Tag Archives: cambodia

Angkor Wat – Revisited

Hello dear readers! It has been quite some time since I last updated this blog, but have no fear, I am back! June was a very crazy, special, busy, beautiful, tiring and eye-opening month. First, my parents came to visit for two weeks and we headed to Siem Reap, Hanoi and Sapa. Less than a week after they left, five of my girlfriends from Wesleyan came for a 2 and a half week visit. We visited Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Bangkok, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket. A lot to see in just one month! Definitely too much to fit into one blog entry, so it’s going to take a few entries to fit everything in. I will start with Siem Reap, the first stop on the trip I did with my parents.

“There’s no place else in the world that looks even remotely like Cambodia. You wake up, you always know where you are.” – Anthony Bourdain, March 8th, 2011 via Twitter.

Cambodia is a magical place. I visited twice in the fall of 2010, so I was very excited to go back and have my parents experience it. Tourists visit Siem Reap to see the various ruins of the Khmer Empire, which achieved great power and success between the 9th and 15th centuries. Many refer to the site as “Angkor Wat” because “Angkor” is the name of the area where the Khmer Empire held power, and the most famous temple in the complex is called Angkor Wat (the world’s largest single religious monument).

The trip with my parents was very different from the previous trip I made to Siem Reap. Instead of doing a 6 hour whirlwind tour of the main temples in the complex like I did last fall, we really took our time and visited a bunch of sites that most tourists don’t visit. We also woke up at 4:30am every morning to arrive at the complex by sunrise. Although I wanted to kill my father at the time, who insisted that we must be there at sunrise to take advantage of the lighting, getting an early start turned out to be a great thing. We avoided the massive tour group crowds which start their tours around 10am. One morning we had Ta Prohm, the place where they filmed Tomb Raider, literally all to ourselves. Waking up early also allows you to beat the intense heat which starts late morning and continues through the afternoon. I definitely recommend seeing the temples first thing, so worth waking up at 4 in the morning!

Angkor Wat. It wasn't the best sunrise, but it was still beautiful.

Entrance to Ta Prohm

Inside Ta Prohm

Photo Frames at Ta Keo

Watching the sunrise at Sras Srang Lake. My parents and I were 3 out of the 5 people there. It was so peaceful!

Preah Khan. In 1191, Jayavarman VII dedicatd this temple to his father. It's not one of the main attractions in Angkor Wat, but the temple is massive and there is a lot to explore. At the exit of the temple there is a beautiful lotus pond. Definitely worth seeing!

Wat Prasat Bakong, a short ride away from the main complex.

If you are interested in seeing more pictures of Angkor Wat, let me know. I took close to 500 photos when I was there! My next entry will be about our trek in Sapa. Stay tuned!

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An Introduction to the Mekong Delta

In a couple of days I will be leaving Ho Chi Minh City for a two night trip to the Mekong Delta. It is called the Mekong Delta because it is here that the Mekong River divides into nine different channels and ends its 3,050 mile run by flowing into the South China Sea. The region lies in the southern most part of Vietnam and occupies about 15,000 sq miles. From Ho Chi Minh, the closest destinations in the Mekong Delta are only a one or two-hour bus ride west of the city. However, Phu Quoc, an island in the western most region of the Mekong, is an hour plane ride from Ho Chi Minh and would take an entire day to get there by bus or car.

The shaded in region on this map is the Mekong Delta region.

Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam

The region borders Cambodia and up until the late 1600’s, the Mekong Delta was part of Khmer territory. Vietnamese began settling in the area in the early 1600’s and their settlement coincided with Khmer war with Thailand.  This resulted in a weakened Khmer state and detachment of the Mekong Delta from Cambodia, and a transfer of control to the Vietnamese. In the mid 1800’s, when the French came to seize control of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta was France’s first colony and the French controlled all of the waterways. These waterways were invaded by foreigners for a second time during the Vietnam War (or American War as it’s called here), as the Viet Cong and the U.S Navy fought all throughout the region. In the mid 1970’s the Mekong faced further foreign invasion, but this time from neighboring Cambodia, which was at the time under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge sought to regain control of the region and their attack on the Mekong Delta prompted Vietnam to invade Cambodia and eventually capture Phnom Penh, ending the rule of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.  The Mekong Delta is rich in history and natural landscape.

The Mekong Delta is also known as the “rice bowl” of Vietnam because half of Vietnam’s rice is grown there and Vietnam is second only to Thailand in global exportation of rice. In addition to rice, the Mekong is famous for its Floating Markets, fresh seafood, various temples and pagodas, bird and flower sanctuary’s, and (somewhat) beautiful beaches.

