Postcard from the Southeast : a travel journey (Part 2 - Cambodia)

Thursday, 27th December 2014

We woke up at 5am in the morning to take our chartered van to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  We shared the van with 5 other passengers from India.  The outskirt of Thailand reminded me so much of the outskirt in Indonesia, although it was much tidier.  We also made a few stops on petrol station.  Some of the toilets were dirty, but they had a pretty good coffee stalls (weird correlation).

The journey continued until midday, and we stopped at a guesthouse/breakfast place/whatever nearby the border.  The driver/guide told us that we needed to change bus.  It was confusing, as we assumed that we were going to take the same van to Siem Reap city and dropped onto our hotel in Siem Reap.  We called our Bangkok hotel which had made our booking, seemingly, that is the only procedure we will go through.... and they did not communicate it clearly.

After 30 minutes stop, we were back in the wheel for 5 minutes to reach the border of Thailand and Cambodia.  We were advised to change our dollar into baht/southeast asian currency so that we can exchange it to Cambodian Riel to shop at Siem Reap... which I learnt, not really necessary.  Because USD are eligible currency in Cambodia, and a friend had told me that before, and why the heck was I changing all my 100 USD to Baht and then later changed it to Cambodian Riel?!

Cambodian welcome gate
We walked by the land border and I think it had no enforcement at all, as people like construction workers, drink vendors,  may walk freely in between the border.  Maybe the did have enforcement or sort of although maybe it was low, very low.  Though the immigration officer were friendly, by greeting us "Selamat Sore" as they knew that some of us are from Indonesia.

The journey continue and we were at the Poit Pong town, a town nearby the border of Cambodia and Thailand.  The atmosphere was slightly different between two countries.  Cambodia reminded me of rural city in Indonesia.  They burnt trash out the open (just like in Indonesia), my HK friend was surprised that they actually do that.  The car used right-handed steer.  The Cambodian alphabets are more cursive and the gap from one letter to another was close... at least that is what I learnt when I passed certain billboards in the town.

Otw to Siem Reap
Our car got stucked :(
In every trip, there must have been an unpleasant experience that might have happened to you, well then for the group of 5,  I was the first to experience it.  I said, "I take one for the team."

After exchanging my baht to riel, I only put a stack on my wallet and the rests I put on my backpack.  I had 20.000 Riel and 200 Baht and few ringgits.  I walked into the store where the driver stopped us to buy food and had a restroom break, and I was looking for public telephone to use.  The shoplady was very excited to see me walking to the store, and I asked, "Is there any public telephone to use?" because I wanted to call the hotel in Siem Reap which I had booked through the owner via Facebook.
Lady, wherever you are... this is for you
Without saying yes or no, she complimented me. "Are you from Philippines? Oh your skin are so pretty."

First, I am not from Philippines, but I am always flattered if someone guesses that I am from Philippines, simply because they sing so good, they are warm people with funky accent in Southeast Asia.  Second, no, my skin was at the worst state during the trip.  I had been exposed to the sun a lot.  I had sunburn.  So, this shoplady, was asking for my phone, and I made it clear to her, "Miss, I do not want to buy any phone number."

...Although, I knew that it was not helping.  She inserted an Axiata sim card onto my phone and asked me to pay for 60.000 Riel.  Holycrap.  That is like 20 USD or Rp.146.000 .  That amount can pay an entrance fee to Angkor Wat!  I could not believe that I would have to spend one tenth of my weekly allowance in the first hours I arrived in Cambodia.  Crazy shit.

Luckily,  I brought less money and I paid with whatever I had left.  The shoplady looked disappointed and she even shouted to the other shopkeeper in whatever language they were speaking.  I said. "Is it okay with you?"... and I knew that I shouldn't have asked that.  I should whacked her muay-thai style instead.

She said it was okay.  In a way, she did not get the full amount of money she asked and I felt glad too that I was in other way, scamming back the shoplady.

Anyway we went to continue our journey passing through beautiful landscape of paddy field.  Not until, the spare tire of our van dropped and dragged us along the road and I decided to take this picture to commemorate the first scam in the city, completed with my two comrades photobombing it.

