Thursday, September 7, 2017

CAMBODIA 2017 - Traveling and Phnom Phen

When we arrived at the airport on Friday, March 17th, at 4:30 am, we were shocked to see the huge line at terminal one! We expected to see a long line at security, but this line was unreal! It continued all the way to the door past all of the baggage claim carousels! They only had one securitygate open. We had given ourselves an hour and a half window, but we knew with this line we would not make it in time. Jason decided to talk to one of the TSA people and they suggested we try going over to terminal two. That literally saved us! There was hardly a line at terminal two. It is very confusing why the workers didn’t start directing some of the other line to terminal two to balance it out! It was mind blowing. All I can say is, we are very lucky they didn’t because this way we were able to make it through security in time. However, when we got to the front of security, the TSA worker said they tickets Amy and Johnny had that they printed at home were not printed clearly enough. We couldn’t believe it. Johnny ran all the way back to the checked baggage area, reprinted it, and then ran back just in time to board. Our trip was starting off on a very stressful foot.

The biggest line ever for security!

Made it!

...and happy about it!

The unusual airport events continued at LAX as Amy and Johnny both had their bags opened and searched through. Very annoying. Of course, nothing was found. Due to the international traveling, we all decided we only wanted to do carry-ons.

Frazzled Johnny

Our flight from LAX to Shangai would be our longest flight of our multiple flight journey: SLC to LAX to Shanghai, to Phnom Phen. That flight alone would be 14 hours. We got so lucky to be able to sit by Johnny and Amy! We didn’t think that was going to be the case. It made it so fun! I was very nervous for this flight; I had never flown for so long. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep or might get motion sick and would be stuck on a foreign airplane. But it went so well and definitely didn’t feel that long. We had a great time watching movies from their large and good selection of edited movies. We also slept for several hours. Somehow I was fairly comfortable and the food was edible-to-decent. Amy’s unluckiness continued as the dinner meal ran out of beef right on her and she had to go with the seafood platter for her second meal.

When we arrived in Shanghai we had a layover of three hours. They had a self service booth for the international transfers. We all made it through except for Amy, of course. She had to wait in a new line that was forever long to get personal verification. She was very irritated to say the least. And the workers were SO SLOW! By the time we made it into the main airport it was dark.

Our flight to Phnom Phen was not as full. There were some empty seats around us so we were able to work it so we could sit by our spouses, otherwise we were all scattered in different rows. This flight was four hours. There was a delay though and it left an hour late. For the last bit of the flight I had a scare thinking I lost my passport, but was so relieved to find it in my other bag in the overhead compartment.

Our late departure was a little concerning since our ride was expecting us earlier and we didn’t have a way to directly communicate with him. But we were relieved to see that he had waited for us, even though it was late at night, and took us to Botevy’s orphange. Botevy was actually out of town for a few days and her daughter (Sunny) was supposed to let us in. When we arrived, it was locked and we didn’t have her number. After a few phone calls to the few other contacts Amy had in Cambodia, we finally got to Sunny and she opened the gate. Mind you this was 1:30 in the morning! We felt bad, but we were totally at her mercy. This was a new orphanage location than Amy visited last time. This street was pretty sketchy and creepy; we didn’t quite feel safe especially with it being in the middle of the night.

The next morning was Sunday. We woke up at eight and took a tuk tuk to our first Cambodian breakfast. Our driver for the day was Sa Lorn (spoken like Salone). He didn’t really know any English so we had to make several calls throughout the day to Amy’s friend Neht or Sunny to translate. On our way to breakfast we experienced first hand how insane the driving is in Cambodia! You basically have to expect that any car can turn, swerve, merge, at any time. There are tons of scooters cutting you off and going around you constantly. It is a madhouse! You wouldn’t think there were any traffic rules. Basically everyone has the right of way. If you expect that all of the drivers are going to try and squeeze through the fastest and easiest way possible, then you will be fine. The intersections are a complete joke. Everyone is merging in the center, but somehow people come out of it alive. It’s a miracle. For breakfast (when we arrived without any accident) we ate at a little shop just outside of Tuol Sleng. We had beef soup and seafood soup with noodles, and it was absolutely delicious!

Sa Lorn: our tuk tuk driver in Phnom Phen

In the tuk tuk


Complete with a beautiful (but not tasty) dragonfruit smoothie.

