The temples of Siem Reap

When visiting Siem Reap, it is basically a crime not to visit the temples there. Angkor Wat is the biggest religious monument in the world. There are so many temples on these sites, you can spend weeks there. But, for those of us who don’t want to look at temples for weeks on end, you can do a one-day trip as well. And even then, you can choose the short circuit of the big one.

I ended up doing the short one and even though  I would have wanted to see more, the price for a second day was too much for me, plus, the first day was so exhausting, that after that I was kind of done for a while. Maybe it would be best to go back again a few weeks later, but who has the time…?

The entrance fee is 20 dollar for one day, 40 dollar for 3 days and I think 60 dollar for a week. You get a personalized ticket, so they take your picture at the booth. My 20 dollar bill was actually rejected because it was not new and pretty enough, so I had to give them another. Ridiculous. It is unbelievable how much money a place like this must make. There are so many people and they all pay these high prices. It’s bizarre.

The best way to see the sights is to hire a tuktuk driver for the day. For the short circuit this shouldn’t cost more than 15 dollars, so find three other people to fill the tuktuk and it’s pretty cheap. You can also rent a bicycle, but I get the feeling that every single person who does that seriously underestimates the heat. You are fully in the sun, almost the whole day. It is insanely hot. For real.

So, the thing you all have been waiting for… The pictures.

Enjoy.

 

Running into an old friend

After roaming Phnom Penh for a morning, I wasn’t feeling too well. My back was hurting (I strained it a week and a half ago, and it’s gonna take some time before it will be completely back to normal) and besides that, I was suffering from some thing that some women suffer from approximately every month, but about which I won’t go into detail, so the guys reading my blog won’t freak out.

Suffice it to say, I was not feeling so well. I went back to the hostel and waited there until it was time to get to my bus, which would take me to Kampot. I was feeling bummed, because I wanted to see more of the city. I was also feeling bummed because there was an earlier bus which I could have taken, and which a bunch of the people from my hostel took.

But when the time came for me to go to the bus terminal (which was really just an office), I was feeling a bit better. I walked in and looked next to me, seeing a guy in sunglasses that looked slightly like somebody I knew. This happens to me a lot while I’m traveling… I guess it’s my brains way of telling me I’m missing my friends.

So I walk over to the counter to ask about my bus and they tell me to just sit and wait. So I do. I put my stuff down and sit in one of the chairs, while sneaking peeks at the guy sitting there. He looks so much like him…

I open my Facebook app, to just look him up and see if maybe he could be in the area. He’s currently living in Vietnam, so it’s not that much of a stretch… But it still is.

And what do you know, he put on Facebook that he was going to Cambodia for a few days… But it couldn’t be. It could not be possible that I am actually bumping into somebody I know all the way across the world. It is not possible. It just isn’t…

“- Sanne?”

Oh my god. I guess it is possible. And it is the biggest coincidence I ever had in my life. It’s so weird to run into a friend in a country so far from home and it took us both a few moments to realize it.

And not only did we run into each other, we were taking the same bus, to the same place.

So we spent the next day together, riding a motorbike across some of the country. The views were beautiful and the freedom that comes with driving through such rough terrain yourself, with nobody telling you where to go, was wonderful.

We had a great day and saw a lot, and after having dinner in the evening, we went our separate ways.

Thanks for the fun day, Tom! Maybe I’ll see you somewhere in Europe the world again.

 

 

Phnom Penh

This capital city of Cambodia has plenty to offer to enjoy yourself for two days. One of the most popular things to do here is to visit the Killing Fields (which I wrote about here). But also in Phnom Penh itself are some sights. You can visit the Palace, or go to the National Museum. Or, you can be like me, and just walk around the city, which gives you the chance to stumble upon a temple and a few other iconic views that make for a few lovely pictures.

 

A few snapshots from Vietnam

All of these photographs were taken in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in Vietnam.

As you’ll notice, a lot of the famous buildings in Ho Chi Minh City look European, because before they were in war with the USA, they were occupied by the French.

You’ll see some photos of the city life, but I also visited a park where they had some sort of flower exhibition.

Pictures of Cambodia will soon follow!

 

 

It’s not all fun and games

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At first glance, this is just another tree. A very beautiful tree, one might even say.
Until you hear what it was used for.
This tree was used to smash in the heads of children, and after that they would be tossed in the mass grave beside it.

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A beautiful building. On each corner is a Garuda (a kind of bird) and a dragon. They are eternal enemies, and when they appear somewhere together, it means peace.
And this is what’s inside the building.

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A courtyard that looks lovely and peaceful. But inside these buildings, people were tortured until they admitted to things they had no idea about.

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Another tree. This one was used to put speakers on. For a party? No. To cover the sounds of people screaming while they were being brutally murdered.

