Eden Eco Village: Kampot, Cambodia

Our stay at Eden Eco Village was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip.

Like a lot of other highly-anticipated things, this one didn’t live up to my expectations, and to no fault of Eden. Let’s see, where do I begin.

Oh yes, this will do.

If you remember from my last post, on our way to Phnom Penh we ended up with a flat tire. After leaving our friends the night before, we took another VIP van with Mekong Express to the town of Kampot. I would like to reiterate that this was in no way a reflection of the service we received from Mekong Express. When your “highway” looks like this, then there’s bound to be a mishap…

Turns out, “highway” number 4 from Phnom Penh to Kampot is quite possibly the worst road I’ve ever been on in my life. First, driving in Cambodia is nerve-racking, to say the least. The first rule of driving in Cambodia is “there are no rules”. Theoretically, it seems that the driving rules are similar to those in America or Europe, but instead of you know, staying in a line of traffic, it’s “gun-it-until-you-reach-a-slower-object (car, scooter, pedestrian)-slam-on-breaks-swerve-and-keep-going”.

This style driving, combined with a case of the “Irish flu” from the night before, a pot-hole riddled “highway” and 30°C (86°F) temps made for a fun ride. And if you’re Shane, who came down with the actual flu… well. Tie him up and throw him in a river because he was dead. (Sorry Marsha, we didn’t tell you this at the time…)

What was wrong with the van? We hit a pothole so big that it knocked the spare tire loose from underneath and we were dragging it. After about 30 minutes it was successfully reattached and we were on our way again.

Stuck and not quite sure for how long…

A 3-hour trip turned into a 5-hour trip, but regardless we made it to Kampot. I can’t say this enough. The road was so bad at one point I looked at the GPS, it said we were about 30km (18mi) away. Think of a normal highway, you’d be there in 15 min? We still had 1 HOUR of travel time left.

Phomn Penh to Kampot.

Eden Eco Village was located about 5km (3mi) outside the city of Kampot. Our instructions to get there: “Take a tuk-tuk across the new bridge and down the dirt road until you see the signs.”

Hm. Ok then.

To our somewhat delight, this worked!

We showed the tuk-tuk driver and he knew exactly where to go. Over a newer looking bridge and down a dirt road until we saw the signs for Eden. That part was delightful. What was not so delightful was the dirt road itself, which was red mud, puddles, and potholes the entire trip pushing Shane to the edge of vomit.

I was most excited about this place because we were staying in a bungalow on the side of the river where you could literally jump off your bungalow porch and swim!

Remember how I said Shane was on the edge of vomit?

The only thing he did off the edge of our bungalow was puke. Multiple times. Poor guy.

The view from our bungalow. At least he had easy puke access, right?

My idyllic time at Eden was off to a great start. A sick husband was not something I (or he) anticipated.

We only had two nights here, which was and wasn’t enough time. I think if Shane had been healthy then we would have loved to stay longer. But with him sick, and the relenting heat (and – sorry Eden, my only true complaint) weak fans in the bungalow it wasn’t as magical as I had imagined it to be.

But, as we would come to learn by the end of our time in Cambodia, having expectations is your first mistake. Better to just experience things for what they are.

On our only full day, I knew I wanted to swim in the river and I wanted to do something active. We had been mostly touring cities, so now that we were actually out in the countryside I wanted to see it. Eden provided (for free) bicycles and a list of activities in the area so I forced Sis to go on a hike with me. The boys, not up for an athletic adventure, stayed behind while Sis and I went out to tackle White Mountain.

Following what I would refer to as “country boy” directions – “turn left on the road by the school that goes through the two overhanging trees towards a chainlink fence” – we had a lovely ride through the surrounding local village.

And back through the village when we missed the turn.

And for another time when we missed the turn again.

Third time’s a charm though and we found the path towards the chainlink fence all the while getting waved at by the friendliest children on their way to school.

Biking through the village.
On the right path now! White Mountain straight ahead.
“Park the bikes on the side of the ‘nicer’ road and take the path up.”

Our directions described the hike as “short but strenuous with a little bit of scrambling”.

That description was 100% accurate as Sis and I were gasping for air by the time we reached the top. The view was worth it though.

A successful hike required an afternoon dip in the river!

Tubes provided!

Keeping with the theme, this wasn’t as relaxing as expected, cause you know… river currents! HAH! It was refreshingly cool but MAN did you have to work to stay in front of the bungalows! Something about that flowing river…

Dear Eden, I suggest ropes with a carabiner to attach you to your bungalow for worry-free floating..

