Friday, March 30, 2012

We're really going to do this....

Okay, so those of you reading this know well enough, by now, that my normal habit is to post things many days after they have already occurred. Well, today I'm changing it up a little. The Vietnam summary and "Best and Worst of SE Asia" have been put on hold, as I sit here and try to contemplate what the next two weeks will entail.

Michelle and I arrived in Nepal two days ago following a mild depression due to the fact that we were leaving SE Asia. Well, we've snapped out of it and are loving live, once again, in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.  Our primary purpose in visiting Nepal, however, is to hike the Annapurna Sanctuary in the Himalayas. We will be doing this with a G-Adventures (formerly known as GAP adventures.) Likely among a group of people who love fun and adventure as much as we do.

Anyhow, I've been on the website, all morning, becoming equally excited and nervous as I read over and over the itinerary once again.  I don't believe I have read it, in full, since the day we booked the tour.  Then I nerd-ed out a little and made an easy-to-read chart of the places we're hiking to, the elevation, and approximate times we'll be trekking each day.  I even went to far as to make it into a graph in excel, but can not figure out how to copy the graph into a blog post, so you'll just have to imagine that one on your own.

Please see below...  and especially check out what happens on day nine! Please send some successful and oxygen filled thoughts our way before you go bed on April 8th, thanks!

Day Hike Description Elev (mts) elev (ft) approx time dist (kms) dist (miles)
4 Pokhera - Nayapool (driving) 1035 3394.8 2hrs 46 28.52
4 Naypool -Tirkhedhunga 1535 5034.8 3-4hrs 7 4.34
5 Tirkhedhunga -Ghorepani 2873 9423.44 6-7hrs 12 7.44
6 Ghorepani-Poon Hill 3210 10528.8 90min 1.5 0.93
Poon hill-Tadapani 2500 8200 4-5hrs 9 5.58
7 Tradapani-Chhomrong 2100 6888 4hrs 8 4.96
8 Chhomrog-Himalaya Hostel 2820 9249.6 6-7hrs 9 5.58
9 Himalaya Hostel-Annapurna Base camp 4130 13546.4 7-8hrs 9 5.58
10 Annaputna base camp -bamboo 2300 7544 6-7hrs 13.5 8.37
11 Bamboo -Jhinu Danda hotsprings 1700 5576 5hrs 8.5 5.27
12 Jhinu Danda -Pothana 1900 6232 6-7 hrs 9 5.58
13 Pothana-Phedi 930 3050.4 2hrs 5 3.1

Here we are at 45 or 46 or 4700-something meters in Peru just under a year go....
My plan is to have just as big a smile on my face when we make it to base camp!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Let's go find new friends

No one would question the fact that Michelle and I are very good friends.  After all, in addition to being professional colleagues, we did agree to travel the whole world together assuming we would still be friends at the end.  Six weeks in: so far, so good. I haven’t tired of Michelle at all yet, not one bit.  However, it is nice to have someone new to talk to once in a while. I mean, let’s face it… all the wonderful things we’ve seen, all the good stories I have to tell or that she has to tell  and – well, we were both there!

It did not take long to start making friends on this trip.  The first ones came along our very first night out in Bangkok. We got dressed up -- well, as dressed up as you can get when you have four shirts to choose from -- looked at each other and said, “Let’s go make some friends.” We went down to the common area in our hostel to see what we could find.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Right there, right away we found three guys drinking Chang beer and, we soon learned, wondering what they were going to do for their last evening in Bangkok. 

GP – G.P. is a guy from Canada, heading home the next day.  He had had been traveling in Thailand for two months though he admitted to spending the majority of his time on the beaches in the south. The most memorable thing about G.P. was the color of his skin, I’ve never seen a white man with skin like that.

Glen and Conrad - Conrad is a Canadian, and Glen is from Northern Ireland. These two were friends after studying together in Australia.  They were on a break and bumming around SE Asia for awhile.

