Trip Summary: Cambodia – A land known by their dark history, but remembered by their smiles.

After our six days in Thailand, my husband and I went to Aranyaprathet, the Thai city bordering Cambodia, got our Cambodian visas and crossed to border into Poipet, into Cambodia. After that a very long drive from the border to the famous city of Siam Reap which offers tourists the famous Angkar Wat, awaited us.

The first I got to see of Cambodia, besides the stuffy border buildings and the big casino on the border, was the barren land, flat fields that looked like they were stretching into what seemed never ending, only separated by small villages with little wooden huts placed on poles to avoid the floods of water during the rainy season. We saw skinny cows walking along the roads, either dragged a carriage or walking by itself. We saw whole families riding a single scooter and we saw small, laughing children chasing around chickens on dirt roads leading away from the single, main paved road our taxi was putting to use. We saw people sitting outside their homes engrossed in conversations, we saw people taking a rest in their hammock under the shades of the many palm trees and we saw people working in the fields under the relentless Cambodian sun.

I found myself amazed by the sights of a world I hadn’t laid my eyes on before. Cambodia became the travel destination I would never forget and a destination that would leave me longing for a return.

Last summer I picked up a book in the local super market called “De dræbte min far” (First they killed my father) by Loung Ung, without knowing anything about the history of Cambodia I decided to buy in and soon after I found myself sucked into the life and story of Loung Ung, who was just a child when Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge army took over Cambodia in 1975, drove the Cambodian people out the fields and started what they called “Year Zero”. A new era, where hard working farmers were the ideal and educated people were the enemy. During their four year reign the Khmer Rouge army killed an estimated 2 million people, over 20 percent of the Cambodian people lost their lives to the vision of Pol Pot and a few other leaders. Many died of torture, savage executions, over work or starvation.

Through the story of Loung Ung, I found myself drawn into a dark and inhumane era of Cambodian history, a history that ones again shows us the true evil some humans are able to commit, a history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Just outside the capital, Phnom Penh, tourists are able to visit one of the most famous killings fields, called Choeung Ek, where the khmer rouge killed and buried more than 8,800 people in mass graves and in Phnom Penh city it is possible to visit a former high school, which was turned into a prison for the many enemies of khmer rouge, called Tuol Sleng. With such a dark history I never imagined to find so many smiles in Cambodia.

I did witness poverty, especially in the eyes of the small children begging me to buy either postcards, bottled water or bracelets, or in the eyes of an old man or woman lacking limbs asking us for money. I did witness hardships, from seeing people live on the ruthless streets, seeing people work under the burning sun without breaks and seeing people just trying to survive another day, but despite of that I also saw a strong willed people who had moved on, who had raised from the ashes and a people who do their best to enjoy even the smallest pleasures in life. A people who focus on the present while they flash bright smiles to world and to foreigners like me, who no matter how books I read about the genocide, will never be able to fully comprehend what they or their parents have gone through. A foreigner like me, who will probably never experience true, human hardship.

I fell in love with Cambodia, I fell in love with all the beautiful cultural and historic sights, like the famous and impressive ancient city of Angkar Wat which draws in tourists from around the world to the city of Siam Reap, or the beautiful and majestic royal palace in Phnom Penh – which is once again a thriving capital, with busy streets, big markets and boulevards lined with buildings showing off French architecture, reminiscing the French colonization. Phnom Penh, the city once called “the Pearl of Asia”, a city left empty by the khmer rouge, is a city in development and a city worth to visit. Whole Cambodia is worth a visit and I know I didn’t get to see enough during my measly four days in this amazing country, so now I am left with a urge, a need, to once again go back to the country so filled with rich culture and history, the country which offers magnificent sights of true country landscapes, where people still rely on nature, hard work and basic utilities during their everyday lives. The country of Cambodia can offer one an experience of a lifetime, help one create memories one won’t forgot and the Cambodian people can offer one smiles, kindness and show one that it is still right to believe in humanity, even when dark times should prove otherwise.

Cambodia have now a special place in my heart and I hope others who goes there are able to make a place as well.

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Trip summary: Thailand – The relaxed land of smiles and urbanization

This update have been delayed more than what actually seems appropriate – if that even makes sense. I have now been in Japan around 3 and a half week – time does surely takes you by surprise at times. This also means that it’s been 3 and a half week since my husband and I left South East Asia and due to the fact that I focused on making youtube videos, I never got around to doing a blog entry during our traveling. So now I’ll make an entry for each of the three countries, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – starting with the first.

So Thailand, also often referred to as “The country of smiles” – which such a tagline I couldn’t help but finding myself a bit disappointed in the end.

We stayed in Thailand for around 6 days during our 3 week trip. Those days were mostly spent in Bangkok and the surrounding area. We also spent a night in popular vacation spot, Pattaya in order to visit one of my husband’s friends – a place I normally wouldn’t even consider setting my foot in.

Bangkok is a very big city with huge skyscrapers, big and expensive department stores and crowded streets. I often found myself wondering “What is Thailand?”. To me it most of all just seemed like a hotter, more dirty, Thai-speaking version of Tokyo or probably any big city. I’m not sure what I expected to see, I knew there wouldn’t be elephants running around the streets or small tree huts under the shades of palm trees – but what I did find in Bangkok was an overwhelming amount of brand shops advertising for the latest Gucci, Louis Vuitton or Burberry as well as several 7-elevens and McDonald’s pilling up along the streets.

The roads were dominated by colorful taxis, some desperate to get your attention, others couldn’t care less and if you wanted to cross the street there was no use in waiting for the signal to turn green – unless you feel like spending the rest of your holiday waiting while cars pass you by with no intention of stopping. After spending 3 weeks in South East Asia my husband and I knew that the only way to get anywhere was to seize the opportunity, seek courage and just go for it. Don’t get cocky though, the roads of Bangkok or non- relenting and merciless. We already on our first day in Bangkok we witness a bike accident on the road and the cracked skull that followed was what horror images are made of – as we heard sounds of ambulances coming to his rescue in the distance we all knew for sure that this guy was not going to make it.

So is there nothing cultural left to experience in Bangkok? Of course there is. Bangkok has an impressive array of temples and the big royal palace. All very interesting and will surely catch the eye of those seeing them for the first time.

And I do put emphasis on the “first time” part, because I did surely spend of lot of time my first few days admiring these temples and buildings, watching them stretching for the sky and glimmer in the sun and I used every opportunity I had to take pictures of these very “South East Asian” – buildings, those after those few days had past, I might as well only have seen less than half of what Bangkok had to offer in terms of temples, but I felt like I had seen them all. I longed for the non-urban Thailand experience and my husband found us a tour which took us out of the city, out to the famous floating market and out to the elephants. We got in small boats and got to experience the market first hand, seeing small boats filled with everything from fruit, noodles, souvenir, fake brands and bags pass us by.

After that we got a ride on an elephant – since this is something I felt I really needed to try out in Thailand. The real Thai experience. On that day I felt my mood and travel-spirit rise, I felt something cultural, both at the market and on the back of the elephant and I also loved seeing the small huts along the riverfront or dirt roads.

Like mentioned earlier we also went to Pattaya, in order for my husband to catch up with a friend – a popular beach area located around 2 hours away from Bangkok by taxi. To be fully blunt and honest, Pattaya was just as I feared. A place crawling with tourists, bars and sleazy looking places. For me I would normally never go such places, since for me vacations are not about beaches, sun and parties – especially not at a place were it seems like there’s more foreigners than there’s local people. At that one day I felt like my cultural level hit rock bottom and I wanted to return to Bangkok as soon as possible.
I guess the best thing I have to say about Pattaya was the fact that the beach did have a nice view and if one do like partying, hot weather and hanging out at the beach, then Pattaya is the place I’m sure.

When it came to the Thai people, famous for the smiles and friendliness, some lived up to my expectations others didn’t. We did meet a lot of nice and helpful people who were also generous when it came to giving out the famous smiles and like in all other countries we also met some less-nice people. The Thai people seemed to have an overall relaxed attitude towards many things in life – apparently sometimes customer service as well. Maybe I have just spent too much time in Japan where the service is always a top priority, but at times I was disappointed with some of the service we got in Thailand. I often experienced feeling ignored in certain shops and convenience stores, because the staff seemed more busy with chatting than helping me buy something. Once there was even a girl at the cashier who stopped serving me, in order to take a phone call from what seemed like a friend, who she cheerfully kept talking with while she then tried to finish the purchase with one hand and no words left for me.

Of course we received a lot of good service as well, no doubt about that. I just sometimes felt that a lot of Thai people had gotten tired of smiling and had no famous smiles left for us.
Of course those people who either tried to sell us something or cheat us had plenty of smiles and charming words. Overall we did end up getting tired of the people who told us lies in hope of that it could be their gain. One example was when we wanted to see the royal palace and a guy in a uniform told us we couldn’t enter because they were closing earlier today, but we should go see the giant buddha instead, we chose to ignore him and went to the palace anyway, which we had no problems entering, so it was all a scam.

Scams, lack of smiles and hot weather aside, we did have a nice time during our stay in Thailand, we did get to see cultural things and have a lot of experiences we’ll treasure for a long time.