Tag Archives: history

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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History on the Streets of Saigon

Now that I’ve been driving around Saigon for over a month, I have a pretty good handle on most major streets in District 1 and District 3. My acquisition of street names has coincided with starting to take Vietnamese lessons, and it is this convergence that has given me the idea for this post: History on the Streets of Saigon.

With the help of my excellent Vietnamese teacher, I was able to make the realization that I now know enough Vietnamese to start comprehending some of the Vietnamese I encounter everyday. While going off on one of many tangents during class the other day, we got into the topic of street names and we were able to decipher the meanings of a bunch of streets in downtown Saigon. What I found most interesting about this was almost all of the street names have significant meaning in Vietnamese history. Whereas in the United States street names can be as silly as Trumpet Circle (the street I grew up on), street names in Vietnam stand for something really important. So in an attempt to share some history and Vietnamese language with you, I have selected a few streets I spend a lot of time on and will explain their significance to Vietnamese history.

Cách mạng tháng Tám Cách mạng means revolution and tháng Tám means eighth month (August), so this street is named for the August Revolution that took place in 1945. Vietnam spent most of history controlled by outside powers. The French occupied Vietnam starting in the 19th century, and Vietnamese national forces continuously failed to win independence. Then in 1940, the Japanese invaded Indochina during World War II. The Vietnamese nationalist forces (including Ho Chi Minh) were actually supported by the United States in an attempt to defeat the Japanese. On 1945 the Japanese surrendered to the Allied powers and the Vietnamese used this as an opportunity to take over offices held by foreigners. On August 19th, VietMinh (a national liberation front created by the Communist Party of Indochina) forces successfully won over Hanoi . Following this victory, more rebellions broke out in Vietnam and on September 2nd, 1945 Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s long awaited independence and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed. Although this independence was short lived (the French returned to Vietnam in early 1946), the August Revolution was the start of successful steps toward true independence for the Vietnamese people.

Ba tháng HaiBa means 3 and tháng Hai means second month (February), making Ba tháng Hai a date: February 3rd. This is an important date because on February 3rd, 1920 the Vietnamese Communist Party was formed using the beliefs of Ho Chi Minh, Marx and Lenin as an ideological basis.

Điện Biên Phủ – I mentioned that although Ho Chi Minh declared independence in 1945, the Vietnamese weren’t in the clear just yet. The French re-entered Vietnam in 1946 and it wasn’t until the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954, that Vietnam won a decisive victory over the French. This was significant because the battle proved that local rebel forces had the capability of overthrowing a major western superpower. However, even greater significance to Vietnam and world history lies in the Geneva Accords that preceded the French defeat. Under the Accords, France withdrew from all former Indochina colonies and Vietnam was split into two sides: the North and the South. This division would eventually lead to what Westerns call the Vietnam War, but what Vietnamese call The American War.

Nam kỳ khởi nghĩaNam kỳ means Southern and khởi nghĩa means uprisings. Nam kỳ khởi nghĩa refers to the Southern Uprisings that occurred in November of 1940 against French rule in Indochina. Although the uprising was a failure, it was important in establishing national spirit for the country and people of Vietnam. On the 70th anniversary of the uprisings this past November, State President Nguyen Minh Triet said, “The Southern Uprising laid a foundation for our people to rise up and gain glorious victory in the August Revolution, and left profound and valuable lessons for revolutionary stages in the present and the future.” The Southern Uprising was also the first time the current flag of Vietnam was used.

Uncle Ho and the flag of Vietnam

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Taste of Singapore

What does it mean to be Singaporean? After a short 3 day visit to the tiny island located off the southern coast of Malaysia, I have yet to develop a clear answer to this question. What I do know is that culture in Singapore can be described as diverse and eclectic due to the immense influence of immigration. This cannot be better represented through Singaporean cuisine, which is mostly comprised of food from Malaysia, China and India. Although cost of living in Singapore is high, Hawker Centers make it possible for those on a budget to try out all of the different foods Singapore has to offer.

Hawker Centers are essentially massive food courts located all throughout the city. Unlike Vietnam, Singapore no longer has a “street food” scene because the government doesn’t allow vendors to crowd the pristine streets. Instead, all of the street vendors sell their food inside Hawker Centers. Hawker culture goes back to the founding of Singapore, since the first people to inhabit the country were predominately male immigrant workers. Up until the 1860’s the male to female ratio in Singapore was 10:1, so street food was necessary to feed all of the hungry male workers who had no women to cook for them and needed a cheap source of food. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that the male female ratio evened out and home cooking became more popular than street food. However, Hawker stalls remain a popular option and are still a huge part of Singaporean culture.

Now that you have some background information on Singaporean food, it’s time to dive into my quest to discover the wide breadth of Singaporean cuisine. When immigrants first started coming to Singapore, the different ethnic groups stuck mostly to themselves. However, overtime the different cultures began to mix and we are now left with a nice combination of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. I was in Singapore with my friend Mike and the first place we ate at was a corner restaurant called Mufiz Prata Corner, right down the block from our hotel. It offered Indian Muslim food and we got a mixture of Indian and Malay dishes. We ordered Chicken Murtabak (originally from India), which is pan-fried bread filled with chicken, onion, garlic and egg and served with a mildly spiced red curry. Although it was pan-fried, the bread wasn’t too greasy and the curry served with it was so rich with a variety of Indian spices. We also got a second bread dish called Masala Thosai. Thosai, or dosa, is fermented pancake made from rice batter and black lentils. There are different variations of Thosai, but Masala Thosai is stuffed with potatoes, onions and spices. We were pretty hungry so we decided to order a third dish called Mee Bee Hoon. Originating from Malaysia, Mee Bee Hoon is a noodle dish cooked with a bunch of different spices and peppers and topped off with a fried egg. The meal was so good (and cheap! Only $12 Singapore dollars for the three dishes and two drinks) and a perfect introduction to food in Singapore.

Chicken Mufiz Murtabak - $5 (Note, prices are in Singapore dollars)

Masala Thosai - $1.50

Mee Bee Hoon - $3.50

For dinner that night we checked out Lau Pa Sat, a huge hawker center situated amongst a group of skyscrapers in the financial district of town. Filled with both locals and tourists, the place had a very lively atmosphere and seemed like the kind of place you could meet up with a group of friends and just hang out for a few hours. The place was gigantic and Mike and I didn’t know anything about any of the stalls, so we just wandered over to an area that was really crowded. We figured if there were lots of people there, the food must be good. I ended up ordering Indian food again, but this time I got a set meal that came with naan, rice, okra, potatoes and barbequed chicken. The portion was pretty big and a great deal for only $7!

New Taj - North & South Indian Halal Food stand inside Lau Pa Sat

Set Meal - Naan, chicken, okra, potatoes, chicken and of course, sauces!

Inside Lau Pa Sat Hawker Center

While my first day in Singapore was all about the Indian food, I switched gears and ate only Chinese food my second day. We took the subway to Chinatown in the morning and found ourselves at Maxwell Food Center, another huge hawker center. Mike and I shared a plate of Hainanese Chicken and a bowl of chicken rice porridge. The Hainanese were  one of the last Chinese dialect groups to settle in Singapore, but their influence on Singaporean cuisine is significant. To make Hainanese chicken you boil the chicken in stock with garlic, ginger, chicken fat and srenpine leaves. I thought the dish had great flavor, but the chicken was a little fatty for my taste. I did however love the rice porridge. Being Chinese, rice porridge is definitely comfort food and reminds me of home. There were a bunch of stalls selling the porridge, but one stall in particular, called Zhen Zhen Porridge, had a huge line so I naturally had to try a bowl from that stall. I ended up waiting in like for almost 20 minutes, but it was definitely worth the wait. The consistency was pretty thick and it was a very hearty meal.

Hainanese Chicken Stall

Hainanese Chicken

Zhen Zhen Porridge Stall

Chicken Rice Porridge

For dinner that night Mike and I headed downtown to eat in an area that was mostly populated by tourists and expats working in the financial district. All of the restaurants sat alongside the water and overlooked the downtown skyscrapers and the Marina Bay Sands. Prices were not cheap, but it was a cool place to be. We ordered a sizzling beef hotplate, sweet and sour chicken, and Chinese cabbage cooked with garlic. I have to admit, it wasn’t the best Chinese food I’ve had. But, it was enjoyable because for some reason Chinese restaurants don’t exist in Saigon so it satisfied my Chinese food craving.

View of the restaurants along the water

Sizzling Beef Hotplate

That night on our way home we stopped for some dessert at Mufiz Prata, the same place we had lunch the first day. Mike got Tissue Pratha with chocolate which is essentially a giant cone shaped crepe covered with chocolate. AMAZING!

Tissue Pratha with Chocolate

The next day I wandered around Little India in the morning and shared an order of Egg Thosai with Mike. It was kind of hard to taste the egg, but the bread and sauces were delicious. And the thosai was huge! Literally over a foot long! Shortly after that we hit up the food court in Gelang Serai Market to grab some lunch. I got an order of Nasi Lemak, a traditional Malay dish. Nasi means cooked rice and Lemak means savory coconut. The rice is steamed in coconut milk and then wrapped in banana leaf. The rice is unbelievably rich and I had a hard time eating the entire portion of it because it’s so heavy. In addition to the coconut rice there was a piece of fried chicken, egg and some raw vegetables. Mike got a bowl Seafood Laksa. Laksa, a Chinese and Malay thick noodle dish, is served in a spice based gravy with coconut milk.

Egg Thosai

Nasi Lemak

Seafood Laksa

And of course, being the unhealthy, fast food loving American that I am, I had to have one last meal at the airport.

Does this really need a caption?

Thanks for reading about my Singapore food journey, stay tuned for another post on Singapore coming soon!

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Homestay in Ben Tre

After touring Unicorn and Turtle Islands, our boat lady dropped us off on the island Ben Tre. It was pitch black by the time we arrived and when we got off the boat the moto driver we had met earlier in the day was waiting for us on shore with a flash light. He led us through the dark forest and to our homestay. It looked like 20 or so people could have stayed at the homestay, but we were the only people there along with one other couple. On our walk from the boat to our room our driver talked about how the lands are haunted with lots of ghosts and pointed out all of the graves in front of the houses. Most of the residents of Ben Tre are Buddhist. Since Buddhist graveyards don’t really exist most people just bury their ancestors outside their homes. Well I think now most are cremated, but there are still shrines and monuments set up to honor the dead. Almost all of the houses we passed had graves outside of them. Now adays Christianity is becoming more popular in Vietnam, but it is mostly wealthy city residents that follow Christianity and the farmers in the countryside are mostly Buddhist. So back to the homestay. It was pitch black, supposedly haunted, and we were basically the only people in the middle of nowhere. Creepy!!!

Made it ashore, and there is a sign for our homestay!

Ok I look this photo while riding on a moto bike so not the best quality but hopefully it will give you some idea of what the graves look like

When we got to the homestay we put our bags in our room and then went to order dinner from our host family. Seafood is especially fresh in the Mekong so we decided to order an Elephant Ear Fish (it actually looks like an elephant ear) and shrimp. After we ordered a man came over to us with a huge fish inside a fishing net. It was our dinner! He showed the fish to us and then killed it. The fish was basically dead when he brought it to us, but I guess it was necessary to then hit it with a large stick to make sure it was dead. We got to go into the kitchen in the main house and watch a lady cook the fish for us. The wok she used was super big. I guess when you are cooking large fish you need a large pan. The dinner was amazing. She made fresh spring rolls with the fish and they were filled with fresh noodles, vegetables and pineapple. The sauce we dipped the rolls in was kind of spicy so the combination of the spicy sauce and sweet pineapple was delicious. Definitely the best spring rolls I’ve had here! We also had a bunch of massive shrimps, some vegetables and rice. We ate all of the food and enjoyed the company of our host family and some of their friends while eating. We went back to our room after dinner because we had a bike ride planned for the next morning at 5:30AM.

Elephant Ear Fish...DINNER IS SERVED!

Cooking that sucker

Ready to eat!

Massive shrimp

Making our spring rolls

When we woke up the next day it was pitch black out so we had to wait until there was a little light before we set off on our bike ride. One of the guys had drawn us a map the night before, but it was honestly the worst map ever. All of the distances he estimated were wrong, there were no street names and he didn’t explain to us that we would have to first leave the wooded area we were staying in and make it to the main roads in Ben Tre before we started. It took us a while to finally make it out on the main road, but with some help from locals we were able to find our way. Our bike ride took us through the town of Ben Tre and past a set of rice fields. We got lost and had to stop for directions at least 10 times. And Ben Tre doesn’t have many tourists so people probably thought we were crazy. Even though it was a little stressful and the bike itself was unbelievably uncomfortable to ride, it was a fun morning. The town wasn’t that exciting but the ride through the rice fields was beautiful. We stopped at a local restaurant close to our hotel before finishing the ride to have breakfast. When we got back to the homestay our hosts helped us get to a bus station and we were back in Saigon before 1pm.

Stopping for directions in Ben Tre

Rice fields and my bike

Bike path

Rice fields at sunrise

Much deserved breakfast

Waiting for the bus in Ben Tre

The Mekong is a perfect place to do day trips and there are a few other cities I’m really looking forward to visiting. On the way back to Saigon we met a guy who owns a huge fruit farm in Ben Tre. He spoke great English and told us we are welcome anytime to come visit his farm and try out all the different fruits. Since My Tho and Ben Tre are only a little over an hour away I can definitely see that happening in the future. Overall the trip was a success and a great escape from the bustling streets of Saigon.

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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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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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