A Travellerspoint blog

August 2011

Sihanoukville / Partyville

semi-overcast 33 °C

Sihanoukville is a little beach town on the Gulf of Thailand. It’s 180km from Phnom Penh which means it takes 7 hours on the bus, haha!


The atmosphere is super-relaxed; the only things to do are watch movies at one of the two cinemas, or lie on a sun chair on the beach and drink cocktails. During the evening Sihanoukville comes alive with countless nightclubs along the streets and beachfront; in fact the population seems to triple as soon as the sun sets, I think it’s because all the people that have slept off their hangovers all day wake up at dusk to do it all over again.

^^ The road down to the beach


The two cinemas in town are privately run by expats and show the latest pirated movies in air-conditioned comfort and with bar services :). We watched The Hangover 2 & Limitless while we were here. We thought The Hangover 2 was appropriate since we too would be visiting Bangkok in the near future, although fingers crossed with fewer incidents!

As lying on the beach is the main activity that tourist undertake in Sihanoukville it is only fitting that this is the place with the most locals trying to earn a buck.
Ladies walk up and down the beach with baskets full of fresh seafood goodies; lobsters, prawns, and fresh fish are readily available. You just point to what you want and they will cook it up in front of you.
Kids also run around trying to sell intricately woven wrist bands. They will try and tell you that it’s to raise money to pay for school – although we found out that there is an NGO that offers free schooling – so don’t fall for their puppy eyes, as they should be at school not on the beach. They are also viciously good at tic-tac-toe. I fell into the trap of agreeing to buy a wrist band from a 10 year old boy if he could beat me at the game. He thrashed me 3 times in a row! So like many other westerners I spent the rest of my time in Sihanoukville wearing my tic-tac-toe wrist bands of shame, haha :).
Massages and women’s beauty is also a money maker on the beach. In fact as soon as we would walk down onto the beach the ladies would approach Kirby and tell her that her legs were hairy and yuk, but they could fix that. Needless to say she got them cheaply waxed while sipping on a Mojito. Funnily enough though the next day as soon as we stepped down onto the beach she was told once again how hairy her legs were; although after actually looking at her freshly plucked legs they quickly moved on to some other potentially 'hairy' victims further down the beach.

^^ Lobster Lady

^^ Fresh coconut - yum!


^^ How to get a roller onto a truck? Push it up of course! So frightening! It partially slipped off at one point, luckily it didn't flip though!


Just like most beachside towns in the world Sihanoukville is also privy to a thriving drug market, with weed being the main naughty on offer. In fact the tuk tuk drivers here offer you drugs before rides. Restaurants and cafés also offer ‘Happy’ added to all meals & drinks for an extra $1. It’s a fairly open affair and lookout boys walk down the streets playing small drums if a lazy police patrol is coming through. It’s a fun game to look for wide-eyed, paranoid stoners when the drums walk past.

We found an awesome Italian Restaurant called Trattoria Barbarella with the best homemade gnocchi in the world! We had dinner there every night for 4 night’s straight – sooooo goood!

^^ Time to party!


^^ Fire twirlers put on a show on the beach


^^ Shots!

^^ The matriarch of the nightclub. She had the till and all money passed through her hands.


We spent a week here lounging on the beachfront during the day and partying it up in the evenings. Our sleeping pattern was destroyed and our livers pickled but we had heaps and fun and will miss the relaxing atmosphere of Sihanoukville. The worst part of the week was the 13 hour hung-over, stifling hot bus trip from Sihanoukville to Battambang – our next stop.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 02:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia sihanoukville nightclub pirate_cinema pirated_movies gulf_of_thailand beach_chairs beach_lobsters beach_massage trattoria_barbarella Comments (0)

Phnom Penh City & Palace

semi-overcast 32 °C

The next few days we just chilled out in Phnom Penh seeing the sights and soaking in the atmosphere.


We had a small incident where we saw a peeper peering through a gap in our curtain but when they saw me look at them they bolted and we never caught them. Ah the joys of cheap, seedy, hotels!

We visited The Royal Palace which the King still resides in; although half of the complex is closed to the public there was still a massive amount of exploring to do. The Silver Pagoda was one of the most stunning buildings. Inside it is inlaid with over 5,000 silver tiles and holds a 90kg golden Buddha statue encrusted with 9,584 diamonds. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside the Pagoda, so you will have to visit for yourself to see its awesomeness :).

