Tag Archives: Cambodia

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison) in Cambodia

3 Mar

I had originally planned to solely visit Siem Reap during my time in Cambodia. As an archaeology major, Angkor Wat appealed to me in every way possible and, although it didn’t disappoint, once I arrived in Siem Reap, I knew I needed to see more of this amazing country.

Before coming to Cambodia, I can say that I was ignorant of the events surrounding the Khmer Rouge communist regime  that caused devastation from 1975 to 1979 and continues to haunt the people it affected. Even now, I’m not sure that I can fully grasp what occurred during these horrible years in Cambodia’s history.

I headed to Phnom Penh with some new friends. They all wanted to visit a place known as “The Killing Fields.” I had gotten some advice from a girl in Siem Reap and I will further share that advice. If you are planning on seeing the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, you must start your day at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (more commonly referred to as the S-21 Prison) and then go to the Killing Fields afterwards. She couldn’t  have been more right. Since I didn’t know anything about the Killing Fields, it really helped to visit the prison before going to the fields.

The prison kept thousands captive and thousands were tortured there before being taken to the Killing Fields to be eventually be bludgeoned to death (as bullets were too valuable to be “wasted”).

The buildings that imprisoned the captives were also enclosed with barbed wire so that prisoners on upper floor couldn’t commit suicide.

When you walk into the premises of S-21 (after paying a small fee) it is hard to miss the manifesto that was made to keep prisoners in control. It was incredibly disturbing. Number 6 reads: “While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.”

You can walk around the floors of many different buildings, each with their own purpose. Many of the rooms there have the torture equipment that was used in those specific rooms and even pictures on the walls that actually shows victims that were tortured to death in the prison.

On the top floor of most buildings the rooms contained pictures of victims and information of what happened in the prison. It was sad to see how many children were held there. There was also information about the leaders of this regime, specifically Pol Pot, the leader of Democratic Kampuchea. Under his leadership, millions of Cambodians died due to forced labor, malnutrition, and executions. Millions.

I think what made S-21 so horrible for me as well was thinking about how recently these events occurred! It’s scary really. This massive genocide in Cambodia occurred less than forty years ago and Cambodia continues to recover from the loss of so many of their people. There are people who probably still have nightmares about those days. Even after the Vietnamese liberated Phnom Penh in 1979, there was famine and a civil war sweeping through Cambodia until the 90s! The Khmer people have suffered a great deal in Cambodia’s recent history, and they continue to suffer today. They are still trying to rebuild. The horrific events taking place in the S-21 Prison don’t even begin to cover what exactly happened. However, if you’re ever in Cambodia, make sure you go to the Killing Fields, but not before you go to S-21 first!

My Favourite Places in Southeast Asia

4 Jan

Here is a list I compiled of my favourite places in Southeast Asia. It was a trip of a lifetime and although I had amazing experiences in each place that I visited, these five places stand out to me the most.

In no particular order…

 1) Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai was the city I visited where I could most see myself living in. It was vibrant and bustling. It had a good nightlife. It felt safe enough for me to navigate the streets by myself on cheaply-rented motorbikes. It was easy to quickly feel like a local and I loved that. There’s a university. There’s a zoo in the mountains. There’s temples and tigers. Elephants and expats. Boxing and night bazaars. Bad karaoke. Cheap beer. Cheap food. I quickly fell into a pattern in Chiang Mai and, soon enough, I had stayed there longer than I had originally planned.

2) Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng just gets me. One thing I definitely regret was not staying longer. One obvious reason is tubing. The first day I went tubing was quite possible the funnest day I have had in my life. Free Lao Lao whiskey shots (albeit watered-down). Cheap buckets. Beer pong on the river bars. Loud music that makes you want to dance. Exhilaratingly dangerous water slides. New friends that you won’t remember tomorrow. Cuts and bruises that you can’t explain. It is truly a shitshow. A twenty-something party haven. I also loved Vang Vieng because of the chilled-out atmosphere in the town. Literally every restaurant played Friends and Family Guy reruns and the decor consisted of these lounge-like wooden couch/table combos with ugly cushions — the perfect way to nurse a hangover (which actually started to become nonexistent with all the drinking). I accidentally badly electrocuted myself and I even broke my beloved camera in Vang Vieng, but it didn’t take anything away from my love for this wonderful backpacker town.

