Phnom Penh, Cambodia

February 8
We arrived at the Phnom Penh airport in Cambodia. We got our visa on arrival by going through a queue for foreigners. After going through a fairly quick, not even sketchy, process we went trough customs and we were in. I’m glad we flew in. We later heard about taking a bus in from thailand. It’s nicknamed the Scambodia Boarder because there are a bunch of fake immigration offices on the Thai side selling fake visas on arrival to tourists. I have no idea why it isn’t stopped. Once in, we went to the ATM because we only had USD. I tried to get $200 out and it gave me two $100 bills in USD. I was like wtf, and took the bills to a currency exchange. The person behind the counter was confused. I asked for the $200 to be converted to the local currency. The exchange rate is 4000:1 so I ended up getting a ton of 10,000 bills. I guess they don’t have a bill larger than that, which is the equivalent of $2.50 USD. We got a taxi and were quoted in USD. He was also confused when I asked him if I can pay in his currency. I later found out that Cambodia uses the USD as their main form of currency. They only use their own currency as a form of change if something isn’t an exact dollar amount. For example, if something is $3.75 USD and you gave a $10 USD bill then you would get change of one $5 bill, one $1 bill and one 1000 KHR bill of the local currency. It is nice to be coinless but it’s weird that they don’t even use their own currency that much. We checked into our hostel, called One Stop Hostel. It wasn’t very big but had a few ten person dorm rooms that made it easy to meet people. We were right in the main area within walking distance to most attractions. We ate dinner for very cheap and walked around. Beer was never more than $1 and we usually never bought it unless it was $0.50 or less. Many places had draft beer for $0.50 so that was awesome. We found a place in Siam Reap in a couple of days that had $0.35 draft beers during happy hour and a place in Sihanoukville in a week that had $0.25 draft during happy hour. Wtf. How do they even make money. You could get drunk off your ass for less than $2 USD. That’s so awesome! Cambodia is so cheap, it’s incredible. We rarely paid more than $10 for a meal and drinks for two of us. We didn’t pay more than $5 USD for any individual meal during our time in this country, even if it was a western dish. Matt and I walked around the area and enjoyed not being heckled like in Thailand. We stumbled upon a place that had unlimited free beer for two hours, so we went there. We were confused about the special, so we asked the waitress what we needed to buy in order to get unlimited free beer. She said we didn’t need to get anything. I asked how they make money. She just said it was a promotion to get people to eat there too. We felt uncomfortable just drinking a lot of beer and not paying anything so we each got a little dish too. Only in Cambodia. We met a girl in our hostel who wanted to split a tuk tuk to the Killing Fields and S21 the next day, so we went home at a reasonable time to go to bed. Once back, we handed our passports over to our hostel because they did a Vietnam visa service. We paid them a little over the visa price and they send someone to wait in line, do all the paperwork and get our visas. We booked a night bus out the night we are getting out passports back, so we hoped everything worked out with timing. While in our dorm room, we talked with two people from New Zealand who we talked to for an hour. They gave us really good advice for traveling in Myanmar, so that helped us out. It was exciting to hear about their time there because it is off the beaten path and there isn’t an easy route to follow yet in the country. It is newly open to outsiders and everyone who goes in has to plan everything themselves without much guidance because there isn’t enough relevant information out there. It’s nice to hear first hand experience because the internet has been wrong too many times this trip. Trip Advisor has been pretty off 50% of the time, so it is hard to know what is reliable anymore. They also asked us if we were going to Sihanoukville this trip, which is a beach town in southern Cambodia. We said we were open and not really sure, so they recommended that we go to an island off the coast that is paradise. It is called Koh Rong. We decided that we would look into it and probably go there after Siam Reap.