And that about wrapped our time at Eden and in the Kampot area.

As I said before, I was so excited to come here but because of the road, it did feel very isolated. It’s definitely the type of place you go to enjoy nature and just relax with no agenda. I mean look at this bungalow!

But, being isolated when one of your group is sick made me a little nervous. And, to top it off, we discovered during our time in Eden that Terry picked up a foot parasite (sorry Terr Bear if you didn’t want this on the blog!). No worries, it turns out they are quite common – even in America – and he could have gotten it anywhere. He took it in stride, even named it Riley, and it was cured with a bumpy ride on the back of a random guys scooter to the “good” hospital for medicine.

If you have the chance to visit Eden Eco Village though, I would definitely do it. The bungalows are beautiful, they are (as the name suggests) eco-friendly by using solar power and reusing where possible. And they work very closely with the local community, giving them jobs and teaching English along the way. And I cannot say this loud enough, but THE FOOD! Ah, it was so amazing. I mean look at this salad!

All the food was made to order and literally, nothing was bad. I think we might have tried the entire menu. If you go, don’t skip the coconut milkshakes!

Morning view from our bungalow.
Just for you, Mom!
Sunset at Eden.

So, while it seemed like nothing went quite right in the two days since our group of 6 became a group of 4, all in all, our time in Kampot was too short.

We headed out the next day for our final stop in Cambodia,

the island of Koh Rong!

More to come soon!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Our last stop as a group of 6 was the capitol of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

When we first arrived, it took us ~7 hours on an overnight bus to get from Phom Penh to Siem Reap. The drive time from Battambang back to the capitol city was supposedly 5 hours so we opted for a daytime drive. I say supposedly because we would come to learn that whatever the stated travel time is, go ahead and add one hour to that.

After our fantastic day tour of Battambang, we caught a 7am VIP van with Mekong Express and we were on our way…. for about 3 hours.

…tire troubles.

Yep, that’s the tread almost completely off the tire.

It goes without saying, but this had to be fixed before we could keep going. So, everyone hopped out of the van and headed across the street for a bathroom and some snacks while our (poor) driver frantically tried to figure out where he could have the tire repaired. For some reason, Sis and I came back to the van. Maybe I was coming to take this picture? I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the driver telling Sis to get in the van and Sis telling me to get in the van.

Door closes and off we go.

…and they never saw Whitney & Kelsey again.

Ok – not true. What we figure is our driver didn’t want to take off with all our luggage and no witnesses, which I appreciate. Had we spoke Cambodian, I’m sure this would have been communicated. All part of the adventure, right?

We ended up at the tire repair place and 15 min later we were back in action!

The tire repair shop. You’ll notice that we (two white girls) were as much of a novelty here as the repair shop was to us.

We picked up the rest of the van crew, and we were off again! Turns out, Shane & Terry passed the time by discussing how they were going to break the news to our dad that they lost us. *shrugs*

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, with only one complaint: no karaoke! If your van is going to advertise karaoke on the outside, which it did, then you better give a girl some tunes!

#sorrynotsorry Michelle. Blame your husband.

Another squishy luggage-packed tuk-tuk ride took us to the hotel.

Hotel views.

Now, I will preface this next statement with this: Phnom Penh is a huge city, and we really only explored within 15-20 min. walking distance from our hotel. With this in mind, Phnom Penh was probably my least favorite city on the whole trip.

Before we came, I had heard from others about the “rawness” of Phnom Penh. There was poverty, prostitution, beggars, people with missing limbs on the streets. I will say, that none of those things are the reason why I didn’t care for Phnom Penh. Honestly, I think you can find all of those things in any major city across the world if you look hard (sometimes not even hard) enough. I just didn’t feel like Phnom Penh had any character.

If you consider the history of the country and the fact that only 40ish years ago Phnom Penh was essentially emptied of its inhabitants when they were sent to the rice fields, it makes more sense. The Khmer Rouge did an excellent job at wiping away Cambodian culture.

I will say, I never felt unsafe in Phnom Penh. There are definitely nice places to stay (like our beautiful hotel), and good places to eat and drink. We had a great few days here so I certainly don’t think the city was ‘bad’, but when we left for our next destination after 3 nights, I was ok to go.

One thing I was not ok to leave was the cat cafe we stumbled upon on our first night!

See that naked, perfectly posed cutie in the back? His name is Steamed Chicken. (hah!)

On a more serious note, we came to Phnom Penh with one main goal: visiting the killing fields.