Another crazy site along the roads is seeing all of their power lines. It is like a nest of wires, just totally wound around each other and even through trees! It was nuts. It looks like a complete mess and potential disaster or hazard.

Tuol Sleng is the genocide museum in Phnom Phen. In 1975, Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge with the plan to create a form of agrarian socialism. His policies caused the forced relocation of the population, torture, mass executions, forced labor, and malnutrition, leading to around 2 million deaths! Tuol Sleng was a former high school that became a prison during this time. It was an execution center that killed all but seven of the prisoners by the end of the Khmer Rouge.

The museum, as you can imagine, was heartbreaking and haunting. It was SO SO sad and just horrible to realize (again from history) that humans can be so terrible to each other. It is so unreal that things like this really happen. We saw the classrooms turned into torture chambers and the rooms lined with cells that people were forced to endure the most horrible conditions. It was enough to make you feel sick and at the same time so blessed for the freedoms we have. Having this be our first Cambodian activity was perhaps not the best, as our first feelings were “Am I safe here?” Of course, we quickly learned the people are very sweet and nice, but there were small thoughts there at first that we might be in a scary, dangerous place.

After Tuol Sleng, we went to the Central Market. We had a fun time browsing all of the cheap knock-off things they had to offer. We ended up with some “Beats” bluetooth headphones and a “JBL” portable speaker. Shockingly enough they still work today with lots of use. At this market, there is a central area that is well lit and airy, but there are tunnels that branch off that are just packed with stuff and they are so hot! I should mention here that Cambodia is so hot and humid! I have never been so constantly hot, sweaty, and sticky. Just constantly wet. Most places do not have air conditioning, so being inside of these stuffy tunnels is pretty unbearable. You can only take so much before you are looking for the exit.

The center dome area

Shortly after leaving the Central Market, the tuk tuk broke down. Thanks to the many people who just stand on the side of the road doing nothing (perhaps hoping to sell whatever they are selling in the shop behind them) there were a bunch of guys right on the spot to help our driver. It was exciting to see this group of seven or so men hunched around the scooter, speaking in Khmer to each other, trying to resolve this problem. Before long, we were up and running again. We were reminded how nice the people are there. From there Sa Lorn took us to lunch for soup and noodles again.

I think I need to explain a little bit about these tuk tuks. These tuk tuk drivers are all over the city. You can basically find an army of them at any tourist attraction. They are basically scooters pulling a covered carriage. Usually they can seat four people on two rows facing each other. You can hire them like a taxi for a single ride somewhere, or quite often tourists can hire them for a full day for about $20. They take you somewhere and wait in the parking area until you are ready for the next destination, and so on. For lunch we felt it appropriate to pay for our drivers meal, since he was stuck with us all day, but after that he continued to sit with us every meal with the expectation that we would pay for him. Luckily, meals are super cheap there (we are talking $2-$3 meals and $1 mango smoothies) and it wasn’t a huge deal, but I’m sure a large number of tourists are suckered that way.

Our next stop was the Royal Palace. This place was sweet. There is so much history and culture preserved there. Definitely a different style than we are used to, but that made it all the more beautiful. We had a great time exploring the architecture, wall art, and statues. We also had a lot of great photo opportunities.

Next we ventured over to Wat Phnom. It was a temple on a small hill in the city. It was a smaller temple than what we saw at the Royal Palace, but the surrounding area had more of a garden jungle feel that was very beautiful.

Neht invited us over for dinner that night. Jason and I were happy to meet her and her mother. Her mother didn’t speak very much English so Neht translated for us, but she was the sweetest lady, just smiling and nodding. They completely spoiled us for dinner! There were several dishes including fish, rice, noodles, fresh fruit, just so much food! And it was all really good. We ate on the front patio/driveway area. We ate as the sun set. Before we knew it, it was time to go. We got home by 7:15 pm. After showering and settling in, we were all in bed by 9:00 pm. We were all so exhausted! The heat, the walking, the feet swelling, the jet lag, the time zone change, just everything made us very eager to fall into bed that night.