February 9
We woke up around 8:00 am naturally and went for a run along the river. It was nice to work out again. We then got breakfast before meeting the girl from Amsterdam who we met yesterday to share the tuk tuk today. A guy from New Jersey tagged along last minute so it was only $5 each for the entire day. We first rode to S21, which used to be a school. Ok wait, let me back up. A brief history on why we are seeing these things today and why it is important to understand the significance. About three decades ago, the leader of Cambodia decided that the country was going in the wrong direction and he wanted to change that. He decided to move everyone out of all cities and into the countryside in order to best preserve the county. Within 3 days, the entire capital of Phnom Penh was evacuated and people were told that they have to farm for a living now, despite the fact that they had no expertise in the area. This was the beginning of a horrible time in Cambodia’s history. People who showed the slightest signs of resentment towards the new government rule were arrested and tortured until they would confess to crimes that they didn’t commit, and then were killed. Eventually, any person in the country with any secondary education was also killed because the leaders didn’t want anybody smart enough to overthrow them alive as a threat. Also, once one person in a family was killed, everyone else in the family was killed as well, to prevent having to fear the retaliation of family members in the future. Even babies were brutally killed by being smashed against trees. S21 is a school that was turned into a prison. Since there were no schools anymore, many schools were turned into prisons to torture people and force confessions. The people were then taken to a killing field and were killed and buried in mass graves. After visiting S21, we went to a killing field and learned about that with individual audio guides. It was so sad and depressing that something like this could happen so recently. This genocide is so recent that every Cambodian over 40 years old was alive during this time. It is estimated that about one in three people were killed in the country during this four year span of leadership. Eventually, the government was overthrown and the genocide came to an end. The hypocritical part was that the main leader of the country was educated in Paris and was a school teacher, yet he killed everyone else just like him. So sad. After the killing fields, we ate a late lunch with the girl from Amsterdam and a girl from Canada by our hostel. We then walked around the city and through a market. It was nice to get our minds off of the genocide history that we have been learning about all day. For dinner, Matt and I ate at a place with good western food and drink specials. $1.50 cocktails and $0.50 beers. We chilled for the night and relaxed at the restaurant we chose. It had a good vibe and had good music. It was an educational but depressing day, but it deserves the time of every traveler passing through.

February 10
We slept in and checked out. We then walked down the street and tried to figure out how to get a refund from Air Asia who has the worst customer service ever. We didn’t make much progress, so we left and got some pizza. There is stuff called happy pizza here. It’s pizza laced in weed. Apparently it’s illegal to smoke weed here but it is legal to use it as an herb for cooking. Pizza places took advantage of this loophole and serve happy pizza. Some also serve special pizza, which is pizza laced in shrooms. I’m pretty sure that is straight up illegal though. When you go to a place like this, we had to make sure the guy taking our order knew that we didn’t want weed on our pizza or pasta. Throughout our time in Cambodia, we were never 100% sure if the guy understood us. We always were a little skeptical after eating pizza and after about an hour or so, we could finally relax and know that we didn’t eat any weed. Luckily, we never had any incidents, but I could easily see a tourist getting pizza with weed and have no idea. Some of the places, you have to specifically ask for pizza without it, or they will just do it. We saw some older couples eating at the “Happy Herb Pizza” restaurants and they probably had no idea. I wonder if any of them had a little surprise. But then again, maybe they wanted to have some. Hey, they lived through the 60’s. Matt and I then walked around a huge palace which was impressive and made for nice photos. We then went back to the hostel to relax before dinner. For dinner, we ate on the main road again and relaxed with nice music and drink specials. We had to wait until 11:00 PM for our overnight bus to Siam Reap. We waited for a couple of hours in our hostel and played cards with a Cambodia man who worked at the hostel. He didn’t speak a word of English but somehow picked up on our game, Addiction, pretty quickly. He enjoyed it and so did we. We then boarded our overnight bus. We paid $15, which is $4 more than the main sleeper bus, but that bus is nicknamed the Death Bus because it crashes all the time. The cheaper companies use only one driver and he falls asleep at the wheel while driving through the night. We chose a company that had drivers switch half way. It was worth the extra $4.

mikepsilve'sPhnom Penh  album on Photobucket