A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

It never ends!

So much going on all the time..


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So now that I am all caught up with what has been going on in the last few weeks, I can tell you that my parents made it home safely, I have been swamped with school work and I had an exam this morning in Statistics. As much fun as the last two weeks were, I am exhausted from all that we did and saw.

However, being on exchange never stops, so Saturday I will be leaving for Cambodia for a 4 day trip to visit Family Care Foundation Cambodia, run by Alex and Ann Soldner.

The goal of Family Care Cambodia is to enhance the quality of life and development in Cambodia, especially those who are disadvantaged. We invest particularly in Cambodia’s children and youth of today to help build the leaders of tomorrow. We accomplish this purpose through the following projects & activities:

  • Development Programs:

Tangible infrastructure development through construction and renovation projects for the disadvantaged.

  • Education & Training Programs:

Student scholarship and sponsorship programs
Academic and vocational classes and activities for underprivileged children
Teacher training and salary sponsorship
Volunteer Training

  • Motivational programs:

Translation & dissemination of Khmer, Vietnamese and English educational and morally instructive materials via literature, website & audio/visuals.
Christian counseling and Bible courses.

  • Humanitarian Aid:

Channel donated goods and supplies to poor and disadvantaged people.

My cousin and his wife, Chad and Heather, have visited before and absolutely loved the experience. Alex and Ann are Heather's aunt and uncle, so they are sort-of like very distant relatives of mine who I have never met. I have been talking with them since I arrived in Singapore and cannot wait to finally visit them!

Posted by Cassi 09:58 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Phnom Penh

Welcome to Cambodia


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Phnom Penh, the largest city and Capital of Cambodia, is where I spent the last 4 days. I stayed with Alex and Ann, and their son James, who have lived there about 9 years. The city itself has very few skyscrapers, and it is mostly apartment buildings with shops on street level. About 2 million people live there, but the outskirts of the city quickly turn to rural Cambodian countryside. There are thousands of motorbikes around, even more than Bali had, and the main form of transportation is TukTuk rides: a little ‘carriage’ attached to the back of a motorbike. The downtown area has a beautiful waterfront along the Mekong River, which is actually flooding right now as it is the end of rainy season for them. This is the worst flooding recorded in the last 10 years (sounds similar to home!).
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Despite the city being beautiful with colorful buildings all around, Cambodia has a very dark past. In the 1970’s the Khmer Rouge Government ordered a mandatory evacuation of the entire city, forcing people from their homes and marching them into the countryside forcing them to learn farming.

Then the city was transformed, local high schools became prisons and buildings were destroyed. Slowly families were ripped apart as thousands of people were executed at the hand of the Khmer Rouge. The S21 Prison, located In the middle of town, was once a beautiful highschool but was turned into the worst Prison of them all.

Today, the prison stands as a museum in the middle of the city, and it shows the history of how everything changed so fast.

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Saturday James and I spent the day at the museum. Although I knew very little about the history of Cambodia, Alex and Ann have lived there about 9 years now and have witnessed the lasting effects on the families around town. The museum was terribly depressing, I would compare it to the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., except you can actually walk through the rooms where the people were held, tortured and murdered.

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After the Museam, we took a TukTuk back to their home, where I ate my first home-cooked meal in the last 2 and a half months! Anything is better than the cafeteria food that we eat daily at school, so I was very excited to be eating with their family.

I was then showed a documentary about Human Trafficking in Cambodia to prepare me for the girls I was going to meet the following morning. The average age in Cambodia is just 20 years old, with very few people having survived the Khmer Rouge rule. Because of that, many people have lost hope in building a family. The effects of this devastation have caused many families to fall apart, and many parents sell their children at very young ages. Small children are put to work as beggars in the cities, and many girls are forced to work in the sex industry. The video was very heart breaking, I can’t imagine a world where parents would sell their children, but it happens every day in Cambodia.

After an exhausting day, I crashed in the biggest bed since moving to Asia, and slept straight till the next morning.

Posted by Cassi 20:31 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Meeting the Girls

Visiting the Shelter


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Sunday morning we spent at the Shelter. I would describe this as more of an orphanage because the girls take classes, eat and sleep all in one building. There is a room on the bottom floor where the girls have Art, English and Khmer classes, a little library area, and a computer section. The computers look like they are from the early 90’s, but recently some ‘newer’ laptops were donated to the shelter so they will be replaced soon. There is also a kitchen and eating area on the bottom floor. Upstairs are the girls bedrooms, where 6 or more girls share each room, and the bathrooms. There are bunk beds pushed against every wall, trying to give room for as many girls to live there as possible.