As I mentioned in the Battambang post, there are killing fields and killing caves scattered throughout the country. These serve as mass graves for the millions of people murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Choeung Ek is the closest to Phnom Penh, ~15km (9mi) outside of the city and is thought to be the largest in the country.

Once an orchard, this field turned into a holding cell and killing area. People were brought here in trucks, held in wooden buildings until the time, and shortly after arrival killed. Most of the killings were by blunt force trauma with various items, or stabbing, as bullets were expensive to come by so they weren’t to be “wasted”. Anywhere from 15 – 300 people were brought at one time. One of the most harrowing accounts (from the audio guide – highly recommended) was the story of the music. In general, music was banned under the Khmer Rouge regime, but here they played loud music to drown out the screams of the victims.

Today, you can walk through the fields. Some mass graves have been blocked off with fencing, but most are just seen as depressions in the ground. To this day, bones, clothing, and other items can be found in the area.

Depressions in the ground are what remains of the mass graves.
Children were killed along side their parents to prevent future revolutions.

Now, the fields are home to a stupa (a type of memorial, in Buddhism) which houses the bones of those killed here. Those found have been analyzed by archeologists to determine the relative age and, based on the skull damage, with which tool they were murdered. They are arranged accordingly inside the stupa. A memorial ceremony is held here each year on May 9th to commemorate those who lost their lives.

The killing fields, like the killing cave, were definitely not an easy thing to visit, but the history of these places should be learned and remembered.

Our other main Phnom Pehn tourist attraction was the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace at night.

Lucky for us, we could literally see it from our hotel!

The Royal Palace is actually more of a Royal Palace compound. There are multiple buildings within the gates; the image above is the main pavilion where the King would address the public.

Inside the walls, there are a number of buildings which are used for state visits (dinners, ceremonies etc.), office spaces, Royal stupas (memorials to the royal families throughout history) and even the Royal residence of the King.

Other than that, we spent the rest of our time in Phnom Penh just soaking up our last days together!

Perhaps you’ve noticed in some of the pictures, but we’ve all been carrying fanny packs this trip – or FP for short. The FP idea started a few months ago in the SEA 2018 group chat – what’s everyone bringing? How much are you packing? What kind of bag are you taking? I, in passing, mentioned that Shane picked up an FP in the store (he says as a joke) but the idea was quickly vetoed by me. Ya know, nerd alert!

Fast forward to the first night of the trip.

Steve & Michelle – “We have a surprise for you!”

Sis & Terry – “Us too!”

THEY BOTH HAD FANNYS FOR THE GROUP!!

Sis & Terry found their fannys during their first stop in Koh Lanta, Thailand. They became our day-to-day packs.

Shane modeling his daytime FP in the tuk-tuk.

Steve & Michelle picked out each fanny to match everyone’s personality and these became our “Party Packs”. Which leads me to my next photo.

Terry WON the party pack game.

This picture was taken at dinner on our last night together. It was so realistic looking that the waitress COULD NOT look Terry in the eyes and just giggled every time she came to the table.

So – I would like to publicly say… I was wrong. Fanny packs are awesome and actually very practical travel accessories! It’s a great way to carry all your valuables, safely in a crowd.

We did manage to take some nice photos on our last night out, which ended in spontaneous karaoke at a non-karaoke bar and a handful of new friends.

Terry’s song choice you might wonder? A song that knows no global limits. Billy Ray Cyrus – Achy Breaky Heart.

And with that, our time in Phnom Penh and as a group of 6 was over. The next morning, with sad hearts (and slight hangovers) we said goodbye to Steve & Michelle.

Thanks for the memories, friends!

#YOBO (you only ‘bode once)

Next up, our foursome heads to Kampot, Cambodia!

Tot Ziens,

Whitney

Video: Southeast Asia 2018/19 – Part 1

One year, six months, and thirteen days. That’s how long it’s been since I (Shane) have written a blog post.

Why such a long break? Well, mostly I blame it on writing my PhD thesis – it consumed my life for the better part of two years. But I also blame it on us buying a GoPro. A couple years ago, I filmed us snowboarding in the Alps and then later compiled the footage into a mash-up of our trip. I enjoyed this enough that it more-or-less became a thing: Whitney blogged and I made videos. Granted, this doesn’t account for countless trips/posts without a video…but that’s not the point. The videos are just a fun way to relive the trip – our own version of ‘home movies’, if you will.

