The Ho Chi Minh City War Remnants Museum

I was going to merge this post with another, because I’m terribly behind on sharing what we’ve been up to (I’m writing this from Hue, central Vietnam, which I think is our fourth place since leaving Saigon) but on reflection it deserves its own title.

Dedicated almost entirely to the Vietnam War, the War Remnants Museum isn’t quite as horrific as anything Cambodia has to offer, largely because you’re walking around a pleasantly air conditioned building with snacks available on every floor, but I still don’t recommend going if you dislike a) criticism of the American government, b) graphic photographs of the effects of chemical weapons or c) communism. The museum’s information plaques are verging on pro-Vietnamese propaganda, but once you’ve seen a few photographs, there’s not a lot of room to disagree.

SOME HISTORY: in 1955, communist North Vietnam, its South Vietnam-based allies the Viet Cong and various communist states, went to war against capitalist South Vietnam and its main ally, America, plus a bunch of other anti-communist countries. The North won and Vietnam was reunified as one country in 1975, but not before eight million people were killed and thousands worldwide protested against the US military’s heavy involvement (which as far as I can tell, benefited precisely no one except for chemical weapons companies).

The ground level of the museum is given over to war memorabilia like protest signs (I had no idea just how many people from so many countries marched to show their opposition to American policy… sound familiar?). Outside are a couple of helicopters and the remains of a prison block which I think was used by either the US, or the French during their occupation. Torture methods included confining prisoners to tiny cages and pulling out teeth, etc. So if you were depressed by my post on Tuol Sleng, don’t despair – gruesome torture is an international phenomenon!

Guillotine, Ho Chi Minh City War Remnants Museum, Vietnam
Yep, that’s a guillotine.

The next two floors are altogether grimmer. One gallery is dedicated to the work of war photographers, most of whom were Westerners and many of whom seem to have been killed before their work made it to print. I suppose the magazine spreads look a bit antiquated compared to the the live-Tweeting that’s been going on in Aleppo, but the images themselves are spectacular – and look way better in print than on a little screen.

War Remnants Museum Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
It is harder to take photographs of photographs than I thought it was.
War Remnant Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The gallery contains the work of 133 press photographers from all over the world, and took four years to collect.

The second gallery of doom is dedicated to the victims of napalm and Agent Orange. SOME HISTORY: organisations and individuals on both sides committed horrific war crimes (rape, torture, civilian massacres) but the USA arguably takes the biscuit with its liberal use of napalm (the burning one) and Agent Orange (the chemical defoliant one) against the Vietnamese people.

I only took a few photos and I won’t share them here because they are horrible. I had seen burn victims before, but napalm sort of peels the skin from the body until the person resembles a zombie’s self portrait. The photographs of the herbicide victims reminded me of a hall of mirrors. Victims still look like people, but only just. Effects of the toxins include about four types of cancer, cleft palate, Parkinsons, water on the brain, developmental disabilities and spina bifida. And that’s just a few names I got from a list. I didn’t know that the chemicals stay in the environment for years, and can worm their way into people’s genetics, so people are still being born with the effects of a warfare programme that ended in 1971. Victims – which include Vietnamese people but also war veterans and their families – have sued various chemical companies in the years since, but I’m not sure what’s actually come of it. If you want to see real-life victims, by the way, come to Vietnam in 2017! Once you notice the hunchback and the lady crawling on her hands because her legs don’t work and the Agent Orange victims’ charities, you don’t really stop noticing them.

Gallery at the War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City,Vietnam
Other exhibitions include photos of buildings and local people during the war.

I will leave this here because I want to have a shower and think about something that doesn’t depress me… JK Rowing roasting Piers Morgan on Twitter, maybe. It’s the little things in life…

Coconut Candy & Crocodiles: the Mekong Delta

Hi from Vietnam! We’ve been here a couple of weeks already and done a lot, and I’m going to post slightly randomly, because we did a few more museums and – surprise! – they were grim. So to start, here is our day trip from south from Saigon (that’s Ho Chi Minh City to anyone who can be arsed to use the city’s post-war name, which is zero people out here) to the Mekong Delta.