^^ The Royal Palace
^^ The grounds were massive!
^^ Kirby looking menacing
^^ The entrance into The Silver Pagoda - No Photos Allowed!
^^ A model of Angkor Wat - we will be seeing the real thing when we visit Siem Reap

We also checked out the Russian Market, which apparently is one of the ‘must-do’s’ in Phnom Penh. Not sure why, we thought it was pretty boring and it wasn’t as ‘huge’ as everyone made it out to be.

Kirby bought some fake Gucci sunglasses for $2 and took them in to the optometrist and replaced the lenses with prescription sunglasses lenses for $6, good value! I also picked up a fake automatic BVLGARI watch for $20 – although I think I overpaid, but it works well so I don’t mind.

That’s pretty much all we did because it was raining most of the time so we just sat and ate like pigs, played on the wi-fi, and drank; I consumed way too much Johnnie Walker Black over the last 4 days; at $2 a shot I couldn’t resist. I’m pretty sure one day we even had breakfast, lunch, and dinner all on the same bill.

^^ Local boys stripping down and playing a game of street soccer in the pouring rain

It was time to move on so we caught the 7hr bus ($4.50) to Sihanoukville, a little beach-side town.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 00:31 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh royal_palace golden_buddha silver_pagoda diamonds cheap_prescription_sunglasses bvlgari_watch_$20 Comments (0)

Phnom Tamao Zoo

sunny 33 °C

30km southeast of Phnom Penh is Phnom Tamao Zoo. We were fairly apprehensive about visiting a zoo in a developing country; with the fear of supporting the inhumane treatment and caging of animals as was often the practice decades ago when zoos were a place for the rich to visit and see exotic animals up close in 2m x 2m cages. However we breathed a sigh of relief when we entered and saw the beautiful open plan setting of the zoo and large enclosures.

I must say though, if you’re planning on taking a tuk tuk to the zoo like we did, make sure you have a scarf or something to put over your face because you travel most of the way on a sandy, dirt road and the dust is incredible, you may find yourself wearing a mud-mask by the time you arrive :).
Also the last few kilometres of the road is lined with beggars (at least 50) sitting in the scorching sun with a sad face and a hand out as you drive past. Unfortunately we had nothing to give them and we felt really bad as our tuk tuk motored past them all while other locals were stopping and handing out food & water.

The moment we stepped out of the tuk tuk we were surrounded by children selling sugarcane that you can feed to the free-roaming deer & monkeys. We bought some so they would stop hassling us and started our walk around the first area of the zoo.


There was a really beautiful blind gibbon in an enclosure. Unfortunately he was all alone because the other gibbons would have picked on him. He kept sticking his arm through the cage and we thought he might have wanted some sugarcane. We put some in his hand but he wasn’t interested. When I got closer he held my arm gently and sat still. He just wanted some personal contact, so we sat with him for half an hour holding hands and making gibbon-like sounds and laughing when he sang back to us loud enough for the whole zoo to hear :).


The Phnom Tamao Zoo was first set up as a rescue centre for victims of illegal wildlife trade and is now managed by Wildaid and the Free the Bears Fund. They are doing a great job – although it’s obvious the bears are receiving more than average benefits; their enclosures are amazing! We contemplated volunteering here but unfortunately it was a little bit out of our budget, so I bought a t-shirt instead. The zoo accepts donations and one of the Tiger enclosures was created with a donation from Belinda Emmett and Rove McManus.

^^ Monks at the zoo
^^ Back scratch time
^^ Hugs all round for buying a Free The Bears T-Shirt
^^ Pepsi break with Lot

Our experience at the zoo was really great and we were very happy to see that Cambodia is investing and taking the effort to responsibly house and care for all of the animals.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 00:10 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh zoo gibbon tuk_tuk lot phnom_tamao_zoo beggars wildaid free_the_bears_fund Comments (0)

Choeung Ek Killing Fields & Tuol Sleng (Security Prison 21)

sunny 32 °C

After breakfast we met up with Lot and headed out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. It’s a former orchard about 20km south of Phnom Penh where the Khmer Rouge executed around 20,000 people between 1975 and 1979.


The Khmer Rouge was the name of the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea which seized power in 1975 after it defeated the former government’s forces. Not long after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took power the genocide, torture, and widespread famine began. The Khmer Rouge intended to turn Cambodia into a self-sufficient, classless society. They closed schools, hospitals, factories, and completely removed finance and currency. Major cities were completely evacuated with the entire populations sent to working camps. Anyone rich, popular, well educated (wearing glasses was enough proof) or had the ability to undermine the new regime was executed on the spot or taken to a number of torture camps and prisons - which often resulted in forced confessions of treasons – resulting in execution.