We arrived clueless at Siem Reap city as we were stopped by a random hotel with some tuk-tuk drivers.  We took 2 tuk-tuk to get us in a city center.  Those tuk tuk drivers were giving us outrageous over.  One tuk tuk for 2 person costed 12.000 Riel while another one which was carrying 2 of my friends and I costed 20.000 Riel.  So if each person needed to pay 3.000 Riel than our tuk tuk must have costed 18.000 Riel.  But the driver refused, then we paid anyway because we were so tired and needed to go back to hotel.

I managed to call the hotel and asked them to collected us.  After another miscommunication, we were picked up from our current location which was at the Sokimex petrol station near the Siem Reap city square.  Previously, they waited on the Sokimex petrol station at the center market, which was actually not far.

Siem Reap itself is a historical city I suppose, and it glorifies so much on Angkor Wat, their main tourism site.  You can see Angkor Wat outline on the light banner around the city.  But outside the Siem Reap city square, the rests of the city is like a rural town in Indonesia.  It reminds me so much of my father's hometown in Kuala Simpang, Aceh.  But for us, Asian who grows in similar, rather poor environment, this is no surprise, but for tourists who came all the way from The States or Europe this is something new to see.

Well for me, everywhere I go is a comparison between one culture to another.  It shows that there is a lot for my country to improve, and things that we, Indonesians should be thankful of.  One thing to learn was that most of Cambodians are fluent in English, maybe because they were educated from early years to learn English to help on the tourism.

We arrived at the hotel for a short while, and we were greeted by the staff and the owner whom I booked the hotel with.  We got 2 rooms with A/C and double bed, and 1 room single bed with fan... supposedly the single room was equipped with A/C, that's what I booked but it seemed like they did not block my booking and that's what we had.

Eventhough the hotel was unlike the ones we stayed in Bangkok, with its boutique feeling.  It was just a regular house, probably as big as my house in Palembang which they divided into rooms, but it was okay and clean.  Reasonable enough.

At nigh we wandered around the city.  Tried a local BBQ of quail birds and duck.  They were fantastic.  I still can remember the flavor by now.  However, at the end of the dinner my stomach churned, because I took too much of lime salt, which my God tasted so awesome!

selfie with the BBQ

Night Market

From the BBQ we went to the night market and saw a glimpse of it.  It certainly the happening place in town.  It has shops, eating places and bars.  We ended the night quite early because we would visited Angkor Wat... at 4am in the morning to catch the sunrise, WHAT?!

Friday, 28th December 2013

I know that I put date to write this travel journal but honestly, during the travel itself time seemed to fly and I could not even careless about what day it was and was it New Year already.


So we woke up early on 4am in the morning, and I swear to God it was so damn cold.  I have been living all my life in a tropic country, and Cambodia itself is a tropical country, but it was so damn cold at dawn.  Moreover, when we jumped into the tuk tuk and the wind just blasted on our face.  It was coldly mortifying.  I did not bring any windbreaker or thick jacket,  I only wore my jeans jacket, but luckily I covered up from arm and legs.

The day was still dark and there were only few visitors, we were told to stand the the left hand side of the temple so that we can get a nice spot to see the day breaks, the temple's reflection on the pond and so on.

Too Many People.... 
There was also something about visiting Angkor Wat at dawn.  It was so mystical.  The stars were litting up the quiet sky as we walked underneath.  The temperature was still cold, my friends and I were deciding to get a coffee... and as business may have it, there were so many coffee shops lining in next to the sunrise/sunset watching spot.  The shopkeepers were fighting each other to get costumers.  Some vendors were circling around to sell souvenirs like shawl and even painting for 1 USD.  So cheap, but then, my friend assessed it as something questionable.  How could it be a shawl was equivalent to a massage on the night market, or how could it be that a shawl/a dollar souvenirs could add up to a room rent in a city itself.  How does the math work?


The coffeeshop were having hilarous names such as John and even Harry Potter, I guessed it is to tie in with the large amount of foreign visitors that they have and attract them.  And I was attracted too, although I am not even that foreign, but I found it funny.