First of all, let me stress that if you travel from Saigon to the Mekong Delta, you need to stop off at the Mekong Rest Stop. I have become well acquainted with Asian public toilets in the last month and I can safely say that I have never been to one – out here or at home, actually – that’s had such a pleasant ambiance. There is a lake. The lake has lily pads. There are bridges and paths and little places to sit. There are restaurants with cute names and neatly organised crockery. I didn’t have time to take a picture because I spent 15 of our 20 minutes queuing for the toilets (nothing is perfect) but it was prettier than some places I’ve paid to visit.

This has been your public service announcement.

Our trip took us to three islands on the delta’s tributaries, which are named things like Unicorn Island and Phoenix Island. The most mystical thing I saw was some fire dancing, but we’ll get to that. We were warned to keep our arms inside the boat in case of crocodiles and I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or a caution – there isn’t any health and safety out here, but no one wants to be eaten by a prehistoric lizard – but the river has been over-fished, so there aren’t many left. I don’t think there’s much of anything left, as fishermen tend to go right out into the sea to catch what they’re after. There’s still a tradition of painting eyes on the front of boats though, to keep the crocs away.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam
I may paint eyeballs on my car to ward off motorists who can’t use their indicators.

On our first island we visited a coconut candy factory. I haven’t done a blog on South East Asian food yet so you haven’t heard me complain about the lack of chocolate (there are Snickers, M&Ms and Hershey’s in the shops, but American imports are expensive so most of the confectionery is cake-y). Instead of chocolate, sweet toothed (teethed?!) Vietnamese eat coconut candy, which is basically coconut plus malt sugar. The cooking process is ridiculously simple (mix and cook for half an hour) and we got to try some. It tastes a little bit like toffee and a little bit like fudge and a lot like something you’d find in Honeydukes or Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. I have a serious sweet tooth – I was distressed to learn I’d have to pay five dollars for a Hershey’s – and a few mouthfuls was sweet enough for me. Maxim managed about one bite, so it is possibly not for the savoury-minded… or the diabetic. I would’ve bought some for home, but we’ve got two more months of travelling and the odds of a lump of gooey sugar surviving in my bag are worse than the odds of the US administration not starting a war, so to get a flavour of what it’s like, do the following:

  1. Get some coconut flavoured toffee
  2. Turn the heating up
  3. Run a hot bath so the entire house is nice and steamy
  4. Release several thousand insects onto your property
  5. Eat the toffee
Coconut Candy factory in Mekong Delta, Vietnam
This is where the candy cooks over coals. Sometimes they add flavour, like peanut or ginger.

Our second island was kind of surreal. New year celebrations hadn’t finished (I will talk about them in another post), so there was a circus-type variety show on with a guy eating knives and a girl dancing with fire to Lady Gaga songs, as well as traditional lion dancing. It felt both very Vietnamese and very international, but I guess Lady Gaga has that effect. The island’s regular entertainment included a couple of pools full of crocodiles, a couple of shops with bags made from the crocodiles’ late cousins and a fleet of ancient bicycles that I refused to touch (partly because they came out of the ark and partly because my feet wouldn’t have reached the pedals).

Tet Circus Celebration Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Yep, those are knives balanced on his nose.
Crocodiles in Mekong Delta, Vietnam
I’m not a crocodile fan, but I’m not a crocodile handbag fan either…

The third and final island was probably the closest to what I’d expected from the tour: we tried local fruits while a group of musicians played local folk songs – and If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands which is one Western import that needs to disappear from everywhere, including the West – and got stared at pointedly by a lady with a basket until I took one for the team and tipped a thousand dong. Then we tried honey tea in a traditional-yet-quite-commercialised ‘local home’. I mean, it was clearly someone’s home, but no one serves tea in formal dress and heels. As someone who used to work for a tea bar I can confirm that honey tea is a) nothing like regular tea and b) delicious. They keep the bees on site (some actually flew around us and took little baths in the honey as it was served) and the tea is essentially a spoonful of honey plus lime juice plus what I think was honeycomb, topped with boiling water, served in a shot glass. I’m going to try it at home, and maybe sell it as a hangover cure-come-detox method because it was one of the few genuinely healthy beverages I’ve ever tried that also genuinely didn’t taste like vomit.

As this is Vietnam and an excursion wouldn’t be complete without using the term ‘that’s bizarre’, the same house had a cage with two pythons, and visitors could drape one of the pythons around their neck while posing for a picture. I abstained because I am not suicidal, and couldn’t help but notice that while one of the pythons was out and about, the cage containing the other was left wide open. Bizarre and a potential international disaster!

