is striking, especially where the roots form an enclosure around entrances to the temple. I couldnt help but feel a little like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft as we picked our way through the rubble and over the fallen blocks.

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

Another popular site is the “Tomb Raider tree” in the central sanctuary, where Angelina Jolie picked a jasmine flower and was sucked beneath the earth. There were no jasmine around but other than that the place looked exactly like in the movie!! This was the perfect way to end our Ta Prohm adventure.

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

The Crumbling Walls of Ta Nei Temple

Ta Nei Temple
We found Ta Nei Temple

Ta Nei Temple
The crumbling Ta Nei Temple

Veering of the usual tourist path my mom and I entered the jungle in search of Ta nei temple which is known for its fallen and crumbling walls. To get there my mom and I had to walk along a dirt path for about 1km from the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom until we reached the ‘French Dam.’ This ‘ French Dam’ is actually a holy reservoir dedicated to the Buddha and not very big but we were so glad that we actually found it and didn’t get lost in the dense forest. We crossed the dam and after another 200 meters through the forest we reached Ta Nei Temple.

Ta Nei Temple
I just love the fallen walls of Ta Nei Temple

Ta Nei Temple
The walls surrounding Ta Nei Temple

What a beautiful sight! We were greeted by fallen blocks and trees covering what was left of this temple. Most of the fallen blocks or walls are being reclaimed by the jungle with trees growing over them and half burying them. The temple itself is very small, only 55meter x 47meter. I think that is a big reason this semi-ruined jungle temple is not part of the main tourist route.

Ta Nei Temple
One of the few remaining structures inside Ta Nei Temple

Some of the apsara and lintel carvings are in pretty good condition but the temple itself is in much rougher shape than most of the temples on the main circuit. Some scholars believe that this temple was constructed as a hospital and that this is why there aren’t many carvings inside the building. Whatever the reason for its construction, it is such a beautiful temple.

Ta Nei Temple
Ta Nei Temple is nearly all in ruins

I had loads of fun clambering over the fallen rocks without any other tourists in the area.

Ta Nei Temple
Most of Ta Nei Temple has already crumbled

By this time my mom had decided that we were on a hiking tour rather than a temple exploration so we called it a day and headed back towards Siem Reap for dinner and an evening show. 

The Jungle is Reclaiming Beng Melea Temple

Beng Melea Temple
Entering Beng Melea Temple
Statues of Ta Phrom temple
Statues of Beng Melea Temple

Nestled in the jungles of Angkor Wat lies Beng Melea a sprawling temple covering over one square kilometer. This temple is hidden away and not very touristy, giving it an adventurous, ‘lost temple’ feel. Luckily for us our “guide” or rather tuc-tuc driver knew where we could see the best temples even if they weren’t on the tour map.

We really appreciated the services of our local guide, and by the end of the visit we were very  happy to pay extra for being taken around the tortuous route. This involved squeezing through the thick forest, clambering through small spaces, over fallen rocks and even being guided along fallen roof tops.

Beng Melea Temple
Exploring the inside of Beng Melea Temple
Beng Melea Temple
Beng Melea Temple is left in ruins at the back

There are trees growing from the broken towers and crawling over the fallen walls and statues scattered around. The galleries offer some of the best ‘tree in temple’ shots aside from Ta Prohm which was used in the Tomb Raider. The most damage was done by the wear and tear of eight and a half centuries in a tropical climate, with the spread of vegetation, including the silk-cotton tree and strangler fig, going to work on some ambitious vaulting which was being tried out here and at Angkor Wat for the first time.

Beng Melea Temple
Parts of Beng Melea Temple had to be reinforced otherwise the tree roots would have destroyed it by now

Though there are some lintel and doorway carvings, there are no bas-reliefs and the carvings are comparatively sparse, probably the main reason this temple is not part of the usual tourist path.

Beng Melea Temple
One of the surviving Bas-reliefs of Beng Melea Temple

 Beng Meleais largely unrestored and for years it was difficult to reach, but a road recently built to the temple complex of Koh Ker passes Beng Mealea and more visitors are coming to the out of way site.

Beng Melea Temple
Beng Melea Temple

The history of the temple is unknown and it can be dated only by its architectural style which is identical to Angkor Wat, so scholars assumed it was built during the reign of king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Whoever built it must have been a figure of some importance, but he remains unknown, as no inscriptions have been found here, and no other that mentions it. 