The duration of a single trip to the Mekong can vary from a day to multiple weeks. For tourists completing a whirlwind tour of Vietnam, a day trip led by a tour guide is often a popular choice. For travelers hoping to explore the entire region to its fullest, at least a couple of weeks is needed and people often rent motorbikes and small boats to get access to all different parts of the region. For an English teacher, who as of now is only working on the weekends and is looking for something to do during the week, a two night trip is ideal. I will only be visiting a couple of the major towns in the Delta, but I’m hoping it will be enough time to try out various foods, explore local markets and see some temples and pagodas. I’m very excited for the trip and I hope it will be one of many trips I take to the area. Stay tuned!!!

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Water Festival in Phnom Penh

In Cambodia, the Water Festival marks the beginning of the fishing season and the end of the rainy season. Along with the Khmer New Year, it is regarded by Cambodians as the most important holiday celebration. Every year an estimated 2 million people travel from the Provinces of Cambodia and various other countries to Phnom Penh to take part in the Festival. The streets surrounding the Tonle Sap River (also known as the Riverside) are shut down to commercial traffic and people spend three days watching boat races along the river, setting off fireworks, attending free concerts, eating tons of food and drinking many Angkor beers. I was lucky enough to have time to travel by bus to Phnom Penh and take part in the first day of the three day celebration.

Although the second day of the festival is supposedly the most eventful one, there was still plenty for me to see on the first day. During the day, the boat races are probably the most entertaining thing to watch. There were over 400 boats that participated in the races and some of the boats hold as many as 90 people. People take these races seriously and I was very impressed with how fast some of the boats were. Stephanie, Sean, Mike and Luca raced in a boat with a bunch of other foreigners and they got smoked by the Khmer teams. While they were getting ready to race Dara took me to an outdoor bar overlooking the river. We were on the second floor of the bar and were sitting near the finish line so I had a good view of the boats and was able to watch all of the activity happening on the streets.

Here are some pictures from the afternoon.

Spectators watching the boat races

Steph, Sean, Mike and Lucas boat

Angkor Beer and a Sunny Day

The afternoon was a lot of fun but I have to admit I was a little disappointed. From what I had heard,  the Water Festival was supposed to be like the Mardi Gras of Cambodia. Sure there were more people than normal and the buildings and streets were all decorated, but the atmosphere just didn’t feel crazy enough. All of that changed when we went back out to the Riverside at night. As soon as the sun set it finally felt like something huge was happening. All of the markets near the Riverside were flooded with people, music was blasted from big stages set up all over the city, fireworks started going off, street vendors took over the Riverside and all of the people seemed re-energized. We spent the night walking up and down the streets stopping at the street stalls, trying out new foods and shot gunning beers with the Cambodian police. At night it really felt like I was in New Orleans.

The Riverside on the first night of the Water Festival

Vendors on the Street

Trying Snake. Mom, Dad - Are you proud of me?

One of many decorated boats that floated along the river at night

Our new friends!

All in all it was a great weekend. I was so happy to be back in Cambodia for the Water Festival and to see my friends there. Cambodia definitely holds a very special place in my heart, but I am glad to be back in Vietnam. Foodwise, Cambodia just doesn’t compare to here. Speaking of food, it’s past 7pm and I haven’t had dinner yet so I’m going to grab a quick meal with Annie before we head out to Yoko, a local live music club. Hope you guys had a great weekend!! xoxo