Our final sight was the traditional Mekong riverboat trip, the one you’ll see if you Google the Mekong Delta. The views are wonderful, and as we did it at low tide you could see where the water normally came up to, which was kind of ethereal and cool. The downside was that the lady paddling our boat spent most of the 15-minute trip demanding that we tip her. She’d point to where other people had left dollars or dong in other boats and kept up a running commentary of ‘Tip? Tip!’ so much that I nearly told her ‘Never pat a burning dog. Oh and always cleanse, tone and moisturise instead of just using soap, you’ll really notice a difference.’

Riverboat on the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Traffic jam…
The Mekong Delta, Vietnam
The delta’s water is actually quite clean – the colour comes from the soil, which is very fertile. It’s also freshwater, which is why the islands are so green.

There was no beautiful rest stop on the way back into Saigon, unfortunately, but there was a thunderstorm. I didn’t manage to get a good picture of the drenched motorcyclists, but I did find it interesting that they use their giant plastic ponchos to cover the moped’s handlebars and main light as well as protecting them and two or three people sitting behind them… I have no idea why it hasn’t caught on at home.

Next up: exploring Saigon!

Bring a Torch to Cambodia

It’s been a heavy few blogs, so here is a treat for you at home in the UK on what I’m assuming is a dismal February day: I went to a beach and it was excellent. Well if we’re going to get into it, I went to a few beaches. There were multiples of excellence. Come read and pretend you were there too!

Sihanoukville

Not a cute name on the Sims (I think it was named after Norodom Sihanouk, the late king), Sihanoukville is a town on the south coast of Cambodia. I haven’t frequented a Spanish beach resort for about a decade, but I have a feeling local developers are using the Costa del Sol as a template – there is a lot of development and a lot of nationally ambiguous tourist junk, so visit soon if you want to actually feel like you’re in South East Asia and not just a really far away Malaga.

After a night at a hostel at one end of town, in which some drunk Russians came into our dorm at 3am and started an argument with an English guy, we headed along the coast to Otres beach. It’s quieter than the main beach, Serendipity, although our hostel had a beach bar that played what can only be described as ‘the result of someone punishing their electronic music app’ so I probably would have spontaneously combusted if we’d stayed anywhere busier. We were in a 14 bed dorm, which I was apprehensive about until it turned out that the dorm took up the entire floor of the hostel and didn’t have any windows. Not as in, they’d forgotten to put any in (not that it would surprise me) but that the first floor had a veranda running along the edge with a sloping roof, so although there were bathrooms and private rooms attached, the dorm was technically open air. The bunks actually felt quite private, because they were all covered in their own mosquito nets.

Otres 2 Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia
That’s wonky, isn’t it. The island looks like it’s about to slide down to the edge of the image.

On our first evening a storm threw the power out for half an hour, and on the second the generators stopped working for an hour of their own accord. Or possibly the hostel had their electricity cut off. Staff had their own theories. The wifi was shite, which was probably a blessing in disguise; I woke up at 3am on Saturday morning and couldn’t work out why I felt ill, then remembered that a certain thatch haired psychopath was being sworn into government around about that very time… the next day everyone at breakfast was watching the Al Jazeera coverage with identical expressions of exhausted disgust (and it takes a lot to unite a group of half asleep backpackers from eight separate countries who spent the previous night resenting one another for making too much noise).

Koh Rong Island

There are a lot of islands off Cambodia’s coast and a lot of travelers hop across; we picked Koh Rong, the largest, because we knew there was space at a hostel we could afford (money and hostel availability dictate most of our movements). There was a lot of wind on the day we traveled, and we were told that we’d change ferries part way through. I was trying to work out the logistics of moving our stuff from the boat then onto the quay and back again when it transpired that the ferries had pulled parallel to one another we were literally going to step from one onto the other. Bags were passed over by crew, and I’m pretty sure something fell off one into the depths of the Gulf of Thailand.

I did not know before we booked that Koh Rong is ‘the party island’, but I also did not know how isolated our particular hostel was. We had to wait for their supply boat to pick us up from the main beach, and because the wind was so strong we ended up being dropped off a beach early and trekking through a bit of jungle until we reached ours. I was wearing flip flops; one of the bar staff, who had stayed on the main beach the night before, had no shoes at all. Apparently you just have to keep your eyes open for snakes… my glasses were covered in sea spray from three or four hours of waves the size of cars, so I fully expected imminent death and my relief at making it to civilisation was halted only when I realised the toilet/shower block was made from concrete, contained no soap or flushing  mechanisms and was home to several of the island’s insects. It was also along a sandy pathway littered with tree roots, plants and leaf litter, and lit by approximately one light.

