Monday, January 30, 2012

What Happens in Cambodia, Stays in Cambodia Part One

Disclaimer: Forgive me if I misspell some words & the grammartical errors. It's a long post. So bare with me :)

I finally have all the time in the world to talk about what really happened in Cambodia and why it was one of the biggest highlights of our lives.

And the title? Haha - ignore that. Let me tell you why...

Alex and I asked about going to Cambodia with my moms and they said: "Yes"

We told them that we wanted to see the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, they said: "No" because they thought it was too far. It is far, really far - but that did not stop us. We didn't want to go to Cambodia and just stay at Phnom Penh, the whole point of going to Cambodia is pointless if you don't visit the Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is Angkor Wat.

We booked our bus trip to Phnom Penh during Christmas morning and we chose the 12am trip. Bus trips at night can be really risky. Over dinner, we told my moms that we will be leaving the morning after at 6am, and that we will be staying at Alex's friend's cousin's place at Phnom Penh. Lies. We didn't get to contact the cousin who lives in Phnom Penh - but she is real though. In a small span of time, we searched for hostels around Siem Reap and the ones that we chose didn't respond since it was already around 6-7pm.

Luckily, a couple who are by the way backpackers shared their experience to me about their stay Home Sweet Home, a hostel in Siem Riep, and recommended that we should stay there.

We didn't want to book online because I restricted myself from using credit card during the whole trip. We did not want to use the hostel phone because that will cost us a lot of dollars.

Thank God my boyfriend was willing to help and called the hostel. He said someone answered but he had a hard time communicating with them since he isn't used to the Southeast Asian english or barok english a.k.a. broken english.

I was like, whatever we're just going to book there on the spot. I wrote down the address of the hostel and it's numbers.

After that, Alex and I chilled for hours by the dining area with our fellow backpackers (feeling backpacker na din kami) and me a couple of Australians and an American. We had a lovely chat all together while drinking beer, smoking cigs and all. Then suddenly, a man comes out of nowhere and tells us that it's time to go.

Wow, it was already 11:35 and we haven't packed our stuff. We ran to our room grabbed all the necessary things, stuffed them all inside Alex's awesome duffed bag and off we go.

It was pretty intense, we walked a couple of blocks away where the bus was parked and saw our bus mates. They were legit backpackers - Russians, Americans, Czechs, Japanese, Dutch, Israelis - you name it! The adrenaline rush was intense. We filled up our arrival cards and luckily Filipinos don't need a visa to visit Cambodia.

We got into our bus, settled ourselves in front of a Russian couple and across an American girl and her Asian boyfriend.

That bus trip was quite horrifying, the chairs were uncomfortable and we only had a feet supporter. We didn't even dare to to lower our seats so we can lie down a bit since the Russian couple were quite big, in a gigantic way.

It was so cold in the bus, I didn't have socks on since I was wearing flats and I didn't have a cardigan. Luckily, Alex had hers and let me borrowed it.

The trip was freaking long. We had tons of stops since the driver needed to sleep once in a while. Sometimes his naps would last for an hour or more, and the scariest part was we would stop by the farm fields in an unknown place in Vietnam.

I even imagined that we would be attacked by zombies since it was really dark and the driver would turn off the engine whenever we stopped. You would literally hear the silence. You would so here some snoring, coughing and the best part? This old American man listening to Beautiful by Christina Aguilera, Love Sex & Magic by Justin Timberlake and Ciara and a couple of old songs.

Alex had the worst time since she really needed to pee but didn't get to since it was too dark and the toilet area in the bus was small. She's claustrophobic.

Vietnam border to Cambodia
Around 5 to 6 in the morning, we were awakened by a man and instructed us to go down since we were already in the Vietnam border. Alex and couple of our fellow bus mates took the advantage to go to toilet and do their business.

I stayed outside just in case they call us out for our passports. The immigration officer was a scary looking Vietnamese man. I was afraid that he wouldn't let me out since I'm a minor and I am not with my parents.

By the way, my moms went with us in Vietnam so we won't have to ask for some DSWD permission shit.

Luckily, it did not matter to them, minutes later I went back to our bus. Alex went in immediately to read her book while I stayed out for a while to chill, breathe the Cambodian air and had a small talk with an Israeli girl.

Our bus to Phnom Penh

A few minutes later we were instructed again to go down for the Cambodian immigration process. Alex and I were one of the first ones to finish since we didn't need to fix our visa and all that. It was weird that they did not scan our baggage and asked for fingerprints. 

Cambodian border

Finally we were all done with the immigration stuff. Off we go to Phnom Penh! 

We stopped over at this local eating place and had one of the best breakfast. Omelet and French bread. Simple but very tasty. I also bought a fruit, but I forgot which fruit what it was. Cambodia did really remind us of the Philippines, we felt like we were just at home. We're used to those kind of surroundings. Unlike to the foreigners, it was pretty exotic.

The Russian couple and our first stopover in Cambodia
A few hours later, we woke up and realized that we're already in Phnom Penh (8:00am). We had no idea what to do at first since we're not supposed to stay at Phnom Penh. So we went down and asked what was happening - apparently we had to ride another bus and next trip was around 8:30 am. 