In 4 years of harsh ruling the Khmer Rouge was responsible for 2 million deaths, and Choeung Ek is just one of many sites that were dedicated to this atrocity. Most of the people killed here were from Tuol Sleng prison (which we will visit after the killing fields).

As you walk around you can see all of the mass graves that have been uncovered, some that held 8,000 bodies. From the clothing they recovered from the mass graves they can tell that some were specific to men, women, soldiers, and women with their babies.

^^ Bones, Clothes, & Graves

There is a giant tree that they claim was used to smash the newborns and small infants heads on to save on ammunition; a truly disturbing thought.

^^ The Killing Tree

As you walk around the grounds you may notice teeth and other bone fragments, as well as clothes just under the surface of the ground – new bones and clothing rise up after the rains, and we were visiting just after some rain. At one point I saw a bit of white poking through the dirt, I started digging thinking it was a small fragment, but soon realised it was much too big to dig out – possibly a pelvis.

^^ Excavating bones

^^ Clothes rising from the recent rain

^^ A woman's shirt I pulled out

There is a memorial stupa set up within the grounds that contains over 5,000 skulls as well as various other bones; they are arranged by sex and approximate age. Many of them have been smashed in from behind – usually by a hammer, pickaxe, machete, or shovel, or have single bullet holes through the top.

^^ The shrine to the victims



It was definitely an eye-opening and disturbing look into Cambodia’s history, but I think it is important not to ignore these sorts of confronting truths, as to make sure they never happen again anywhere in the world.

Our next stop is Tuol Sleng prison, where many of the people executed at Choeung Ek spent their last days.

Tuol Sleng prison wasn’t always a prison, in fact before the Khmer Rouge won the civil war it was a high school in central Phnom Penh. Four months later it was renamed Security Prison 21 or S-21, and classrooms became cells and torture rooms.

^^ The rules of Security Prison 21

^^ Once a place of learning - now haunted by death


^^ Entrance to the cells


^^ The classrooms were divided into many cells

The people sent here were repeatedly beaten and tortured until they confessed that they were traitors as well as name their family and friends, which would then result in their arrest and torture. In fact if a family member or friend of yours was arrested it was almost guaranteed that you would be arrested not long after, and destined to confess all of your family and friends as traitors as well.

^^ Barbed wire on the upper floors to prevent suicide

The staff at S-21 documented almost everyone who passed through the prison with a personal dossier and photograph, although the photographs were separated by the dossiers so many of the faces have no names to match. Several westerners were also captured and brought to S-21, many of them sailors who accidentally drifted into Cambodian waters and were captured as ‘C.I.A spies’ – to which most of them confessed after many weeks of torture.

^^ Recovered photos of the people who passed through S-21

We have had a fairly intense day today, we learnt about many atrocities and hardships. I will never forget Tuol Sleng Prison or The Killing Fields, and I hope the world never lets this sort of thing happen again.

Feels weird writing this, but tomorrow we are off to the zoo.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 06:23 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh s21 khmer s-21 genocide bones communist stupa killing_fields khmer_rouge choeung_ek execution 1975 kampuchea mass_graves killing_tree infanticide tuol_sleng_prison Comments (0)

Phnom Penh

storm 31 °C

Our first impression of Phnom Penh is a good one. We found a nice café on the riverfront called Metro, which provides free wi-fi, daily newspapers in English, and some of the swankiest food at rock-bottom prices.

Phnom Penh has got all of the fanciness and silver service of a capital city but at the Cambodian price – which is extremely reasonable; meals range from $2 - $12 and spirits $2 - $4, overall very good bang-for-buck.


^^ Afternoon storm rolling in

After the first night we switched hotels for a cheaper option and met a friendly tuk tuk driver called Lot. After some sweet talking on his behalf we decided to hire him as our driver/tour guide for the next few days.

That afternoon we just strolled around the riverfront and admired the beautiful palace from the outside.


^^ The palace from outside

It wasn’t long before the day had passed us and we found ourselves in the back of Lot’s tuk tuk heading for a shadow puppet show. The show was pretty funny; we couldn’t understand a word but the outlandish laughs’ that the characters had was infectious enough to have us chuckling along.



^^ Behind the scenes

We like Cambodia!

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 04:26 Archived in Cambodia Tagged palace cambodia phnom_penh waterfront phnom penh puppet shadow_puppet_show puppet_show Comments (0)

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