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Charissa' s Travel Journal

Day 11,12,13 - Phnom Penh to Chau Doc, Vietnam

VIETNAM | Saturday, 28 April 2012 | Views [1549] | Comments [1]

Wow! That felt like a very whirlwind trip Phnom Penh. I've haven't updated my blog since we arrived but I'm already on a boat headed for Chau Doc, Vietnam! 
Our trip to Phnom Penh started bright and early. Although it was an 8 hour trip the time seemed to pass by quickly. It helps when we have frequent stops to see interesting things. Our very first stop was at the oldest bridge in Cambodia, which was in relatively good condition considering its age. Snapped a few pics, waved to a few locals, walked across the large stone bridge and jumped back on the bus. The next stop was at a silk farm. The farm is run by a Vietnam veteran from America and his Cambodian wife. I was not very interested in visiting the silk farm as I've done it in a few places now but it was actually very good. The production of silk was on a much smaller scale here and the grounds were lovely. The poor girls weaving the silk must have been boiling though as they were in a hot room wearing skivvies and shirts over the top! Our guide said they do that because they want to protect their skin from the sun when they go outside. They all do that here which is very different to the Aussies who just whip everything off! After our tour we ate a homemade meal on the property which was pretty delicious. Everyones full bellies kept everyone quiet for the next part of the trip and went to sleep. I had a quiet chuckle to myself as I reached the rap part in 'Price Tag' and the bus went over a hugely bumpy bridge. I was bouncing and shaking all over the place with the perfect background music! Lol. 
We travelled through Cambodia's 'Fruit Bowl' region which the location of their largest fruit and vegetable production. When we stopped there and the doors opened we were absolutely swarmed by small kids trying to sell different fruit and vegetable. I was the poor sucker who got off the bus last and was followed by these kids everywhere I moved for 20 minutes. They followed me to get water, followed me around the stalls and even followed me to the toilet! They were trying to sell me things but were also quite inquisitive about my age, my skin, my rings and Australia. They followed calling out 'you're beautiful' over and over. But one little girl really wanted me to buy her bananas! When I got back on the bus without bananas she scowled at me and shouted 'you not buy bananas then you not beautiful anymore'. All I could do was laugh. The kids had cheek personalities though and were happy to have a joke around. Their English was very good considering they have little schooling. Also at this place we stopped they had the usual range of deep fried insects but they also had a speciality I hadn't seen in other places. They had live tarantulas everywhere and bucket loads of deep fried ones. Alex from our group tried a whole spider, yuck! Alesha had live tarantulas placed on her and she went as white as a ghost. I had all the kids shoving a deep fried bird leg in my face trying to get me to eat it but they didn't have a chance of succeeding! After that we only had one little stop to check out a rice field  and take a few pics. Bouna, our guide, gave us some palm tree fruit to try. In Cambodia palm trees are used for everything and the while tree is used. The fruit was round and flat and kind of tasted like a lychee. It was really messy to peel and I had juice dripping off my face and hands. The rest of the trip was slow and extremely bumpy due to the fact that the main road into Phnom Penh is not a surfaced road, ridiculous! As we drove along the river into the city we could very clearly see the watermarks on buildings from when it floods each year. The water reaches about the 3 rd story of all buildings. In the floods last year 300 people died and it is a similar number every year. 
When we arrived in Phnom Penh we had only approx 20 minutes to get settled and be down stairs for our Cyclo tour of the city. It was the most hilarious thing to see. The cyclos look like an oversized pram or wheelchair with the Cyclo driver sitting behind you. I clambered into the seat and tried to strategically place my dress so all of Phnom Penh weren't getting a peek of anything. It wasn't the easiest thing to do and in hindsight I should have thought to get changed. My uncovered knees and bare shoulders got lots of stares and unwanted attention all over the city! The tour was quite scary as I was just mixed in with the cars, motorcycles and buses. I thought I was going to be hit about 5 or 6 times! The scenery was great though and I could really see how much the French have influenced Cambodia. The main roads are long boulevards with strips of green lawn and trees. The river front is wide and paved alongside lots of green grass. Very nice. The 30 minute ride with the poor man pedaling his little legs in the heat cost a mere $3. I gave him $10. He didn't notice at first but after a minute he came running back to me and gave me a big hug. From his reaction I'm pretty sure I made his year! Everyone else was just standing there staring wondering what the heck was going on. It was very funny. We shot some snaps of the Grand Palace and then headed off for dinner. The food was great and was topped off with a yummy coconut ice cream from a bakery and ice cream parlour called Blue Pumpkin. 
Yesterday morning was a very interesting morning filled with sadness, disbelief and wonder. We had a guide for the morning who lost his two brothers and his paternal grandparents through the Khmer Rouge regime. The guide explained to us the massive impact it had on his family and their lives today. He is only the same age as me and he wasn't born in that time but it has still effected him. He took us to S21 Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. This was the location of a prison camp which housed 17,000 people who were tortured and killed by the orders of Pol Pot. Toul Sleng was once a primary and secondary school before it became the place of horrific events. Those selected to go to this camp were primarily people who were deemed intelligent which included teachers, professors and any person who wore glasses. The camp held men, women, children and babies. Of the 17,000 people who were held captive in the camp only 7 people survived. 4 of those who survived were infants and 3 were people that had a trade which the captures needed to help keep the camp running. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the survivors who is only alive today because he was a mechanic and was needed to help repair machinery at the camp.  He is 70 years old. The camp was awful and I cried for most of the time we visited. Blood stains still mark the floor from where people lay dying. Each cell is only 0.8mt x 2m and could house a mother and child. Large photographs of the torturers and there victims fill the rooms of the building. In some rooms there are photographs of the victims smiling. These photographs are from before they realized what was happening, when they were told they were being taken from the city to protect them from American bombs. Other photographs are of the victims laying bloody and dying in their cells. One wall is lined with photographs of smiling children and teens. At first I was sad at looking at these photos thinking that they were children who had been killed. Our guide quickly explained that these were children who had been trained to torture the prisoners. I couldn't believe it. These children beat people, smashed babies heads against trees, pulled people's fingernails from there fingers and cut womens nipples from their bodies with scissors. What really made me cry and feel sick was hearing how the babies were treated. There was a no noise policy at the prison and consequently the guards did not tolerate babies crying. The guards would tell mothers they would take the babies from them until they were quiet. The mothers would wait for their babies to return but they never did. The guards would drop the babies from the highest point of the buildings to the ground. I was so shocked and didn't want to see anymore after hearing this. In some rooms lay skeletons but I waited outside. It was all very confronting and upsetting to know that this situation was still occurring in my lifetime. Following the visit to the prison camp we visited the killing fields. It was horrible. A large memorial stands in the middle of the fields filled with the skeletal remains of those murdered, many of them from the camp. It is only one of 300 known killing fields in the country. Over time more remains have surfaced and have continued to and so as you walk around the pits you are standing on loose teeth, jaw bones, old clothing and other remains. We would never be allowed to walk on these things in Australia. It was a very interesting experience but also very chilling. It makes me feel very fortunate to have grown up in a peaceful country. I really can't believe that the disgusting things that Cambodian people were put through were commuted by their own people. I  learnt a lot about the history of Cambodia but there are just too many details to tell. After this I felt a bit yuck all day . We payed a visit to the Russian Market which was about 50 degrees inside and I almost passed out. I bought some lovely green silk though and a few Cambodian Khromas. I went to visit the Royal Palace which was very beautiful, particularly the silver pagoda which has a floor made of pure silver. When I initially arrived at the palace I got a big fright because I almost got whipped. A beggar in a wheelchair wanted money from me and then a man selling things came towards me asking me to buy something. The beggar got angry about the seller trying to take the money he wanted and a war broke out! The beggar quickly pulled a whip out from his wheelchair and both of them headed toward me. I screamed and ran but the seller followed me for protection. Consequently the beggar followed too m, smacking his whip and trying to catch us. I reached the palace gates and ran in to get shelter. Thank goodness I was safe, it was so scary! Following the palace a few of I've cooled down with an ice cream from Blue Pumpkin before heading to the Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC). The FCC is located on the river front in a lovely French style building. We headed for the rooftop where we had an amazing view, incredible food and some tasty drinks! I was in heaven when I followed dinner with a one hour foot massage (for $4)! 
...... Now I've arrive in Chau Doc and I'm impressed! The boat ride took about 5 hours. I was a little concerned when I saw how tiny our boat was but it was fine and we made our destination. We traveled down the Mekong and had to stop at passport control. It was quite scary to have to leave the boat in the middle of nowhere and climb onto a sloping and very unstable pontoon. We then had to scramble up the river bank on a very narrow plank of wood to have our passports checked (photos to show you when I'm home). I'm pretty sure Mum would have refused to get in the boat in the first place but they'd be no way she'd get out on that pontoon! The Mekong wasn't as impressive as the smaller side river we had move into to get to Chau Doc. The river leading to Chau Doc and the town itself is filled with floating houses which are more sturdy looking than those we saw at the lake. Chau Doc is mostly built around the river and seems pretty lively for a smaller town. The market is across from where we are staying and is filled with vibrant colours and smiling faces. The fresh food looks absolutely delicious and I found myself taking lots of pictures of fresh red chillis, the many tons of garlic and sacks filled with the most aromatic black pepper corns. I wish I could bring some home. Everyone here seems to be vey fascinated with me. At the market I walked with the others but people kept jabbering to me in Vietnamese like I knew what they were saying. I was asked how old I was over and over, some women wanted me to marry her son, others wanted photos with me and laughed historically and another tried to pass me their baby. I'm unsure why I keep getting targeted but I just smile and play along. The others are finding it very amusing. We took a rickshaw ride around town which was lots of fun and different to the Cyclo ride. We just had masses of kids come out of their homes waving and shouting hello, and then giggling when we waved and shouted back. I've got lots of pictures of kids waving hello! I really like Chau Doc and we even managed to squeeze in a drink at a floating bar and dinner at a very push waterfront hotel. Now I'm back in the room ready for bed but wondering if I'll be able to sleep with the all night karaoke right outside my window! 



What a moving experience it sounds like you had in Cambodia. Hope Vietnam is just as amazing. Enjoy the beef pho!

  Luke Apr 30, 2012 8:01 PM

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