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This may just look like a traditional offering place, and it is. But if you look at the box behind it, you will see the bones that came up from the grounds years later. Bones of all the people that were murdered and buried at the Killing Fields in Cambodia. During the period when Pol Pot decided he wanted to rule the world with some kind of idea of the perfect species (sounds like someone else we know from the history books?) he killed many Cambodians. They were all tortured and questioned about possible affiliations with spies. Even if they were innocent, they would be killed, because “it is better to kill an innocent, than to let a guilty person live”.
Really?
Really?!?!

As you can imagine it was quite a shocking day. The things that were done and the stories that were gathered at these memorial sites were unbelievable. Not only were innocent people tortured and killed, also babies and children. They didn’t want to take the risk of them seeking revenge later and made this clear with the saying “it’s better to pick out a weed by its roots”.

The one thing that really stuck with me the most was a quote from one of the survivors. A few people lived because they had skills that the Khmer Rouge needed. There was a mechanic, and a painter, and a few others… So they lived longer than the rest and because liberation came just in time, some of them are still alive today. And one of them said that because of their hobby, or their job, they stayed alive. And now he was reaching out to the world and telling his story, to prevent things like this from happening again, but also to encourage the youth to develop their skills, because one day…

It just might save your life.

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Why touristic tours may not be my cup of tea

Because they just want money, that’s why. And when they get money, they want more money.

So I don’t know if I really won’t do any tours anymore. They are a great opportunity to see some sides of a country, mostly of the nature. If the price is right, I may be tempted again in the future. But my current experience is not great. I did two tours in Tenerife more than a year ago and those were not great experiences either. I guess I thought Asia was different.

I booked a tour to the Mekong Delta. It was just for one day, and while I was waiting for the bus in the hostel, I already met somebody who was also doing the tour alone. In the bus somebody casually mentioned that it was the fanciest bus they had been in in Asia and yeah, the bus was comfortable. The seats were a bit small, but there was airco and the chairs reclined, so I guess that’s okay.

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The first stop was at a place where there were three huge buddha statues. Great to take pictures with and the tour guide gave us a riddle. I didn’t realize we could win something, and by the time I did, somebody else already shot up to answer the question.
There were three buddha’s and they represented the past, the present and the future. The huge smiling chubby buddha was the present. The question was which one was the past and which one the future. Well, I would have guessed wrong, because the lying down buddha was the future and the standing buddha was the past.

We continued on the bus and ended up at a small harbor, where we got on a boat. We saw a bit of the waterfront there and eventually got off somewhere for lunch. There were many options to buy something extra but the basic lunch was included.

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Coconut house

After this lunch we went to a place where they made coconut candy. Would be great if we could make some ourselves, but we could just watch the people do it and guess what, we could even buy it afterwards! I didn’t, but I was shortly tempted by a coconut that was turned into an amazing little statue of three monkeys. I decided I could make do with a picture of it. They had many more things made out of coconut, including an entire house.

We also tried some coconut whiskey and you could take a picture with a snake, which seemed very random and strengthened our belief that this trip was very touristic. After that we continued on by small boats, to the next stop.

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What was interesting and a little annoying is that they basically asked for a tip everywhere, when actually, we already paid for the tour and shouldn’t have to pay extra during the tour. Everything was supposed to be included.

Which made it weird that when one guy offered the tour guide a tip in the end, he refused it.

The small boats were very cute and fun to go on, while sailing through a mangrove-like river. But it was a very short trip and when we got off, we sat down again to try some sort of tea. The day started to feel a bit like a tasting and when I asked the guy that sort of hung out with our small group if he had a good time, he said: “I just don’t understand why we are here…”

Me neither. I could have done with more sightseeing and less tasting of stuff.

But the people I was with made the day more fun. Besides the girl from my hostel, who was Israeli, by the way, I hung out with two girls from Germany and a guy from the USA, which was a nice group.

After we drank the tea the tour guide announced another opportunity to win a price. Well, I wasn’t gonna let this one pass me by, but when I heard the challenge, I was sure I would win them without any problem.
He said you could taste some fruit and if you could identify three of them, I would win some chopsticks made out of coconut. Great! Challenge accepted.
So, after being blindfolded and tasting five kinds of fruit, I won the price. I stupidly forgot what I was tasting when eating jackfruit… my mind went completely blank. And he had me try a fruit of which even he didn’t know the English name, so that one was hard too. But I easily identified the watermelon (duh), dragon fruit and the guava.
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I shared my price with my daily friends and gave them all a pair of chopsticks. After this we walked back to the bus that had already driven to a new pick-up point and we headed back to Ho Chi Minh City.

So just to be clear, I do like what the tours can offer, but I feel like the authenticity is nowhere to be found and everything is just way too focused on tourists. That’s why I love meeting people through couchsurfing. It just gives you a chance to meet locals and hear about their daily life.

But one thing these tours definitely know how to do, is make sure you get some amazing pictures to capture the day.

