A Travellerspoint blog

Day 19 - A Son in Debt Bondage is Returned Home - Updated

In Day 19 of my blog (this is the third entry) I wrote about a 13 year old son in debt bondage now reunited with his family. Here is a picture of the whole family together. Dad is back from working in the jungle for the past two months for wages of $50 US.


Plans for the whole community will start (well-digging has to happen in the dry season, when the water tables are at their lowest point). HOPE has purchased a big sack of rice for Huot's family that will provide them with at least sufficient sustenance for the next little while. It is not a total, sustainable change, but it will definitely take the burden off the family of having enough to eat. Rice has also been purchased for the closest neighbours as well.

This was possible due to some of the funds we raised as part of our UNION commitment. The remainder of the funds will be used towards the projects for the village.

Posted by Sydney324 16:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia village hope debt bondage Comments (0)

Day 2 - Khmer Rouge, the Killing Fields and S21

Monday, July 8, 2013

sunny 33 °C

This is the last part of my daily blog that I need to complete. It ended up being my last one as it is likely the toughest one to write other than the one I did on debt bondage.

We awoke after sleeping about 4 hours at 7:30 am on Monday, July 8th. Feeling disoriented as I was still tired and trying to get my bearings to my new surroundings. I was quite cold last night from the air conditioner.

Today would be our first full day in Phnom Penh. We met for breakfast in the Indochine 2 restaurant which was connected to our hotel. Breakfast was westernized as there were some similar choices to home but not without some differences. I ordered the Indochine breakfast which comprised of freshly squeezed orange juice and an omlette with several slices of a french baguette. The baguette was done right and the French would have approved. Had some hot sauce with my eggs and thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast. Our program coordinator Rainbow asked each of us to share how we came to choose HOPE and make the decision to come on this volunteer trip. Each story was unique yet the same. We all wanted to do our part to try to make a difference in the world. We wanted to do something meaningful.

I was recently told by a life coach that people are desperate to find meaning in their lives and I agree with him. In our North American world of fast- paced lives, electronics in our every waking moment, mass consumerism and debt, it feels like the world is spiralling out of control. What counts and where is there meaning in my life and why am I here?

Just out in front of the restaurant which was out on the sidewalk, a man had a cart full of coconuts which he was selling for $1 US. I started my day with a fresh young coconut and enjoyed my coconut water. After drinking all the water we had our server bring the coconut to the kitchen to be cut in half. Now we would get to enjoy the coconut meat lining the inside of the coconut. What a treat and how special to start our day this way.

After breakfast we set off to the local bank to change some of our US money to Riel which is the local currency in Cambodia. The rate is currently
$1 US to $4,020 Riel but we generally received $4,000 Riel.

For foreigners, it is very reasonable to eat and shop in Cambodia. In an average priced restaurant you could have Pad Thai for $4. A set of 10 postcards at a vendor outside of the Ek Memorial were selling for $1 each. A t-shirt at the market was generally $2 US and the quality is good. At a higher end restaurant, Pad Thai would be about $8. A small silk cosmetic bag made by hand for $3.50.

While in Phnom Penh we had two drivers. One of whom is named Kevin and has a 5 year old son. A very nice and funny man. He would join us at our table. Usually he would not eat but would have a beverage. The other man was much quieter and we did not get his name. They drove us around Phnom Penh and our first stop that day would be to go to the Killing Fields.

The Killing Fields is now called the Choeung Ek Memorial http://www.phnompenh.gov.kh/phnom-penh-city-choeung-ek-memorial-139.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choeung_Ek and http://www.tourismcambodia.org/provincial_guide/index.php?view=attdetail&prv=15&att=5&page=2

After our admission was paid, we each received an audio player with a brochure listing the audio tour stop list. Often times I sat down in the peace and quiet to fully absorb what I was hearing. Some parts I couldn't finish listening to, such as what horrors were inflicted on babies. Many other recordings made me cry as it was heart wrenching to learn what people had to endure. Even harder was the fact that it was one human being torturing and killing another.