L-R: Conrad, Michelle, Katy, G.P., Glen - note G.P.'s skin tones!
The best picture I could find from the night
The five of us went to eat and to celebrate our first and their last night in Bangkok. We spent the majority of the night roaming around Khosan Road and people-watching.  It was particularly interesting to observe the dynamic change as to who approaches you in the street when you’re two girls as compared to when you’re two girls and three guys.  When we had walked down Khosan Rd earlier in the day no one bothered us.  However, when we were walking with these three gents, they told us all about the hookers and ladyboys approaching them seemingly all day and night.  Walking with them we did get approached a time or two, but it was nothing troublesome or threatening.  It was truly more entertaining than anything else.

That first night was a great way to kick off our trip. The best thing about staying in guesthouses and hostels is that they are not only incredibly affordable compared to conventional hotels, but also the “hostel scene” makes it so easy to meet fun people, people with great stories about their travels and about life in general.  Also, many of the people you meet along the way have been or are headed to places you have been or are going, and exchanging ideas and experiences makes the “go without a plan” plan all the more fun.

Green Leaf Guest House...
After Bangkok we headed North toward Khoi Yai National Park where we had a plan to stay at Green Leaf Guesthouse outside the town of Pak Chong. Here we had an “all inclusive” arrangement where we paid for a room and two daytrips into the park.  Not only was the park enjoyable but, like the hostels, it was also a great spot for making new friends.  The rooms were nothing special and can only be described as being “basic” at best.  However, the common area of this particular place was very spacious, well lit, and set up perfectly for playing cards and just hanging out and exchanging stories.

The first night there, Michelle and I went out to the common area with our computers to catch up on chronicling this trip and attempt to SKYPE with folks back home.  It didn’t take five minutes for our next new friend to emerge.  We got acquainted easily and quickly, and he joined us for dinner.  His name is Pras, short for Prasanna.  Pras was another Canadian.  He was currently living and working in San Francisco.  He was on a short trip to Thailand, meeting up with friends in a few random places around the country.  He was at Green Leaf Guesthouse for his last few nights in Thailand. 

With Pras at Khao Yai
The following day the three of us stayed together, enjoying the park as a trio as well as among a group of about six or eight others.  That evening we found ourselves among another, totally different, group and, as is our way, having a very good time. The formula isn’t complicated: Chang beer, a deck of cards, a picnic table and six happy, storytelling backpackers.  This evening we were part of a great group.  We met Marijue from Belgium.  Marijue was spending four months traveling throughout SE Asia and would soon be on her way to Malaysia.  Ward, from the Netherlands, was spending a month in Thailand primarily to go diving in the south.  Unfortunately he had surfaced too quickly on a dive near the beginning of his trip resulting in two ruptured eardrums and several days in the hospital.  He wisely decided to spend the remainder of is trip above sea level. Our group also included Tom Russell, an Englishman.  Tom was on a route similar to mine and Michelle’s, but he was moving at a much more leisurely pace.  We did have the good fortune of meeting up with Tom again several days later when our paths crossed in Chiang Mai.

If I could edit pics on my net book I would crop this so you can see everyone a little better.
At the train stop in Pak Chong. L-R: Michelle, Tom, Ward, Marijue, Pras, Katy
The six of us boarded the same third class (oops! 3rd class!) train to Ayutthaya. It was a hot, humid, sweaty and yet VERY entertaining train ride.  We said goodbye to Marijue and Ward when we got to Ayutthaya as they were continuing back to Bangkok, but Tom, Pras, Michelle and I had a very fun day exploring the ruins of Ayutthaya.

With Tom and Ward on our third class train.

We spent only the day in Auytthaua, so we had to finally say goodbye to Pras and Tom.  Quite good friends by now, saying goodbye to these two was tough. Remember, however, Pras lives in San Francisco, and I’m certain we’ll see him again one day.  And Tom… Tom eased the moment by reminding us that we were going to meet loads of wonderful people along the way, and we were likely going to see him again in Chiang Mai in a few days anyway.

Lunch in Ayutthaya with Pras amd Tom

Exploring around the ruins...

Next new friend, Jesus...
I met Jesus on the sleeper train, to Chiang Mai the morning we arrived there.  Michelle and I were in separate train cars on this ride. I think it was the first time we had been separated for more than an hour.  Anyway,  when we boarded the sleeper train around 10 pm, everyone in my “cubby” had their privacy curtains closed and had gone to sleep.  When I awoke the next morning, Jesus was surprised to see me because, he said, when he went to sleep the night before there had been a local in my spot! 

