#TRAVEL – Cambodia: Angkor What?

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The majority of people who travel to Cambodia take the time to visit the worlds largest religious monument: Angkor Wat.

Nursing a colossal hangover, I did just that.

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Angkor Wat is located close to the town of Siem Reap (the infamous ‘Pub Street’ is also situated there, hence the hangover) and can be entered for a variety of prices depending on the type of tour you choose. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century, using the famous Khmer style architecture. Over the years, Angkor Wat has had its fair share of historic moments, but since 1953 it has been controlled by Cambodia. Now, it draws tourists like a moth to a flame and is overrun with cheeky little monkeys.

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Many choose to make the trip at sunrise, which is highly recommended. Unsurprisingly to anyone that knows me, I didn’t make it.

However, visiting in the afternoon was nothing less than breathtaking.

I’ve seen a vast range of temples and monuments travelling throughout Asia, but I can safely say that nothing has trumped Angkor Wat. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. It’s gigantic and you can’t help but feel a bit like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider whilst you’re strolling around its neverending architecturally brilliant superstructure.

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I think I paid around 30 US Dollars for the day pass, but I would suggest the 2-day option if you have the time.

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I’d love to go back sometime.

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If you’re heading to Cambodia ,don’t forget your travel guide –

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: In case the title didn’t tip you off, this article is going to be a real bummer.

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One of the most amazing things about traveling is how much you learn along the way—about people, about culture, and about the world itself. Reading about something in a book is a far cry from seeing the remnants of history with your own eyes, and as we explore we uncover parts of the past that are often fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally downright horrifying.

However, knowing the misdeeds of the past teaches us what to avoid in the future and so there is no history that should be forgotten. No place is this more true than in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

A Bit of History

The Killing Fields are a dark vestige of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which took power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979. During that time, nearly 3 million people were executed in a country of only 8 million total. The cities were emptied and those who weren’t arrested were sent to agricultural projects as the government sought to both “purify” the population and bring the country back to a simpler time. Much of this was accomplished through the use of crude prisons and mass graves, which still exist today as a haunting reminder.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was originally an orchard that was turned into arguably the most notorious extermination camp in Cambodia, containing thousands upon thousands of bodies. Located outside Phnom Penh, there is an entrance fee of $6 and includes an audio tour which guides you through the site providing the grim details of the events that took place—many patrons are moved to tears while listening as they solemnly walk the grounds.

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You’re continually reminded to watch your step, as teeth and bone fragments still regularly make their way to the surface. Upon arrival your eye is immediately drawn to the memorial stupa, a Buddhist monument with towering windows displaying more than 5,000 human skulls that have been recovered from the site.

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Those carrying out the executions were not well-equipped with weapons or ammunition, so executions were to be done quickly and cheaply often through barbaric means. For this reason, you will immediately notice how many of the skulls on display are cracked or smashed in.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of the site is known as the “Children’s Tree,” against which the youngest victims were beaten. Today the tree continues to grow and is covered in bracelets and ribbons visitors have left in memoriam to those lost.

Tuol Sleng

Within the city limits sits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were divided into crude, tiny cells; the windows were barred and the grounds surrounded by electric fences & barbed wire. Inmates here were each photographed and ordered to provide the details of their life, only to be tortured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Wall upon wall of prisoner photos line parts of the museum, with gaunt faces of men, women, and children staring back at you. This prison was a true house of horrors, the site of everything from waterboarding to medical experimentation. Many of those not executed at the prison itself were eventually marched 15 kilometers to Choeung Ek, where they ultimately met their demise.

It’s baffling to think something so horrific had taken place in such recent history, but a truly eye-opening experience for those visiting Cambodia.

-Ashley

If you’re going to Cambodia, don’t forget your Lonely Planet travel guide –

Getting the MOST out of Angkor

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I’ve seen a lot of Angkor Guides out there that insist on providing you with an in-depth history of each temple. The thing is, you’ll see and learn as you go so there’s no need to have encyclopedic knowledge of the whole park before you get there. It can be a pain sifting through the vast amount information for the tidbits you need, so I’ve compiled a bare-bones guide on how to get the most out of the Angkor Archeological Park:

COST

1 Day Pass: $20

3 Day Pass: $40 (any 3 days within one week)

7 Day Pass: $60 (any 7 days within one month)

WHAT TO BRING

I’ve seen some extensive packing lists for exploring the Angkor complex—flashlights, compasses, maps, you name it. Honestly though, my own advice (especially for those going in the summer months) is to pack as light as possible.

-> Wear light, loose-fitting clothes in bright colors to deflect sunlight.

-> Comfortable shoes are a must—you’ll be going up and down hundreds of steep, uneven steps as you explore and you’ll be walking on rocky terrain.

-> Summer temperatures hover in the mid-90’s at best, so start each day with at least 2 large bottles of water. You can always leave one (or more) in the Tuk Tuk while you explore.