Beng Melea Temple
Nature reclaiming Beng Melea Temple

Angkor Wat Temple, the most magnificent temple in Cambodia

Angkor Wat Temple
We have just arrived at the main entrance of Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat Temple
As you can see it is “winter” so its dry

My favourite place I have had the opportunity to explore is Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat is a huge temple complex built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. It is here that my mother and I spent 3 amazing days exploring the ancient capital of the Khmer Kingdom. We got to walk through the ancient passageways and even clamber over the fallen temple walls as we tried to photograph every nook and cranny of this vast place.

The temple structure is huge and it is photos of this structure that is used to advertises Cambodia.

 

Angkor Wat Temple
Even-though it “winter” we were suffereing in the Cambodian heat and humidity

Angkor is a spectacular landscape of crumbling stone relieves, great towers, encroaching jungle roots, orange-clad monks and spectacular sunset reflections. It is one of those places that I have seen in movies and put at the top of my travel-wish list for someday…. So when my mother came to visit me in Vietnam I made Angkor Wat the top priority of our big Asia adventure!! I don’t think my mother realized how much walking she was in for when she volunteered to go with me. But in the end she agreed it was definitely worth it.

Angkor Wat Temple
The main entrance into Angkor Wat Temple 

Stretching over more than 400 square kilometers this temple complex includes not only temples but also forests and jungles. Angkor Wat contains the magnificent remains of the Khmer Empire that lay forgotten for ages so parts had actually been reclaimed by nature. I had seen some of these temples in movies like Tomb Raider and couldn’t wait to see them for myself. Armed with water bottles, cameras and good walking shoes my mother and I entered Angkor Wat and started our adventure.

Angkor Wat Temple
Walking along the wall that surrounds Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat, is believed to be the largest religious structure in the world and although we spent 3 days here we didn’t even get to see half of the amazing structures it has to offer. As the temples are sometimes set quite a distance apart we got ourselves a tuk-tuk driver for the 3 days we spent here. He was amazing!! He ended up being very informative and took us around all the best temple structures and pointed out fabulous places for photo opportunities.

 

Angkor Wat Temple
I am inside Angkor Wat Temple!!!

As the best-preserved temple at the site, Angkor Wat Temple is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation. It was first Hindu, dedicated to Vishnu, then became Buddhist. While walking through there are people worshiping and praying next to various structures and this made me feel a bit uncomfortable with taking photos inside the temple.

Angkor Wat Temple
Walking through Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat Temple
Reading up on the history of Angkor Wat Temple while we take a break

Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat Temple

The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and is the country’s prime attraction for visitors. The temple itself is quite crowded, especially inside so it was a bit hard for us to take photos inside. Luckily as we wondered through the structure we did come upon empty passageways where we could imagine that we were all alone in this magnificent ruined complex.

Angkor Wat Temple
Loving the empty passageways we found

My mother and I had so much fun walking through the beautiful arched walkways that looked like they stretched on for ever! The walkways were quite deserted and offered fabulous photo opportunities. These pillars used to be covered in reliefs but hardly any are visible anymore.

Angkor Wat Temple
The moat surrounding Angkor Wat Temple

This huge temple is built within a moat and has an outer wall of 3.6 km long. It was winter so the water level was low and the surrounding fields were all brown adding to the “forgotten” feeling. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of its architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs and for the numerous devatas (guardian spirits) adorning its walls. Some of these relieves are still in amazing conditions and others are so weather worn that it was quite difficult to figure out what they were.

Angkor Wat Temple
The beautiful Devatas adorning the walls of Angkor Wat Temple 

There are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next and at the center of the temple stands a collection of towers. I think the view from above would have been spectacular but the stairways to the top had been closed off to tourists. I think my mom was very glad of this fact as we did a lot of walking that day and it was quite hot outside.

Angkor Wat Temple
I think my mom would have refused to climb these stairs anyway.

Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west, something that still puzzles scholars. But this makes it the perfect temple to come and watch the sun rise over. A spectacle we couldn’t wait to see the next morning.

Angkor Wat Temple
Good bye beautiful Angkor Wat Temple

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ancient Relics

The faces of Bayon temple
The faces of Bayon temple

The first place I thought of as soon as they mentioned Relics for the weekly photo challenge was Angkor Wat and its magnificent statues!