It was a sombre atmosphere and the group split up and walked around the grounds. People spoke in hushed tones in respect of those that died here. I knew about the genocide but had never learned more about it. I just knew that it had happened under the Khmer Rouge and I knew the name Pol Pot. Other than that, I had limited knowledge. I had never seen the movie The Killing Fields although I was certainly away of it, aware of the actor Haing S. Ngor http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0628955/bio and how he was tragically murdered. Much if not all of the memorial was fenced in. Outside the fences were bodies of water, people working in the fields and the occasional home. There was a family living in a shack of a home and a young boy was begging. People ignored him. I ignored him at first and then I didn't teach him the right thing, and I did give him a dollar. I realize that I wasn't doing him any favours but everything was so new to me and my emotions were raw.

Going to the stupa was the toughest part. http://www.war-memorial.net/Killing-Fields-Memorial-at-Choeung-Ek-1.80 Seeing all the skulls just reinforced the deaths and how many there were. You could light incense and purchase flowers by donation for the memorial. I wasn't in time to watch any of the video clips in the museum but did get a chance to read about some members of the Khmer Rouge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Rouge and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Rouge_rule_of_Cambodia Shockingly, many of the members were well-educated and educated in France. How could intelligent people commit such atrocities?

Our group did sit down and have some lighter conversation for a while. Kailey was overcome by a combination of dehydration, heat and maybe lack of food. Sitting down, eating something and cooling off made her feel better. It was very emotional for all of us and that likely contributed to her not feeling well. It was also a very hot day and we had barely gotten used to the heat. IMG_7772.jpg

After we had seen all we wanted to see at the memorial, we got back into the vehicles and headed out to have lunch at the Khmer Surin Restaurant. It was a little bit of paradise, lush and beautifully decorated.

After lunch we then went to visit S-21, which was the former security office 21 and is now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museumhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuol_Sleng_Genocide_Museum. This was also a tough place to visit. At the entrance there were some beggars. Some of the beggars had missing limbs due to land mines I am guessing, as they were older. Sad to see. It was hard for us as some had never seen anything like this.

We visited the various prison cells, there were two buildings containing different sized cells. Some were larger rooms and the others were very small cells, about the size of a small bathroom. We also read about many of the prisoners. Those that survived had some sort of skill that made them useful to the Khmer Rouge. One prisoner was able to repair machinery, while another was able to paint portraits of the party members.

On the prison grounds were beautiful large plumeria trees and many of the flowers littered the ground. Such beauty in a place of so much anguish. We saw a jackfruit tree and I wasn't sure if there were other fruit trees as well. While we were here the weather turned a bit stormy and we had a heavy shower and then it was done.

A man by the name of Chum Mey http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chum_Mey had written a book about his story as a survivor of the Khmer Rouge Genocide. He happened to be there on the day that we came and we didn't know how often he is there. Rainbow and I had our pictures taken with him when we both bought copies of his book which he signed. I later found out that he is only one of 12 known survivors of S21. Cambodia_J..9__2013_017.jpg

We left the prison and headed back to our hotel where we had a little rest. A time was set for us to meet up again and we walked along Sisowath Quay which runs along the west bank of the Tonle Sap River http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonl%C3%A9_Sap. The wide promenade reminded me immediately of Nice. There was a lot of activity. People strolling along, while others sold food items. There was also an outdoor aerobics class which we joined in and had some fun. I think someone said that they do that for hours.


We saw the Royal Palace, many street vendors, wandered around and just explored our neighborhood.

After walking for a while we decided to stop for a drink at a restaurant along the Quay on the opposite side of the walkway. We also ordered a snack as by now we were feeling hungry. We had some pizza which was pretty decent. Lunch was later in the day and so we weren't hungry earlier.