As was the path to our tent.

Other than that, though, we spent three days in paradise. The enforced relaxation (no wifi, main beach about 3 kilometers away) sent me a bit bananas, but these days a digital detox is probably something we should all do at least three times a week, so I relearnt the art of the siesta and made friends with a questionable Jack Reacher novel whose final pages had been lost. Was the kidnapping genuine? Did Reacher sleep with the grieving sister? What happened to the original assassin? I’ll never know (although I can guess, and I don’t know which is more entertaining). I also tripped on a tree root on the beach and bruised my foot, then got a rash sitting on a hammock but neither of those things are as fun as another beach photo, so:

Koh Rong Island, Cambodia
Less wonky? I think less wonky.

(The rash went after I got moisteriser from a pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh; the foot still aches sometimes but I’m carrying my belongings around on my back and averaging a museum a week so there’s not much I can do about it… thank god for four hour bus journeys?)

Unless I write something else about the thatch haired psychopath, the next post will be about Vietnam. Spoiler alert: I’ve already visited a beach.

Reasons to Let Trump into the UK

This post isn’t about South East Asia! Anyway so in case you’ve been living under a rock (great idea, by the way), there’s a petition asking the government to downgrade President Dickhead’s state visit to a regular one. I haven’t signed it, because although a state visit for a US president during their first year in office is unprecedented, and despite the opportunities it gives Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage to spout more self-aggrandising bile than we thought possible, I think a Trump administration state visit actually holds a wealth of opportunity for us all. No really bear with me:

The Queen will have to meet him

She might not be able to comment on politics, but she can publicly make subtly scathing conversation without raising an eyebrow. Various aides will have to murmur behind napkins ‘you certainly have done a lot’ does not mean she agrees with you on the Muslim ban, it means she can’t believe you haven’t been impeached yet. Yes, she really is offering you another biscuit.

Prince Phillip will have to meet him

Less subtle and witty. More like ‘the trifle is gorgeous today, isn’t it? So are you planning to start World War III with China or with  Iran?’

There will be loud, intrusive protests everywhere the delegation goes

The British tradition of just not mentioning unpleasant smells won’t be enough for officials to avoid bringing up how angry people are about the US administration’s desire to defecate over everything it sees, and the UK government’s desire to hold the toilet paper as long as it puts us in good stead come Brexit. Because how do you avoid bringing up signs like these?

Petition for Ian McKellen to get another knighthood.

Boris Johnson will almost definitely insult Trump to his face

Using words like ‘piffle’ and ‘codswallop’. For the first time in Boris’s political career everyone will be pleased about it. I guess this would also happen on a regular visit, but if it’s during a state visit he might be wearing a black tie and tails and the memes alone will be glorious.

Banning a man who’s spent his presidency banning things is too much like playing his game, and the British game is so much more fun

A lot of people just want him barred from entering UK airspace and although any type of Trump visit will be detrimental to our air pollution goals, I just don’t think a ban is particularly British. I think what is British is satire, sarcasm and a succinct declaration that we are quite cross.

Remember Je Suis Charlie? Now’s your chance to make good on the free speech and satire quotations you retweeted then. When Trump visits – and he will, at some point – every mildly eloquent, satirical or artistic person with access to the Internet gets to let loose. Whether it’s Have I Got News for You or The Last Leg or some bloke named Steve live Tweeting a press conference, the message will will be unambiguous: we will not hold the fucking toilet paper while you shit on our values. Columnists will crack their knuckles; cartoonists will sharpen their pencils; protesters will take their signs, chants and sit-ins to acidic new levels; Banksy will decorate a high rise. Small children will ask ‘why does my mum break china when he’s on TV?’ to the point where schools will hold assemblies explaining civil unrest. Alt-right neo Nazi scum will look at one another and gulp. Republican higher-ups will blink and realise that the special relationship isn’t about the Prime Minister’s Brexit negotiations. It’s about neighbours looking out for one another even after the odd failed invasion of the Middle East and dodgy extradition attempt. We will invite you in for a cup of tea, Mr Trump, but we reserve the right to spit in it.

