Tag Archives: beach

Week one in Cambodia

Our first stop after a suspiciously easy border crossing from Vietnam, was Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. We arrived in the evening, and the following day went to learn about Cambodia’s history.

This wasn’t an easy introduction to the country. I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing about the Khmer Rouge, because it isn’t easy to write about and it won’t be easy to read either. However the people of Cambodia want tourists to visit the memorials, and they want the world to know their history, so it only seemed right to get it down in words on my blog.

In the late 1970s, the Cambodian government was lead by the Khmer Rouge, whose rule eventually lead to a huge genocide. They orchestrated a mass famine, and wanted to create a “peasant nation.” They began by getting rid of educated people (I.e people who might have questioned their ideals) the first victims were scholars, teachers, and even people who wore glasses. The country was isolated, money was banned, religion was banned, and a huge percentage of the population were sent to work in slave labour camps.

Our first stop of the day was the Killing Fields Genocide Memorial. We were given handheld audio guides, which enables you to take a tour silently and at your own pace. The Killing Fields is essentially a mass grave, one of many all over the country. As you walk around, you step over pieces of human bone and clothing that rise through the soil every time it rains.

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Cambodian people were brought here by the truck load, lined up at the edge of a huge grave and bludgeoned to death. (The Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste their precious bullets.) The workers would spread chemicals on the bodies to help eliminate the smell and also kill off anyone unlucky enough to survive the blow. I can’t write more. Yet there’s more. There are all the human skulls stacked floor to ceiling, more than you could possibly count, with holes in the top, or completely crushed. There was a killing tree. That makes my blood run cold to even think about it, I’ve got goosebumps all over my legs.
They hung huge speakers in the trees and played deafeningly loud patriotic songs all day, over the whirring of the generators. The audio guide played a sample of the sound, so you can imagine what people heard drowning out the death cries.

Next, we visited the S-21 prison. We didn’t pay extra for the audio guide this time round. I couldn’t face the descriptions of the torture methods. The prison used to be a school. Here, people were held and tortured for up to six months before being sent to their deaths in the fields. The floors still have bloodstains on them and there’s bloody handprints on the walls. It’s a very somber place, and I barely even heard birdsong whilst we were there.

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For some reason the Khmer Rouge photographed each victim before they locked them up. In the museum, all the photos are displayed and make for very haunting viewing. I tried to look at every face as an individual, I felt like I owed them that much…but in the end…. There were too many.

Cambodia has broken my heart. This atrocity happened just over ten years before I was born. I almost can’t believe it’s real, yet walking around Cambodia, I’ve hardly seen anybody over the age of fifty, so it must be real, right? One quarter of the population was wiped out. The regime forced marriages that lead to many children (the people my age) being born of unhappy circumstances.
What I’ve taken from that day in Phnom Penh is an incredible sense of gratitude for what I have, and a growing urgency in my mind that I should never take it for granted.

We left Phnom Penh feeling a little bit like different people to the ones who arrived there.

Next stop: Kampot.
We had a nice time in Kampot. We were only there for one night. It’s a small town built on the banks of the river. We had a nice meal by the riverside watching the sunset.

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After Kampot we went to Kep, which is by the sea. I always feel excited to be by the sea when we travel. I’ve always loved the ocean, but I think my love has been enhanced recently because the climate is so damn hot, a sea breeze does me the world of good.

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I loved Kep! We were taken by tuk tuk miles from the town to our accommodation, which was a little bungalow in the jungle, run by a lovely French couple. We chilled out for two days, frequenting the local sailing club which had stunning views of the sunset over the sea. (And two for one cocktails) we wandered round, and just had a lovely relaxing time.

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Then we hopped on the bus to Sihanoukville, our stepping stone to Koh Rong Island. After a night here we were off to island paradise.

We had a wonderful time. It was stunning! So here’s a little ode I wrote to Koh Rong Island (I had absolutely nothing better to do, we didn’t have wifi because the island hadn’t paid their bill and so got cut off by the supplier.)

