Monday, September 27, 2010


I've arrived in bali and have spent a few days in Ubud. Ubud has a reputation for being the epicentre of culture in Bali and I agree that it has a huge amount of culture and arts. However, it has seemingly become a bit of a tourist trap with coach loads of "culture thrill seekers!" arriving in hoards and descending on the villages which have merged together to form Ubud.

First impressions of Bali was that it was similar to Cambodia but with more order.... that was because I arrived in the dark! Impressions quickly changed. After driving for about an hour I arrived at my guesthouse. I was a little disappointed because I assumed that it would feel like I had travelled to a different part of Bali but the road was pretty much lined with shops/workshops and homes for the whole drive. I didn't sense there was any huge distance between Ubud and the airport. Totally different to Cambodia where if you were to drive at night you would certainly feel like you had made a significant journey if you were to travel to a provincial town!

My guesthouse was an excellent Internet find - "Narasoma". I was impressed with the room on the top floor which was furnished traditionally with a massive wooden carved bed. A front and back balcony meant I could watch both sunrise and sunset from the comfort of my own living space! I awoke early to enjoy the sunrise and wow! The landscape was beautiful with interesting buildings and the volcano in the distance! I was now impressed.

Next on the agenda was a rice field walk and after consulting with the guidebook I set off and immediately sensed I wasn't on the right track. I carried on regardless and for an hour and a half or so was enjoying the walk. I hen tried to cross a gorge to walk home on the other side. A friendly local pointed me in the right direction. Ummm I would have preferred to go back the way I knew but trusting him I set off.... and promptly got lost in a maze of rice in the hot, hot sun!

I was Ok and enjoying the adventure until a big, black snake decided to JUMP (really!) from his hiding position next to my foot into the small water irrigation system that was running alongside the path. I had no choice but to continue with my walk - now armed with a big stick. Then, I saw snake 2, 3, 4 and 5 and suddenly was not having a too happy a time! I then turned back and managed to find the way again. Strangely I stumbled across a painter and a small gallery so had a small chat and he suggested an alternative route - NO way! I was going back the way I knew.

OOOh snake, snake, lizard, spider, snake, lizard. I was looking forward to the town! After 3 hours of walking I arrived back. Phew! The rest of my time consisted of shopping and eating and browsing galleries.

I did pay a visit to the popular Monkey Forest Temple which I thought might be a bit of a tourist trap but it was actually entertaining with monkeys stealing tourists food and generally being a bit of a nightmare for those with monkey phobia! Particularly good was the monkey "swimming pool" which was a small pond which the monkeys were swimming in and jumping off statues onto each other and diving for fun!
Wet, unimpressed monkey - No zoom - you could point the camera right in their "unbothered" faces

In the evening I watched a traditional dance performance and was impressed. My point of reference was Cambodian Apsara dancing and there were certainly similarities - hand bent in strange ways, feet arched and looking as if the dances were on hot coals. However, the major difference was the expressions in these dancers' eyes and the dance which I observed which was a lot faster with sharper movements to Cambodian dance.


With one day left in Ubud I decided to try another walk. I walked for 4 miles and then couldn't find the start of the rice field walk. Mindful of the previous experience I decided to just enjoy the walk on the road! My feeling was confirmed when I saw a massive lizard just walking in the grass (he was about 2 ft long). Even though I knew by this stage the black snakes were "no problem" I just didn't fancy stepping on one by mistake.

Luckily a luxury hotel provided me with juice (at a cost!) to prevent dehydration! After this and slightly more walking in back lanes I could no longer resist the cries of "transport" and got a lift back to the centre of the city!

A few unexplored areas later I was ready to hit the road and head to the mountain lodge on Bali's second largest mountain....

Friday, September 24, 2010


Its not often that I cry in Cambodia. Yes, the dirty children and the land mine victims begging is distressing but after a period of time these become everyday scenes and you just get on with your life without such things playing on your mind too much (I guess it is just a survival thing - you can't change everything after all...).