Angkor includes a number of majestic temple complexes, the most famous of which is the “Temple City” of Angkor Wat. It was built as a temple and mausoleum for King Suryavarman II in 1112-1152. It’s considered to be one of the biggest cult buildings in the world. 

Angkor Wat is also called a “funeral” temple: the reason for its construction was so that the king’s ashes could be placed there. To simply it, the purpose of this complex is the same as that of the Pyramids of Egypt.

There is, however, a story about a divine origin of Angkor Wat. Legend has it that the Angkor Wat in Cambodia was built by a son of Hindu god Indra. One day he went to the heavenly palace of his father, where everything was perfect, including the barn. He loved the place reserved for the sacred animals so much, that he decided to make its copy on Earth. And that is how a replica of Indra’s barn, Angkor Wat, came to existence.

The ancient city of Angkor used to be a capital of the ancient Khmer Empire of Cambodia and one of the largest cities in the world. This huge complex of buildings, covering about 600 square kilometers, was known far beyond the Khmer Empire until it was destroyed by Siamese troops in 1431.

Till the end of the XIXth century, more than 100 palaces and temples were concealed under the shadow of lush tropical forest, when a French naturalist Henri Mouhot rediscovered it for humanity. In year 1992 the whole territory of Angkor was taken under the protection of UNESCO.

The relics of a forgotten civilization
The relics of a forgotten civilization

The Beautiful Beaches of Sihanoukville

Beaches of Sihanoukville
The beautiful Beaches of Sihanoukville is definitely worth the travel

Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s main beach destination and is popular with locals, backpackers and expats alike. This was my first holiday destination after moving to Ho Chi Minh city. A group of us expats took a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Sihanoukville.

Beaches of Sihanoukville
Who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of days relaxing here?

I quickly learnt that toilets are nearly non-existent at rest stops in Vietnam as they end up being a shower drain in the floor of a tiled room with a huge bucket of water. I never figured out how you are supposed to use the bucket of water and get out of there dry! I think I will definitely stick with toilet paper. As we reached the border crossing there was no improvement on the toilet situation as those toilets are unusable, just walking into the facilities I wanted to puke.  After a very dirty and bumpy 6-hour bus ride we arrived in a hectic Phnom Pehn where we had a short stop over before continuing out bumpy ride. 

Beaches of Sihanoukville
The perfect way to start a day

From Phnom Pehn we took a local bus down to the coast down south. It was another long 6-hour bus trip but the delicious rice and meat dishes at the stalls on the way made up for it. We found a couple of bungalows across the road from the main beach where we could stay for about $7 a night, what a bargain! I spent most of my days lounging on the beach with a good book enjoying the fresh squid and crab the vendors sold on the beach. I didn’t even have to move far whenever I got hungry as these ladies would barbeque the squid right there infront of you

Beaches of Sihanoukville
The unspoiled Beaches of Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville’s beaches just aren’t very impressive, and the child beggars only add to the feeling of rusticness. If you are expecting Clean and “tourist friendly” beaches Thailand would be a better bet. Here things are still very basic but oh so beautiful!

Beaches of Sihanoukville
Sunset on Sihanoukville beach

Watching the sunset out of a beach chair with a cocktail was the perfect way to end such a peaceful day.

Beaches of Sihanoukville
Getting my cocktail from Bar Same Same but Different

For a day trip we went on a small boat out to the surrounding islands where we did some snorkelling and some island exploring. These islands are still marvellously untouched and possess a serenity not easily found elsewhere.

Beaches of Sihanoukville
Off to the islands with us!

“Lazy Beach” is one of these small islands. There was only a lone bar and some deck chairs here, a real island getaway with no modern facilities. This was the perfect place to spend a lazy day in the sunshine before heading back to the hectic city.

Beaches of Sihanoukville
Spending the day on a “deserted” island

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple
Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple

If there is one sight that is worth getting up at 4am for it is to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat Temple. It is one of the most beautiful scenes I have had the opportunity to share with my mother.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple
As the sun rises the sky turns orange

The modern name, Angkor Wat, means “City Temple” , so fitting as this is the main temple in a city of temples.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple
Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple

Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west, something that still puzzles scholars.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple
Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple
Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple
It was worth getting up this early for!

Sunrise and sunset are typically the most popular times to visit the Angkor Wat. If you must have that perfect photo of the temple silhouetted against the rising sun and the reflection off the pond in the foreground, you will need to be there well before sunrise to get a good spot. I was not very happy to get up at 4am but luckily we got there before the main crowd arrived so we could get a good spot.