Neht and Amy

The next day was Monday and we left by 8:00 am on Sa Lorn’s tuk tuk once again. This time we requested somewhere with an American breakfast. We got an egg bacon croissant and a breakfast burrito. Our first activity was the Russian Market. And we thought the Central Market was hot, stuffy, and crowded! This place was a maze of claustrophobia! The heat was unbearable with everyone packed under the tin roof and no air circulation. There were also areas that sold food that brought intense smells. It’s a mystery how (and if) they keep the food fresh throughout the day in the high heat. Despite the discomforts, we enjoyed searching for souvenirs and experiencing the culture.

Cambodia is great for being cheap and taking American money, however, we learned the unique rules they live by. We learned that they don’t take ripped bills, in ANY way! The tiniest tear on the side will likely result in a failure of purchase. They want perfect, crisp bills. It is a strange concept when we will take bills in any state back home, but if everyone only takes perfect bills than accepting ripped ones would become useless and dangerous for them. We ended up buying Cambodia shirts for the boys and some knock-off sunglasses.

We did see packs of fake American money that some were selling at the market. We were in shock and horrified. They looked legitimately real, except for a small, inconspicuous space where it said “Copy”. The Cambodians know to look for it, but I wonder how many times people buy those and successfully use them in the U.S.? We never examine our money. It was nuts and a little sickening.

To escape the heat, we went to the Aeon Mall for lunch. We were pleasantly surprised by the great selection they had! They had lots of food that looked amazing at a good price! We enjoyed sushi and seafood soup in delightful A/C and a setting that felt very similar to home. After we ate, we explored the shops a little bit more, seeing more high-end and expensive things.

Next we headed to the river and went for a boat ride. No other tourists were there so we got the boat to ourselves. We had a good time seeing the outskirts of the city this way. We spent a good amount of the ride debating if we should attempt to fly the drone to get a bit of the city. We were unable to successfully communicate with the boat driver, so making a stop along the route didn’t appear to be an option. We were also a little nervous, not knowing the drone laws near the city. We did get a tiny bit at the end, but nothing worth much unfortunately.

Near the shore there are several restaurants. We picked one that had ice cream and mango sticky rice. Again, our driver was right there with us ordering whatever he wanted, with or without an invitation.

We headed back to the orphanage to spend some time with the kids. A lot of the kids spoke some English and enjoyed practicing with us Americans. The kids were very nice, well behaved, and pretty dang smart. They literally spend most of the day on studies. Botevy takes them to LDS church on Sunday. They also do cultural dance performances, practicing on their private stage next to the house. The kids help out with different chores and there is a lady there that teaches them and helps care for them. The kids sleep and live in a separate living area than Botevy’s family. The kids seem happy there and had a fun time dancing around with us and playing soccer with themselves. Jason loved watching them play. We also loved showing them the drone. When we took it off, we could see the neighbors peeking through the gate to see what all of the noise was. This type of thing must seem very alien to them! They took Amy and I upstairs on the rooftop to see the view of the city. It was pretty cool!

After resting for a bit at Botevy’s, Amy wanted us to try her favorite Cambodian dish: lok lak. It is dish of beef, rice, vegetables, and fried egg. We went to a great restaurant and the lok lak was very good! After eating, we went to get Neht and head to our group massage. I have never actually had an official massage before. This place Neht chose for being more “clean”, meaning she trusted it to not be scandalous. It was such a nice and interesting experience! They do Thai massages at this place. They gave us robe suits to put on and had all five of us in one room. We laid down on mats on the ground and the relaxation, and torture, began. These women were strong, working through our muscles using the weight of their bodies. Neht told us the women were talking amongst themselves about our garments, wondering if they were for compression purposes. There was one moment that we were all laying on our backs and the masseuses started crawling up our legs to get to the highest part of our thighs. I couldn’t help but feel ticklish and feel uncomfortable for Jason. I was laying next to him. He didn’t seem phased by it somehow, but I started laughing, watching the short and stout Cambodian woman slowly crawling up to his groin. It was hilarious! I couldn’t believe this was happening! Apparently I was the only one immature enough to find it funny. We all felt really good and relaxed after our full hour massage. The boys were certain the masseuses were trying to get them to grunt in pain while they worked on their calves. They really dug deep there! It was a great way to end another day of exploring and sightseeing. The next morning we would be heading to Siem Reap...coming in the next post!

Next post: Siem Reap - Angkor Wat and the Floating Village