However, today I was dropped off at the airport by a Cambodian - Canadian who escaped the Khmer Rouge. She now runs an NGO dealing with trafficking. As she dropped me off she alerted me to a group of girls, no older than 18 (looking like 14 year olds) who were all dressed in either pink or yellow T shirts. Their hair was short. Cambodian women treasure their long hair so this was odd.

She explained to me that they were all going to Kuala Lumpur to work in Malaysia as domestic workers. A closer inspection of the T shirts showed the name of the organisation sending them. They sat in a row waiting....

The next time I saw them was after check in and they were going up past passport control. In Phnom Penh the escalator goes past a glass wall to the outside of the airport. By this stage the families of the children in the bright coloured T shirts had gathered and they were waving. The children (because they were really children whatever their fake ages on their passports said) were crying, sobbing. It set me off too. They looked so innocent and petrified.

One in particular was sobbing on the plane. When it took off it was more of a howl. So very very sad. These girls, almost certainly, still lived at home, had never previously left the country and then all of a sudden they were being whisked away to work in a house (or something less desireous in due course) in a different country with a different language and culture - for very little money. They may only be an hour plane journey away from their homes but if you have no money and possibly someone else controlling your passport it is not that you can just return home when it all goes wrong.

When we arrived at Kuala Lumpur all I could do was smile at them a lot and hope that their final destination was a happy enough place for them.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Time to say goodbye...


Its time to say goodbye to Cambodia again after nearly 3 weeks... $25 of Cambodian "lard/ice cream"(I'm not sure what it is made of...) cakes have been eaten by the 100 students at the Centre's school which can only mean Happy Birthday or goodbye. I had both goodbye in English and the Khmer for goodbye iced onto the cake to ensure there was no confusion .... A few more goodbyes and then it is off to Bali.

More Khmer princess shots....

A before and after shot....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A kep sunset

Sunsets in Kep are sometimes spectacular - On this occassion I'd give it a 6 out of 10 but still impressive with the ocean backdrop!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Angkor Wat

Visiting Agkor Wat is supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience. I've now done it more times than I can count...! This time I took a group of Cambodian students who did the photo project with me - The idea was to get them to have some fun and take pictures.

In a while I'll put some pictures here! ....

There is not a lot to report - the tuk tuk drivers are still ripping people off in the city and there is a persistent use of child beggars in the city which is distressing.

That said I totally recommend Golden Banana guesthouse ( which is just a haven of blissfulness from the heat of the city and the temples. It was a stark contrast to the guesthouse I ended up in with the Khmers - My hotel for the first two nights with them was very Cambodian. The TV was on, I had to fight to get a room with a window, the bedding was unattractive (not just in a fashion sense but in an ewwww-ish way) and the shower was ready to give you an electric shock as soon as you were naked enough to amuse the 20 or so tuk tuk drivers who appeared to sleep in the reception and were just waiting for a "comedy" incident like this to happen. I requested some additional bedding and luckily we escaped unhurt from the shower of death on all occasions it was used. Not bad at $10 a night for 4 people - but it was not where I was going to stay for 4 nights.

In contrast the Golden Banana staff were charming. The standard single room was actually large, the shower room attractive, the towels fluffy, the bed white and crisp..... the pools (two of them) refreshing - ahhh perfect. Suffice to say on the third day I did nothing but sit by the pool and eat.

After a lazy day I felt like I should do something so I took advantage of the free shuttle bus to the silk farm operated by a NGO Artisans d'Angkor - I have been to the Artisans d' Angkor gift shop and general show rooms before and they were worth a visit to see crafts such as stonework and metal work in action. It is an impressive organisation which seeks to give Cambodians opportunities via learning a traditional craft:

More pictures to follow...

The products are pricey - However, once I had seen the number of hours that goes into making a ream of silk and the work this organisation was doing, employing over 1,000 people it seemed more than right to get that nice silk scarf at only $24. Ok, Ok so it would have been $2 in the market but it would have been not nearly as nice and the organisation and its aim/mission is definitely worth supporting. I now have quite a collection of products from their shops....