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Sick in Sihanoukville

Man is updating this thing harder than I thought it would be!
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I’ve been getting a lot of comments/questions about the food here. Originally this was supposed to be a food blog and so far there hasn’t really been much about the food here. This is mainly because I am not a fan of Khmer food. I love Cambodia but the one thing about it I would change is the food. In Phnom Penh I was basically eating fried rice and noodles everyday and to be honest…they weren’t even that good! There is very little flavor in Khmer food, ZERO salt and not many ingredients. It’s hard to get a daily serving of vegetables and the flavor of the meat is not one that I like. I got quite a bad case of food poisoning last Thursday in Phnom Penh and spent most of the weekend at Sihanoukville in my hotel room instead of venturing out to the beach. It has now been over a full week and I don’t have a fever anymore and my body is starting to gain back strength but my stomach is still killing me. I can’t wait till this thing is finally gone. You don’t want to know how many different kinds of drugs I’ve been on this past week but NONE of them worked. The other night Hien, a Vietnamese woman who works at LanguageCorps, got me some Chinese herbal medicine wrapped in a piece of paper and the sketchy, unlabled pills I took seemed to cure me for a day but I definitely still have some kind of disease.
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I have now been in Ho Chi Minh City since Sunday night and am very busy taking Vietnamese lessons and getting in a lot of practice teaching. But more on this later…
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Let’s go back to Cambodia. My time there flew by and I do miss it a lot. My housemates just ran into Anthony Bourdain at the Russian Market and I am beyond jealous that I was not there for that. Unfortunately my being sick ruined my last night in Phnom Penh and I didn’t get to enjoy a last night out in the city. But I am already thinking about going back, maybe for the Water Festival in November, so I’ll definitely have more chances to spend time there. Even though I was deathly ill during the beach trip and we got maybe 10 minutes of sunshine the entire weekend, I did have a lot of fun. The LanguageCorps crew spent a lot of time just chilling around the hotel and getting some much deserved rest after a long week. One afternoon when I was feeling OK I went down to the beach with my Khmer friends Dara, Trea and Lana and we kicked a soccer ball around, lounged on couches on the beach and the three of them went into the water. The beach next to our hotel isn’t very touristy so we were the only ones there which was really nice. I can imagine that place being like paradise when the weather is sunny. Our last night at the beach the entire group went out for a barbeque dinner at a restaurant literally 10 feet from the ocean. My stomach was still killing me so I didn’t eat much or drink but we spent the entire night dancing, drinking $2 whiskey buckets (literally buckets you would use to make a sand castle at the beach) and setting off $1 fireworks on the beach. It was a really fun last night with everyone.

Dara helping me set off fireworks on the beach

My housemates in Sihanoukville

The next morning we drove 4 hours back to Phnom Penh and then Dara and I packed my entire room in literally less than 10 minutes because we were catching a bus to Vietnam that afternoon at 2. It was very rushed and I was sad because I didn’t really get to take in the fact that we were leaving Phnom Penh. The bus ride to Vietnam wasn’t too bad but felt like an eternity because we had already spent 4 hours on a bus that morning. We got into Ho Chi Minh at 8:30pm and grabbed a quick dinner and then went to bed. We have Vietnamese classes every morning and then spend the afternoons teaching classes. It’s a lot of work and I go home every night exahusted but it’s definitely better than the classes we were taking in Phnom Penh.

Ho Chi Minh is wild. After being in Phnom Penh for two weeks Saigon seems like New York City and there are motorbikes EVERYWHERE!  It’s a major city and there is so much to do here. The area we have been spending time in (District 1 and District 3) has a lot of shopping, restaurants and bars. I think most foreigners visiting the city hang out around here.  Since I’ve been sick and busy with teaching I haven’t explored much but I plan to do that this weekend. I think it will be a good place to live. I’m going to start taking pictures of the food I’m eating so my next entry will be about food!

traffic in Ho Chi Minh City

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Siem Reap and more

I wanted to write a post about the Russian Market but unfortunately the regular shops close before we get home from school. To make things even more difficult I didn’t bring my camera the one time we went to eat there at night so I have zero pictures of the place. The good news is two of my housemates, Stephanie and Sean, had their cameras when we went there for dinner and snapped some pictures that are now posted on their blog. So if you are interested, check out their site to read about and see the Russian Market. They also have an earlier post with pictures of the house we are living in. Here is the link: http://ss-abroad.blogspot.com/

Last week we spent most of our time at a local university in class from 9am – 5:30pm. Some of the things we are learning are interesting and will definitely come in handy when we actually start to teach but some things are just plain tedious, repetitive and boring. We get a good amount of breaks during the school day but by 5:30 we are pretty exhausted. But we usually rally by nighttime and have had a bunch of fun nights exploring Phnom Penh.

This past weekend we took a six-hour bus ride to Siem Reap, which is in northern Cambodia. The bus was the tiniest and jankiest thing you’ve ever seen and I’m still amazed that we fit over 20 people in there. Needless to say the bus ride was long and uncomfortable, but it was totally worth it. Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world and is definitely the most beautiful, massive and impressive place I have ever been. We spent the whole day exploring all of the different temples spanning the complex. One of the temples is the location where they shot “Tomb Raider”! As we walked through the grounds I couldn’t get over how much manpower it must have took to build these structures. EVERYTHING is made out of stone and the temples were built in the late 12th century when they obviously did not have the technology we have today. Furthermore, almost all of the temple walls are carved with detailed relief depicting religious figures/events, wars, celebrations and everyday activities. It’s really an unbelievable sight and it’s something that I hope all of you can go see for yourself one day.