We saw the ugly side of Phnom Penh as we saw older men with very young girls. Some were children for certain. It reminded us of how human trafficking thrives in a third world country. From the following Wikipedia link is the following excerpt:

"A UNICEF survey concluded that 35 percent of Cambodia's 15,000 prostitutes are children under the age of 16. Almost all of Cambodian brothels are Vietnamese-owned with most of its voluntary sex slaves being of Vietnamese descent and its captured sex slaves being of another ethnic group. Men are trafficked for forced labor in the agriculture, fishing, and construction industries. Women are trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor in factories or as domestic servants." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_trafficking_in_Cambodia

We were soon bombarded by children selling gift items, scarves, wallets, bracelets, fans, etc. Some of the children were very young, maybe 4 or 5 years old. No one looked like they were older than 10 years old. I purchased a couple of bracelets from a boy and when my team member declined to buy anything he rudely called her stingy. We verbally reprimanded him and it didn't seem to faze him. There was also a sweet little girl selling there and we luckily saw her again the next morning at our hotel restaurant which was only a few blocks away. This little girl will hopefully go far in life. She called us my lovely and she was polite and respectful. She also didn't hustle or rip you off. She is rare. She told us her name is Pon which happens to be my Chinese last name. She said her mother told her to be polite. We were quite happy to buy from her and support her business. Cambodia_J..9__2013_126.jpg

A most eventful and emotional first full day in Phnom Penh. My adventure in Cambodia is just beginning.

Posted by Sydney324 13:45 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh killing_fields choeung_ek_genocidal_center tuol_sleng_genocide_museum human_trafficking Comments (0)

Day 14 - Angkor Wat and Apsara Dancers

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Our first full day in Siem Reap and today we would be travelling to Angkor Wat.

Silly me and I stayed up way too late the night before. Blogging, talking and not going to sleep till 1 am. We had to be up at 6 am, have breakfast and then we were picked up at 8:00 am to head to Angkor Wat. We had decided to chip in and hire a guide and it was money very well spent. $30 for the day and the guide was arranged for us through the hotel. As it is the low season right now, the guide, Vannak only works about 10 days out of the month. He says that when it is busy season he will work about 35 days out of the month, often doing two groups in one day.

We learned that despite a thriving tourism industry in Siem Reap, the province is one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia. Siem Reap is the home of $1,000 US a night hotels. There is poverty due to a lack of access to safe water, good healthcare, good nutrition, basic education, regular employment and road safety, especially for children. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cambodia/siem-reap/history http://wikitravel.org/en/Siem_Reap. During our time in Cambodia we found out that many Cambodians travel to Vietnam for health care as they do not trust the doctors in Cambodia.

We will be going to Angkor Wat first. Angkor means city and Wat means temple. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat. It was located a short distance from our hotel. I was surprised it was so close, as I had expected a longer drive to get there. http://natgeotv.com/ca/ancient-megastructures/videos/angkor-wat-how-was-it-built

We were dropped off by our driver and went with our guide to go to purchase our passes for the day. The cost was a reasonable $20 US and we would have our photograph taken and our photo would be on our ticket. It was explained that previously, when there was no photo, people would come to Angkor Wat and then their discarded tickets would be resold. From the ticket booth, it was a short distance to Angkor Wat and the first impression was unbelievable. I had a tough time grasping that we were really there. Six months ago I did not even know Angkor Wat existed. I felt bad that I didn't know and more so, since Cambodia was on my bucket list. Although I had seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and only saw Lara Croft Tomb Raider after returning from Cambodia, I had no idea that these were filmed at a real location and not on a cool movie set. http://www.lovethesepics.com/2012/11/laura-crofts-tomb-raider-indiana-jones-temple-of-doom-ancient-angkor-pics/

Much of the trip to Cambodia was surreal for me. I often felt like I was watching a movie as so much of what I saw was unreal. The scenery was stunning and the people amazing in their resilience. To be lucky enough to come to Angkor Wat is something I am most grateful for. We walked through the various parts of the temple while our tour guide explained many aspects of Angkor Wat to us. Climbing some of the stairs were not easy as they were steep and narrow. Some portions were awkward to climb down. One set of very steep stairs had a railing to hang on to as you ascended and descended. The magnitude and beauty of Angkor Wat is breathtaking. It is truly a wonder of the world.

At the entrance to Angkor Wat are two large snake-like stone figures which are called "Naga". The Naga is a cobra-shaped serpent with five, seven or more heads. It was explained that the serpents are always odd in number, either five, seven or more heads, never even numbered. "Nāga is a Cambodian legend where the Naga were a reptilian race of beings who possessed a large empire or kingdom in the Pacific Ocean region. The Naga King's daughter married the king of Kambuja, and gave rise to the Cambodian people. Today, Cambodians say that they are "Born from the Naga". See: Sage Kambu Swayambhuva" http://www.ask.com/wiki/Early_history_of_Cambodia?o=2801&qsrc=999.