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bokor/Kep - updated

Next stop was Kep - specifically Kep Lodge (again). I was really looking forward to some fresh prawns and crab in the famous Kampot pepper in the KimLy shack by the sea. I wasn't disappointed. Still as as delicious and cheap as ever. Worth the 4 hour bus journey!

After a few days of aimlessly wandering/cycling around Kep I decided to face the bus back to Phnom Penh. This meant that I could splurge on a trip to Bokor Mountain in Kampot. I have been trying to get up Bokor mountain ever since I arrived in Cambodia. The last time I tried the bribe was just too big. Bokor is is an abandoned French town was built as a resort to offer an escape from the heat of the capital city.

he focal point of the hill station resort was the grand Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino - Other ruins also remain - shops, a post office, a church....

The tour began in the traditional Khmer way - late. I was picked up in a tuk tuk which i thought would take me from Kep to Kampot to meet the others on the tour. Wrong. The tuk tuk took me to a shop/waiting place. Here I had my most successful Khmer conversation (with a stranger) to date! I managed to explain where I was from my job and so forth and even manged to explain that I was not involved in the Khmer Rouge Tribunals as he was suggesting (as he worked out I was a lawyer...). It kept me amused for a while. Then a mini bus turned up - this took me to Kampot.... I then was asked to get on a motorbike which took me to the foot of Bokor Mountain where the rest of the group were waiting. 3 modes of transport in an hour with no explanation about what on earth was happening! Patience required

About 15 of us were then herded into trucks which took us part of the way up the hill into the jungle. We then faced an hour and a half of walking in the jungle spotting strange creatures - snakes, beetles and moneys mainly.

Apparently the company developing the site would not let us go up all the way in the trucks because the road was not developed enough in the middle...seemed strange but I have long learnt to accept Cambodian logic. Basically, we could ride in the truck to the middle - get out walk for an hour and half in the baking heat and then ride the rest of the way in the truck. Ummmm - don't ask!

The tour guide was not impressed with my walking footwear - basically slip on pumps (now ruined by the torrent of rain later in the day). I didn't point out that the Ranger accompanying us with the gun was wearing flip flops....

The guide had a particular need to tell the worlds longest jokes. Did I tell you the one about the tourists who wouldn't pay because they were called monkeys by their tuk tuk driver? He also explained his view on a variety of different plants - including what we know as rattan/wicker - apparently the Cambodians eat this. I would imagine it is not very tasty but that said Cambodians do tend to eat everything which they can pick off any plant or tree!

After an hour and a half of walking we were back in the trucks taking us to the summit. Surrounded in mist we suddenly became aware we were actually up high and it was cold (!) outside (!) in Cambodia (!).

As we twisted our way up the mountain the development was apparent. The site is owned by the government but is now under 99–year lease to the Sokimex Group who have undertaken to repair the road and redevelop the site, repairing the old hotel and casino along with new buildings (mainly as casino/hotel). The road was very new and the cuttings at the side of the road were lined with new turf and were being mowed! - a strange thing in Cambodia! As we approached the ghost town we could see the foundations of the new building by Sokimex - It will completely destroy the atmosphere of Bokor and transform it from an adventure to a ghost city to a easy ride to a bling/eyesore of a hotel.

At least for the time being the abandoned buildings have been untouched. The abandoned buildings are truly amazing - Ignoring the DANGER sign and exploring the casino was a great experience - old bathrooms; orange moss growing on the building; cracked windows - a real air of the colonial French. Free to explore the building, which was clearly liable to collapse in part at any time, - Open access, that is what is great about Cambodian health and safety!

There were a number of spiral staircases which had just fallen apart sticking to the main stairs it was clear that in its prime the building would have been an amazing place. The view at the back of the building was utterly breathtaking and one of the best I had seen in Cambodia - the coast line looked beautiful sweeping below us.