Here’s to the peacock-coloured ocean drenched in turquoise, green and gold.

Here’s to waiting for it to be pitch black so you can swim amongst the glowing plankton that is so magical and sparkly that it almost feels like you’re swimming through space.

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Here’s to sleeping in a bungalow on the beach, cooled only by a fan so you wake up with the sun, drenched in sweat. Here’s to your nighttime curfew being determined by the monstrous moths who come out at night, forcing you to switch off the light and listen to music instead of reading as usual.

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Here’s to pure white sand so fine that it squeaks underfoot.

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Here’s to 4km of beach with no people and more importantly, no litter on it.

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Here’s to skipping meals because there’s no ATM on the island and we want to eek out the little cash we brought in order to stay as long as possible.

Here’s to stray dogs who dig themselves a hole in the sand under your sun lounger so they can sleep in your shade and company, only huffing occasionally when water drips on them because you went swimming.

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Here’s to planning birthday surprises, being eaten alive by mosquitos and waking up to Tom doing a magical salsa dance stood on the bed whilst clapping the bastards to death.

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Here’s to the sea that’s as warm and clear as a swimming pool, to cans of yucky cheap beer and getting accidentally sunburnt because the anti-malaria tablets make your skin more sensitive.

Here’s to the ache of there being only four weeks left balanced by the excitement of seeing my friends, family and cats again. 

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….. And here’s to being the happiest I’ve ever been.

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Fiji: The Final Chapter

Day 8 

On the next day it was heaving it down once again. We played cards for hours with some friends we made. (Friends! Travelling friends! (sorry, couldn’t resist an inbetweeners joke there) )
We then decided to do the “barefoot hike” which was neither undertaken barefoot, or much of a hike as it lasted about ten minutes up a hill. Having said that, I still somehow managed to violently stub my toes resulting in a grimly bloody foot. Can’t take me anywhere! After a bbq lunch (much to Tom’s delight) we returned once again to the big boat and headed South, this time stopping at Naqalia Lodge.

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Naqalia was a lovely family run resort. All the staff were somehow related, and were really friendly and hospitable. There were also three puppies at the resort! Such sweeties. My favourite was the runt called Pearl. She was so tiny and kept getting picked on by the other pups.

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Once we were settled in our lovely room, we went for tea and met the other guests. After tea we took part in a kava drinking ceremony. (not cava as I at first thought!) Kava is a Fijian drink made from crushed pepper plant (as in salt and pepper not bell pepper) and mixed with water. Originally part of a sacred ceremony, it’s now more of a social thing. It looks and tastes like muddy water, but it makes your mouth and throat numb and helps you sleep at night – ideal for me! We had to choose how full our bowls were – “low tide” “high tide” or “tsunami.” I tried high tide but chickened out when it came to the tsunami business!

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Day 9

(Rhiannon, Charlotte and any other arachnophobes who happen to be reading this, you may wish to jump ahead a bit. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
After a good kava-induced sleep, we woke up to some more rain. I padded into our shower room and realised that the window was shut with lots of bugs trapped inside. As I was leaning to open the window and let them out, on the wall I saw the.biggest.fucking.spider.I.have.ever.seen.or.ever.hope.to.see.again.
Hand-sized, the stuff nightmares are made of. I screamed for Tom. Tom hates spiders, I don’t mind them too much, so perhaps it was a bit cruel of me but for some reason I just needed someone else to see it too! We blocked it in the bathroom and went for breakfast.

