Not Really a Blog

December 27, 2012

Kampot

Filed under: Cambodia, Kampot, Places — Tags: , , , — jesus @ 16:52

Depending on how much time you want to spend in Cambodia, there are a few things that are a must. Probably one of their nice beaches, Phnom Penh, the capital, and Siem Reap, where you can see the truly amazing temples of Angkor Wat.

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This is Angkor Wat, if you are interested ;-). A post about it soon.

If you have a month or so you can spend time visiting all of the south and some remote parts in the north, which is not very much explored and, apparently, has many nice places to go.

But I was only planning to spend like 2 weeks and a half in Cambodia and wanted to visit one of its beaches and Siem Reap for sure. But I also wanted to see something else, so I decided to go to Kampot as it was recommended on the Lonely Planet guide.

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And don’t get me wrong, sometimes travel guides are awesome, but I didn’t quite enjoy Kampot that much. Don’t get me wrong, the town is lovely, but the main areas of interest (which are why you visit Kampot) were not that interesting to me.

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Kampot is a small village near the coast and near Bokor Natural Park where you can have a look at Bokor Hill, a mountain around 1000 metres high with a cool climate and a nice view, surrounded by a dense rain forest. The town itself is crossed by a river and has many buildings with French influence. You can tell just by looking at the houses by the riverside.

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On top of this hill there’s an old French station/house and church from the 1930s. Apparently they have been decaying for years and had a really mysterious look, but these days they are being refurbished and so there’s not much to see there apart from builders working on scaffoldings.

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The old French church

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The old station

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Now, what has struck me as ludicrous is the construction ongoing in the very natural park of Bokor. As in, the protected natural park of Bokor. The Sokimex group, founded by Oknha Sok Kong, is not only a petrol station company in Cambodia, but they also control the concession for the entrance fee to Angkor Wat. And they are building a tourist complex that includes a 5 star hotel, a casino, and some 400 houses. In the middle of the National Park, the protected National Park!.

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The new Casino

So ridiculous that if you go on a tour to this National Park, you will be taken to a place where there is a model of the park, with all the planned construction for this park. As if that would be a tourist attraction in itself!. Ridiculous. No need to say, if you are in the area, don’t bother taking one of these tours (in my opinion), hire a scooter and drive up yourself to the National Park.

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And enjoy walking around Kampot. It’s really small and pleasant to see. With a lot of french influence there are quite a few places where you can have dinner by the river that are nice. That’s worth the visit, or at least it was for me!

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July 5, 2012

Phnom Penh

Filed under: Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Places — Tags: , , , , , , , — jesus @ 20:45

Anywhere you read about Phnom Penh, it is described as a dangerous city. Scams, aggressive tuk-tuk drivers, bag snatching and bag razor attacks. The list is long. Not including the spoilt kids from wealthy families who have body guards carrying weapons with them. Yeah, scary stuff. However, I didn’t actually find anything like this. It looks like a nice city. A bit too hot and humid, but people are generally friendly and tuk-tuk drivers are not too much pushy, just your usual South East Asian tuk-tuk driver. Of course you have to bargain hard, but that’s how it is in Asia in general anyway, so no big surprises here.

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A tuk-tuk is a motorbike which has a sort of carriage attached to it so you can jump on it with your luggage and be taken to different places on a pleasant drive (if you think driving in South Asia is pleasant anyway). They are not really called tuk-tuk originally here, but remorks. I believe they started using tuk-tuk as that’s what they use in Thailand and there it became really popular.

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Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and it’s a big city which attracts many tourists and people from different places in Cambodia. It’s also famous because it was the political centre of the infamous Khmer Rouge, whose leader, Pol Pot, killed a quarter of the population between 1975 and 1979. You can actually visit the prison S-21 and the killing fields where these killings took place.

Mass Grave

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Clothes

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The tree

To say that these places are creepy is not an accurate description. Just reading the notes on each of these places makes you want to be sick.

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Pay attention to what’s forbidden

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You can read more about the Khmer Rouge in wikipedia, but just to summarise it, Pol Pot carried an extermination of those who were against his regime, those who were educated and those who were denounced by the most minor offense.

The S-21, formerly a school which was converted into a prison, was where prisioners would be taken for interrogation. There people would be tortured and kept there without knowing what was going on. Their fate would invariably finish in the killing fields, an old Chinese grave that was used for exterminating the Khmer people.

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I’m not going to talk much about this, if you feel like you want to know more, head to google or read books like The Cambodian Curse (I haven’t actually read the book. It’s been recommended by a friend and I don’t know if I can stomach this kind of book). Visiting this place while you listen to the audio guide is a truly depressing experience, albeit necessary.