While we were munching on a lunch of rice and vegetables trying to look around the casino the guide was intent on telling us a potted history of everything Cambodian in a completely incoherent way. He didn't seem to convey to the tour group that the organisation who was building on the site and who was granted the ability to rip apart the national park which Bokor is situated in is closely related to the governing party here in Cambodia.... basically they are in it together - I filled in a few blanks for the group. I often find it really surprising how unaware people are of the political situation in this country even if they have lived here for a while.

....I then asked if I could make my way to the abandoned church which was about a 10 minute walk away.

I don't think the guide understood why I could possibly want to go to see the church in the pouring rain. But I guess I couldn't understand why the guide thought that we all wanted to hear his ramblings (which would have been good if they were focused on the history of Bokor rather than the whole of Cambodian history) for 30 minutes when we only had 2 hours to explore (after about 4 hours of travel just to get there). Cultural differences eh!

The group followed over to the church and all too soon we were herded back into the back of the truck for the trip to the spot where we had to walk for an hour and a half again. By this point I wasn't sure whether this walking part was actually due to the limitations of the road as we were told or because the tour guides wanted to make the trip longer or what..... Anyway, one woman (wearing appropriate footwear I should point out) slipped and sprained her ankle - She had to ride down, all the way, in the truck. Turns out driving on the middle portion of the road can be purchased for an additional $1.... ha!

By this stage (a) people were complaining about how tough the walk was (b) the guide was still asking me over and over where my "sneakers" were. I had to stop myself from loudly expressing that: (a) this is a JUNGLE walk PEOPLE - Did you people expect it to have a concrete path? (b) I do not own sensible shoes and (c) if I did I would not be wearing them out of the house even in the jungle and (d) I didn't fall over. HUH!

The day rounded off with a boat trip down the river in kampot and a moto ride back to Kep. Phew!

More photos to come...

Language barriers

Since my last post I did eventually make it to the Cambodian village I have been to now about four times. Apparently, since my last visit: I got more beautiful, they missed me and my mother (who once visited). Suffice to say development is limited in a rural "hamlet" in Cambodia and other than the children growing over the past year or so there was not much change. "Granny" was especially pleased to see me but was disappointed my Khmer had not improved - I tried to explain that this was quite a difficult language to master from the UK.....

I also met a new family including an uncle of one of the Cambodian student's whose visit it was. He was about to start university but wanted to speak English with the foreign woman (that would be me) although he was painfully shy. It is difficult to come up with enough easy level questions in English. "What is your favourite colour?" might be a question which is easily understood but isn't very meaningful! Instead, after an hour or so I practiced my very basic Khmer on them and added a number of words to my vocab.

Later in the week I announced in my bad Khmer to my Cambodian students (luckily old enough to understanditwas a mistake) that I desired a threesome.... ummmmm they found that truely hilarious - and for once I understood something that Khmers found funny and found it quite amusing myself!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A journey to the Village

On Saturday a few of the children from the Centre and I attempted to visit their home village in Kandal province. It usually takes about 90 minutes to reach the village - about 20 minutes off the main road to Kampot.

I say "attempted" because we didn't actually make it. We set off at 8.30am. A 9.30am on the highway the front left wheel (really) dropped off the mini van we were in and we were stranded. At least we were alive.

I was the responsible adult in this group (the driver was a newly qualified student at the centre.... about 17 years old.).... Ummmm not sure what to do about this one. I got out to consider the situation further. Basically the wheel bolt had come off and the wheel had then slid off the axle. Foolishly I picked the bolt up - Scalding HOT! OWWWWWWwwwww (I made good traditional Cambodian sound). Burnt three fingers and the skin went yellow - nice. Fearing that my fingerprints were burnt off forever I then used most of my drinking water to salvage them.
During this medical emergency time we arranged for a pick up to come from the centre with a jack for the van. We waited under a tree for 90 minutes. The jack and a (student) helper arrived.