On our way back from Siem Reap we stopped at a less touristy temple which was equally, if not more, awesome. We didn’t have an official guide with us so I don’t really know much about the history of the temple, but many stones have fallen and accumulated within the temple walls. Basically, the place was a giant jungle gym. We spent the afternoon crawling around the rocks and exploring the grounds. My friend Dana and I ran into a couple Khmer kids while inside the temple and they acted as our tour guides. Khmer children are seriously the cutest kids ever.

I only have a few more days left in Phnom Penh and I am actually really sad to leave. Cambodia is such an amazing country. It is definitely overlooked by the rest of the world in a number of different ways. I don’t think people realize how beautiful the natural land is and how many mind blowing buildings were erected in the past. The people here are also the most down to earth, friendly, happy and good natured people you will ever meet. Every day I look forward to riding the tuk tuk to school and watching people go about their daily routines. In many ways, life here is much simpler than in the U.S. People here don’t obsess over material goods or constantly worry about if what they are doing is hygienic or safe. Little kids don’t have rooms full of toys and videogames. Instead they chase each other around in the streets. To me, it seems like most people here just make do with what they have and are happy about it.

What amazes me the most is that people here can be so happy even though they are still suffering the consequences of what happened to their country not even thirty years ago. When you visit Cambodia or even Laos, you notice that there is a huge age group that is underrepresented. You see tons of people in their twenties and thirties but there are substantially less people in their forties and fifties. This is because during the 1970s there was a massive genocide in the country that wiped out about a quarter of the population. Today I visited Tuol Sleng (also known as S-21), which is a former high school turned prison, where the Khmer Rouge kept people for interrogation, torture and execution. Walking around the site was extremely haunting because they have kept everything intact since the time the prison was discovered. There is still barbed wire hanging over all the windows and terraces that was put up to prevent people from committing suicide. You can go inside the cells where prisoners were kept and there are even visible blood stains left on the floors. There is also a huge photographic exhibit where they have pictures of all of the victims and it was hard for me to view because I wanted to look at each face, but it was literally impossible because there are too many photographs. The prison operated for a little over three years and it is estimated that over 20,000 people died at S-21. When the Vietnamese army finally came to rescue the prisoners there were only seven left alive.  It was a very somber experience walking around but I think it is so important that I went. I knew that there was genocide in Cambodia but I definitely did not realize to what extent it had happened. People in the Western world seem to overlook the genocide in Cambodia and I wish that more people knew about what happened here.

It’s hard to jump back into the swing of things here after visiting S-21, but our busy schedules definitely help with that. We have a jam-packed week including a booze cruise tomorrow night, send off party on Thursday and trip to the beach over the weekend. I leave for Vietnam on Sunday and although I am sad to be leaving Cambodia, I’m very excited to get to Vietnam. I definitely want to live in Vietnam for a period of time, but I have such strong feelings toward Cambodia that I am highly considering moving here before going back to the States. But I guess only time will tell. I didn’t want this entry to be a debbie downer so I’ll leave you guys with some pictures to look at. Pictures take a bajillion years to load on my old-ass computer so I’m only gonna post a few here. To see the full collection of them go look on my facebook. I just made an album entitled Siem Reap. Lots of love from Cambodia!

Bayon Temple

Relief of Chinese army in Bayon Temple

Baphuon Temple - under construction

Ta Prohm AKA Tomb Raider

Ta Prohm

Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

Beng Mealea

Climbing around Beng Mealea

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Welcome to Phnom Penh!

Phnom Penh, once called the “Pearl of Asia”, is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. It is the richest and most industrialized city in Cambodia, yet I am still in shock over how poor it seems. I thought that my time in Huaihua, China would prepare me for being in an underdeveloped city but the atmosphere of Phnom Penh is very much new for me.

The city itself is fairly small. The house that I’m staying at is on the far end of the city and to get to the other end by tuk tuk, motorized rickshaws that are used as taxis, it only takes fifteen or so minutes.

Here is a picture of a tuk tuk. We get driven around by an adorable guy named Dara who is super fun and also lives with us at our house.

