So I’ve left behind my beloved travel buddy. It was actually like, the worst break up ever. Both of us stood outside the hostel crying while the taxi driver looked on thinking we should probably both be sectioned!! I know you’ll probably cry reading this but seriously, THANK YOU Ceri for being the best travel buddy ever!! As you said before – you made the good times beyond amazing, you made the “shit” times bearable and often absolutely hilarious and you are one of my most favourite humans ever!! I know Australia was a #bigstep for you but (and I hate to say I told you so) you’ve got it nailed already and I’m so proud of you! Can’t wait to come and visit you! 💕
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I picked up my new travel buddy Katrina, who I met in Pai at the bus station and our Cambodian adventure started with a surprisingly easy and fairly uneventful border crossing at Poi Pet. I have heard so many horror stories that I was geared up for an argument (well, ish…) with any of the officials over random extra payments for this or that but I handed over my $30 and that was that! Not even a funny or witty story to insert here – it really was as simple as that! Marginally disappointing I know! I didn’t even get to say “well this’ll be a good story for the blog.” 😑 We eventually arrived into Siem Reap and were given a “free” tuktuk to our hostel, Siem Reap Pub Hostel. Should have guessed by the name what type of place it would be and should have learned from 5 months in Asia that no tuktuk ride is free. We ended up committing ourselves to a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat with our slightly overbearing driver who refused to take no for an answer. At least we wouldn’t have to deal with him for another whole day. Rather than hanging around for too long at our hostel, despite the pool, we headed out to the night market and to have a wander around Pub Street. I thought I’d had enough of night markets but the one in Siem Reap was beautiful and I wanted to buy EVERYTHING. I resisted on the promise of “I’ll come back tomorrow” and hoped I would have my sensible head on by then and wouldn’t buy every single item I laid my eyes on!
The following morning was a 4am wake up call to get out to Angkor Wat for sunrise. Surprisingly, as promised, our tuktuk driver was waiting outside our hostel for us and off we went to buy our tickets and find our spot at one of the most famous temples in the world. The ticket queues were substantial considering the time but we had plenty of time and our driver seemed to be in no hurry. After parting with $37 for the one day ticket we headed back out in the road, because of course, why would the ticket office be anywhere near the entrance? We were dropped off and vaguely shown in the direction of Angkor Wat by our driver who it turned out was not going to be our “guide” for the day as promised but just our somewhat abnoxious driver. We were told by many people that this morning was the best weather they had seen in the past 2 weeks so we were super lucky. That said, it was still pretty cloudy so the sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped. In fact, I’m sad to say I was particularly underwhelmed by Angkor Wat in general. I may well be the only person that had ever said that but it just didn’t live up to my expectations and I had, after all, been spoilt by Myanmar. That said, it was still very beautiful and we enjoyed exploring the temples for the morning. I even got a blessing from a monk inside Angkor Wat and hope that my red bracelet continues to bring me good fortune as Lord knows I need it on this trip! 😂
After a few hours wandering around Angkor Wat we grabbed a quick bite and some much needed coffee before finding our driver who was less than impressed with us. He lectured us on how he had been waiting for over an hour us to take us to breakfast. He was even more cross with us when we told him we had already eaten and so stormed off in a strop. Too tired to care or argue, we got in the back of the tuktuk and asked him to take us to Bayon Temple, as we had paid him to do. He no longer liked us so no longer spoke to us! Not awkward at all. When we arrived at Bayon I had got the reaction I had been hoping for. I was completely blown away by its beauty and detail – it really was like something out of a sci-fi movie. I don’t know what has happened to my brain as I can’t quite seem to find the words to describe it – but here is a picture for you to make up your own mind.
The Khmer temple, which is believed to date back to the 12th Century is full of carved stone faces, multiple levels and walkways and plenty of history. This really was the highlight of the day for me, despite everyone telling me the best way yet to come – Ta Phrom, AKA the Tomb Raider Temple. We stopped and had a wander around Angkor Thom before leaving.
After another silent tuktuk ride with our driver still behaving like a 12 year-old, we arrived at Ta Phrom and it was like literally arriving in a film set. There were hoards of people crammed into the place, cameras and selfie sticks being swung around in every direction and constantly being barged into by inconsiderate (Chinese) tourists. Why take 1 selfie when you can take 827389492648593? Although the temple was beautiful and spectacular in the way in which it had been taken over my Mother Nature, the experience was somewhat spoilt by the sheer volume of people. I say this not to discourage people from visiting, because it truly is spectacular, but just don’t expect the place to be quiet, even at stupid o’clock in the morning.