3) Koh Phangan, Thailand

My time on the island of Koh Phangan was a huge blur. I think that directly correlates with the amount of fun I had there. Before my trip, I had read a lot of negative blog posts and reviews on Koh Phangan saying that it was a beautiful island ruined by tourists. I had so much fun there though. Koh Phangan really does cater to tourists because of the infamous Full Moon Party held on Haad Rin (beach) every month on, you guessed it, the full moon; however, I loved that it was made for tourists because it literally brought thousands of different people and cultures together for one night. While the night of the full moon was one to remember, every night in Koh Phangan was a constant party. In fact, the lead up nights to the Full Moon Party were actually better than Full Moon itself. Friends reruns and movies like The Notebook dominate the TV screens in the restaurants. It was entirely possible to easily find chicken schnitzel at 7 in the morning after staying up all night. I fell in love with sunrises. I became somewhat of an artist, painting everyone in my hostel with neon colours for Full Moon. My week in Koh Phangan was the best in my entire 7 week trip.

 4) Siem Reap, Cambodia

I liked Siem Reap significantly more than Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Cambodia was so incredibly poor and Siem Reap was no exception. Siem Reap was such a small city and so I quickly got used to where everything was. Tourists are drawn to Siem Reap because of the wonderful temples of Angkor Wat but, while not exploring the temples, I found myself drawn to the popular Pub Street in town. I found myself there every single night and, like in Chiang Mai, I ended up staying a lot longer than I had originally planned to. I took cooking classes on Pub Street where I made the best meal I have ever had, pumpkin soup. I ate crocodile, frog, and other mystery meats that I got to cook at my table in a restaurant. I became pretty much known by name at Angkor What?! Bar. I made some really great friends. I danced on tables. I helped cute Cambodian kids practice their English. I got ripped off by locals on several occasions. I experienced extreme poverty up close. Cambodia was definitely a huge eye-opener, but I easily found a kind of comfort in Siem Reap.

5) Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok currently holds the spot as my favourite city in the world. I love, love, love Bangkok. There’s just something about it. The hustle and bustle. The cheap street food. Huge bottles of Chang beer for 150 baht. Hostels across from Khao San Road for 150 baht a night. Bucket bars on Khao San Road. Cheap knock offs. $5 massages. Khao San Road in general. Tuk tuks (which I hated at first). The huge shopping mall, MBK. Watching the traffic. The Saturday Market. There are so many things about Bangkok that I love. It felt like home to me, not because I think I could live there, but because of the way I felt every time I returned there (4 times in one trip). I left Cambodia 3 days earlier than I planned just so I could spend my last few days in this wonderful city. There really is something for everyone in Bangkok and I think that it can easily become whatever you want it to be.

I would return to these five places in a heartbeat. I would also recommend these places to anyone in a heartbeat. But, I do see one common theme here. These are places where I had really great experiences because of really great people that I met and shared them with. So, it makes me wonder, would I love these places as much as I do if I experienced them with different people? I like to think that I would. And, maybe, one day I will return and find out for sure!

Packing for Southeast Asia

28 Sep

Last time I went backpacking I packed WAY too much. The six weeks I spent in Peru last summer (2010) was my first real travel experience and I didn’t  know what to expect. I brought things that I didn’t end up using, like my blow dryer and straightener. I even brought high heels, which I never wore once. It really depends on where you’re going and how long you’re going for. If I were going to Paris or London for a month I probably would bring high heels and some more high end clothing. If I were going for six months to a year then I definitely would bring heels and hair appliances.

Not to say that you shouldn’t bring those kinds of items. To each their own. I like to bring my makeup and a lot of people disagree with this decision, but I really don’t care. If I’m more than willing to carry the extra weight then why not?

Sometimes you need to make sacrifices though. I have a huge problem packing light, especially when it comes to clothes. After packing way too much clothes last time and having to throw out a lot of things that I liked, I had to force myself to make good choices when it came to packing for 7 weeks of backpacking around Southeast Asia.

So, here is everything and anything that I brought with me to Southeast Asia.

Note: I decided not to post this until after my trip because then I could tell you what I ended up using or not and what I ended up throwing out. This is my ORIGINAL LIST with descriptions. The words written in red are some comments after the trip was done. So, here’s the list:

Clothes

  • Shorts (4)- Yes, it’s a lot but I get so much use out of all of them.
  • Jeans (1)- This is probably the biggest ‘controversial’ item of clothing in the backpacking world. Yes, it’s going to be hot in SE Asia, but I always get use out of my jeans. If I don’t? Well, they’re an old pair so I can throw them out if need be. If I ever come back to SE Asia these will not be coming with me. Didn’t wear them once!
  • Black leggings (1)- For those possibly not-so-warm nights. Threw out.

  • Tank tops (4)
  • T-shirts (3)- Only needed one.
  • Long sleeve shirt (1)- Surprisingly got use out of this.
  • Nice shirts (3)- These are shirts that I can dress up or wear casually.
  • Hoodie (1) (not pictured)- For those cold A/C bus nights and for a pillow. Tons of use.
  • Cardigans (2) (not pictured)- Didn’t get any use out of these.