There is not much business and infrastructure where my house is located. I feel like everything revolves around bicycles and motorcycles. All the shops on the streets surrounding our house have something to do with motorcycle maintenance. The main attraction in my area of the city is the Russian Market which is a huge indoor shopping center that carries everything from raw duck to “I love Cambodia” t-shirts. I will definitely devote an upcoming entry to that place. Another group of LanguageCorps members live on the other side of the city near the Riverfront, which has many hotels and Western restaurants. This part of the city is much more friendly to foreigners and I feel very comfortable there. The university that we take our classes at is also near the Riverfront.

Yesterday we took a tour of the city and visited two main attractions: the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom. A “wat” is a monastery temple and literally means “school.” The Cambodian population is predominantly Buddhist and wats are sacred spaces that usually hold a large sculpture of the Buddha that people can worship. Wat Phnom is the tallest religious building in Phnom Penh.

These are the steps that you take to get up to the wat.

It is prohibited to take pictures inside wats and other temples so I don’t have any to share with you guys. But I swear it is really cool and if you want you should google image it.

This is a shrine for Lady Phnom. Apparently all the girls in the city will come up here and leave an offering for her when they have an important event coming up.

When you walk around the park below the Wat Phnom it is common to run into monkeys just chilling in the park….like this cute one!

The next place we visited was the Royal Palace. Before we went Dara told me to change out of my shorts because you aren’t allowed into the Palace if you aren’t wearing appropriate clothing. I’m glad he warned me because another girl in my program had to borrow pants from the Palace because her shorts were deemed too short.

The Royal Palace is a huge complex that houses religious buildings, gardens and museums and serves as the residency for the King of Cambodia. The Palace is decorated with multiple statues of the Buddha and what I’m assuming are bodhisattvas and other Buddhist figures.

Here are some pictures that I took while inside the complex.

Now that I’ve been in the city for almost three days I’m starting to like it a lot more. At first I was a little hesitant about it, but as we continue to explore I’m seeing that is has a lot to offer. It’s also nice now that the entire group is together and the group going to Vietnam seems like a lot of fun so it’s a relief to know that I’ll be around good people this upcoming year. It’s still kind of unbelievable that I’m here but it’s all starting to sink in. Classes have started and I feel like from here on out my time in Cambodia is going to fly by. I hope everything in the states is going well. I missed watching football yesterday but the 49ers lost AGAIN so I guess some things never change, eh?

Well I’m going to go rest before we hit up the Russian Market for dinner. Thanks for reading and look out for a new post coming soon!!!

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T-minus ONE DAY!

Tomorrow I am going to Newark Liberty International Airport with a one-way ticket to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After 24+ hours of traveling I will spend two weeks in Phnom Penh participating in a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) training program through an organization called LanguageCorps. I will then travel by bus to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) to complete my TESOL training and subsequently look for a teaching gig somewhere in Vietnam. I haven’t been given many details about how all of this is going to work but I’m not too worried (yet) and I’m anxious to see how it’s all going to turn out!

To be honest, I don’t really know much about Vietnam. What knowledge I do have about the country comes from reading the “Asia Pacific” section of the New York Times and watching Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel. When I found out I was going to Vietnam I did some Internet research and looked through some books, but the country still seems very foreign to me. Besides the Vietnam War, you don’t learn much about Vietnam in school so I’ll fill you in on some very basic facts that I’ve just learned.

Here is a pretty decent map of Southeast Asia.

The Mekong River, which starts in the Tibetan Plateau and runs through southern China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, ends its 2,600-mile run and divides into nine streams composing the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam where Ho Chi Minh City is located. The city has a tropical climate and the year is divided into two seasons: the rainy season, which lasts from May to November, and the dry season, which lasts from December to April. All throughout the year the weather is warm so there is no real need for me to pack my winter clothes. The other major city in Vietnam is the capital Hanoi and it is located in the north.

The population of Vietnam reaches almost 86 million making it the 13th most populous country in the world. Friends that have traveled to Vietnam warned me about the dense population but after spending time in China, I’m hoping the masses of people won’t be too much for me to handle.

Vietnam has its own distinct culture but is also known for having a lot of influence from France and China. I have heard that Vietnam is one of the best places to travel because it is developed enough that foreigners feel comfortable, yet old Vietnamese culture still has a very strong presence. I guess when I actually get there I can let you all know if this is actually true.

While I’m abroad I want to keep this blog to share with you guys the new experiences I’m going to be having. Most of my entries will focus on food and travel but some entries about my daily life in Vietnam will surely pop up. Leave comments and send me emails…I’m definitely going to miss everyone in America!!!

Love from Princeton,

Amy

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