By the time we managed to find our way out of the Tomb Raider Temple we were both pretty exhausted and over it so decided we would ask to be taken home. Luckily for us our driver was still being an arrogant git and so announced when we arrived back at the tuktuk that our day was over and he would now be taking us home. Even had the cheek to ask us for petrol money! For once in my life I held my tongue, got in and went home without argument. It pained me! 😂 We spent the rest of our afternoon lazing around the pool and eating more delicious gelato because well, we just couldn’t help ourselves. We also had to decide where we would be heading on our next adventure, but not being too keen on making grown up decisions we resorted to a 5 baht coin, now known as The Decision Making Coin. It’s fair to say it served us well and the first decision it made was that our next stop would be Battambang, tomorrow morning. We arrived and checked into our dorm room which was hotter than actual hell. Despite the 2 pathetic fans on the ceiling, it was still about 10 degrees hotter inside than outside! We decided to head out for dinner in the hope that it would cool down while we were out! We had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant called HOC Cafe which supports a local orphanage called Hope of Children. Although fairly cheap, the food was absolutely delicious and we were absolutely stuffed!! The honey chicken was absolutely divine!! On our way home we stopped to watch a group of locals playing bowls on the street corner. Although we had no idea what they were saying (probably something along the lines of “Why are these 2 weird white girls watching us?”) they were quite happy for us to watch and take a few photos while they played. The people of Cambodia are far friendlier than I was lead to believe – always smiling, friendly and helpful, the exception being our tuktuk driver at the Angkor Temples. The following morning we set off on our next Cambodian adventure – the famous Bamboo Train. Our lovely driver picked us up in our carriage for the day and headed out, but not before stopping to see his family home and meet his family along the way. We arrived at the “station” in O Dambong to await our train carriage for this unique journey through to O Sra Lav. Our carriage was a battered old bamboo platform that was literally laying in the bushes at the side of the track until they decided it should probably be used. It was picked up out of the hedge and dropped onto a pair of wheels and the only thing that held the 2 together was the rubber belt that looped around the rear axel and through the very questionable old motorbike engine.
Thankfully the broken bamboo platform had cushions else there was no way we were getting on it! Safety first!! 🙄 For $5 each, we clattered through the countryside on the old, warped and very disjointed tracks for about 30 minutes to O Sra Lav where we were met by the most fierce sales people of all time – small children. I got off the train determined I would buy nothing. I got back on the train with 8 bracelets. 🤦🏽♀️
After a lovely morning in the glorious sunshine, we headed back into town for some lunch and Air Con. We would be heading back out later in the afternoon with our lovely driver to the Killing Caves and the famous bat cave. After the worlds sweetest and most fattening coffee ever, we hopped back in our tuktuk and headed out to the Killing Caves – a chilling prelude to what we would encounter in the coming days. Our driver stopped along the way in case we wanted a snack but we politely declined……We were also lucky enough to encounter this little guy on the way – seeing him play like this made my heart so happy!!
We decided to walk up the mountain for a bit of exercise and once there we were met with a fairly graphic depiction of the type of torture that took place here. People were tortured and brutally murdered, their bodies tossed into the cave under the rule of the Khmer Rouge – all as recently as 1970. Such horror surrounded by such beauty just doesn’t seem right – the views from the top were just stunning. As we descended into the cave itself we found a large glass case full of just some of the bones that have since been recovered from this cave. A gruesome reminder of just how unrelenting the Khmer Rouge were during their time in power.
The cave has now been turned into a temple with a reclining Buddha in the hope of bringing some peace and tranquility to the area. We finished off our Battambang adventure day with a nice cold beer at sunset, at the mouth of the famous bat cave, where at dusk, somewhere between 6 & 7 million bats come out to feed. For 2 whole hours there is a constant stream of tiny bats flying out of the cave – it really is a sight to see!
Our Battambang adventure had come to an end – tomorrow we would be heading to our next destination Phnom Penh, which we were equally excited and nervous about. We arrived at our beautiful hostel, Billabong Hostel and we spent the afternoon lounging around our pool! We had our first visit to Mad Monkey that night and ended up in some grotty night club where I was at least 10 years older than everyone else in there! I should have learned my lesson with Mad Monkey that night but no such luck! After dragging our asses home at 4am we had a few hours sleep before getting up for one of my worst days I’ve had since I left home.