Welcome to paradise

The name: Belitung.
The atmosphere: Tropical.
The scenery: White sand beaches, blue water, beautiful palmtrees.
What more do you want? Nothing.

I went to Belitung, an island in Indonesia, where I spent a relaxing weekend with my friend when she came to visit. Our house was right next to the beach and had everything you could want (a bed and bathroom). The place is only 25 euros a night and you won’t find anything like this in Europe for that price.

The beaches were truly amazing and on the second day we went islandhopping. We got on a boat (by walking into the water and climbing the ladder) and sailed into the great big unknown. We saw a beautiful lighthouse that proved to be very photogenic, we went into a bit of a jungle, we interacted with one of my new favorite animals: turtles and we went snorkeling. And when I say WE went snorkeling, I mean my friend went snorkeling while I was crawled up like a ball in the boat for half an hour, trying to fight the seasickness.
I did throw crackers into the water though, which makes all the fishes come to you and that was awesome.
The next day we went into more jungle, we saw the smallest monkey in the world (but we did see the biggest kind of the smallest monkey, the Tarsius monkey) and we went to a museum. We also saw the place where a movie was shot, called Rainbow Troops. I still haven’t seen it, but it’s on my to watch list.

Just dream away with the pictures we took, and if you want more information or the number for our contact on the island, just contact me 😃

 

What happens when you yell ‘bomb’ on a plane

When I arrived in Singapore it was quite a contrast with Indonesia and I was happy to be able to say I have now been in two Asian countries. We arrived in the evening and took a taxi to our hostel, and right away I noticed how quiet it was in the streets. Sure, it was the middle of the night, but in Jakarta that really doesn’t make a difference. There is always traffic. Not in Singapore.
Another shock I had was that everybody stopped at the traffic lights when they were red. In Indonesia, it’s really more like a suggestion. And this kind of became a general idea during our stay in Singapore. People would simply stick to the rules. And I’m not just talking about written rules, such as no chewing gum (which is literally a law), no food in the subway and no smoking in a lot of places. I’m also talking about the unwritten rules, like getting up for the elderly in the subway or in the bus, like staying quiet in the street when it is late at night… And all these unwritten rules have written forms that really impressed me. One of the things I kept noticing in Singapore is the amazing marketing skills they have. Look at some of the signs below, that really speak to you and make you want to stick to the rules. #standupstacey

 

I really felt like Singapore is a city that really focuses on making it as comfortable as possible to live in. There are plenty of subway stations and busses to get around, they have many parks and benches, places to relax… They even had a charging station in one of the subway stations, which I thought was such good service!

The trip to Singapore already started great. I met my friend at the airport and together we waited for our flight to Singapore (where she had a layover a few hours before, which we didn’t know beforehand). We saw a sign there, in Indonesian, which I roughly translated to: you cannot shout the word ‘bomb’ at the airport.
When we were in the airplane, I explained to my friend that everybody in Indonesia asks you ‘where are you going?’ instead of ‘how are you?’ I told her how you just give them the simple answer, like: I’m going to the office. But you won’t tell them what you’ll be doing there, like: I’m going to the office to plant a bomb.
‘I thought you couldn’t say bomb?’ my friend asked.
‘No, you cannot shout it,’ I clarified, even though that was just my interpretation of the sign.
A few minutes later I started playing a game on my phone (not because we were already sick of each other, but because I was restless and needed something to do) and I decided on Fruitninja. For those of you who don’t know the game: what rock have you been living under?
In the game, there are pieces of fruit and there are bombs. Can you see where I’m going with this?
After a while I hit a bomb and in the heat of the moment, I yelled: Ah, no, I hit a bomb!
There were no consequences and I think nobody paid attention to the two loud bules in the airplane, but I thought it was kind of a funny moment.

What they say about Singapore is true. It is very clean. And I expected it all to be very modern and fancy, but the truth is, Singapore has many different areas. We went to Little India (where we stayed in a hostel also), to Chinatown, to Arab street, and in each of these places the atmosphere is totally different and a lot of people from these countries lived there.

The food was amazing. We went to this one restaurant that was a one minute walk from our hostel, where they made the most amazing sauce to go with the mini springrolls. So we ordered that a lot, even if it was just for a late night snack. We ate a huge plate of vegetables and some falafel in Arab street and in Chinatown we were adventurous and ordered some stuff off the menu of which we had no idea what to expect. Plus, I found a salad bar that became my favorite place in Singapore on day one, so we went back one more time later that weekend.

We also spent one morning in a great natural park, where we were planning on hiking for 5 kilometers, but we ended up walking only a fifth of that. It was so hot. But it was beautiful and we also saw a bit of the natural activities there, like an ant migration and a monkey running through the playground.

One of the main activities during this trip was making small videos, usually of us singing. When I edited this all together, I will share some of those moments with you. Some may say it’s embarrassing I just say we were having fun.
And we did.
But until I can upload the videos, you’ll have to do with the photographs below.