Alternatively, after the first wave of tourists from sunrise have cleared the temple, there are periods throughout the day when Angkor Wat can be explored in relative isolation.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple
Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple

The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture and it is this temple that has become the symbol of Cambodia. Angkor Wat is so significant to Cambodia that it’s iconic towers appear on the national flag

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple
What a beautiful sight!!

Fresh Squid on Sihanoukville beach

Sihanoukville beach
Such a peaceful place to spend the day

Sihanoukville beach
Just relaxing on the beautiful Sihanoukville beach

On the long white beaches of Sihanoukville, yoke-basket women trudge across the hot, blinding sand, their silhouettes etched against the shimmering sea. These woman shield their faces from the tropical sun with palm hats and their limbs with long-sleeve blouses and pants. They look as if they have just walked out of the rice paddies. Scintillating aromas of grilled squids waft from their swaying baskets. They are the humble purveyors of the tastiest morsels in Cambodia.

The squids they sell have been caught fresh just off shore that morning. By noon, these women are trudging along the beach barbecuing little kebabs for beach-goers.

You don’t even have to move from your relaxing spot on the beach when the hunger pangs hit as there is always a Squid vendor close at hand.

Sihanoukville beach
Fresh Squid barbecued for lunch!!

Sihanoukville beach
Sihanoukville beach

The squids are simple but very tasty. There is no preparation to speak of, the women simply skewer them whole—tentacles, arms, beak, and gut, full with the sea’s brininess—on bamboo sticks. They baste them with a sweet-spicy-sour sauce, and grill them over coals. Served with a side of a salt, pepper and lemon mix that you dip the squid into.

Sihanoukville is definitely a stellar seafood destination. Other places might have greater varieties of seafood, even at lower prices, but I’ve found no vendors, anywhere, like the Sihanoukville vendors.  I would go back to Sihanoukville just for the tasty squid!!

Sihanoukville beach
Sihanoukville beach

The local Food Market is a Colourful, Noisy and Smelly Asault on the Senses

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
The Local Food Market of Phnom Pehn

Asian food markets are the best places to experience the culture and the people. It is here that you get to shop and eat like the locals. The local Food Market in Phnom Pehn is not aimed at tourists so you don’t find any souveniers here but what you do find is way more interesting. The market is filled with colourful fruits and vegetables, second hand clothes, fresh meat, eggs and random religious items.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Any eggs?

 The early morning rush hour makes for a confusing, dirty but  lovely photogenic scene. Early morning the stalls are still stocked with eggs and fresh produce and is filled with locals doing their daily shopping. The Food market we visited is located on the river at the south end of the Old French Quarter, Old Market ( Phsar Chas), and is apparently one of the most crowded markets in the city.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Food Market of Phnom Pehn

Although there is not much of interest to the “tourists”, Old Market ( Phsar Chas), Phnom Penh is still a must see during a Phnom Penh tour. The whole reason for travelling is to experience the world and its customs. The best way to do this is to go off the beaten path and into the local neighbourhoods.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Dont know if I want to try this….

I read that the market is an ideal place to try some local cuisine and delicacies. There are several small food stalls offering what looks like small crickets or worms and some of the things on display I could not figure out what it was. I was a bit skeptical about trying these “delicacies” as I could not identify what they were and definitely didn’t know how they were prepared.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Chicken!!

Greeted by the bright colours and sounds of this market was a bit overwhelming at first as it attacks the senses but it is definitely worth a visit. I cant say you get used to the smell but it gets a bit more bearable as you move past the fresh meat stalls into the fruit and vegetable section.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
This is where they prepare their dishes

Where else would you find someone selling cooked crickets along with snails or some duck eggs along with meat hanging out in the open heat with flies buzzing around it? The market is filled with sights you will never see in any European cities and is an amazing experience.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Meat anybody?

The shocking Mass Grave filled Killing Fields of Phnom Pehn

The Killing Fields of Phnom Pehn
Arriving at the Killing Fields of Phnom Pehn

Choeung Ek
Looking out over the fields of Choeung Ek

Driving through the dusty countryside of Cambodia looking out over the rice paddies and lonesome palm trees scattered about it was hard to believe that we were on our way to the famous Killing Fields of Cambodia. I tried to find out more about what happened here before I arrived and watched Roland Joffé’s movie “The Killing Fields”. It was shocking and could hardly believe that things like that really happened. This was a big eye opener to what went on in Cambodia and I really wanted to see where this massacre took place.