We got to talking and discovered we were both headed toward the same guest house in Chiang Mai.  As such, we would share a tuk tuk and probably have some lunch together.  Jesus is yet another Canadian – we’ve been meeting A LOT of Canadians and British people during this month of travel in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.  But he;s is the only Spanish speaking Canadian I have ever met. Upon getting to town we learned our intended guesthouse was full, and the three of us ended up sharing a room at the place next door.  Jesus left Chiang Mai the next day, but, almost unbelievably, we ran into him about a week later on the street in Vang VIeng.  If there is anything I have learned about SE Asia, it’s that this wonderful, unforgettable place is the biggest small town on the planet.

With Jesus in Chiang Mai

Vang Vieng... 
This place merits a little further comment.  It is a small town in Laos.  There is not a whole lot of culture or history here. It is primarily a backpacker-oriented stop, thought by some to be a rather cheesy place.  The main streets are lined with bars with TVs that play episodes of FRIENDS all day and night, and the primary attraction is tubing down the Nam Song River where a secondary attraction is the many bars along the river selling cheap beer and pouring free and bad whiskey down your throat.  Also at these bars there’s plenty of loud music and platforms built out over the water for dancing and socializing as well as zip lines and rope swings for adventurous entries in to the river.  We had no intention of staying in Vang Vieng more than a day or two, but we ended up staying for five. Why?  Because of the wonderful people we met here.

The afternoon we arrived we wandered into the nearest FRIENDS bar to find some dinner and try to meet some people. We wound up finding Nick and Dominic and a whole lot of other things to do besides tubing in Vang Vieng.  Nick is from England.  He’s been traveling SE Asia for several months and was on his way to Thailand to take a job and stay for an undetermined amount of time.  Dominic is from Zurich, Switzerland. He was about three weeks into wandering about SE Asia on a path similar to ours, but, like most everyone we encounter, at a much slower pace.  Nick and Dominic met the day before while tubing.  We spent the next four days with these two discovering what Vang Vieng had to offer besides tubing, such things as bike riding, kayaking, caving and, of course, hanging out at a bar/restaurant eating dinner, playing cards and watching FRIENDS until they invite us out at closing time.

At the start of our Kayak trip


In the caves

Stop off at the tubing bars while Kayaking

A few days later, after Nick and Dominic had both left town, Michelle and I decided we would stay one more day and finally see what the tubing was all about. We decided to go tubing, sans tubes! It seemed too complicated to keep track of a tube all afternoon. We just wanted to drink some beer and make some more friends.  Besides, a few days ago we had already gone the entire tubing route in our kayaks!  We were not in the first bar for five minutes when along came Sam and Shy.  These two were from England on a short vacation, just two weeks.  They were great.  I think the reason we got along with them so well was because they were just like us - two very good friends traveling with just each other and just for fun.  Like us they always had each other’s back and were able to see almost any situation as a good time.  Further, they went tubing with the same plan we had -- no tubes!  We four wanted just to see what the fuss was all about, have a good time and make some new friends.  We’ll probably see Sam and Shy again in June when we’re in the UK. 

Sam and Shy
Enjoying some beer Lao on a tubing bar platform

On the chicken bus we met Justin.  Justin was the first Aussie we met.  Though we did not get to know him very well, it was nice having him around on the chicken bus, and the story he told us about his brother is one I’ll probably tell for a long time whenever trying to convince someone that travel insurance is 100 percent necessary.
with Justin on the Chicken bus
Justin was on the chicken bus, on his way back to a small medical clinic in the Middle of Nowhere, Laos.  He was aiming to recover his motorbike left outside a medical clinic where his brother was treated after being hit by a tuk tuk in what was a very bad accident.  The people in this clinic were not properly equipped to provide the necessary medical attention needed to treat two broken legs and a severed Achilles tendon.  Travel insurance covered the cost of transportation for both of them to Bangkok (where Justin’s brother could have surgery under very good medical conditions) 4-star hotel accommodations for Justin while his brother was in the hospital and a flight back to Australia. The insurance would have covered flights for both of them, but Justin decided to carry on and stay in SE Asia.  I think the saddest part of the story was when Justin had to call his Mom and explain what had happened.  His brother was the youngest of four for that poor woman.

Cambodia Friends... 
On to Cambodia… On our way to Siem Reap, we met Max and Hugo, travelers from France.  After having survived a disastrous, 16-hour bus ride with them, we all got better acquainted over Angkor beer and yellow curry at three in the morning.  We also shared a tuk tuk to Angkor Wat with them our first evening in town.  Our stay in Siem Reap was brief, so we exchanged emails and facebook info with them, in hopes of meeting up again Phnom Penh.  Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out, and we never heard from them again.  No answered emails and neither had posted anything on facebook since the day we were with them.  I certainly hope they are not locked up some place abroad!

Max and Hugo in a Tuk Tuk to Angkor Wat

In Phnom Penh we met Vicki.  Vicki had been in Cambodia for several months teaching English to children and adults in the southern part of the country.  She had finished her teaching contract about a week before we met her.  Her plans were to travel throughout Vietnam and Thailand before returning to England.  Unfortunately, the only reason she was still in Phnom Penh was because she had lost her ATM card several weeks ago and was still waiting for a replacement to arrive. (Hummm…  I wouldn’t know anything about a lost ATM card while traveling! Haha!  More that later.  Maybe!)  

Due to her lack of funds, Vicki was unable to accompany us on some of our excursions in Phnom Penh, but she did join us on our lazy day at the fancy pool and for dinner several nights.  She was still waiting for her card when we left Phnom Penh.  Good news intervenes:  we’re actually planning to meet up with her again tonight.  Vicki has made it to Hanoi, and that’s where we are too!

With Vicki at the fancy hotel with the fancy pool

Earlier, when we got to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), it was not as important to “go out and find new friends.”  Why?  Because we were finally going to connect with our very good and long-time friend, Megan.  Megan is also a nurse who used to work with Michelle and me in the NICU at Rush.  She left Rush a few years ago and is currently living in Shanghai with her husband.  Living in Shanghai made it very easy to meet us for a couple weeks in Vietnam.  Poor Megan!  It was quite the lifestyle change for her.  We rather quickly hazed her into the backpacker lifestyle. In the first two days she was with us she had to get up at 5AM, spend the day getting coated in filth and sweat only to finally shower in a public restroom before hopping on a sleeper bus amid creepy locals, assorted questionable odors wafting about and no bathroom for 12 hours! 

Megan, still smiling on the sleeper bus. (We had not left yet)

The first group shot, taken about a week later.

Ha long Bay, or not...
Megan, Michelle and I have done so well keeping each other entertained while in Vietnam that our first new friends here didn’t come along until the day we were supposed to go to Ha Long bay.  That’s right, supposed to.  We tried to take a boat trip out to Ha Long bay on Friday night. Unfortunately, after the four-hour bus ride to the coast we waited for three more hours only be told the trip was canceled due to “weather.”  They claimed it was too windy to safely take boats out.   Simply out of curiosity, we asked about the wind speed.  The reply?  6 to 8 knots.  What?!?!  Okay, maybe weather was mildly unpleasant on shore, and it was a little windy (much more than 6-8 knots by my estimate), but can’t we at least tool around the harbor a little?  Apparently there was a accident a couple years ago where a boat capsized, and six tourists died.  They get nervous, I guess.

The closest we got to our Halong Bat cruise.
L-R: Sam, Katy, Megan, Michelle, Steve

So, no Ha Long Bay and no boat ride, but we were with a fun group of people.  Perhaps defeated this time in fact, but never defeated in spirit, we had a rowdy bus ride back to Hanoi and all spent the evening together.

Party bus back to Hanoi

This pretty much sums up the evening.

Group shot in the bar.

Oh yeah, and then there's this guy.............

We're not sure who his is, but he is a very strange man who shows up along the way quite frequently.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Taxi scams

Scam number one: Counterfeit Change. This actually first happened to me while traveling in Argentina.  Until recently, it was the only scam I’ve really watched out for closely. It was Michelle and me again, this time in Buenos Aires for only a single day.  This meant we had to get from the ATM as close to exactly what we thought we were going to spend as possible.  Of course, ATMs dispense large bills, and all you can easily use are small ones.  Still, you’ve got to use the big ones somewhere.  Well, cabs are not the place to do it. 

Our challenge: a small fare and a large bill.  We were clearly tourists, making it even easier for this driver to pull this one on us.   The ride was fine; the driver seemed happy to take our large bill.  But…  when the time came to pay for the next cab, we were devastated when its driver pointed out that we had given him a counterfeit note!  What?  Counterfeit?  Fortunately, the cab driver was nice about it, and pointed out how obviously fake it was.
The real bummer about this one, however, was when it came time to go back to the airport we discovered we were short an amount exactly equal to the non-value of our fake money.  After some begging and pleading and finding some kind bilingual strangers to explain our situation to a cab driver, we found a ride back to the airport from a guy to took the remainder of our Argentine pesos and a few US dollars.  I love nice people.

Scam number two: Manipulated meter.  No matter who you ask, 90% of the time it is more affordable to take a metered taxi (with the meter running) as opposed to working with a flat rate figure the driver gives you that sounds affordable and fair.  Well, that is until you land in a cab with a “manipulated” meter sucking money out of your pocket. 

When Michelle and I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City a few days ago, we got off our bus mildly disoriented as we had nothing to help find our way but the address and the name of our hostel.  In seconds, one of what seemed like six hundred cab drivers begging attention and some business happily agreed to take us to our destination, an address on the sheet of paper in my hand.  We knew this should take only about 15 minutes.  The driver flipped the meter to “on,” and off we went.   

We didn’t have any local currency, common for the first minutes in a new country.  The driver said he could accept only Vietnamese dong – yes, the local currency is the DONG!  That’s okay, we’ll just have to run by an ATM on the way.  As we were driving through this land of 6 million motor bikes we soon noticed the numbers on the meter were almost a blur as they spun up to a quite large fare.  We did a quick conversion in our heads and agreed this fellow was trying to rob us.  According to our research, a cab ride within Ho Chi Minh City should cost no more than the equivalent of $2 to 4 US dollars.  Look at that meter!  Almost unbelievably, we were quickly approaching a $40 ride!  When we brought this to the attention of the driver (and he simultaneously noticed our copy of the Lonely Planet), he seemed to no longer understand English.  Happily, he did understand the letters A-T-M and stopped right in front of one.  Michelle attempted to obtain some money, but the machine did not work.  So we insisted he just take us to hour hostel, and we would settle the fare when we arrived.  Our driver refused.  He stopped in front of a one-way street and pointed as though the hostel were “down there” somewhere.   
Michelle got out of the cab to try and get a bearing our location and, at the same time, try to find someone to ask about the reality of what we actually owed this guy.  I stayed in the car with the bags. The driver was not too happy that we had become well aware he was trying to rip us off.  Soon, we were both out of the cab with our packs.  That got his attention.  Now he’ll take US dollars, 40 of them.   Yeah right!  I gave him $5 and told him it was all we had.  There is no Vietnamese dong in our pockets and no more dollars.  He whined for more money.    We declined and, finally, just walked away.  We still didn’t know where we were, but at least we had foiled the robbery attempt, and we were free of that whole fiasco.

We started walking and had to ask directions about four times before we finally found the hostel.  The best part?  It was located on a two-way street we could have easily been dropped at, and it was across the street from the bus station!  Amazing!

Its one thing to rip me off, but rip me off AND get me lost?  Come on!

Scam Number three: Dummy switch.  This not-so-clever scam came along during our second day in Ho Chi Minh City.  After a half-day+ tour outside the city, we were dropped off in town to finish our day.  We had really wanted to visit the museum of traditional Vietnamese medicine.  We didn’t have too much time to get there before it was to close so we thought a taxi made good sense. Oops, think again.

Having been scammed by the phony meter the day before, we decided to agree to a price with the driver before leaving.  After a lot of bargaining, we agreed the ride would cost 100,000 VND, about five dollars.  As we got underway, Michelle pulled out a 100,000 VND note so she could hand it to him immediately after we arrived and we could dash off, avoiding any further discussion of the already-negotiated fare. 

At a point where we definitely were not yet at the museum location, it became clear we were nevertheless as far as this gentleman was willing to take us when he stopped the car and pointed “over there.”  Michelle handed him the money.  He took it, tuned his body away for a moment then turned back to us with a 10,000 VND noted in hand insisting we had given him the wrong money and must pay him more.  Michelle was certain she had given him the correct money and that he had switched it. So, now outside and standing on the curb, I said “Okay, lets go,” and I waved her out of the car. The driver mumbled something, pouted a bit, and drove away.  It was proof he was full of bologna, or he would have been really livid at being paid only 10 percent of the agreed-upon fare. 

I can see how this scam would work though.  What better target than a couple of white girls, unfamiliar with the city or the money?  While the guy was unsuccessful in stealing more of our money, we still ended up the losers in the situation.  The ride had ended several kilometers short of where we wanted to go and, as a result, never did find the medical museum.

The good news?  The cab driver that took us back to our hostel used the meter honestly -- $3 for a 10-minute ride in traffic -- and dropped us directly in front of our destination.

Killing fields and Freeing Bears in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh.

It was a bit of a rough start getting underway to Phnom Penh, but we actually made it there in a decent amount of time. You know, the familiar drill… a strange foul-smelling gas coming out from under the back seats followed by an abrupt stop, everyone running off the bus then waiting on the side of the road for nearly an hour for a functioning bus to handle the onward journey.  We got in to town around 230 pm, about 90 minutes behind schedule.  We quickly hailed a tuk tuk and bargained for ourselves a reasonable ride to the Okay Guesthouse.  Okay was recommended by a fellow backpacker somewhere along the way and turned out to be great.  On the way to Okay Guesthouse we drove past a place called “The Pizza Company.”  We had not eaten since breakfast, more than eight hours earlier and, until today, neither Michelle nor I had missed or needed or really wanted any western food. We’ve been quite content with our Asian dishes.  But when we drove past “The Pizza Company” just one look at each other and the decision about where we’d have dinner was made.  

Pizza Company Garlic Bread

Yep.  Delicious appetizers and pan pizza with some meat on it.  Adequate portions?  Let’s just say there was no need to eat again that day.  We spent the evening doing a whole lot of nothing.  We took our computers over to a place called “The Lazy Gecko,” had some 2 for 1 Angkor drafts and played catch-up with journaling, organizing pictures and otherwise chronicling the trip.  We are four weeks in, and I’m still trying to write about what happened during week two.

The Killing fields

Our first full day in Phnom Penh was an educational and sobering day. We visited the Killing Fields at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center and Tuol Sleng Genocide Muesum.  I never before knew about this terrible period of Cambodia’s history until reading about it in the days prior to crossing the Cambodian border.  No, they didn’t teach us about this in high school.


I’m still not crystal clear on the order of events or cause and effect of the government structure prior to, during and after the Khmer Rouge Regime from 1975-1979. It seems to be a rather complicated piece of history, but also incredibly interesting. After trying very hard to understand everything that happened during this recent period in history, my basic understanding is this: On April 17th 1975 a man named Pol Pot came to rule a communist Cambodia, this was the beginning of the Khmer Rough Regime. During this time a third of Cambodia's men, woman and children were murdered. Many of them were tortured over long periods of time.

The Khmer Rough army killed anyone who showed any signs of intellect or ability to fight back. They also killed all their family members in an effort to eliminate anyone who might one day seek revenge on the army.  A phrase I heard multiple times about how the army justified many of the murders, "Better to kill an innocent by mistake, than spare an enemy by mistake."

The whole story is frightening and sickening. If I try to explain it I'll probably do it wrong. There is loads of information all over the internet. Here are here, are good places to start if you're interested.

Here is the description of Choeung Ek, as printed on the back of my entry ticket:
“CHOEUNG EK Genocidal Center is a unique and special place that reflects the most barbarous, cruel crime committed by the Ultra Communist Khmer Rouge Regime and 1975-1979.  Here, about 20,000 people, including foreigners, were executed and murdered. Obviously, 129 mass graves and about 8,000 human skulls at the site bear testimony to this unspeakable crime.


“In order to remember the spirits of the victims at this site as well as over 3 million victims throughout the country, a memorial charnel was built in the center in 1988.”


The Memorial Stupa

We took the audio tour of the site. It was very informative, and the details of this horrific piece of history were well presented.  It included interviews with people working for the Khmer Rouge as well as personal accounts of some of the surviving victims.

A few things we saw along the way....

This sign reads: Mass grave of 450 victims

Here the sign says: "The bones and teeth fragment that were exhumed in 1980 were in the ground. Nowadays, the bones and teeth fragments have come up after the flood and raining a lot, and they were collected to keep on."

At the end of the Khmer Rough Regime many of the buildings at Choeung Ek were torn down in an effort to remove evidence of the horrible things that happened here and because the wood and metal scraps could be sold for income.  

Here are some signs in their places describing the purpose of those buildings...


When clothing of the victims is found they washed and displayed in a manner
in which the victims can be respected and remembered.

The mass grave where hundreds of women, children and infants were found naked.

Following Choeung Ek, we visited the Tuol Sleng. This place was somehow more frightening and even more disturbing than the Killing fields. It’s the former security office, or S-21, designed for detention, interrogation, inhumane torture and killing.

This is building "A." The building was used for detaining cadres tho were accused of leading the uprising against Pol Pot revolution. 

The bodies of 14 victims were discovered at S-21 on January 7th 1979 by the united front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea. The corpses were unidentifiable due to awful decomposition. The bodies, one of which was female, were carried out and buried in front of Building "A."  These 14 bodies were the last to be tortured and killed by S-21 personnel  before they fled.

A room, or cage, on Building "A." 
This picture in this picture shows how the room was found after the Khmer Rouge fled.

This wooden pole was used for interrogation and torture.

Not all the victims were Cambodian... 
While reading the profiles of many of the victims I came across one of a man from Minnesota

Peasants in a palace! 

The next day was a little less eventful.  We didn’t have anything specific on our agenda and hadn’t enjoyed a largely “down” day in a while.  So we opted for an afternoon at the pool.  Lonely Planet said you could pay a small entrance fee to any of several of the fancy hotels in the city for access to their swimming pool.  So that’s exactly what we did. Conveniently, there was such a hotel just across from our $5/night guesthouse.  When we walked in it was as if we were peasants in a palace!

Free the Bears


On our last day in Phenom Penh we did our day with “Free the Bears,” the volunteer opportunity we stumbled upon while in Laos.  While the day actually consisted of much less work than I was expecting, it was still very fun to see the place and learn about the organization and what they are doing to save animals that are trapped and tortured in bear bile farms, or captured for trade and the selling of their body parts in the black market.

This is the first bear we met, Kong. He is blind due to being kept in a cage where was always in sunlight, never able to find shade

This bear is "sucking his thumb," Or his whole foot!

A blonde Asiatic black bear, Daisy

Even when they're all grown up, they are little guys.

A walk around the center to see some of  the other rescued animals.

Both of these guys were house pets who out grew their owners 

The most friendly gibbon I have ever met in my life.

He likes to be pet and have his head scratched

His hands are really soft

Hungry Otters

 Friendly elephant, Lucky, on her way out for one of her daily walks around the rescue center

Don't mind the fact that I appear as though I'm a child dressing herself
for the first time in her life in these photos... I was running out of clean clothes!

Elephant with a prosthetic leg

In the afternoon we set out the food/treats we had made for the bears and watched as they searched for them and worked to get the goods out of the bamboo...


This guy is actually pealing a banana! 

 At the end our day they brought the babies out to play. The newest cubs to the rescue center, Tina and Santiago. There we found by members of a hill tribe with no mother, at nine days old. It is believed their mother was captured to be sold of sent to a bear bile farm.

Time for the little ones to eat...

Our final evening in Phenom Penh (and in Cambodia) I actually managed to meet up with a sailor friend I knew from Chicago, now living In Phnom Penh. I love to hate Facebook, but it sure is handy sometimes when you’re half a world away from home and all of a sudden you realize you can send a single message and, soon thereafter, be have a drink with a friend and a familiar face.