So this is how it went, until another faithful snowboarding trip last year, when I managed to lose essentially every electronic device we own. No more GoPro. No more videos.

That is, until now! For those following along, you know Whitney has been chronicling our recent trip to Southeast Asia (with lots more to come!). For this trip, I once again had my (new) GoPro in hand and we did our best to film it all. Now, my task is to condense four weeks of travel into a few videos; the first of which is now complete!

Obviously, there is more to come – I still have two more weeks of travel, corresponding to 25gb of footage! I’m still figuring out my new video editing software (Adobe Premiere Pro, for those interested), so the coming video(s) will (hopefully) improve. In the meantime, stay tuned for more posts from Whitney!

Until next time,

Shane

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang was one of my favorite days from our entire trip.

Views over the Battambang countryside.

Battambang is both a province and a city located about 3 hours west of Siem Reap.

Battambang city is the third largest city in Cambodia in terms of population size, but this isn’t what necessarily drove me to want to visit. When planning the trip, I found the Battambang Dream Bungalows and that was that. I needed to stay there. Luckily, there were no protests from the rest of the crew.

We were able to travel there by bus using the company Mekong Express. I would highly recommend them for getting around Cambodia if that is of interest to anyone. All the busses/vans we took with them were clean, you could book ahead online and reserve your seat, there was a bathroom break halfway, and they gave you a bottle of water for the journey. And despite a few mishaps which were out of their control (more on that later), they were more reliable and had nicer staff than the other company were forced to use later on.

“Small-bladder Sis” was excited for the bathroom break.

We arrived in Battambang city at night and had to take a tuk-tuk about 8km outside of the city to reach the bungalows. 2 tuk-tuks, 6 people, and luggage made for a squishy yet entertaining ride.

Despite our heavy load, the scooter managed to make it to the bungalows and we were greeted by the owners. We came here with no real plans; during dinner, the owner asked if we would like information about a tour the next day so we jumped at the opportunity! As I said at the start, this ended up being one of everyone’s favorite days from our entire trip.

The next morning we woke up to beautiful views of the rice paddies and the non-stop party music from a nearby wedding. I say non-stop because it started at 3am and went for a literal 24 hours. Apparently, wealthy Cambodians have a 3 DAY long party. Your average person, only one full day. Anyway, two tuk-tuks came to pick us up and off we go! First stop… bamboo sticky rice! Shane was thrilled.

View over the rice paddies from bungalow property.
Our chariots for the day.
We’re most attractive when we eat.

Since we told our guide we had sticky rice before we only stopped for a quick snack and went on to our next stop: rice paper! This was insanely cool and just really makes you appreciate the hard work that goes into food preparation. It’s so easy to be detached from where food comes from, but when you see a chicken outside that is probably someone’s dinner, or in the case of the rice paper, you realize someone sat for hours to make these, it really starts to put things into perspective.

Rice paper is made by first soaking the rice overnight in water, then it’s ground and the water filtered out through a cloth. The remaining mixture is put in small batches on a heated plate, covered with a metal lid to cook (long enough to get one going on the 2nd hot plate), then it’s removed and draped over the wooden (rotating) sticks. The 2nd person lays out the rice paper to dry on the bamboo sheet and when it’s full it goes into the sun for a few hours. Then, ta-daaa! Rice paper for delicious spring rolls (for example)!

We were also able to see how rice wine was made. Long story short, a lot of rice, heat, fermentation, wine! But don’t let “wine” fool you, this is no wine. This is 80 proof rice liquor, and to sweeten the deal it’s seasoned with cobra.

Yes, like the snake (poor buddy).

But, when in Rome Cambodia, right?!

Can’t say the cobra wine will become a staple in our house, but I think I (oddly enough) liked it a little better than the mango version.

Mango (right) and cobra (left) rice wine.

Now that we’ve been properly liquored up, it was time to head to the famous Bamboo Train! I had done some internet stalking before the trip, so I knew exactly what the Bamboo Train looked like and I was THRILLED to try it! As for everyone else, I’m not sure they really knew what to expect.

I mean, did you expect the Bamboo Train to be a bamboo platform with a motor on the back?

Ready for our ride on the Bamboo Train!

A quick history:

Back during French colonial times, a national railway system was built, but it was shut down during the Khmer Rouge. In the 1980s, after the civil war ended, the people of Cambodia used what was left of the tracks and spare abandoned parts from the war to create the Bamboo Train. It provided a quick way for locals to travel between villages through the countryside. I say quick because this bad boy can go up to 50 km/h (30mph)!