Moving to other (nicer) subjects, there are nice things to see in Phnom Penh. The most interesting ones are possibly the Royal Palace and the Golden Pagoda, where you get to see a bit of Khmer architecture with its temples. It’s actually nice to walk around these places as you get to see lots of monks dressed in their traditional orange gowns. Just as you’d expect from your typical travel shots.

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Cambodians are nice people. They are always  smiling and they are always trying to start a conversation. They seem a very friendly group of people, even more than the Vietnamese. And their English is pretty good, much better than the Vietnamese, I have to say. I have been truly impressed by the command of the English language by the average Cambodian.
One of the highlights in Phnom Penh are the shooting ranges. Or at least they seem to be very popular among tourists, where you can get to shoot all sorts of weapons. Due to the lack of tight control, what would be very difficult in any western country, is very easy here. Shooting an AK-47 is not something you get to do everyday, so if you fancy doing these things, Cambodia is your place. You can shoot from pistols to AK-47s and even bazookas depending on how much money you want to spend and how big your balls are. Rumour has it that you can also pay to have chickens as targets, alive. I was not able to confirm these though.

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We visited one of these places as Robin, a Dutch guy I met in Cambodia, is basically in love with shooting weapons.

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Overall I enjoyed my stay in Phnom Penh, despite of all the bad fame it had. In the end it’s not that bad ;-). It reminded me of what a friend I met in Siem Reap told me: ‘I had this idea about Cambodia that I was going to find children carrying AK-47. I was quite shocked and surprised to find out that that was not the case’

All the photos on flickr.

June 29, 2012

Mekong Delta

Filed under: Cambodia, Mekong Delta, Travel, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , , — jesus @ 05:11

To finish up my stay in Vietnam I decided to take a Mekong Delta tour during three days ending in Cambodia. These tours are very common in Saigon where you go for three days (two nights) and then you come back to Saigon. Anywhere you walk in Saigon you’ll find a travel agency where they advertise them. I don’t know if there are different types of tours, but I would generally avoid them if you are thinking of going yourself. Mine was not very good, and on top of that I had a bad experience with the hotel, the Nga Hoang Hostel, I was staying at in Saigon. If I were to do it again, I would probably travel by myself and choose the places I wanted to go, sleep in the area and avoid the worthless visits to different places where all they want you to do is to buy some stuff. Which is fair enough, but it gets old very quickly and you don’t get to see that many nice things.

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Anyway, the idea is not so bad though. You are supposed to go around the Mekong river south of Saigon and see all this area in all of its grandiosity. The river, the rice fields, the floating markets, etc. In the end, it feels more like you are in a theme park than anything else. It’s not so bad because you get to see some nice sights, but it feels like it’s not enough though. And, that you are taken to a theme park of Vietnamese stuff.

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Wanna see crocodiles eating ducks? how to make rice noodles? play with a big snake? being taken through one of the canals of the Mekong river? This is your place.

Siesta

Instead of returning back to Saigon, I booked a boat trip into Cambodia through the Mekong River, to get to Pnomh Penh, the capital of Cambodia. To me the most interesting thing on this trip was a visit to the floating market in Can Tho. You know, you are on a boat in the river and you go to this market made of tens of other boats where people are buying stuff and exchanging goods. And of course this has become a tourist attraction. Very funny, but interesting anyway.

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Floating market where you can buy coffee

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Fresh pineapple, ummm!!!

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Rice noodles

Fried rats with onions

Something on the menu, fancy it?

We were getting closer to the border and the weather was getting muggier and hotter, as we spent the last night in Chau Doc from where we were going to go, supposedly through the Mekong river, to Cambodia. And well, it turned out to be not the Mekong river proper, but a canal that goes along the border of Vietnam and Cambodia. Where we finally arrived, waited a couple of hours to get our passports sorted out and then finally we took off again on a different boat to get to Phnom Penh. Or that’s what I thought. In the end we went up the river for like 30 minutes where a bus was going to pick us up.

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Cambodia in the distance
Cambodia in the background

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Isn’t he cute?

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And isn’t she cute???

Now, this was my first encounter with Cambodia. Bus is a very loose term in Cambodia, it seems. Instead of what you could think, it was not actually a bus, but a van for around 12-14 people. There, they put us all, 20 people plus bags. You can’t imagine the scene? try hard, remember Twister? that’s basically what we did for 2 hours. It gets better. Driving at 100km/h and overtaking on blind spots while speaking on the phone.

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Untitled
The Canal

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Boat Driver
Boat driver

Welcome to Cambodia, this was certainly going to be an interesting country…

Bus or minivan (2 of 2)

The back of the van where we were squeezed in!!

More photos of the Mekong Delta and the trip to Cambodia.

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