We took advantage the small amount of time and went around to enjoy our few minutes in the capital city.

Bus terminal: Left (motorcycles area and a big sign board) 

Moments later, we looked for a telephone so we can call the hostel in Siem Riep. The people there told us to go to this "phone place" (duh). 

We phoned the hostel - 

Me: Hello, yes we are going to book a room for two people, overnight today and we are in Phnom Penh right now.
Guy: What time are you leaving Phnom Penh?
Me: 8:30am
Guy: Okay, and which bus station will you be arriving?
Me: Wait for a moment..

We had no idea where but thank goodness the guy who owns the phone told us to look out ticket and he read it for us.

Me: blah blah blah blah (forgot which bus station)
Guy: Ah okay okay, we will send tuk-tuk driver there to pick you up with your name in a sign for Home Sweet Home. What is your name?
Me: Karina Santiago
Guy: Okay, he will be there, thank you.
Me: Thank you so much, see you.

Just like that, we were booked. I think. Lol. We paid the guy a dollar or 2 dollars, i don't know then we went to a  convenience store to buy another sim card since my Vietnamese one doesn't work in Cambodia. We were strictly instructed by my mother to contact them as soon as we arrive Cambodia. The sim card was about a dollar or so and I paid another 5 dollars for load in able for me to call outside the country.

We were both hungry so we went to the nearest restaurant we can go to since we were going to leave pretty soon.

I ordered fried noodles (I ate so much friend noodles during the whole trip, such weird cravings) and Alex ordered her first Khmer food!

Then we recognized a couple next to our table, I guessed they were Dutch since the wife looks like my boyfriend's sister then I asked them: "Hi, are you two from the Netherlands?"

"Yes", the husband answered, "How did you know?"
"Oh because your wife looks like my boyfriend's sister"
"Your boyfriend is from Holland?"
"Are you traveling with him?"
"Oh, no. He's in the Netherlands"

Weird conversation, but oh well. Haha! We were peacefully eating when we noticed the couple we're having a problem. Apparently, they ran out of cash and in need to go to an ATM so they wanted to use their credit card to pay for their meal. However, Jaan doesn't accept credit cards but the waitress said they do when he asked before they ordered. Miscommunication for the win. 

The couple kindly asked us to pay for their meal and that they will pay us back once we arrive in Siem Reap since we really had to go in a minute. 

The four of us rode this normal looking bus along with the locals. It was crazy, you can even have pets inside the bus.

And by the way, this another bus trip to Siem Riep was 6 hours long.  It was hot, the television was showing Cambodian music videos (karaoke style) and the songs we're pretty much traditional songs.

This is an example of one of their music videos, and as you can see the people are dancing a traditional dance in their country. The steps are repetitive and mostly only the hands and and legs are the ones moving.

And this singer's music videos were shown during the trip as well. I like how their music videos are simple yet quite inspiring. They would shoot in the farms and have some kind of crazy love story or something. They're such simple people and that is what I love about them.

We also had two stopovers in province for short bathroom breaks, the toilets were... ugh reminded me of China. You know the toilets that are on the floor and you really have to crouch, I hated those before but now I'm just, whatever. No choice. Haha! And it had no flush so you could smell other people's pees. Blegh~

This old man is a Cambodian who lived in America for years. He spoke good English (compared to the locals) and is now living again in Cambodia. 

Me: Where did the Killing Fields take place?
The Old Man: Everywhere! Everywhere is the killing fields.

The man looked a bit happy when we talked to him, I guess he was happy that he could practice speaking English to us foreigners. Wherever he is now, I hope he's okay. I have weaknesses for grandpas because of my grandpa and I miss him very much.

After hours, we arrived the Siem Riep terminal around 6-7 at night. We went down at this dusty area and saw a guy holding up a sign with my name on it. We felt relived that the guy on the phone understood me. Finally, we felt safe! The guy brought us to our tuk-tuk and the Dutch couple rode with us well to look for an ATM. 

When we found one, they got the money, paid us back and went to our hostel since they are also looking for one. 

Our tuk-tuk driver was very friendly. 

Us: What is your name?
Him: Tiger, King Tiger. Hehe.
Dutch man: Where are you from?
Him: From my mother

Insert hysterical laugh here. I swear, it was so funny. He was really funny!

Apparently, they did not want to stay in a hostel and wanted to stay in a better one. Kebs. They're pretty old anyway. Haha! 

So we settled our payments then booked our bus back to Ho Chi Minh for the night after and the tuk-tuk we will be needing for our Angkor Wat trip.

We brought our things to our room and went back down for dinner. Oh boy, let me tell you one thing: Khmer food and people are the greatest. They are so accommodating and friendly while the food is just so perfect. 

Hour, our Cambodian friend also the one who served our food there. He is so friendly and nice and we are still in touch with him

Khmer Spring Rolls

Chhar Kdaut - oh the vegetables, the meat and the taste is just great. No words can describe.

So sorry for the low quality photos, it was taken from my phone

After dinner, we went upstairs and slept. We were at cloud 9 that time since Alex and I realized that we were actually in Siem Riep. We made it.

To be continued...