What’s this like, you ask? Click here to see for yourself!

As you might notice, there’s only one track but it goes in both directions! Soooo, what happens if you run into someone on your way? Everyone gets off one train, it’s taken apart, the 2nd train passes, the first train is put back together, and off you go again!

Shane and Terry assisted in the dismantling.
Starting up the train…

I will warn, even though our guide insisted that this train was “used by the locals!” it was certainly a tourist trap. Once upon a time it was used by the locals, but the only people we saw on the train were clearly tourists, and the train stops in a small village full of shops with t-shirts, drinks, and small children trying to sell you things. We came home with a lot of bracelets…

Is it touristy? Definitely.

Is it worth the $5 round trip ticket? Hell yeah!

So grab a beer before you board and enjoy the ride!

Next up, lunch! Yes, all this happened before lunch. It was a busy day. We requested somewhere local and authentic for lunch so our drivers took us to a lovely spot on the river, which also happened to back up to our after-lunch destination: Banan Temple.

Banan Temple was cool, but what I remember most about Banan Temple was the stairs… 376 to be exact.

Towards the top…

After the temple we went to our final destination, which was actually a 2 part event and probably the most impactful; partly due to history and partly due to nature.

Part 1: The Killing Cave

Yes, it’s exactly as the name suggests.

I don’t know if this was for immaturity and lack of caring about history or if this isn’t really taught in American schools, but I honestly don’t remember learning about the Khmer Rouge. None of us did. (Any high school history teachers want to comment?). My parents certainly remember it since they lived through it in the news, but we were very much nieve.

In case you’re like us and know very little – the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between 1975 – 1979. The communist movement came to Cambodia, similar to Vietnam, as they tried to free themselves of French colonization. In 1975 the communist regime, the Khmer Rouge, and their leader, Pol Pot, took over Phnom Penh (the capital) to officially begin their reign.

In an effort to make a ‘classless’ society, almost everyone from the city was sent out to the agricultural areas to work where if people didn’t die from the journey, they died from the hard labor, poor living conditions, and starvation.

Additionally, to make this “ideal” society, they stripped away all freedoms. No school, no gatherings, no religions, if you can think of it – it was most likely taken away. On top of it, all educated people were killed. Doctors, teachers, if you wore glasses – all were murdered. All in all, approximately 2 million people were killed during this 4-year time frame.

Which brings us to the killing cave.

There are many killing caves and killing fields, where mass murders took place, all throughout the country. This one, Phnom Sampeau, is located about 11km (7mi) outside of Battambang city. You had to visit with a guide, and as it turns out, our guide (and tuk-tuk driver) lived through the Khmer Rouge regime. He was separated from his parents at the age of 5 and never saw them again.

The picture above can’t even do it justice, but this was a deep cave. Here, men and women were brought to the opening of the cave at the top and hit in the back of the neck to push them through the hole and into the cave. If you were lucky, you died from the blow to the neck or from the fall. If you were unlucky, you survived the fall but had no escape. Our guide told us how people who survived the fall would essentially lay there, waiting to die while other bodies fell on top of them.

Absolutely unspeakable and completely unimaginable.

And while this wasn’t the most upbeat part of our day, it was certainly worthwhile to visit and necessary to learn. It really helps you understand the country as it is today.

Not the killing cave, but another nearby with a better hight perspective.

Part 2: The Bats!

Nearby to the killing cave is yet another cave, but with a little nicer story. This particular cave houses over 3 million bats! Every night about sunset the bats fly out to forage. This has become such a spectacle, that tourists and locals alike grab a drink and a snack, and line the streets to watch the bats leave the cave. It takes over an hour, by the way, for the cave to completely empty.

Naturally, we followed suit!

Better cover your beer or you might get an unexpected treat…

This was probably one of the coolest natural phenomenon (can I call it that?) that I’ve ever seen.

And with that, our tour of Battambang was complete! The day was long and jam-packed but worth every second.

With our fantastic tour guides / tuk-tuk drivers!

Next stop on the trip (and our final stop as a group of 6)

Phnom Penh!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Kompong Khleang, Cambodia

Our time to Siem Reap wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, the Tonle Sap!

Using Siem Reap as home base, we were able to take a half day tour of one of the floating villages located on the Tonle Sap lake. It sounds obvious, but one thing Shane and I try our best to do when we travel is to support the local economy. We try to stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, and use guides from the local community to make sure that our tourism dollars are actually supporting the place we’re visiting. Of course, this can’t always be done – lack of reliable information, budgets, etc. – but, generally speaking, finding a local tour guide is easy to do.