I can’t believe I’m 21 and just made a toilet paper analogy. Yes, I can. Anyway what are your thoughts on the state visit? Do you have any ideas for protest signs? Tell me. (Next post we go back to regularly scheduled chat about Cambodian beaches.)

Phnom Penh Part 3: the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek & Tuol Sleng Museum

We only really went to Phnom Penh for two places, and those places are horrible. But I’d be a terrible person if I didn’t talk about it, so…

SOME HISTORY: in 1975 a radical communist group, the Khmer Rouge, seized power of Cambodia’s government with a vision to turn Cambodia into a ‘communist agrarian utopia’, aka a nation full of rice farmers. Their methods included forcing everyone out of cities into the farmlands, whether they knew how to grow rice or not, and killing anyone who might disagree, like intellectuals and spies (they identified intellectuals by whether or not a person had glasses, soft hands or spoke a foreign language, and spies by whether or not they looked fishy). SPOILER ALERT: it failed. People can’t grow rice having eaten two spoonfuls of gruel in a day. Murdering a quarter of your population demoralises the troops. Communism is a fucking terrible way to run a country. By 1979 the regime had collapsed (it didn’t help that senior members kept offing one another in paranoia) and the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by rebels and the Vietnamese; what was left of the government fled to Thailand. Because Vietnam was involved, the United Nations actually continued to recognise the Khmer Rouge as Cambodia’s rightful government for years – they received aid and sent representatives to UN meetings. One day I will write about western countries ignoring genocide and send the manuscript to the Trump administration… Today is not that day but if you want to read more about the Khmer Rouge, go here. Anyway the Khmer people are very open about their past and are preserving and sharing it nationwide (unlike Nazi Germany, no one’s going to get away with denying this shit happened). The two biggest and most heartbreaking museums are both in or near Phnom Penh.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

There are killing fields all over Cambodia, but the largest is at Choeung Ek, which used to be a Chinese graveyard and orchard a few miles from Phnom Pehn. We visited there first and just arriving was odd, because the road goes through what is now basically a suburb – it felt a bit like having a war memorial at a corner in central Southend. Once you’re in, though, Choeung Ek feels more like a nature reserve than a genocide spot. There’s an audio tour that takes you to various points, and they’ve let a lot of the space grow naturally back into an orchard. There’s even a pond, although if I remember correctly there are still a lot of bodies under it. Speaking of bodies…

Choeung Ek Killing Fields Cambodia
This means that someone, at some point, did.

Because the Khmer Rouge wanted to save bullets, they had people killed using what was lying about instead. Think farming equipment, knives, tyre irons and the like. As a result, the corpses uncovered since aren’t exactly intact; every now and then bits of bone and skull and clothes work their way up to the surface and museum staff take care of them. What they have found has been examined and organised neatly in a memorial stupa, which is simultaneously very beautiful and very creepy.

Choeung Ek Memorial Stupa
I forgot to take a photo of the stupa so this is from Wikipedia. Those shelves contain at least 5,000 skulls.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

After lunch we headed to Tuol Sleng in central Phnom Penh, also known as Security Prison 21. For what it’s worth I found the museum harder to deal with than the Killing Fields, and I’d recommend doing Choeung Ek second. There’s more fresh air, less graphic photos and more space to sit by yourself while you try to process what you’ve just seen – the building was originally a school, so it’s quite compact and overbearing. There’s an audio tour for the museum as well so you can do it at your own pace, but I still wanted to inhale a bottle of gin by the time I was a third of the way around.

They request you don’t take photos of the inside rooms, which was fine by me. Just, imagine a tiled room that used to be a classroom, with a rusting iron bed in the middle. In its heyday, it would have been a nice bed. The iron is wrought into patterns. It was an interrogation room, so add rusting iron shackles and perhaps an iron bar. Finally, turn to one wall and add a large black and white photograph of that very room. Attached to the bed is what used to be a person. It’s an old photograph, taken straight after the prison was discovered, but you can still tell that that used to be someone’s head and that was someone’s stomach, and that is where their stomach ended up. Then multiply the room by four or five because when the regime fell, the prison staff knew they had very little time to flee. They stopped torturing that day’s suspects and killed them to avoid future identification – but they couldn’t risk gunshots being heard, so they hacked their prisoners to death then skedaddled.

That’s just the first part of the museum.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
This is the only photo I took that wasn’t of something mightily depressing, and that’s only because there’s a palm tree in it.

