Cambodia Forever

I'm in Siem Reap now. I've been temple tripping for a few days now. Angkor Wat and Bayon are pretty cool. I also saw the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed.

My favourite "Angkor" site was Kbal Spean, also known as "the river of thousand lingas". It is quite far from town (50KM) but well worth it. I went there on a bike (with driver) and trekked/climbed alone for 1.5KM (from parking lot) through thick forest. Since it is far from town and it's not peak season, almost nobody was there, so it was a bit scary as I have read about incidence of looting.

I ran into a couple of Swiss backpackers once I reached the river, so I had some company on the way back. They were on a four month vacation to Southeast Asia. The river itself is very cool with many carvings of Vishnu and Shivlingas. There's also a nice waterfall. I really enjoyed the site.

I'm going back to Phnom Penh tomorrow morning and then to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on June 1st.

So far I love Cambodia. The people are very friendly and helpful. Everyone smiles. Cambodian girls come to me and tell me I'm handsome and that they like my smile! I think I should move here... hehehe

Kitni Haseen Hai Yeh Duniya!

Cambodia is a beautiful country with beautiful people. There is poverty everywhere and that is obvious as soon as one gets out of the airport. On the other hand, the city of Phnom Penh is booming and that has created a huge disparity between the rich and poor. I have seen more Lexus SUV's in Phnom Penh in one day than anywhere else.

I get stared at everywhere I go in Cambodia. They look at me and smile, and I smile back. I think Cambodian girls are very beautiful. I'm somewhat of a novelty for Cambodians - brown people are a rarity in this part of the world. It is also safe to just walk around - people are always smiling and are friendly.

It is very hot and humid here so tuk-tuk's (rickshaw) are a great way to get around. I hired a tut-tuk to take me all around Phnom Penh today. The tuk-tuk driver was the same guy who had dropped me off to my hostel from the airport. He was good so I got his phone number and called him this morning (Monday) to take me around.

There are lots of tuk-tuk guys near my hostel, but most are sleazeballs. Some have asked me if I wanted drugs; others have asked me if I wanted "bum-bum" (prostitutes); but the worst was a guy who offered "very small" Vietnamese girls. Man, who the hell do these guys think I am?! It is sad, but true, that many foreigners come here to sexually exploit children. There are also a lot of "massage parlours" in Phnom Penh. As tempting as it is to get an one hour massage for only US$1.25, most parlours are really "fronts" for brothels. Even from the outside one can clearly see women lying on the bed in suggestive poses.

My tuk-tuk driver was the only one who hadn't made any "offers" so to speak. He was a young guy, recently married and with a 2-month old son.

I went to a lot of places today. The Royal Palace was very nice. I also went to the Killings Fields where the Khmer Rouge buried (some alive) many Cambodians in the 1970s. Mass graves were found at that site. S21 was another place that I visited where thousands of Cambodians were imprisoned and murdered. One should not come to Cambodia and miss seeing these places.

Later I went to a shooting range where one can shoot anything from a revolver to an AK47. I think even rocket launchers and grenades were on the "menu" (literally!). There were some Chinese tourists there sitting on a table - one guy was smoking; another was taking semi-automatic hand guns, machine guns and a revolver out of a black bag; another guy loaded all of those weapons and put those on the table. Those guys looked like the Chinese mafia and it was a bit scary to be around there with the way they were staring at me. One guy then proceeded to shoot an AK47 - it is extremely loud! I decided not to shoot any weapon - it's just not my thing :) I could have shot 30 rounds (1 magazine) of an AK47 for US$40; or 1 magazine of a Rutger gun for US$12.

I'm just hanging around Phnom Penh tomorrow (Tuesday) and then heading to Seam Reap on Wednesday.

What else? Travelling alone is interesting. Write to me!

Nobody Does It Better...

... than Cathay Pacific! I must say I was impressed by their service - even to cattle-class passengers like me. My flight from Toronto to Hong Kong was about 30 minutes late. When I got out from the plane at HK airport, there was a Cathay representative holding a sign with my name on it. She put some kind of sticker on me and rushed me through security and what not because I was late for my plane to Phnom Penh. She was running as if it was she who was going to miss the plane. As it turned out, my flight was delayed by 15 minutes so it was all good in the end.

Akele Akele Kahan Jaa Rehe Ho?

I'm going to Cambodia and Vietnam at the end of this week for about two weeks. This will be a solo backpacking trip - my first to Southeast Asia. Most people I've talked to think I'm crazy to go to Cambodia alone! However, people fear the unknown - and I think Cambodia falls into that category. Although Cambodia has a brutal past, it is now coming out of isolation. Despite being the third most mined (as in landmines!) country in the world and having the dubious distinction of being the third most corrupt country in Southeast Asia (after Burma and neighbouring Laos), it is now fast becoming an up and coming tourist destination.

My tickets to fly into Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) and to fly out of Hanoi (capital of Vietnam) have already been booked. I'm not pre-booking any hotels/hostels, tours or transportation, nor am I checking-in any luggage. It's just going to be me and my backpack.

My Itinerary

I'll be obtaining visa to Cambodia from Phnom Penh International Airport and visa to Vietnam from Phnom Penh. All I need to have with me are a few passport-size photos.

The main thing I want to explore in Cambodia is the Angkor Wat jungle temple near Siem Reap. It is the largest Hindu (now converted to Buddhist) temple complex in the world. Angkor use to be a Vishnu temple. I was fascinated by this place ever since I saw a documentary on it many years ago. Now that I'm finally going there, it's like a dream come true.

I figured two weeks will be too long in Cambodia and with other interesting places close by, I decided to add Vietnam, which is one of the three countries that borders Cambodia, to my itinerary. It was fun coming up with my itinerary; I just looked at the map of Southeast Asia and picked destinations that I thought would be interesting to visit - as if money was no object ;) That's how Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in southern Vietnam and Hanoi in northern Vietnam were added to my itinerary.

Ha Long BayI wanted to climb Mt. Fansipan (known as "The Roof of Indo-China") in northern Vietnam. However, that plan was dropped since I have no one to go with and climbing Vietnam's highest peak alone is definitely not a good idea. Instead, I'm now planning to go to Ha Long Bay (near Hanoi). Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Bay features thousands of limestone isles of various shapes and sizes. From the pictures, it looks pretty cool.

I'm leaving on Saturday, May 24th and will be reaching Phnom Penh via Hong Kong on Sunday, May 25th. If all goes well, then I should be back on Monday, June 9th. If not, then how long will you mourn me?! hah

It promises to be a great learning experience - to live and manage on my own in foreign countries whose languages I do not speak - and much needed respite from the fast-paced world of finance.

I gotta go - it's check out time! I'll try to update this during my trip to let everyone know I'm still alive and kickin' ;)