Tuesday, March 8, 2011


by Kara

Ever since the seemingly never-ending, bitterly cold winter last year Mark and I have been dreaming about taking a vacation to SE Asia and that dream came true last month! We spent about two and a half weeks in Cambodia and Thailand. It felt so good to be in warm weather again and we practically felt naked at first walking around in only one layer of clothing and revealing so much skin in shorts and tank tops. We spent our time in Cambodia focusing on seeing the historical sites – memorials and museums in Phnom Penh and the ancient temples in Siem Reap. We did some more site-seeing in Thailand and also spent some time relaxing at the beach. Thanks to Mark’s very thorough planning everything went really smoothly. It was exhilarating to be in new countries again, seeing, smelling, and tasting so many new things for the first time. That’s the quick summary, but below are more details about our trip.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Our first stop in our trip was Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We only had one full day to explore the city. We started out the morning by roaming around the streets near our guesthouse. Wandering around in a new city, hearing Cambodian, seeing thousands of motor bikes zooming past us, smelling the aromas of the street vendors’ food, I was immediately filled with a rush of excitement over being in a new country. I haven’t felt that way in Mongolia for a long time now – as we are not just tourists traveling in Mongolia, we are living there. There’s something really exhilarating about exploring a new place.

We hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to the popular tourist destinations for the morning. We went to the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum. I was shocked to realize how little I knew of Cambodia’s history, specifically, about the Khmer Rouge. The Killing Fields were where the Khmer Rouge took thousands of people to kill them and bury them in mass graves. The Tuol Sleng Museum was a school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a place to torture people. It was very difficult to see this and contemplate how human beings can do these things to one another. There were still blood stains on the walls and floors of the museum and there were skulls and bones at the fields. In addition to the deaths that took place at these places we learned that many people died from starvation, disease, and forced labor during the rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). Nobody is exactly sure how many people died but estimates are 1.5 to 2.2 million people – out of a population of 8 million. That’s 1/5 to 1/4 of the population. I could spend way more time talking about this… Obviously it was a very sobering start to our morning in Cambodia. Later that day we moved on to the National Museum, the Central Market, and some more wandering around town.

Our tuk tuk driver and his friend.

I know it's weird to post this picture, but this is what is at the museum that was once the killing fields. These skulls and other bones were unearthed from mass graves.

The Khmer Rouge heavily documented information about the people the tortured and killed. These are photos of the victims at the Tuol Sleng Museum.

The National Museum

The view outside our guesthouse -- look at all that green!!!

Siem Reap, Cambodia
The next day we left to go to Siem Reap via bus. We got there in time to see the sunset at Angkor Wat and hired a tuk tuk driver for the next day, beginning with the sunrise at the same location. Unfortunately, it was so cloudy that we couldn’t really see the sunrise… but at least we got an early start to the day (leaving our guesthouse at 5:30am) and got to see some of the other temples before the rush of tourists. These ancient temples, built in the 12th century, were definitely a highlight of the trip. They were one of those historical sites and major tourist destinations that actually lived up to all the hype.

We finished our morning tour pretty quickly and got back to our guesthouse by noon. What had started as a wonderful Valentine’s Day, one that I had said would be very hard to top in the future, took a turn for the worse. We suspect we got some form of food poisoning or something from the water. We were stuck in our beds for the rest of the day with headaches, body aches, fever, chills, stomach cramps, and diarrhea – diarrhea that decided to stay with us for almost the entire trip. We were disappointed to have to waste so much of a day stuck in bed.

Though only feeling a little better, we stuck to our travel itinerary and took off at 6:00am the next morning to head to Thailand. In Mark’s very thorough research he had read online that getting from Cambodia to Thailand can be a bit difficult, but we had no problems at all. It helps that our travel standards are pretty low after dealing with travel in Mongolia – unlike some of our fellow passengers on the trip. When the microbus driver tried to fit one extra person on the bus a passenger started yelling at him and saying that was completely unacceptable. We laughed, thinking that in Mongolia, we would’ve easily had an additional 10 people in the bus. We also got stuck at a gas station with car problems and were forced to wait for over an hour which led other passengers to loudly complain, “What are we going to do!? What’s your plan?! Are we going to camp out overnight here?!”, yelling at our innocent driver after only a half hour of waiting. Lovely. However, he got it back up and going and we headed on towards Bangkok.

Angkor Wat

Monks at Angkor Wat

It seemed much steeper in person than it appears in this photo.

Giant trees taking over the temples (that's me if you can't tell)

Mark enjoying a delicious meal. Who knows, this might have been the meal that got us sick.

The sign read: "Dr. Fish Massage - Have you ever seen the fish can massage?
If our fish can not make you happy We'll not charge. Don't miss the unique experience.  $3"
How could we resist? It ticked like crazy at first. It wasn't quite like the pedicure we were promised, but it did make us happy.

Posts about Thailand coming soon.

1 comment:

Mike Fiechtner said...

That's funny about the people complaining on the bus ride! In Kenya Mandy had a woman sitting on her lap for 5 hours of an 8 hour trip. They definitely cram them in in Kenya! Hope you guys are well! Love the pictures!