There are several rooms full of photographs of prisoners and several pieces of torture equipment, including one which was originally used as gymnastic equipment for the school. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous about records, but they destroyed a lot toward the end; what’s left is quite enough to put you off believing in any sort of benevolent deity. Most pictures are just of people when they arrive, but there’s a few of prisoners mid-captivity. There were only seven people found alive when the prison was liberated, and one was an artist who went on to paint what he saw, so there are also canvases of torture and general death in glorious technicolour. An estimated 20,000 people were held at S-21 during the regime. Seven were found alive.

We ended up rushing a little toward the end of the tour – well, I did. Maxim finished way quicker and was impatient to leave because we needed to get bus tickets for Shianoukville. Part of me was irritated for skipping the exit, because two of the surviving prisoners were there signing books, but part of me was very relieved to be given a reason to leave. I could easily go back and spend a day making notes, listening to every extra on the audio tour and piecing together everything that’s there (with a break for lunch and the gin) but I could also quite happily never set foot in Phnom Penh again. It’s not that the city  – and Cambodia in general – isn’t vibrant and bustling and very ready to be more than just four years in its history. It’s that in my head, once I’d seen Choeung Ek and S-21, it was hard to see anything else. I kept thinking ‘that building’s definitely been built since the seventies’, ‘that building hasn’t’, ‘this guy looks old enough to have lived through the genocide’. Anecdotally, there are no old people in Cambodia; statistically, one in four people died under the Khmer Rouge either from malnutrition, disease or execution.

It feels very relevant that I’m writing this the day after Holocaust Memorial Day, and the day after the Trump administration signed an order banning Syrian refugees from entering the US. Incidentally one of the factors in the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power is that America dropped more bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam War than it did during the entirety of World War II; the resulting poverty and civil unrest stoked support for the party. I could keep drawing parallels between Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Nazi Germany, and parallels between them and the rhetoric Trump and his supporters are spewing, but if you’re reading this you’re probably smart enough to draw them yourselves.

Phnom Penh Part 2: the Grand Palace & Our First Day Bus

We hit up the palace on our last morning in the city, because our bus to Shianoukville was too late in the day to just bum around while we waited (we made up for it by bumming around in Sihanoukville). I haven’t forgotten that I haven’t blogged about the Killing Fields and S-21 museum, it’s just taking some time to turn a day of horror into a coherent blog. In the mean time, meet the Grand Palace of Phnom Penh… and a bus.

Entry to the palace was $10 plus a tuk tuk, so the little part of me that’s been keeping a budget – okay, a big part of me – thought ‘this place had better be something’. It was. Not in a grandiose Bangkok Grand Palace kind of way, although there are similarities. It’s more understated, much quieter and far smaller. There were quite a few parts scaffolded off for renovation, but you can easily spend a morning wandering about the buildings. There’s another emerald Buddha (again, I don’t think it’s actually emerald), some lovely little shrines and trees, and some museum buildings with ceremonial clothes and whatnot. Lots of elephant statues. Every time we see an elephant statue Maxim points out that we haven’t actually met any elephants yet; I’m using that as leverage in my quest to get us to an elephant sanctuary back in Thailand. We managed to miss the famous silver pagoda completely – yeah, I didn’t think it would be possible to miss a pagoda, but we did – so if you go I recommend paying more attention to your map than we did. Possibly take advantage of the palace guides.

Grand Palace Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Spot the face.
Grand Palace Phnom Penh, Cambodia
I have no idea why they put a model of Angkor Wat in front of this building, but it was very satisfying to say I’d already been.

The bus from Phnom Penh to Shianoukville takes about four hours, so it’s not really worth getting a night bus, but it is definitely worth charging your iPod and practising your meditation before you board. I thought I had the long straw, because my seat was right at the front and Maxim was squashed down the back, but there’s not really a long straw when it comes to travelling by bus. Especially not when your seat doesn’t come with overhead locker space or legroom, because it’s right next to the luggage hold.

Bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, Cambodia
I know I don’t have long legs but come on. The giant foot belonged to my neighbour… or possibly the titchy feet belong to me.

We stopped off at a restaurant which was probably one of the nicest places we’ve been. It’s literally on the side of the road but it had water features and a garden area and toilets backpackers dream about (don’t look at me like that. You spend a couple of weeks living out of a rucksack in rooms with at least five other people and clean toilets really start to have an emotional impact). I nearly took a picture but instead here is the view:

road-to-sihanoukville
I felt like I was in a Western, and I don’t even like Westerns.