Choeung Ek
The huge Choeung Ek memorial

Choeung Ek
The countless mass-graves at Choeung Ek

“Choeung Ek”, just outside Phnom Pehn, is one of thousands of Killing fields around the country where the Khmer Rouge practiced genocide. Horrified and fascinated at the same time I walked around the mass graves and could still see untouched graves in between. People were brought to the Killing Fields from all over and were then killed and dumped in mass graves. All the people who did not die at “Tuol Sleng” from torture were transported here and then killed. They did not actually shoot everyone, most were bludgeoned to death and their bodies were then covered in lime to prevent the whole place from smelling like rotting corpses.

It is a soccer-field-sized area surrounded by farmland, which contains mass graves for perhaps 20 000 Cambodians, many of whom were tortured before being killed. I read that the bordering trees held nooses for hangings.

Choeung Ek
The Choeung Ek memorial, filled with sculls

Right in the middle of this place of death they built a memorial to those murdered in the fields. A white tower in which they house the sculls of people whom they have dug up so far from the mass graves. They haven’t even dug up al of the mass graves yet.

Choeung Ek
The sculls that fill the Choeung Ek memorial

Having seen enough human cruelty and genocide I left the killing fields stunned and silent.

After seeing all this death and realising how cruel people can be towards each other my mom and I were too shocked to even attempt talking to each other. I cannot believe that anybody can actually do this to another human being.

Choeung Ek
Such a shocking and grossly sight

Phnom Pehn, City of History of Genocide and Torture

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Arriving at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

One of the most shocking and depressing places I have ever visited was the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Pehn. The site, a former high school, is filled with horror stories of torture and death, mutilation and torture. This school was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979. What once housed hundreds of eager students became a place where thousands would die.

 

In August 1975 the Khmer Rouge renamed the complex “Security Prison 21” and construction began to adapt the school into a prison. The buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire which you can still see today. The classrooms were converted into tiny prisons and even torture chambers for political prisoners. All the windows were covered with iron bars and also barbed wire to prevent the political prisoners from escaping.

Looking at this building it is impossible to imagine that this was once a school filled with laughing children. As you walk into the complex you can feel the sorrow and sadness that has seeped into its foundations. The building resonates with the evil acts and atrocities committed here.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The whole place is filled with sorrow
Tuol Sleng Genocide MuseumTuol Sleng Genocide Museum
To think this was once a school

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned and murdered at Tuol Sleng. The worst part is that these people did nothing to deserve such treatment. Their only crime was not liking the current government or just knowing someone who was against the government.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Upon arrival at the prison, prisoners were photographed and required to give detailed autobiographies, beginning with their childhood and ending with their arrest. As I walked through the prison these photographs were displayed and tells the story of thousands of innocent lives lost. Some of these photos are of children, what on earth could they have done wrong?

After being photographed the prisoners were forced to strip to their underwear, and their possessions were confiscated. The prisoners were then taken to their cells. Such inhumane treatment.

 Those taken to the smaller cells were shackled to the walls or the concrete floor, these shackles are still there just as the Khmer Rouge left them. They slept on the floor without mats, mosquito nets, or blankets and were forbidden to talk to each other. That must have been horrific, not being able to console or just support each other while you are in this hell.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Classrooms were transformed into torture chambers
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The inside of the school was transformed into a prison

When prisoners were first brought to Tuol Sleng, they were made aware of ten rules that they were to follow during their incarceration. What follows is what is posted today at the Tuol Sleng Museum. The imperfect grammar is a result of faulty translation from the original Khmer:

1. You must answer accordingly to my question. Don’t turn them away.

2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.

3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.

4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.

5. Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.

6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.

7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.

8. Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.

9. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.

10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The rules at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. Most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks and engineers.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
There are rows upon rows of photographs

During torture and at the end of their long torture just before they were taken away to be killed, they were photographed again. Cant believe they kept such detailed account of these atrocities. It is as if they were proud of it and wanted to be able to prove what they did to these poor people.

While walking through the rooms where these photos are displayed I couldn’t help but recognize some of these people from their arrival photos. It was very disturbing and the cruelty that humans can inflict on each other sickened me.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
There were so many children….