-> Sunscreen: If you tend to burn, make sure to layer it on.

DRIVER

The best way to fit in the most sights in the least time is to hire a Tuk Tuk for the day. There are countless available on the street and most hostels are more than happy to arrange one for you. Typically costing $10-$12 a day, the drive can act as your tour guide.

Believe me, they do way more than just drive—they help you with obtaining your tickets and if youget a multi-day pass they will pick you up at your hostel each morning. Many have guide books with them and will try to teach you a bit about the temples as you go and wait patiently while you explore.

-> An important side note is to LISTEN CAREFULLY. They will often tell you what entrance to meet them at and where you can find them.

FOOD

Again, this is where your driver will be a great resource. While there are plenty of carts selling drinks near the temples, food is harder to come by. Your driver will know nearby areas full of restaurants or street food, depending on your preference, and will wait while you have a lunch break (or take the opportunity to grab some food himself).

SCHEDULE

For those who are budget-conscious but still want to see the majority of temples, I’d best recommend the 3-day pass. Most drivers will have suggestions on how to spend that time, but in general:

Day 1: Use this day to do the minor outlying temples—they take longer to drive between and are harder to cram in at the end if you haven’t gotten to them yet. This is a great way to get acclimated so you can be better prepared for a more strenuous Day 2 & 3, while also seeing some more remote temples many tourists tend to miss.

Day 2: Now that you’re into the swing of things, make this your most adventurous day by getting through the largest complex, Angkor Thom, and its surrounding structures. Angkor Thom covers more than 5 square miles, at the center of which is the Bayon, recognized by its 216 stone faces.

This will also keep you close to Phnom Bakheng, the famed sunset point. It’s a must-see, but remember that it is best to get in line quickly, as it fills up long before sunset commences. Also, keep in mind that while you’ll be climbing up in the daylight, you will be descending in the dark which will indeed be more difficult.

Day 3: Angkor Wat—saving the most famous/recognizable for last is a great way to make sure you stay motivated, because by day three you may be sunburned, achey, and a little worn-out. At the same time, Angkor Wat itself is smaller compared to all you may have seen on Day 2, so you can either get a later start or an early finish to get in some much-needed relaxation.

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-Ashley

That Time I Think I Snuck Into Cambodia

That Time I Think I Snuck Into Cambodia

When traveling through South East Asia you’ll quickly find that there is a more or less established backpacker’s route—while you and your fellow travelers may be hitting the same spots, it’s likely you’ll be going in various directions and orders. Usually this makes it fairly simple to learn how to get from place to place—wherever you’re going next, chances are someone in your hostel just came from there. This is why I was so surprised to find it insanely difficult to get information on the best way to get into Cambodia from Laos by land.

Basically the only piece of advice I could get was “Take the best deal you can,” which was always inevitably followed by some horror story of scams, theft, and abandonment. Nevertheless, I figured if they survived I could certainly do better…right?

After having spent a good deal of time in Laos, I’d decided that Angkor Wat was next on my list, so early one morning my traveling buddies and I headed to the bus station in Vientiane to book tickets to Siem Reap, a journey that takes roughly 24 hours if all goes smoothly. Getting the right tickets was simple enough, but information on the visa process was both scarce and confusing. Luckily, a friendly stranger at a picnic table said he could get us through process cheaply and painlessly. All we had to do was drop our passports in his duffel bag, give him $22, and fill out the visa application which he had run out of. Not to worry, my new pal assured us, he’d have more soon. He then left us, saying he’d meet up with us again at the border.

Yeah, I know, handing over your documents to a sketchy stranger who is clearly conning you probably isn’t the best decision, but we’d definitely all heard worse beginnings that ended alright, so I figured there’s a chance it would be worth the risk.

As we boarded our bus, the driver exchanged our tickets for those we’d need at the next stop. While we knew we needed to switch buses at the border, we were told our next set of tickets weren’t actually for Siem Reap, but for a town I’d never heard of with a train to Siem Reap. At any rate I knew that if it turned out to be a lie, at least I’d be stranded with an entire bus worth of people and not alone.

Thirteen uncomfortable hours later, the driver ordered us off the bus and told us to walk across the border, and when we got to the border patrol & customs check not to stop at the window, just walk around them and take the ladder or ramp up a wall. Leery about leaving my luggage behind but seeing no other option, I followed the small crowd into no-man’s land when everyone suddenly stopped dead. An officer had come out yelling “HEALTH CHECK” in English, while about 30 feet ahead of us stood a man roughly 3 feet tall with a hump and a googly eye, waiting.

Seeing as how my friends were clearly a bit freaked out (and rightfully so) I figured I may as well go first and see what they’d actually do—turns out the little dude just takes your temperature and sends you along. At least I was first to use the public thermometer.

After passing through we easily spotted the wall we’d been told about and over we climbed to find a handful of stalls with people hocking bus and van tickets of their own. It was here were learned that—big surprise—the train station we were headed for didn’t exist and our tickets were worthless from that point on.