Up next: Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Island. Teaser: there are beaches and glorious sunsets. Or I might finally finish the Killing Fields. WHO KNOWS. What’s the best/worst bus journey you’ve ever been on?

A Brief But Pretty Excerpt from Angkor Wat

All right, Internet, I said I’d share Angkor Wat photos and… I can’t, because the process of getting them from my phone onto this blog is proving trickier than I’d expected. Possibly because the wifi quality is steadily decreasing, possibly because the photos are huge, possibly because my luck is shite. So – instead of the wonderfully detailed account I have drafted – here are a few photos that will work. I’ve tried to label them but I did a terrible job remembering where I was throughout the trip, so this is probably going to be pretty but not educational.

Neak Pean Temple, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
100% sure there are mermaids in there.
Preah Khan, Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Serious Narnia vibes here, and I never even finished the Narnia series.
Ta Som, Angkor Wat, Cambodia
It’s hard to know which came first.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Genuinely not sure which temple this is.
Sunset at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Sunset over… somewhere. I’M SORRY I CAN’T GOOGLE TO FIND OUT WHERE I WAS. #FirstWorldProblems

The Internet is saying no, so I will leave this here and possibly save the rest for another time. We’re in Sihanoukville now for a few days, and I will write up the Killing Fields and S 21 museum as well (not something I’m looking forward to to be honest, but I’d be a dick tourist/human not to talk about is, so).

Phnom Penh Part 1: Night Buses & Morning Walks

Good morning, or evening, or whatever it is. I don’t know what time it is here, because I haven’t been to bed since the day before yesterday. I think. We arrived in Phnom Penh about half five this morning; we caught the night bus from Siem Reap at 11:30pm last night and although I slept for about five hours, I’m not what you’d call fully functioning.

Night Bus Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A bunk with a view.

 

I’d never been on a night bus before so my only reference was Harry Potter’s experiences with the Knight Bus… we were not offered hot chocolate or a toothbrush and no one vomited, but our conductor did remind me a little of Stan Shunpike. If you’re getting a bus in Cambodia any time soon, I can recommend Giant Ibis – they have wifi, arrived on time and had an almost-completely-normal toilet on board (I nearly took a photo but I didn’t want to touch anything as there was no soap. Or sink).

Night Bus Siem Reap to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
We stopped for a bit around 1am; the light was almost nice and arty but not quite (sounds like a metaphor for this place).

We didn’t realise how early we would arrive, and had neither the details of our hostel nor any map to get there, because stupidly I hadn’t downloaded the info before the wifi drove away, so we sat on a bench on the waterfront and watched the sun come up. Well, I watched. Maxim dosed as I kept an eye out (Backpackers have belongings stolen while they nap is not a headline I want associated with my name). I did not see anyone who looked remotely like a baggage thief, but I did see three rats (or one rat three times), several bats, some finch-type birds and two gentleman urinate on a verge. The shrub in that verge was far healthier than the shrubs in neighbouring verges, so I can only assume communal weeing is part of their daily routine.

Phnom Penh Waterfront, Cambodia
I just noticed that’s wonky. In my defense, I felt a little wonky at the time.
Phnom Penh Waterfront, Cambodia
I think that might actually be *the* verge.

We got breakfast as soon as it was light and walked to our hostel by about 9am, which was interesting. Traffic here is busier than Siem Reap but with a similar relaxed attitude, and my bag was heavy. Heavier than I remembered. Too heavy for an exhausted five foot nothing who hadn’t had enough water that morning. God forbid any hostel should let you check in before 2pm, so we collapsed into a couple of chairs and haven’t really moved since. Well, that’s not true. I had a shower as soon as we had room keys, and Maxim is asleep in his bunk right now. Today has become a rest day, which I think I will make compulsory following all travel days. Or nights. There is no way I have the energy to go to the Killing Fields today, or the S-21 museum, or the regular museums… so as I have no book, my magazine disintegrated and I haven’t got any postcards to write on, I thought I’d say hello. Maybe I will meditate. I don’t want to fall asleep, because I’m just getting over my jetlag. Perhaps I will write a short story, or start a conversation with a fellow backpacker.

Who am I kidding, I’m terrified of other backpackers. They’re all so tanned.

If you guys are bored or stuck with a lot of time, what do you do?