King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat between roughly A.D. 1113 and 1150, and is about 500 acres (200 hectares) in size. To give you an idea of the size, there are approximately 1.6 acres in one square city block (measurements in the United States). So 500 acres is 312 blocks. It was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu. The temple walls were adorned by beautiful and detailed murals and stonework. We learned that it took about 35 years to build Angkor Wat and that over 300,000 people and 6,000 elephants were used and that it was an astounding short period of time based on its size. It was never fully completed. A great deal of restoration work has and is still taking place. We saw piles of blocks labelled with numbers as they were being restored. Other countries were helping with the cost and task of the restoration.

The King Jayavarman VII (reigned c.1181-1218) believed that both the Hindu and Buddisht religions could exist in harmony. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayavarman_VII. 95% of Cambodia's population follows Teravada Buddhism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theravada. Statues of him can be seen all over Cambodia. He has a very serene smile. I was told that he was a most loved King. He was responsible for liberalizing and unifying the country and it was he that built Angkor Thom among many other temples including Bayon. Bayon is the one with the faces and it is definitely my favourite.

I think that all of the statues in Angkor Wat that we saw were missing their heads and we learned that Angkor Wat was looted and many of the heads were taken and sold. The Cambodians just didn't realize the magnitude of what they were destroying.

We also learned that the king that came after Jayaarman VII, Jayavarman VIII believed in the Hindu religion and did his best to obliterate the Buddhist religion. He was responsible for the destruction of tens of thousands of Buddha statues http://www.cambodia-travel.com/khmer/angkor-era3.htm.

We took a great deal of photographs as there were so many wonderful places for unique photographs. We saw some monks and I personally had a special moment when a young monk, likely in his early twenties, walked past me and smiled. There were also a few places where incense could be lit and a donation given.

Life is not easy here in Cambodia. The current government party has been in power for 20 years. The leader was part of the Khmer Rouge. How in the world could that possibly happen? Since we have returned from our trip the current government was re-elected for another five year term on July 28, 2013.

We learned the Pol Pot was a chosen name and is a shortened version of "Political Potential" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pol_Pot. We were told that the Khmer Rouge did actually do some good but most of it was devastating to Cambodia and horrifying. Over 3 million people were killed in their reign of terror.

After going through Angkor Wat, it was now early afternoon and we had lunch at a little restaurant not too far away. After lunch we headed for Angkor Thom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Thom as well as Ta Prohm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta_Prohm. Ta Prohm is where we saw the beautiful strangler fig trees. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strangler_fig, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banyan. The tree is prominently featured in Lara Croft Tomb Raider.

We also went to see the Bayon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayon which was stunning. There are 216 giant faces. Our guide had us stand at a particular angle so that when a photo was taken it looked like we were kissing the Bayon on the lips.

We didn't actually see any monkeys in any of the temples but we did see them outside of Angkor Wat on the grounds. At this time we were already in the van and leaving Angkor Wat at the end of the day. We also saw elephants for rental for rides in this same area. Earlier we had strongly considered paying to ride elephants. Unfortunately, that didn't work out.

We got back to our hotel in Siem Reap and I slept for an hour. I didn't even shower which would have been nice, but sleep was so much more important. I wasn't feeling so well. A combination of tiredness, heat, and upset stomach. We were most lucky that it was overcast for our trip to Angkor Wat, otherwise the heat would have been tough to take. We didn't drink as much as we should have either due to the fact that bathrooms were far and few between.

We had reservations at Koulen Restaurant which had been arranged by our tour guide. http://www.koulenrestaurant.com. I had asked him to please suggest a restaurant where we could go to see Apsara dancers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apsara The show was very enjoyable. Unfortunately, the food was mostly okay to mediocre as it was a buffet, but it was really great to see the Apsara dancers.

DSCN0669.jpg, DSCN0663.jpg, DSCN0658.jpg

After dinner Lily, Linda, Kailey and I headed to Swensens for ice cream. We took a Tuk Tuk back to hotel and they all went to the pool for a while. I was beat and did a little blogging, showered and fell asleep shortly after 11 pm. I needed a really good night's sleep.