A further 90 minutes passed with 2 of the older boys trying to fix the wheel. We were starting to get a little bored and very thirsty. Coconut man cycled down - Yippppeeeee. 8 coconuts provided a welcome distraction for 30 minutes or so.

The boys then decided we needed a pick up - I am still glad they took control at this point. The teacher will come with it - about 90 minutes later he arrives with about 15 other kids from the centre riding in the truck. He tries to fix it - for about 90 minutes.

By this time the kids are moody and so am I (but trying very hard). I have sun burn and have only had a coconut since 9.30am (but this stage it was 2pm). AGH! I am told that the minivan/bus will go on to the pick up. How? The pick up was essentially just a flat bad truck. It was no way of "picking up". The minivan was bigger than the pick up's flat bed! I am assured by this stage it will work. I cannot wait to see this.... are 15 kids going to pick up a tonne van?! How will it fit?! It only has three wheels after all?!

You see at this point I still have Cambodian faith - That is, even though it is totally impossible it can happen. Sometimes "impossible" things do happen here. The excitement of seeing a van "fly" keeps me going for 30 minutes. Then I realise the Cambodians have discovered it is impossible - It is not going to happen. Tonne vans cannot be lifted on to "pick up" trucks.

Disappointed by the failure of the van to fly I suddenly need water! The teacher announces he needs a spare part and I am determined to go and see civilisation again and more importantly buy water. Grabbing the most dehydrated student as a translator we were off in the back of another pick up truck (in the outside part naturally) off to find water.

Ahhhh sweet water. At this point I realise I resemble the red nosed reindeer. I also have very red arms. It is about 3pm.

The teacher then decides to get a mechanic - Seriously after 5 hours of looking and hitting the wheel with a spanner they then decide to get in the professional. Whodathought! Suddenly I wish I had taken control at 10am....

Unsurprisingly, the mechanic cannot fix it on the highway (we are in the middle of the road with only branches to stop vehicles from thundering into those in the middle of the road staring at the wheel problem) ... we have to head back leaving the mechanic to sort out taking the van to his workshop.

We get back to the children's centre after 4pm. Grabbing rice from the cook as quickly as we could we shoveled it in like we hadn't eaten for a week!

So "see you tomorrow at 8am" the kids said. "We try again". How could I say no? So off we went on Sunday to the village. Again....

Burnt and slightly crazy by the 6th hour....

Group work

When you were 14 years old did you want to answer questions in class? How about share your most secret feelings with all of your class mates... No? Try Khmer counseling. Well, otherwise translated to me as a lesson in "talking abut yourself".

I arrived at the Children's centre thinking I would be seeing some sewing. No chance. Feelings were top of the agenda. Opening yourself up to the whole class of about 30 or so others. When I arrived the children were about half way through the session so I slipped in to watch. Their task was to talk abut 10 things that were listed on huge pieces of paper. Such as their feelings on: their family, sleep patterns, food, body, fears, future.... Not much really!!!

Like all good Khmer presentations each child gave their answers via a sound system and microphone! A fewwere laughing probably because they were afraid of crying as they spoke. Some of them cried -some of them sobbed about the way that they felt. Particularly about the abandonment of them by their family. There were a lot of red eyes in the audience as well as the speakers. Although it was in Khmer some of it was translated for me. It reminded me that despite the hard but seemingly happy exterior that many of the children have they do have deep rooted issues which remain with them as they strive for a better life at the Centre. A bit of therapy Khmer style.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Khmer Princess

Here are my photos from the Cambodian Studio. On reflection it is probably not a look I will adpot everyday....
Disclaimer: I was positioned into thes poses - some are more Saturday Night Fever than Apsara.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Khmer photography...

Ahhh a picture says a thousand words - yes, the pink one is me... Yesterday I took Sina and her carer to have their photo taken khmer style..... Final photos (photoshop-ed complete with Khmer background) to follow...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Some random pics from my camera...