Accessible from Siem Reap, there are 4 main floating villages. In doing tour research, I found out that the closest village, Chong Kneas, is basically a tourist trap and essentially none of your money goes back to the locals. Scratch that one off the list.

I ended up settling on the furthest village (~55km; 35mi), Kompong Khleang, because of a “Community First” tour I found online. I really liked it because a person who actually lives (or in our case, grew up in) the village is the one who gives the tour, and all the money paid goes back into the village itself – to the school, to their clean water project, and of course to pay the guides. I also especially liked it because the tour included stops for snacks. Boy, do I love snacks!

So, as I mentioned before, our guide grew up in Kompong Khleang and he was eager to take us to his village. We were picked up at the hotel in the morning and headed off to our first stop – bamboo sticky rice!

Bamboo sticky rice cooking.

Rice, beans, sugar, coconut & coconut milk mixed together and is placed inside a piece of bamboo. It’s cooked over a wood fire for a few hours and presto-chango! A warm delicious treat! To get the rice back out, you kind of squish the bamboo with your hands and then you can peel it like a banana.

Group shot with our sticky rice!

Our next snack stop was more than just eating snacks. We actually got to see how the snacks were made! We tried doughnuts (see Sis pic above), ginger cakes – which tasted exactly nothing like ginger – and ice cream cones made from rice and sesame seeds.

Terry trying his hand at ginger cakes. Ginger cakes because they LOOK like ginger, not taste like it!
Time-lapse ice cream cone making (nonstop from 6am – 2pm every day.) Thanks for the video, Sis!

Now that we were sufficiently sugared up, we made our way to the lake. As I mentioned before, the Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. We happened to be there during the dry season (Nov. – May). During this time the lake is about 3000 sq. km (1150 sq. miles) and only about 2m (6.5ft) deep. During the rainy season the lake grows. I mean REALLY grows – to 10,000 sq. km (3850 sq. miles) and a max depth around 14m (45ft.).

Kompong Khleang is actually a stilted village. In the dry season you can see this, but in the wet season when the lake swells, the houses appear to float. Despite being stilted, we needed a boat to get around. So, we hopped in and headed to the Bridge of Life school, which is supported by the tour.

I would just like to take a moment to discuss this boat. Now, don’t get me wrong, never did we feel unsafe on the boat, but when you start noticing how said boat functions you can’t help but laugh and be amazed all at the same time. If you look at the above picture, straight down the middle to the back. That container? The fuel. The rudders? Connected with rope. Gas pedal like a foot pump. Hey, it got us from A to B and back again, but we were definitely not expecting it!

Anyway, back to the Bridge of Life school. We arrived when school was in session so we got to watch the last few minutes of school with the cutest kindergarten-aged kids in their matching school uniforms sing their closing day songs. Out of respect for the kids and their families, we didn’t take pictures of them, but I can show you their one-roomed schoolhouse precariously perched on stilts with floorboards I wasn’t entirely sure would hold all 6 of us adults.

The Bridge of Life school.
Inside the school.

Do you want to know what’s really cool? In America, we have school busses. In Kompong Khleang they have school BOATS! The kids who live further away are picked up and taken home in a school-boat! This really serves two purposes – it assures the kids will make it to school and it allows the parents to not lose income by taking time off to bring the kids.

On top of having school boats, this school is extra adorable. Ya know why? See the ramp going up to the school? One side has slats, for walking up. The other side is smooth, and it’s hard to tell in the picture, but the wood is extra smooth – shiny even. It’s for the kids to slide down when they leave! We got to watch this happen and they all loved it!

Terry and Steve trying out the slide.

Outside of teaching, the school does other things for the community as well. They have a sewing school (a useful trade) in the front of the building as well as their own water filter to provide free clean drinking water (and encourage reusing water bottles).

After the school, we walked around the village for a little bit then it was back on the boat for some more touring!

Kompong Khleang Village. During the wet season this would all be under water.
We passed truly floating villages on our tour.

After a few hours on the lake, we headed back to land and back to Siem Reap. Since we were home by early afternoon, we spent a happy afternoon by the pool and followed it up with the night market and infamous Pub Street!

And with that, our quick time in Siem Reap was up.

Next up, Battambang!

Tot Ziens,

Whitney

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Well, we’ve checked another continent off the world travel list!

Hello Asia!