Coffee at dawn
 A cup of coffee with condensed milk costed 1 USD, and the breakfast set costed 5 USD.  It was rather expensive and touristy for a breakfast, we certainly could get cheaper in food stall on the street.  But the local coffee tasted so good.  It has a hint of mocha and a bit fruity.  Two of my friends are coffee addict, and I must have admitted I am kind of a tea person and I always try healthy alternative if someone offered me coffee, but not in this trip!  I think my veins are run by 50% coffee goodness by now.  My life depends on coffee, and I always have coffee crank, I always feel sleepy after a cup.

Damn, this is not a good sign.

When our coffee was finished then we walked into the viewing area, and believe it or not, it had became the sea of tourists.  It was so crowded.

The sunrise came around 6, and it seemed like I should not bother to take a shot because all I saw were tourist hands and their cameras.  Annoying, but hey it is a free country.

After a shortwhile, we wandered together on the temple.  We had our own lost moment from marveling this giant ruin.  We visited the echo chamber.  So a grandpa asked me to lay against a wall, and he begun to knock my clavicle, and I could hear the sound of echo... ahhh...

After shamelessly taking selfie and exploring, we were moving to another temples and sites.  The next temple is the famous Bayon temple.  We took halfday to explore the whole Angkor complex which was the center of civilization in Cambodia and the center of ruling of the Khmer Kingdom.

Angkor selfie....
so many Angkor selfies...
We encountered great number of travelers from all over the world.  It was really a melting pot of diversity.  There was an interacial couple from Vietnam as well as lost Chinese aunties who kept asking direction to home in Chinese to other group of tourists and the guides.  There were also scam.  Such as the one I experienced in Bayon temple.  A kid, innocent boy, standing tall as only my chest hight called me, "Hi, do you want to see the well?" and I followed him, and I did see the well.  Later he asked me for a dollar.  What the heck?!  I gave him 1000 Riel and left.

Bayon temple,
Esther told me how to use her camera lens, so the leaves under the water are visible... so cool!
After a long day of temple visit, we were eating at a roadside restaurant nearby our hotel which served Khmer food.  I ordered my first bowl of Amok.  I saw the name written all over the banner on the night market or street food restaurant, but I hadn't yet to try it.  It tastes similar to Indonesian food called, Soto, which is a thick broth made out of coconut milk, spices, and green curry.  It tasted good, not disappointing.  Although, my travel buddies complaint about some food they ordered beings so standard.

Chicken Amok for 2 USD
Anyway I was relieved that finally we got to eat something.  I remembered putting nothing except coffee with lots of condensed milk into my system since 4am.

We returned back to the hotel before we decided to bike, and do you know that I cannot bike?

So here, I tell you the chronological of my biking history :

Stop smiling, you can't bike!
2005 - Palembang, Indonesia, was the last time Ayu Meutia biked
2010 - Bangkok, Thailand, Ayu Meutia attempted her first biking after the last 5 years trying not to, confidently stepping on the peddle, and couldn't find her balance.  She cannot ride a bike anymore.  Period.
2013 - Ubud, Bali, renting a short bike for fun, and confidently thinking she could ride this time. Witnesses of a near-death failure were masseuse lady on the roadside
2013 - Siem Reap, Cambodia, by the help and support of kind, tolerant and cool travel buddies, she could spin!  For few meters before once or twice hitting a brick wall without harming herself or another! Yeay! This is an achievement.

My buddies were still continuing to bike around the Siem Reap square while I decided to take a walk there instead.  It is not far away anyway, but then to locate my biking friends it was quite hard.  That evening I did circling the whole park for one or twice or more.  I called it "thawaf"-- a activity that a Muslim pilgrim should make to circle the Ka'bah for 7 times -- and I did a somewhat similar ritual in Siem Reap square.

I remembered I was wandering around the square from 5 pm to 7 pm, before I stopped at a petrol station and found a wifi.  My buddies were at a cafe nearby the night market called Srey Sister.  It took me a while to find it too, until I arrived there 10 minutes after they had left.  It was like being in Alanis Morisette's song, Ironic.   Anyway, the cafe was pretty and served delicious cookies, which I bought.  The environment was warm and creative.  Unfortunately, they closed so early, it was 7 pm when they were closing and my buddies needed to leave by then.