After breakfast, we went round the back of our hut to look in the shower room window to see where the spider was. Horror film style, the door was open!!!! For gods sake!! Aragog was now on the loose in our hut. As Tom tentatively brushed his teeth, I searched the room for the bastard but couldn’t find it anywhere. I looked for a weapon and my eyes fell upon the floor standing fan. Brilliant, I thought. If I see the bugger I’ll splat it with the fan. I lifted the fan to test out the weight and then THERE IT FUCKING WAS!! I screamed and it was on the loose again. I made Tom watch the spider (never seen someone look so terrified with a toothbrush in their mouth) whilst I went to get one of the Fijians. After chasing it around and under my bag (shudder) the hero of the story put his hand over the spider whilst it was on the floor. The image of legs sticking out from all sides of his hand will stay with me forever. He threw it out onto the beach and looking very unimpressed, told us that it was a “money spider” and “good luck”

Money spider????!!! Seriously?! Anyway. I deducted that if something is seen as “good luck,” it’s usually because it’s rare (being pooed on by a bird etc.) Oh, how I was wrong…

It was absolutely chucking it down all day, so not much to do, although we did drag ourselves up the big hill behind the resort. Tom was grumpy because he watched England loose in the rugby to Wales in a room full of Fijian Wales supporters. Ho hum.

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(Looks happy doesn’t he?!)

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(View of the resort from the top of the hill. We were staying in the pinky coloured spider hut.)

That evening we learnt a “traditional bula dance” – I put this in inverted commas because it was pretty much the macarena and part of me thinks it was dreamt up to make the travellers look like tits! We also did a limbo dance (I was the first one out surprise surprise) And then more kava. Just what I needed to get over Aragog Gate.

Day 10
We got up early. I decided to skip the whole showering business after the previous day’s escapade.

We went out on a boat to a reef to swim with the reef sharks. With us were half of the Kiwi family staying at the resort, and a lovely Czech couple. On the way out to the reef, Nathan (from the resort) jumped out to go spear fishing to get some breakfast for the sharks.

We carried on to the reef, and all jumped in. The sharks were so cool! There was about six or seven of them, each around 1.5m long. It was so cool to see them lurking at the bottom and a bit scary when they came up to you. I touched the back of one of them (we were instructed to stay clear of their mouth) Nathan was going to feed them and I kept my distance as I was a teeny bit scared of them. I had my head underwater looking at the sharks on the bottom when I heard screaming.

I popped my head out of the water trying to figure out what was going on to see Rebecca with her arm out of the water literally dripping in blood. I couldn’t see her dad anywhere and she’d asked me to be her snorkelling buddy so I was holding her out of the water trying to figure out what was going on. We all got back on the boat and headed back to land. It turns out she’d been really close to Nathan as he was feeding the swarming sharks, she’d moved her arms backward whilst treading water and had come between a shark’s mouth and the food. Wow! Never a dull day in Fiji eh? Luckily Rebecca’s mum is a doctor so she patched her up, and she was absolutely fine.

The rest of the day was a little bit surreal. We played cards and chilled out. I went to our hut to go to the loo, and guess what? ANOTHER SPIDER. I’ll call this one Shelob. Tom and I realised that we couldn’t ask for help again without looking like a total pair of pansies, so we threw a bath mat at it, put our walking boots on and somehow shooed it back out of the hole it came through. Joyous. I spent the rest of our stay using the outside loo that was only populated by geckos – much more manageable!

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Day 11
The next day, we went on a boat trip to the local village to meet the children at the school. The kids all sang to us, which was lovely, and we got to see their classrooms and learn about their lessons and how the school day is run. They don’t have electricity at the moment but are currently fundraising for solar power. Interestingly, all the displays in the classroom are in English. When I asked about it, the teacher explained that the lessons are taught in English with lots of explanation in Fijian. The kids seemed really happy, and I enjoyed seeing them all collect plastic plates and head across the field for their lunch.

When we got back to the resort, I learnt how to do some traditional Fijian weaving and with a lot of help, made this bracelet! It was nice chatting with the women about how I knit jumpers at home, although they’d be pretty useless in Fiji.

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We then got the big boat back to the mainland, checked in at our hostel, went out for a bizarre meal and then had an early bed before our flight to New Zealand the next day.

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