We’re freshly home from our month of travel in Cambodia and Vietnam! Hard to believe that we were able to travel for a month – this was by far our longest trip. Also hard to believe it’s already over! I’ve decided to channel my inner travel blogger and split up the posts by location.

First up, Siem Reap!

But before we get there, I would like to acknowledge the fact that I checked off one of my lifetime bucket list items: flying on a double-decker plane!

That’s our plane!

Now, I’ll be honest. We didn’t really get to take advantage of the double-decker action on account of you need to be rich and were in that ‘economy saver’ section. But I did see the stairs that went up to the business and first class SUITES (yes, first class gets a suite and a shower) and we had to go up *count ’em* 4 STEPS to get to the bathroom, so that’ll do. I was also thrilled to get to fly Emirates since they are constantly rated as one of the top airlines in the world, and their flight attendants are just so so beautiful! Shane was thrilled because it was the first time when economy legroom was a non-issue. They were a little stingy on the airplane booze, but I guess that’s what you get when the airline’s country of origin (UAE) isn’t a fan of alcohol.

And that concludes my professional review of Emirates Airlines. (hah)

So! We flew from Amsterdam to Dubai, then Dubai to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From there, we needed to take an overnight bus to Siem Reap, where we would be meeting up with the rest of the group. For posterity & clarity I’ve mapped out our trip, and will be adding it progressively!

Now, having just landed in a new country with basically no sleep we decided that we would forgo public transportation to the bus station and opted for a cab instead. Walk up to the cab, show him the address and the bus company name. “Ok! ok! I know!” he says.

He did not know. We were dropped off at a market about 20 min walking distance from where we actually needed to be. Solid start. So, we start walking. Luckily we picked up a SIM card at the airport…

We’re walking, we’re chatting, there appears to be no bus stop in sight. Then, out of the blackness came!…

The sketchiest bus stop I’ve encountered (thus far – there were others, more on that later). A quick text to the group chat with the above photo – “uhh, we’re here. Hope we see you in 6-8 hours!”

And what did you learn when you’re a kid?

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

It ended up being an AWESOME experience and made us wish we were able to take advantage of overnight busses more on the trip! The bus itself was very nice. As you boarded you were asked to take your shoes off (to keep it clean) and given a bag to store them. Everyone had a bunk with a cubby at the end for storage. There were power outlets, free WiFi, a blanket, pillow, and bottle of water. Of course, it’s not luxury sleeping but it was only $15 per person for our “hotel” and transport. Giant Ibis, ya did good!

Our bus accommodation.

We reached Siem Reap around 5am and luckily our fantastic hotel let us check in as soon as we arrived!

Our first breakfast of Cambodia, for a whopping $3!

Now, funny story on the way to the hotel. As we would come to find out, tuk-tuk drivers are EVERYWHERE and very persistent. It makes sense, it’s their lively-hood, but as a Westerner who isn’t used to being haggled, it can feel pretty aggressive at 5am on limited sleep. We managed to walk out of the bus station with minimal “no thank you”, but about halfway to the hotel, we were stopped by a tuk-tuk driver asking where we were going, and if we wanted a ride.

I can’t possibly imagine why he would think we might want a ride…

In these situations, I love to defer all conversation to Shane. I mean, yay strong independent woman and all, but I am a sucker and a terrible negotiator. So, the guy asks if we want a ride, and when we say no he says “Are you planning to see Angkor Wat?”. Well, yes. “Do you have a driver?” We’ve been there for all of 10 min, so that was a no. After some more back and forth (“We’re meeting up with more people so we can’t decide now!”), we’ve given this random tuk-tuk driver our hotel name and a time to meet that evening to discuss tours. (Sorry Dad, didn’t tell you that part when we were there on purpose! lol) We decided if he showed up, we would hear him out.

Turns out, he did show up and he gave us a great deal and a GREAT tour of Angkor Wat! He is a tuk-tuk driver, but working on becoming a certified tour guide. *Faith in people restored*

As you can see, we started out this trip as a group of 6: me & Shane, my sister (Sis) & Terry, and Michelle & Steve (friends from grad school). I have to say, I am beyond proud of us for making this trip happen. Shane & I had always known we wanted to take a big trip after he submitted his Ph.D. thesis, and Sis and Terry had independently been planning for their year of travel, but the group idea was born over a year ago when we met up with Michelle & Steve in Venice. SEA 2018 started as a great idea, became an anthem, and turned into a (long-awaited) reality! So, the first day was spent anxiously waiting for the whole group to arrive!

Partial reunification and the first beer of Cambodia!
All together at last!