Anyway I walked down the night market and found some goodies to buy, such as coffee and snack for home.  The vendor was selling 1 pack of coffee for 6 USD, then I bargained so that I could get 2 for 7 USD. Hahahaha.  I scammed back the seller.  That is the perk for being an Asian travelers in Asian country.

After shopping then I went to the bike rent shop to meet my friends.  I waited until one of them turned up.  Apparently, they hadn't returned the bike when I reached there.

We ended the night by walking the town around and stop for foods!

Saturday, 29th December 2013

We were deciding to visit places outside Angkor and travelled around the village.  We had a pretty good rest as the trip started at 9am.

I could not remembered much about this trip.  We visited few places but we took the longest  and dirties tuk tuk ride ever.  That is when I figured out why the masks were handed to us for.  We visited a few temple by midday.  Climbing the ruins like Lara Croft with the assistance of a guide with prothesis leg and was a victim of a landmine, but later she asked for a tip, and I considered it as a scam, but she was nice so we gave them 5000 Riel instead of 5 USD that she asked for.  Fed the dog with Fruit Loops and rice.

feeling like Lara Croft
We wandered around and continued our journey to villages.  Not just another villages but it is floating villages.  It is so remarkable to see tree that grows on the water, and of course the residents who live around.  The children are rowing with their buckets.  They looked so happy and cheerful.

at the floating village

Fresh veggies and fruits
next to the awesome street BBQ stall
cambodian kids...
Cambodian kids were the friendliest, no wonder Brangelina adapted one from the country because they are seriously adorable.  They will wave at you and says hi.  They are full of curiosity.

We also went to see how the fishes were caught and supplied to the city.  The fishery of course smelled awful, and there was a car full of those fishy fish prepared to deliver them all to Thailand. I cannot imagine how the driver lives this everyday.

We went back to Siem Reap with tummy full of happiness from delicious BBQ bites at the local market we came across.  The price was very cheap.  They were selling chicken and their inner parts that you would not likely to eat, but I do.  I was having some gizzard and hearts (because they are simply the best!)  They were glazed in holly sweetness.  My friend tried a whole leg and their wings.  The wings, they said was a simple disappointment because it was unbiteable (that's a word!) but the whole leg was amazing!

We went to the hotel, and the driver had brought a snake from one of the village we went.  His name is Sari and he promised us to cook a delicious homecooked Cambodian meal, or might as well we called it Khmer food.  They served fried fish which were very salty but so tender, and good, fish soup, stir-fry veggie -- I think it must be watercress and stir fry snakes.  Alright, you read that STIR FRIED SNAKES... and I ate them.

stir fry snakes

The taste was okay.  It was spicy but the texture of the meat itself was bony and sharp.  It was like eating fish bones.  However we called it a night and slept.  We were planning to leave Siem Reap in the morning to Ho Chi Minh city however the bus was fully booked.  Therefore, we needed to take the night bus... more interesting entry coming in.

Sunday, 30th December 2013

I did not event count the days when I was in Siem Reap, now that I realised that the new year was almost coming and we have not arrived in the third city yet.  We had a lot thing to be discovered. We biked for half a day before our departure to Ho Chi Minh city.  I was trying out the double bike/tandem with my friend, Erwin.  So Kalun, Esther and Rofi were biking on their own.  It was just that I couldn't bike properly and we hadn't passed the year 2014.

We stopped at Sister Srey Cafe, the cafe which was the meeting point where I got lost the other night.  The place was very cool and full of creative ambience.  The Iced Mocha was superb. We also watched a brief magic performance by a street busker and it was amazing, so comical....

Sister Srey Cafe and our morning bike....
We continued to the North of the then-closed night market, up to a flea market where I ended up shopping for local snacks and shampoo and whatnot.  I found it fascinating to see other products in different countries.  We went up again to the off-road, we biked the small and large path, and then found an ice cream seller which sold us an durian popsicle which was the shit!  Then we explored the town and stopped again at another market, bigger one, where ate local food as our lunch... Then we went to our hotel for last goodbye and quick shower.

The pick-up truck came around 7 pm and off we go to Ho Chi Minh City, the adventure has just begun :)


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