  • Bathing suits (2)
  • Underwear (10)- The more underwear the better, I say.
  • Socks (3)- One white, two black
  • Bras (4)- It sucks being a girl. Strapless, black, pink, and sports bra.

Yeah, I know it may seem like a lot of clothes to bring, but I don’t mind carrying the extra weight and, plus, it all fits into these little netted bags easily which makes them much more compact. These bags were my saviour.

Footwear

  • Running shoes- Didn’t use.
  • Flip flops for shower
  • Sturdy sandals (2)

Headwear

  • The Green Sombrero (obviously)
  • Straw fedora
  • Sunglasses
  • Bandana

Electronics

  • HP Mini Netbook (and case and charger)- Best thing I brought.
  • SD memory cards (3 x 2 GB)
  • Canon Powershot (and case and charger)- Lost it’s life in Vang Vieng, Laos. Bought new, crappy, waterproof Olympus in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Olympus Tough is CRAP, by the way. The waterproof-ness was handy, but the quality of the photos was terrible.
  • iPod touch (and charger and headphones)
  • Plug adapter for SE Asia
  • Old phone for alarm (and charger)
  • USB drive (2)
  • Headlamp- SO much use!

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Razor
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen- If you need a lot like I did, bring a couple bottles because sunscreen is bloody expensive in Asia.
  • Make-up
  • Body spray (for the days I have to go without showering)
  • Brush and comb- Brush broke half way in. Had that brush for 7+ years. R.I.P.
  • Bobby pins/hair ties
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Band-Aids- Probably went through 100+ Band-Aids.
  • Tylenol

Other

  • Journal and pens
  • Guidebook (not pictured)/phrasebook- Didn’t need the phrasebook. Knowing how to say hello, thank you and maybe a few hand gestures can easily get you through SE Asia.
  • Books (2)- So I can exchange at a book exchange- Man, do I love book exchanges.
  • Money belt- Never used this for some reason. Guess I’m a little too trusting.
  • Travel pillowcase
  • Travel towel
  • Padlock (Not pictured)
  • Gum- Can’t live without it!- Ran out 😦
  • Toilet paper- I’m sure this will be my saviour- It was.
  • Passport, insurance info and contact info- Thank God for getting travel insurance because I broke a foot bone and needed a cast!
  • Passport photos for various visas- Most places ask for 2 photos but you only need one.
  • MONEY, debit card and credit card

Bags

  • Day bag
  • Dry sack- Came in handy.
  • Shoulder bag

And everything fits into my backpack perfectly!- By the end of my trip, with souvenirs and such, my pack was overly full, especially with clothes being so cheap in SE Asia.

Once again, I wish I brought less clothes. One day I’ll learn.

And there you have it. Agree or disagree with anything?

One of the most exciting things about travel is…

31 May

…booking a flight!!!

I am excited to announce that I just booked a flight to Bangkok, Thailand!

I will be leaving YYZ (Toronto Pearson Int’l Airport) in the morning of July 17th and I will be arriving at BKK at around 11 pm on the 18th.

I’ve been planning for months, but it really just doesn’t seem completely real until it’s official.

Well, it’s official!

There’s no going back now.

I will be backpacking around Southeast Asia from July 18th to September 5th.

I am REALLY on a budget. But, this time, instead of going solo, at least half of my time there I will be traveling with a friend and we will help each other stick to our budget.

I’ve done a lot of researching and thinking about this trip and it will mostly be spent in Thailand — Bankok, Chiang Mai, Ko Pha Ngan, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and Koh Lanta hopefully. However, I will also be heading to Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng in Laos, Hanoi in Vietnam, Siem Reap and (maybe) Sihanoukville in Cambodia, and possibly Bali. If I don’t go to Bali, then I will keep Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia as well as Singapore in my mind.

BUT, as we all know, it’s VERY hard to stick to a strict schedule as a backpacker. My original itinerary for Peru turned out to be completely different. I ended up in Bolivia! So, although I have a basic idea of where I want to go and how long I will spend in each place, the only days that I am sure of where I’ll be are Bangkok on my arrival and departure date and Ko Pha Ngan on August 14th for the Full Moon Party.

I’m excited to bathe and feed elephants in Chiang Mai, to eat crickets and drink Thai buckets on Khao San Road, to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, to cruise Halong Bay in Vietnam, to drink snake blood (and maybe even eat the still beating heart), to party until the sun rises in Ko Pha Ngan, to go tubing in Vang Vieng, and most importantly, to soak up the culture as best as I can in the short amount of time I have there and create memories to last a lifetime.

Other than that, who knows where this trip will take me. I’m excited, I’m ready, and I hope SE Asia is ready for us!

Meet my partner in crime, Ashley.