First up on the agenda,

Sunrise at Angkor Wat!

Up at 4am, out the door and in the tuk-tuk with a packed breakfast by 4:30am with a one-track mind for the Angkor Wat ticket office. A lot of online research suggested to get your tickets the night before to maximize the chances of you getting the best sunrise spot, but ticketing here is quite strict! You have to be physically present to buy the ticket because they take a webcam photo of you and add it to your pass. Since everyone was arriving at different times the night before, we weren’t able to do this. It didn’t matter because our driver was on it, and made sure we were the first in line!

Now, don’t get me wrong, the sunrise was beautiful. But all I had heard before we came was how sunrise at Angkor Wat was ‘life-changing’ and ‘top 5 things the’ve ever seen’. I just didn’t have that feeling. Perhaps it was too built-up beforehand. Perhaps it was the hoards of people enjoying this spiritual sunrise with me. If I were to do it again, I would skip the sunrise, or at least skip the sunrise over the main viewing area and head to a less occupied area of the temple.

Which brings me to my second point, call it naivety (and poor googling) but I (and I think the others as well) didn’t realize that Angkor Wat is just one of 50 temples in the region. Your pass (with your picture) gets you into all of these. And, Angkor Wat itself is huge! You could easily spend half a day just walking around this complex. We spent only about an hour here, and then headed on for 2nd breakfast and our next temple.

Now side-note. See this lovely monk down here. You can be blessed by this monk. Sis and I wanted to be blessed by the monk and we MISERABLY failed. Long story short, don’t be an asshole – take off your shoes if you step on any mats or you will get some serious dirty looks from a monk….

Ya live ya learn I guess. It was so physically painfully awkward (and we felt terribly guilty) that we didn’t make that mistake twice!

Next up,

Angkor Thom & Bayon Temple

Angkor Thom is the largest complex inside the Angkor archeological park, and the Bayon Temple is located inside it. I knew I was going to like it just from the entrance…


Honestly, I liked Angkor Thom better than Angkor Wat and that’s probably due to all the faces! They are so striking and definitley the first thing you notice as you walk up.

I’m not going to lie. After this, the temples start to get a little blurry. With so much to see it’s hard to keep them straight! So, please enjoy the following pictures of “the pyramid one”, “the Laura Croft Tomb-raider one” (which was actually in the movie, if you’re a fan!), and “the one we saw after lunch”. I apologize, temples, for not properly documenting your names.

Sis and TB were SO excited! WOW!

Just tootin’ around in our tuk-tuk!

Remember our tuk-tuk driver? The one I said who was working towards becoming a certified tour guide? For our final stop of the day, he took us to a surprise location, a location he said really meant a lot to him.

We ended up at the main Buddhist Pagoda in Siem Reap!

As it turns out, our tuk-tuk driver (who I’m just realizing we forgot to get a picture with!) was a monk for 2 years. But, alas, he fell in love! So, he decided to not be a monk anymore and got married instead. Regardless, his time as a monk meant a lot to him, and he was very eager to share his knowledge about Buddhism and various aspects of the pagoda. In Cambodia, 90% of the population is Buddhist and most want to become a monk (men and women). In a country racked with poverty (more on that later), to become a monk means that your day to day life is free – you’re given a place to live and food to eat. And, of course, the monks give back to their communities and make personal sacrifices; it’s a highly respected and coveted position.

So remember the monk that Sis and I offended with our shoes? Well, everyone else who (successfully) went to him for a blessing received a bracelet, in which he tied on your arm. Steve and Michelle went together, Michelle’s bracelet was on her left arm, Steve’s on his right. Later in the day, we saw another pagoda with monks performing blessings. Terry and Shane went together to be blessed since Sis and I was too humiliated to try again. As we were watching, we noticed that they were all just cracking up! We, of course, had no idea why. Shane came out with a bracelet on his right arm, and Terry on his left.

Well, it turns out, the bracelets have a meaning! I mean, of course they have meaning – for good luck or good health, etc – but when the monks give you the bracelet, as we learned from our tuk-tuk driver, the men get it on their right arm, and the women on the left.

Therefore, the women who blessed Shane and Terry assumed they were a couple, since Shane got a bracelet on his right arm and Terry on his left. Now if that’s not brother-in-law bonding then I don’t know what is!

The pagoda where Shane & Terry cemented their relationship.

And with that, our tour and first 24 hours in Cambodia was complete!

Next up, the floating village of Kompong Khleang!

Tot ziens,

Whitney