Posted by Sydney324 22:52 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap angkor_wat apsara_dancers koulen_restaurant swensens Comments (0)

Day 1 - Arrival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Saturday, July 6, 2013 and Sunday, July 7, 2013


Saturday, July 6, 2013. It was the day...we were really, really going to Cambodia today. I had been waiting for this day for so very long as I had first spoken to Rainbow about Cambodia late in September, 2012, nearly 10 months ago. I had run into her at sky train and at that time I was packing up the house and getting ready for my big move to the West End. Over the years I had told her that I wanted to do a volunteer trip and she had kept in touch with me and periodically would let me know where they would be going. Unfortunately, the timing never worked, at least not until now. The bonus was that it is Cambodia, a place I have longed to go to for many years.

The week before we left I was running around getting last minute things done. I was pretty tired, still going to the gym and getting in as much hot yoga as possible. I was also anxious, scared about going, excited to be going and panicked about going. How will I cope? Will it all be okay? Will I be able to hold up in the heat? Will I be physically fit enough to do all that needed to be done? It wouldn't matter as I was going regardless. I didn't want to panic too much as I also was scared that something could go wrong at the last minute and this trip that I had dreamed of for so long wouldn't go ahead.

Our team travelling to Cambodia, consisting of Lily, Vivian, Viola, Rainbow, Linda, Clark and Kailey (We had never met Kailey or Clark yet as both lived back East) were to meet up at the Southern China Airlines desk at 10:00 am. Our flight would be leaving at 12:30 pm.

I always like to get to the airport early and was dropped off by my friend Mary Anne for 9:00 am. I prefer to just wander, read a book or just hang out, rather than to have to rush to get to the airport.

By 10:00 am people were starting to arrive at the Southeast China Airlines counter. Soon the group was all there and we were so very excited.

We checked in our bags, went through security, had something to eat and then went to hang out in our departure gate. We were getting to know each other and the conversation flowed comfortably.

We boarded the plane for the first part of our trip and our flight was uneventful. We were seated throughout the plane, mostly aisle and window seats. Time was spent getting to know each other and we also got some much needed sleep. Linda had had her exam the day before we left and she was exhausted. She was out cold on the plane pretty quick. I was pretty tired and had a glass of wine to help me fall asleep.

We arrived in Guangzhou around 4:55 pm, which was our scheduled arrival time on Sunday, July 7th.

We spent the layover time checking things out in the various stores, okay, I did...others read, slept or talked. A few of us got some food at the Blenz located in the airport...Chinese food which felt so unreal but cool at the same time. We had just over four hours to wait around before boarding our flight to Phnom Penh.

Finally, after travelling for some 23 hours, we arrived in Phnom Penh. We were delayed leaving China by about an hour and so by the time we arrived in Phnom Penh it was well after 11:30 pm. We were rushed through customs fairly quickly as the customs guys wanted to go home and we were the last to get through.

After exiting the airport, the heat and humidity hit you immediately. It felt the same as it did in Cuba. We were greeted by two drivers, one of whom was Kevin who we would get to know over the next few days while staying in Phnom Penh. Our luggage was loaded into two vehicles and we received ice cold bottles of water. The streets from the airport to Phnom Penh were very quiet. It was a Sunday night and it seemed like the whole world was asleep.

We arrived at Indochine 2, our hotel for the time we would be in Phnom Penh. We figured out who we would share rooms with and got to our rooms and got to sleep after our long trip. We were in Phnom Penh. Look out Cambodia. The barangs have arrived.

Posted by Sydney324 20:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel cambodia phnom_penh hope Comments (0)

Hotels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

Camera Lost, Then Found

I have reviewed our hotel in Siem Reap as well as our hotel in Phnom Penh. I am especially grateful to the hotel in Siem Reap as I had left my camera there and they got it back to me.

Links to the reviews are below.

Sonalong Boutique Village Resort in Siem Reap


Indochine 2 in Phnom Penh


Posted by Sydney324 00:13 Archived in Cambodia Tagged phnom_penh siem_reap sonalong_boutique_village_resor indochine_2 Comments (0)

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