Today was the day we were visiting the S21 Museum and the Killing Fields. I was only vaguely aware of the history surrounding these places but had heard the stories along my travels and it’s fair to say I was dreading it. People have since asked me if I would “recommend” visiting these places but that’s a question I cannot answer. It’s not the type of place you would recommend as such – it has to be a decision that you make for yourself as to whether or not you want to (or are mentally prepared to) gain the true understanding of the atrocities that took place in these two places and across Cambodia. The S21 Museum, also known as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was once a high school but during the Khmer Rouge Regime was turned into a secret torture prison, housing as many as 20,000 prisoners between 1975 and 1979. All but 7 prisoners were tortured and executed here for what was essentially no reason at all. They were executed for being professionals – doctors, scientists, teachers, executed for being related to any one of the above mentioned, executed for wearing glasses. The list was endless and unrelenting. Entire families were wiped out based on the belief that they were “educated” and therefore a threat to the Khmer Rouge and their ideaologies. You walk around the museum listening to an audio tour and your own thoughts. Take your headphones off and there is an eerie silence throughout. A mark of respect perhaps…or silence from utter shock and devastation at what went on here. Prisoners were kept in tiny makeshift brick cells with no fresh air, very little day light, no food or water and in complete silence. They were systematically tortured into giving information that they knew nothing about. If they cried out during torture, they were tortured more. As they neared death, they were given the most basic and crude “medical attention” for the sole purpose of being kept alive to be tortured further. These stories broke me. They shatter your faith in humanity. How can one human do this to another – let alone thousands? It’s something I just cannot fathom! Hearing the court transcripts from the murder trial of Kerry Hamill, a Kiwi sailor who was captured off the coast of Cambodia in 1978, reduced me to tears. I was done – my heart couldn’t take any more. Whilst being tortured into a confession for something he knew nothing about, he used false (very famous) names to send secret messages to his family, letting them know he loved them. I left that place in bits but I knew it would only get worse this afternoon. A short distance outside of the city we arrived at the Killing Fields. Again – complete silence. An instantly noticeable uneasy feeling to the whole place and it has to be said, a fairly unpleasant smell. Even if you knew nothing about this place or even its name, you would know good things did not happen here. I wasn’t sure I was ready for this…but if we don’t learn about these things when we have the chance, we will never know how to change the future. The audio tour takes you around the various parts, showing the site of the truck stop where victims were dropped off, where they were interrogated and eventually the mass graves where thousands upon thousands were bludgeoned to death and thrown into the dirt. They weren’t shot – because that would be quick, relatively painless, cost too much money and the sound of gunfire would attract unwanted attention. Instead their skulls were smashed with whatever weapon was available at the time. Possibly the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching place was the “Killing Tree” where babies and small children would be swung by their feet and their heads smashed into the tree then tossed into the nearest mass grave. Again, just to add to the pain this would be done in front of their mothers. This place is so full of horrors you just can’t imagine. The graves, which are all fenced off, are covered in thousands upon thousands of colourful bracelets – left by visitors and tourists as a mark of respect. Bracelets hang from the bark of the Killing Tree which still remains standing – despite all it was “responsible” for.The final stop on this horrific tour was the memorial constructed to honour all those killed here. The stupa contains over 5000 human skulls, each with visible injuries showing how that person died. Whilst I fully appreciate the need to remember and honour all the victims, displaying their skulls did not seem like the way to do it – in my opinion at least. I understand that death is treated very differently in Asia to the rest of the world but it is still difficult to see.
After a truly horrific day I really had nothing left in me but to go home and lay either by the pool or in my bed. Tomorrow was a new day and the start of our island adventures to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. The decision making coin had been flipped and we would be heading to Koh Rong Samloem first – the smaller if the 2 islands. The decision making coin also decided that we would be staying at Mad Monkey. 😑 A bus, a tuktuk, another bus, a ridiculously bumpy but really fun ferry and a long boat later, we arrived on Koh Rong Samloem. We checked into our bamboo hut named “Teak” which vegan Katrina initially thought was called Steak! 😂 The only thing to do next was head out to the bar, chill out and watch the sunset. We even managed a little swim out to the hammocks in the water but we didn’t want to expend too much energy so we lay there for ages! A nice chilled out dinner, a few drinks and hanging out with some new people and a pretty ace fire show on the beach. A late night dip in the phosphorescence was the perfect end to a pretty ace day! Shame it wasn’t to be continued. God damn effing bed bugs AGAIN! Place was riddled with them! By now you all know my thoughts and feelings on bed bugs so I won’t bore you again with the details. I spent that night sleeping on a bean bag on the floor of the bar. 😑 Day 2 on Koh Rong S was a total write off due to bed bug induced rage and severe lack of sleep. I spent the day lazing around in the sea hammocks, eating, drinking and snoozing where and when I could. The decision making coin had a lot to answer for! We were reassured by the staff that the issue would be resolved for this evening so we should have a restful nights sleep. That was not to be. After a thoroughly entertaining evening spent completely spanking the Aussie boys at cards we tried to go to bed again only to discover the bed bugs still firmly in place. Yet another nights sleep on the floor of the bar. I could not wait to get to get of this damn island!! So with 10kgs of laundry between us, we got back on our long boat to head back to the main bay to get the ferry back to Koh Rong. We sat and waiting in the restaurant,as we were told, and watched the boats come and go – all of which we were told were not our boats. Time was ticking on and when we went to ask someone different what time our ferry would be here we were told we had missed the last one and there was only one final boat for the day – the inter-island supply ferry. The Cambodian Islands had been one big car crash for us so far!! When the supply ferry eventually arrived we hurled our bags on board and got on wanting nothing more than to just get to our “nice bungalow” and chill out for the evening. Again – it was not to be. 2 and a half hours on this bloody ferry – stopping off at every resort and jetty it could find – delivering everything under the sun from beer to cement. All that said, I’m grateful we did get on this particular supply ferry as this was where we met Pudding – our tiny little ginger kitten that had somehow became separated from her mother and found her way onto this dilapidated old ferry. She was so tiny and so skinny and jumped straight in my lap and curled up and went to sleep. Now as most of you know I’m not a huge cat lover – but how could anyone not fall in love with this tiny little ginger soul. She was so content with us and happily climbed between Katrina and I for the entire ferry trip.