Looking hot - literally, baking.

I am relying on internet cafes so these are some random pictures from my camera! Yesterday was a particularly intense photo taking day the the children's centre - They all wanted about 10 pictures each. There are about 100 of them... Agggh!


On my first day back I visited old haunts. I've been surprised by some of the "progress" in my old surrounds. In my old street the corner shack "selling all kind if everything" has been demolished. A Korean restaurant has opened up next to my old house and Pricewaterhouse Coopers is now in the office building at the end of the street!! Surely not! The Gold Tower is not 42 storeys tall yet but is getting there and towering above the city. Mango, the clothes shop that is - not the fruit, is advertising a new store on Sihanouk near to Lucky Supermarket(really? or is it some one who has got hold of a few old billboards?).

Elsewhere is now elsewhere on Golden street and Java now does the frozen Margarita in a proper glass (I liked the tumblers - huge measures). Threads, my favourite tailors seems to have been re branded - at least - and has a new name (needs investigation!).

At least I've managed to locate 2 old tuk tuk drivers - they say the corner shack has just relocated. I hope this isn't a Cambodian way of telling me it was shut by some "higher"authority. Our old security guy is also based at Java cafe so certainly a few familiar Cambodian faces out and about in the city.

"Safe" journey

I'm on the move again towards Cambodia.... With over a month off between jobs I was off! The journey was great - the lack of alcohol due to Ramadan was tolerated by the fact I had 3 seats to myself all the way to Phnom Penh - on three different planes. Ahh they didn't sit me next to the "odd"person as usual! The Tune Hotel at Kuala Lumpur airport was surprisingly good and Tiger beer was fully available!

Having not got my e visa (earlier post) I got ready to brace the visa queue... I was first! Everyone else took an age to fill in the 3 forms (with the same information). My bag was the 3rd to come off the place - I wasn't ripped off my the visa people and did not need to bribe customs! I was off in my tuk tuk to town in less than 15 minutes. A personal best!

After checking into Goldie Hotel (good room with balcony) I decided that I needed a helmet for moto-ing about in safety. After a quick breakfast (The Shop on 240 - my favourite eggs.) I walked to the central market. After wandering aimlessly I managed to convey to a woman selling sun hats that yes, I did want a hat but of the hard variety for moto (motorbikes). Despite the Central market appearing to stock everything and all Cambodians now needing to have a helmet if they ride a moto she informed me that I would not get a moto helmet here but had to go to O Russei - The hard core/mother of all markets - further back into town.... I grabbed a cylco (after all no helmet = no moto - hope you are proud Mum) and headed to O Russei. Oh the heat... I started in the meat section of the market - entrails/heads and all of course, then made my way into shrimp world, cooking utensil land... tools... i fels I was getting closer - after all everything was starting to be made out of metal.... Agh! I ended up in plastic fruit mania - surrounded by plastic fruit (?!?) and glittery hairslides - things had gone badly wrong.

Electronics, dried fruit, spices, more rice than you thought existed in massive bags.... I gave up. I resisted going upstairs. If I went up the stairs I was assured it would take me 30 minutes to find the stairs to come down again. Time to ask. More miming - luckily I was rescued by a student who told me if I wanted a helmet I would need to go out of the market to the surrounding houses... Out into the baking sun... the cat call of the moto drivers. I entered into fungus land - massive mushrooms drying on the road - spices galore - I had never been to this side of the market square it seemed. Then like a mirage - motorbike street - all your moto needs in one handy location (if you know where it is that is).

Hot and sweaty I was in the first shop. I was in no mood for browsing. I found it - a silver helmet. At this point I needed to express my frustration in Khmer at these people. In extremely broken khmer I explained what i had been doing, where I had been walking and how good it was to find them. They seemed unmoved - Most likely they couldn't understand a) me or b) why I just hadn't gone to them straight away. It was motorbike street after all.

Helmet on, Moto taxi - I was off to lie down!....