In 1979, the prison was uncovered by the invading Vietnamese army and reopened by the government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea in 1980, as a historical museum memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime. 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The Cambodian people are actually very friendly and hospital with an easy smile, which is one of the things that made this trip to S21 so haunting. It is hard to reconcile that a group could do such horrific things to anyone, much less their own people. You wouldn’t expect this from a civilized society. 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
A last look at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia’s city of Genocide, Temples and Palaces.

Phnom Pehn
Phnom Pehn
Phnom Pehn
Phnom Pehn

I know Phnom Pehn is not at the top of everybody’s sightseeing list but I think it is an absolute must see for its history and even its culture.

Phnom Pehn is a chaotic, dirty city filled with people who try to swindle you out of your money if you dont know how to barter, se be careful. Getting a motorbike taxi or a tuc-tuc is the easiest way around the city. Just be sure to negotiate a price beforehand otherwise you will be charged a ridiculously high price at the end of the trip.

My mom and I got into a tuc-tuc with our luggage and asked him to head to the main area where we were going to book into a hotel. First our tuc-tuc driver drove us down a very dodgy alley where he wanted us to check into his friend’s hotel and then refused to take us to where we wanted to go to in the first place. After some shouting he took us, very reluctantly, to the tourist area where we searched for a hotel, as we did not book anything in advance. It was relatively easy to find a place to stay in along the riverfront  as the area is filled with hotels, little bars and restaurants.

As we walked along the riverfront to Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple, constructed in 1373 the heat started to get to me a bit. If you want to go into a temple or shrine you have to be dressed a bit conservatively with knees and shoulders covered, which is not always the easiest thing to do in the heat.

Phnom Pehn
Some of these buildings look like ruins

 Along the way we passed some of the most dilapidated apartment blocks that I have ever seen. I could not believe that the buildings were still standing, let alone still housing people.

Wat Phnom
Arriving at the Wat Phnom complex

Wat Phnom is the tallest temple and religious site in Phnom Pehn and its name translates as “Pagoda Mountain. ” The Royal Palace with the Silver Pagoda is the first thing you see when you walk into the temple grounds.

The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is quite well guarded

The complex is divided by walls into three main compounds, the Silver Pagoda , the Khemarin Palace and a central compound containing the Throne Hall.

The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace looks quite cheerful!
Throne Hall
One of the many beautiful structures in the palace grounds

The Throne Hall, its real name meaning the “Sacred Seat of Judgement” was the first structure we entered. It is still in use today as a place for religious and royal ceremonies as well as a meeting place for guests of the King. Inside the Throne Hall is  a royal throne and busts of Cambodian kings of the past…unfortunately I couldnt take any pictures as my camera’s flash was giving a little trouble. The beautiful ceiling frescoes of the Reamker is definitely worth taking a couple of pictures of and I got some lovely photos of the wall frescos.

Khemarin Palace
The frescos on the Khemarin Palace wall
Silver Pagoda
Silver Pagoda
Silver Pagoda
One of the most beautiful structures, part of the Silver Pagoda
Silver Pagoda
Silver Pagoda

The whole place is filled with rows and rows of little Buddha’s and lotus flowers everywhere.  The most magnificent temple though is the Silver Pagoda. Its main building houses many national treasures such as gold and jeweled Buddha statues. You will most definitely notice a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha (the “Emerald Buddha” of Cambodia) and can not possibly miss the near-life-size, Maitreya Buddha encrusted with 9,584 diamonds and dressed in royal regalia. During King Sihanouk’s pre-Khmer Rouge reign, the Silver Pagoda was inlaid with more than 5,000 silver tiles and some of its outer facade was remodeled with Italian marble. The silver floor is now covered with a red carpet but you can still see an exposed part of the silver stunning silver floor.

Silver Pagoda
I love that the whole courtyard of the Silver Pagoda is filled with lotus flowers

Our last stop was the Khemarin Palace which is used as residence by the King of Cambodia. This compound is separated from other buildings by a small wall and is located to the right of the Throne Hall. The main building is topped with a single spired prang but not even closely as magnificent as the silver pagoda.

Khemarin Palace
Khemarin Palace
Khemarin Palace
Khemarin Palace

Wordless Wednesday: Cambodia

All through out WordPress, bloggers post a photo without an explanation, it’s called Wordless Wednesday!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday.