Cambodia – sad, exciting and beautiful

Beautiful people!!!!!!

Hope everybody is fine and healthy! Here at the Otres beach in Sihanoukville everything is going fine with occasional problems (this week the my phone got stolen)  and military interventions (Thailand) that would change a bit our trip, but nothing can stop Into The Wild TEAM!!!!!!

As I mentioned in last weeks post we are currently in Cambodia. Finally we are having some more beach time and less bus rides, so our mode is 100 % on relax mode.

In last week and a half we made just 250 km. Starting in capital Phnom Penh (point A) the road lead us through  Kampot (point B – 8 h bus drive) and finally to Sihanoukville and the nearby islands (point C – 2 h bud drive).

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PHNOM PENH

Phnom Penh is the vibrant bustling capital of Cambodia with approx 2 MIO of people living in it . Situated at the confluence of three rivers, the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap. The capital city still maintains considerable charm with plenty to see. It exudes a sort of provincial charm and tranquillity with French colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards amidst monumental Angkorian architecture.

Phnom Penh has to offer a lot of interesting touristy sites. Beside the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the Choeng Ek Killing Fields and Wat Phnom, there are several market places selling carvings, paintings, silk, silver, gems and even antiques. Indeed, an ideal destination for a leisurely day tour.

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We stayed 2 days in Phnom Penh and we strongly believe that there is no need for more days – don’t get me wrong, the city is nice enough to stay even longer, but 2 days will do just fine.

I will stop for a second to tell you a bit more about the two most memorable things in Phnom Penh – S21 prison museum and killing fields. To understand better those place you need to know the story that stands behind them…

Just over 30 years ago, during a 4 year period (1975-1979) the Communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot carried out one of the worst genocides in modern history. It is estimated that over 30% of the then population (about 2-3 million of the estimated 7 million population) was killed.

Killing fields

When you walk through the gates you’re given an audio guide and headphones so you can walk around by yourself. Straight ahead you can see a large memorial building filled with skulls. As it was such a short time ago that these things occurred the site has been very good preserved. To this day pieces of bone and teeth can be found scattered around the dirt. You’re standing right beside sunken mass graves where thousands of tortured bodies of men, women and children were thrown in like waste. You see the ‘killing tree’ which was used to smash the heads of young children and babies whose parents were accused of crimes against the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot’s disturbing philosophy was to ‘get them at the grassroots’ so that these children “wouldn’t grow up and take revenge for their parents’ deaths”. Another fact that I found horrifying was that bullets were deemed to have been too expensive to use so instead the Khmer Rouge used an array of different tools to murder these innocent people. To think that these people weren’t even granted a quick death was just so inhuman. In some cases the people who  didn’t die from the blows to the head, were simply buried alive.
It was one of the saddest and soul destroying things I’ve experienced. The most chilling moment of the day (for me) was at the very end. Music comes on your headphones that was actually played those 30 years ago to drown out people’s last harrowing screams. You sit there staring at the sunken ditches attempting to envision these people last living moments and it’s heartbreaking.

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S21 Prison

In 1976, the Khmer Rouge converted a then high school and turned it into one of their torture, interrogation and execution centres. It is thought that approximately 20,000 people entered this prison, with only seven surviving.

I really would recommend visiting both places. (But definitely remember to bring some tissues!)

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After exploring Phnom Penh on Tuesday morning we took a 10 h bus drive that should take us 6-8 (nothing new) to Kampot.

KAMPOT 

Kampot makes an excellent base for exploring Bokor National Park and the verdant coast east towards Vietnam, including Kep and several cave-temples. Not on offer here: a beach.

Since there is no decent beach in Kampot there is an alternative 8 km away on a river shore where you can find few hippie – hedonistic bars that offer a decent bed and western atmosphere, that either you go with or you ignore. We stayed 3 night’s in a place called Arcadia which thanks to the word of mouth is becoming a center of ‘away from reality’ lifestyle and the place to be when you’re visiting Kampot.

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On the first day we rented motorbike and made approx 120 km circle. Starting in Bokor National Park we drove up the mountain with great  view on the coastline, huge women’s Budha statue and a casino resort on top (went in lost in 5 min 15 $ at the blackjack and left ;)). Afterwards we headed direction to Kep. On the way you can stop at two caves which we think are not really worth a visit, both are really small and not especially beautiful. Our last stop on the bike trip was Kep famous for its crab market (fresh sea food market) and very laid-back lifestyle. Don’t expect to see nothing amazing in this town, do visit it though if you love sea food!

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After 3 hedonistic nights and my fist haircut in Asia, we  were ready for even more relaxing and headed to Sihanoukville and its famous islands and beaches.

SIHANOUKVILLE (Islands Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloeam)

Surrounded by white-sand beaches and undeveloped tropical islands, Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s most happening beach destination.

You have two options there. Stay in the town and its nearby beaches or head with a 15$ (both ways) boat to nearby islands of Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloeam. We decided to do both 🙂 First headed to the islands.

Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloeam;

Both have beautiful beaches but still they are so different. The larger island, Koh Rong, is the only island in Southern Cambodia that shows any hint of becoming more than a place to escape civilization entirely. The village on southeast part of the island, has a growing range of accommodation options, plus few bars where you might find a crew of drinkers until, who knows, 2 or so.

There are a few beaches on the island within the walking distance from where the boats drops you. The best one is the Long Beach. 1 h walk through the jungle (don’t take flip flops) takes you to an amazing white sand beach with nothing more than one bar. That’s also the best place on the island to watch sunsets. To avoid going back through the jungle you can just take a boat (if it comes… don’t forget you’re in Asia and nothing’s never for sure ;)) or rent a tent and stay over night.

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We stayed on Koh Rong 3 nights which I would say its enough if you are not an party animal. Since we were looking also some peace and quiet we decided to head to neighbor island Koh Rong Samloeam, just a 20 min boat ride away.

Koh Rong Samloem has no such visions of tourism grandeur as Koh Rong. A horseshoe-shaped, 10km-long island and its few resorts are nowhere near each other. You can fish, snorkel and take short treks or just chill on long beautiful beaches. We stayed there 2 nights and would have stayed even longer if my phone didn’t get stolen. It really is a small paradise corner away from reality.

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Since we decided not to stay any longer on Koh Rong Samloem we headed to mainland and stopped in Sihanoukville at Otres Beach for 2 more nights.

Otres Beach

While backpackers continue to flock to the party zone of Serendipity Beach, more subdued Otres Beach, south of town, has made a comeback. None of Sihanoukville’s beaches would qualify as southeast Asia’s finest, but it’s easy to have stretches of coconut palm–shaded sand to yourself, especially if you venture outside the centre.

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Just to resume it fast, if you have short time to stay in south, head just for the islands. Keep in mind the nasty sand flys that want to eat you alive, occasional meetings with snakes in the jungle, almost no internet, electricity working just for 5 h in the evening until 1 in the morning or less – so hot sweaty nights, but amazing beaches and chill out atmosphere which make it absolutely worth it.

We have 8 days left in Cambodia, with the number 1 left on the list of  ‘what to see’ – Angkor Wat, and some more places about which I will talk more in next post. On 2nd of June we were supposed to fly to Bangkok and start our 3 weeks in Southern Thailand, but we will have to postpone it due to the current intense situation in the country – hope to do it at the end of our trip. Instead we decided to go to Myanmar which, from what we have heard, should be also amazing experience. So until than my little friends –   love each other, don’t be angry if your phone gets stolen (sometimes it’s for the best) and sympathize with Atletico Madrid fans!!!!

Love Maja & Andrej

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