When we came to disembark, we knew we couldn’t leave her! So I carried her down from the top deck and asked the boats captain if the kitten belonged to him. He vehemently shook his head. When I asked if I could keep her he looked delighted. So just like that, we came to adopt Pudding, our Cambodian kitten. She was very comfortable when she moved into our “nice bungalow” with us – even though the bungalow was less than nice. More of a mouldy old shack with very questionable safety or stability but it would do for now – especially as we turned out to spend very little time there. While I stayed home to make sure Pudding settled in (and didn’t run away through one of the many holes in our walls) Katrina went out to source some cat food for her. What she got was a tin of tuna – spoilt already!! She snaffled down a quarter of a tin without even coming up for air – she was clearly starving!! As soon as she was full she jumped up on top of my backpack and curled up and went to sleep! Shame the same could not be said for us. Tonight was birthday eve for me and I wanted a nice early night so that I could fully enjoy my entire day tomorrow. Alas – at 10pm I was forced out of my pyjamas and out the door to the “All Night Police Beach Party.” No – it was not a work do – the beach is called Police Beach and it has a very questionable open air “night club” there which had an all nighter every Saturday! We had a few drinks along the main beach and I was coerced into spinning the dreaded wheel at one of the bars. Pay $1 – spin the wheel and claim either your free drink/s or forfeit! Now we all know my luck….especially on this trip!! Reluctantly (and without paying – hey, it’s now my birthday!!) I span the wheel and of course…it lands on “Hurricane.” A delicious cocktail I hear you say? NO! They take you outside to the beach, make you do a shot, then you have to spin round 5 times on the spot. The bar man then throws a pint of water in your face and then slaps you. Now whilst I’m all for a laugh – I’m definitely not up for getting assaulted…on my birthday! One of the Irish boys took one for the team and did my hurricane for me…call it a birthday gift! After many more birthday drinks we eventually made it (somehow) to the beach party. We had THE BEST night covered in face paint and glitter, dancing and drinking the night away. Before we knew it the sun was starting to come up so we headed down to the sea to watch. With a beer in hand, glitter on my face (and everywhere else for that matter) and a heart so full, on my birthday I watched the sun rise whilst dancing in the rain. Also on FaceTime to Stevie & Matt Weldon but the less said about that the better! 😂😂 We had an epic night which meant we slept the day away entirely – but I was kind of OK with that – it was totally worth it!!
When we eventually made it out of our bungalow again after many hours of saying “we should get up now” and “do they have Uber Eats here?” We got a very late lunch and before we knew it we were back in the same bar as last night – playing in an extensive Beer Pong Competition. It was long, got very boring very quickly and to be quite frank, we were terrible. I have seemingly lost my skill, developed 3 years ago on Fraser Island playing cocktail pong! Needing to be relatively sensible tonight and to get home for the cat, we called it an early ish night and headed home. Tomorrow we would be going to our next and final Cambodian destination, Kampot. Another ferry, another bus and another tuktuk, all with Pudding in tow, we arrived at Arcadia, a small hostel famous in Kampot for its fairly extensive yet very questionable “water park.” After blagging our way in with a little help from the Aussie boys, we spent our time doing things like this:
Yes – that is me, sailing through the air like a rag doll after being jumped by 2 fairly hefty Irish rugby players. Feels like something of a metaphor about my life but we shan’t go into that now. After 1 night and a morning of fun we moved to a different hostel in town called Karma Traders, where we hoped that they would adopt Pudding and she could have a happy home. Sadly it was not to be as they already had a number of cats living there. Pudding would be staying with us for a little longer.
Our final day in Cambodia we spent buzzing around in our hired scooters, up round the winding mountain roads and out to watch the sunset at the stunningly beautiful salt flats. As if the sunset wasn’t beautiful enough, to see it reflected in the mirror like water was something really special! An absolute treat for our final Cambodian adventure.
PS. If you would like to help us bring Pudding home, please read our/her story here: