Korea Livin'

this is a new chapter in my life...let's see where it takes me...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cambodia - 3rd world or developing?

For those of you who haven't "Googled" it yet, please view some pictures from my recent trip before you try answering this question.

Is it possible to have truly clean food products in these conditions?

A power source - a car battery.

You are looking at "homes."

10 minutes prior to this picture, he was at the fence, hands grasped together, asking for money.

All the cows I saw were as bony as this one. Healthy food source?

One of many malnourished kids I saw.

Do you think your answer is accurate? Well, according to The International Statistical Institute, Cambodia is, in fact, a developing country. Can't argue with hard facts, right?

A quick history lesson before I tell you of my humbling experience...

During the 1960's, Cambodia's population was over 7 million. During this period of time where Buddhism was most prevalent, the leader of Cambodia was Prince Sihanouk. In 1970, things started to change. Sihanouk jumped ship and joined forces with the Khmer Rouge, a communist organization led primarily by Pohl Pot. Attacking Lon Nol, lieutenant-general and Cambodia's army, war began. Side note: Cambodia, at the time, was also caught up in their neighboring country's war, Vietnam. Because Cambodia had relations with both Vietnam and the US, Pohl Pot's suspicions grew with Vietnam and continued to strengthen his group. Apparently, by 1975, Khmer Rouge grew to over 700,000 followers. Pohl Pot took over Lan Nol's army completely. At this time, Khmer Rouge had a specific mission: to reconstruct Cambodia. They only wanted the population to be labor workers and based their goal on agriculture. Anyone that did not support this view was tortured and killed. All educated intellectuals were to be eliminated as well as others that had an anti-communist position. To wrap up this history lesson, Khmer Rouge had killed over 2 million people - men, women, and even children in the most disturbing ways (pictures shown later).

Now, let me give you a glimpse of my humbling experience.

In my first three days, there was no air conditioning, a mosquito net encompassed the padding on the floor I slept on, and at times, there was no running water. In fact, during a shower one morning, the water stopped. The water source was empty. I stood there, naked, suds in my hair, with no idea what to do. A worker of the hostel came to try to fix the water system but failed. Therefore, I had to continue my shower by "bath" which was the water used to "flush" the toilet. This bucket of water with mosquitoes swarming around it sat next to an in-ground (squatting) toilet. I used a scoop to splash my body and rinse my hair. Although you may not realize, in comparison to what Cambodian families endure on a daily basis, I was still living in better conditions than many Cambodians.

Honestly, I feel like I could never properly express my experience. Pictures would never do it justice. But my hope in this is to show my family and friends how amazing this country is and how different it is from the life we live.


Where to start...

I traveled with a friend of mine that I had met in Korea a little over a year ago. Her name is Stefanie Hale and she's definitely Canadian. She says "Eh" a lot and by the end of our trip, I was saying it too! It was the end of her teaching contract and she had decided to travel Asia before returning home. I had posted on Facebook about wanting a travel buddy for my vacation since I wasn't 100% comfortable traveling alone (in addition to family members being worried x100). Steph was all for having me join on her adventure so within three days of talking, my flight to Cambodia was booked. I had three days left to decide what I was going to do. Literally, I searched every country that would be "kind of" on the way back to Seoul. The cheapest flight, Singapore. Not only was the ticket affordable, I knew I'd be safe traveling there alone. Side note: What I didn't spend on the ticket, I made up spending while being there. EEk!!  The vacation was planned that easily. 6 days in Cambodia, 3 days in Singapore.

I arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia one day before Stef. The flight wasn't bad, the food however was. My hostel had arranged a tuk-tuk (took-took) to come pick me up. The airport was very small and a storm was rolling in which made the sky beautiful as the sun was setting. After getting through security, I had to get a tourist visa. It was a little bit more expensive than getting it through the Embassy before traveling, however it was quick and easy. Stepping outside, the tuk-tuk driver was standing there holding a sign with my name on it. I won't lie. I had nervous, worried butterflies in my stomach when we reached the tuk-tuk. Immediately, I looked for identification. If anything were to happen, I would know the license plate number of the tuk-tuk and his working identification number. I've watched the movies "Taken" and "Taken2." Getting to the hostel took about 20 minutes. At this point it was dark therefore I didn't get to see much. Checking in was easy and painless. And I have already explained my living situation for these three days. After getting settled, I went to Pub Street which is very famous. It was nice to sit there, not having to talk, but just enjoy people watching and a 50 cent beer. Yes, that's right! Beer was CHEAP! It was early to bed for me.

The next day, I met two girls staying at my hostel. They were there because they wanted to backpack around Asia. It was nice because I was able to walk around the town with them and spend the day with them before Stef's arrival. The three of us found a lunch place to enjoy a Cambodian meal. Because it was hot and none of us had adjusted to the weather, we decided to lay low on Pub Street. We got massages for $3 which came with a beer as well. The workers were Cambodian teenagers. After school, they go to the hot spots, working for a little shop, advertising massages, manicures, and pedicures. They are all really sweet and love speaking English (as much as they know). It was a great way to kill time.

Stef arrived around 7pm, got her settled, then went to dinner with the girls I had hung out with during the day. The four of us had a lot of fun! We took pictures with restaurant workers, locals, and together too. You'll see these below.

Our last two days in Siem Reap included going to Angkor Wat where we saw different temples (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon...), going to the Night Market, and experiencing different kinds of food. My pictures won't do the temples justice but it was an unforgettable experience. I'm so thankful to have gone and observed this famous part of Cambodia's history and land. Oh, and don't worry, I got to hang out with my favorite little primates too!

Stef and I were looking forward to our bus ride because we knew it would be air-conditioned. The ride south to Phnom Pehn was about 5-6 hours. We made two stops along the way for a bathroom and snack break. Toilets there...well, we will just not talk about that. Anyway, arriving there was easy as well. Our hostel had our tuk-tuk driver there waiting for us. He was such a nice man. If I remember right, Andy (our tuk-tuk driver) is around 30 years old with a wife and kids. We were happy to have him drive us around each day in Phnom Pehn in order to help him make money for his family.

Our time in Phnom Pehn included seeing the Killing Fields (this is where thousands of people including men, women, and children were thrown into mass graves), Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (this is where a school was made into a torturing and prison site), and relaxing by the pool at our hostel. There is a lot of information about the historical sites we visited that if I wrote it, this post would be a longer novel than it already is. I'll let the pictures do the talking as I usually do.

After my time in Phnom Pehn, I said my Goodbyes to Stef as it was the last time I'd see her until I visit her in Canada or she visits me in the states. I boarded my flight and headed to Singapore.

Arriving in Singapore was a complete 180 from my experience in Cambodia. When I got off the plane, I was amazed at the size of the aiport and how clean, amazing it was. There were coffee shops, souvenir shops, restaurants...galore! Being familiar with public transportation due to my Korea living, it was easy to make my way to the subway and buy a ticket. Finding my hostel was a bit difficult because of the construction that was happening along the main roads, but eventually I found myself in Little India. This area is full of Indian products, people, and restaurants. My hostel was nice. The worst part was that the air conditioners had set times when they could be on. I made sure I was up and about, ready to leave my hostel by 11 every day as the a/c was automatically turned off at 9am. And I didn't return to my hostel until about 7pm because that's when they could be turned back on.

My first night out in Singapore, I explored an area called Clarke Quay. I don't know what I was thinking. All the restaurants and bars in the area were ridiculously expensive and overpriced. It was interesting to walk around the area - everyone is actually really rich or they're good at dressing the part. I felt out of place in my "nice" traveling outfit and flip-flops. But I dared to be seen anyway. There was a drum line playing on the bridge which was amazing! I have pictures you'll see below. They were very entertaining and received a lot of attention. I made my way to an outside bar to order a beer (thinking it would be the easiest on my pocket). Guess how much it was?! Really...guess...$16!! Yes, 16 AMERICAN dollars. It was ridiculous. You better believe I savored it! While standing there, alone, drinking my over-priced beer, a girl across from me was also sitting alone. We smiled at each other and I asked if she was alone. She was, therefore, I went and joined her. We instantly got along. She was there on business because she works for an insurance company. The owner of the bar/club saw us and said if we wanted to, we could go check the inside out for free. Considering it was $30 admission, we took the offer. She bought us a round of drinks, as she said she would never use her daily allowance for food/drinks. Afterwards, we were hungry so we made our way to an outside taco stand (as you can see, us trying to keep it cheap). There, we met some people who are part of a news show or filming company, I can't remember the specifics. They challenged me to a spicy taco, thinking I couldn't handle it. I did, so they took care of my check! At the end of the night, they were so kind, they called their limousine taxi service and paid my way home. Unexpected and amazing!!

The next day, I slept in and decided to walk around Little India. Then afterwards, I made my way to the Singapore Flyer. It was AMAZING! Not so much fun going alone...as you have to ask people to take your picture for you...and everyone else is there with a loved one or family. The Singapore Flyer is "the thing to do" on a date in Singapore. I paid too much money for a photo, but, I felt I had to. Next, I headed back to my area. It was very uneventful until I met a nice married couple while walking back to my hostel. I sat with them and showed them how to play rummy. Afterwards, I showered then went back to Clarke Quay for dinner. I went to an Irish Pub for a beer and hot wings...simple and easy...still expensive! When I made my way back to my hostel, there were some people hanging out in the main area. I sat and talked with them. They were really nice and invited me to go along with them to the Singapore Zoo the next day. It was my last day and I wanted it to be adventurous, therefore, that's what I did.

The Singapore Zoo was very big. The five of us thought it'd take maybe 4 hours. Nope. We were literally there ALL DAY! You'll see pictures soon. Nina has them on her camera as mine died. We are still in the process of trying to share photos in the easiest way possible. We all come from different countries - Germany, Netherlands, Australia, States...
After the Zoo, we were all exhausted BUT...we knew we had to make one more stop before I had to get back to the hostel to pack for my flight that night. We went to the famous shopping area called "ION Orchard." Literally, it has everything...and we definitely made a dent in our pockets. The deals were AMAZING! I bought 4 pairs of shoes for $40. We all bought "friendship" bracelets. As the four of us girls shopped, Ben hung out in a coffee shop, waiting patiently. Time was ticking so we hurried back to our area to get some Indian food before I had to leave.
Saying Goodbye was bittersweet. I was ready to be home in my bed, however, I felt I was just getting in the groove of "backpacking" and making friends while traveling solo.

My journey home was no picnic. Arriving at Singapore airport at 12am, I was given quite the surprise. Because my layover in China was going to be longer than an accepted window, I was told I needed a Chinese visa. While booking my flights, I was not given this alert like usual. Therefore, I had to get on the phone with Expedia to attempt a flight change. While being put on hold for quite some time, all I could think about was the fact that I didn't get "change flight" protection, therefore I immediately had the assumption that I'd be charged my ticket, plus a new ticket...costing over $1,000. When I explained to customer service my situation, he got his supervisor on the line right away. The supervisor was so kind and very helpful. He said this was something that was not my fault (let's be honest, I should have done more research). Quickly, he looked up new flights and was able to change my itinerary with no charge. In fact, I would have received a refund but he said since I didn't have the protection, I have to forfeit it. Ha. No problem! The refund was $5. The only downside to the flight change was that the flight wasn't going to be for 17 hours. Due to the fact that the subway system was closed, my only option was to sleep there, in the airport, all night. I attempted to get comfortable on benches but I was too paranoid of falling asleep and my bags getting stolen. The next day, before going through security for my flight, I found a shopping area in the airport (let me remind you that this airport is extravagant). People actually go to the airport to "hang out." There's coffee shops, shopping, restaurants, and the list goes on. I couldn't believe it and wished I saw it earlier. But anyway, I enjoyed some last minute shopping to say the least.

Arriving in China was terrible. I was hot, tired, in need of a shower, and a bed. The airport in this city (I won't even attempt to spell) was terrible. There was no wi-fi which meant I couldn't let people know I was safe. And there were no 24-places to kill time (my layover was 13 hours). In the end, I was suckered into getting a hotel that cost $30 for one night. I didn't care at this point. Shower, bed, wi-fi. Check, check, check! And free transport service. DONE! After taking a shower and texting the family, I was able to lay down and watch t.v. for a bit. I didn't sleep well in fear of not waking up in time, but at least I was able to rest my body and eyes. The rest of the trip home was smooth sailing thankfully.

To sum it all up, Cambodia was an eye-opening experience for me. Singapore was expensive but enjoyable. It was liberating to travel alone without any help. I learned more about myself that I would not have learned if it wasn't for doing this. I was just as thankful for this trip as all the other trips to different countries I have had. I will say this one will always hold an extra special space in my mind and heart. When you see what I've seen, you realize how lucky you are (Cambodia), but also how average you are (Singapore) at the same time. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Pictures to be posted soon. I apologize again for the EXTREME tardiness.  

1 comment:

  1. Gawdddd Singapore seems like such a strangey place. I don't get why my father is so hell bent on me visiting there before I leave. Maybe I'll eat some $50.00 hot wings too.

    Side note: the semantic difference between "third world" and "developing nation" is pretty muddled as is. Trying to rid language of the term "third world" due to its demeaning nature gave way to the more broad use of the term "developing nation," in order to refer to a similar situation. The term LDC (less developed county) is also used (and I'm pretty sure this is where Cambodia falls for the most part), and usually refers to things like GDP and standard of living, although there is no clear definition. I guess there's no sensitive term to use... developing, undeveloped, third world. They all kind of create this hierarchy based on economy and wealth, which is unfair. But yeah, just my two cents, because I find the language used to classify nations really interesting ^^