So here’s the rundown: We’re stranded on the side of the road in the blistering heat of Cambodia with no luggage, no passports, and no transport.

Pooling what little cash we had (and paying in multiple currencies) we were able to secure van tickets to Siem Reap, with the promise that they’d be air-conditioned and wifi-capable.

After standing around for another lifetime, a motorbike eventually showed up and the driver dropped off a plastic shopping bag full of passports, which other passengers and I began reading out names from and passing around. We did indeed find new visa stickers inside, with our information hand-written on top, not looking anything close to legit, and signed by “Jeff”.

Eventually, a caravan of passenger vans showed up, some carrying our luggage and others waiting to take us to our next destination. Turns out “air conditioning & wifi” is often code for “overcrowded and full of live chickens”.

At my next hostel I met a guy who had done the visa process by the book on his own, and while he saved $2 on his visa, the trip also took him 12 hours longer.

I would be no means recommend taking the route I took, and I’m sure there are plenty of options out there. I’ve heard that while the visa prices have increased in recent years, so have transport options and the border itself has become more streamlined and less corrupt.

My advice?

Take the best deal you can.

– Ashley

5 Weirdest Superstitions Encountered Abroad

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So you’re bumming around Cambodia and happen to piss off the wrong person—word gets around that a hail of bullets may be in your future. Do you:

Call the cops? Nope.

Invest in a Kevlar wardrobe? Nah.

Make a beeline for the nearest tattoo parlor? Bingo!

Traditional tattooing in Cambodia is commonly believed to hold mystical powers, with their “Yantra” tattoos being able to bring both good luck and protection. If someone feels their life and health are at risk the may seek out magic tattoo artists, a practice especially popular among both soldiers and kickboxers.

While snagging yourself some magic ink may sound appealing, just remember that each one generally comes with a set of rules which, if broken, can decrease or eliminate its power. Common rules include abstaining from alcohol, avoiding bridges, and of course promising not to use its power for evil.

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After narrowly escaping Cambodia you stop over in Thailand, where you sit around on oxen sipping Ovaltine with your friends Bank, Letter, Ping Pong, and Apple. As your colleagues Fork and Spoon approach, you turn to them wondering if it’s all just a fever dream—only to finally learn those aren’t their real names at all (no way!).

It was once a frequently held belief in Thai-Buddhist culture that calling a child by their given name made them an easy target for evil spirits. While these spirits could be powerful they apparently held the IQ of a potato, because not knowing a kid’s real name was enough to utterly confuse them while kids with boring or unflattering names were simply overlooked.

While most Thai people still use nicknames, they are often more playful or creative in the younger generations. Still, don’t be surprised if Thai locals insist on giving you a new name “for your own protection”.

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Laos people aren’t all that concerned about personal space—it isn’t uncommon for someone you’ve just met to pet your arms or shoulders, while complete strangers see no reason not to lean up against you at the market or on the bus. Yet, strange as it seems, they do indeed have a personal bubble—it just only encompasses their feet. While the head is outright holy, the feet are considered dirty. No matter how often you scrub your tootsies, they will always be seen as offensive to the point that so much as pointing at someone with your feet—let alone touching them—is incredibly rude. However, keeping track of your feet is also practiced for your own protection—if you happen to step over the legs of someone older than you, you’ll be cursed with bad luck for the foreseeable future.

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Superstitions are generally beliefs held-over from a time when faith in the supernatural was commonplace, with many dating back thousands of years. Superstitions in Korea are no exception, with their most common conjecture dating all the way back to the 1920’s.

Wait, what? How could the same decade that blessed us with both penicillin and PEZ also have let loose a new and dangerous mystical power into the world? Indeed, a demon was unleashed: The Electric Fan.

“Fan Death” is considered a true threat in South Korea, as locals believe sleeping with your fan or AC on can lead to sudden and inexplicable asphyxiation. Most fans are equipped with a timed, automatic shut-off in case you doze off with your death machine running. Korean adrenaline-junkies know no greater rush than sleeping at a comfortable temperature on a hot night, cheating the Reaper even in their sleep.

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Okay, so you’ve dismantled your air conditioner, invested in a full-body tattoo, changed your name, and aced your exam on foot etiquette, but you’re still feeling unlucky; fear not, my friend. A quick trip to your local Thai food market can offer a quick solution.

Oftentimes you’ll find buckets of turtles tucked away in the fish markets, which many horrified travelers assume will be eaten. If your hippie-heart is aching to rescue one of those cuties and grant him glorious freedom at the nearest riverbank, then consider your bad-luck woes a thing of the past!

It turns out the Thai people aren’t heartless turtle-murderers at all—caring for a turtle and setting it free is said to bring good luck and longevity. By collecting those unintentionally caught in fishing nets merchants can basically sell luck to their customers—but with so many strange and unexpected superstitions out there, it may be worth the price!

– Ashley