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Outside there is a second building which houses sewing machines and weaving looms. The girls are learning trades that will be able to support them when they move out and into the world. The patterns they make are beautiful, and they use the fabric to sew dolls and toys for other children. They sell the cloth in the markets some days, and have made pillowcases from them as well. A surprise in the corner of this room was a dog with 5 newborn puppies. There are stray dogs all over Phnom Penh, with the shelter being no exception.

The girls themselves have each been through so much in their lives, with almost all of them suffering from physical abuse in childhood. Some have been rescued from the sex trade, some were found supporting themselves living in shacks in the country side, some were even abandoned in markets as newborns. One girl is deaf, one is missing some fingers and toes, and many have lasting scars from various events in their lives.

With all of that being the case, these girls were all fun, energetic, and very welcoming. The first day they were asking me all about my family: if I had a mother and a father, any brothers or sisters. Because most of them have been separated from their families completely I think it was fun for them to hear about mine. They asked me about animals I liked, my favorite foods and where I have been in the world. They tried to teach me the colors in Khmer because this was all during their art class, but they were all laughing at me. Apparently the word for ‘purple’ in Khmer sounds very similar to ‘monkey’ and I could never get them correct!

In the afternoon an American man met us at a bookstore where the girls were able to buy pens and paper and other school supplies for the year. He paid for all the girl’s books, and even let them pick out more when he saw how low the first bill was. The girls were in the store for like an hour, testing out all the different color pens and drawing on each other to make sure they worked. They were all very excited to be able to pick out new notebooks for their school work.

Sunday night I met up with Leah, another one of Alex and Ann’s children who is living in Phnom Penh. She took me out for some drinks, we walked along the waterfront downtown and took a TukTuk to a restaurant for a late dinner. She told me all about her life growing up in Thailand and then moving to Cambodia, told me about the places she thinks I should visit before I go home, suggestions for weekend trips and even told me some of her old friends I could meet up with around Thailand.

Posted by Cassi 20:43 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Markets and Dance Class

Beautiful Central Market, Beautiful Temples and HipHop Dancing


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Monday we woke up and took a trip to a few different markets. First we visited the Russian market, where you can find anything you’ve ever dreamed of. They had shirts and pants and shoes and bags and fabrics and table cloths and placemats and paintings and wood carvings and little collectable things and I can’t even remember everything they had! After the Russia market we went to Central market, located right in the middle of the city. Unlike many places in Phnom Penh, this market has a happy history behind the building. This is the market where many people came to find lost family members after the Vietnamese took over the Khmer Rouge rule, where people were reunited with loved ones. The center of the market has a huge bright yellow dome, carved out to allow sunlight in. Outside of the yellow center there are even more shops set up under makeshift roofs and big umbrellas. Once again, everything you can possibly imagine was being sold at this market.

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Driving home from shopping, Ann took a shortcut to the house through some parking lots, back roads and residential areas. As we were driving, all of the sudden a beautiful temple came into view. I asked her what it was, and if I could go see it, and she said that these buildings are scattered all around town. She said they aren't considered special to anyone who lives there because there are so many of them around. I was shocked, so I still got out to take pictures because I had never seen anything else like it just sitting in the middle of a residential area!

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After shopping, we went back over to the shelter, this time for a dance class. Leah volunteers to teach hiphop dance class each Monday to the girls. The girls were so cute, especially the really young girls trying to learn the dance moves. There was one girl just sitting to the side watching the dance class so I tried getting her to join us, I didn’t realize at the time she was deaf and couldn’t hear the music. However, she did get up with me and tried to follow the moves without any music! She also showed me her bed, where there was a big sign language chart she has been learning and pictures she has drawn hanging on the wall. She wanted to use my camera, and looked through all the pictures I had taken around Phnom Penh. She started telling me which places she had visited before; she knew all the markets and major landmarks that I had taken pictures of.

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Once my camera was out, all the girls wanted pictures taken with each other, so they were getting into groups asking me to take their pictures with Ann or myself. After dance class the girls got dinner and we went back to the house. The night ended with a dinner out at an Indian restaurant, and then falling asleep after an exhausting few days.

Posted by Cassi 12:29 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

National Museum and The Royal Palace

Last day in Cambodia


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Tuesday James and I spent the morning near the waterfront on the Mekong River. We saw the National Museum, the Royal Palace and we spent time just walking along the river. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed to be taken inside either the National Museum or the Royal Palace, so I only have pictures from far away to show you how beautiful each of these were.

The National Museum hosts sculptures, jewelry, clothing, weapons, old wooden ships, and various other artifacts from the history of Cambodia. The history is broken into 3 main eras: the Angkor time, the Colonial time, and modern era. Cambodia (like Vietnam) was a colony of France for about 100 years, before the Khmer Rouge took control in the 1970's, which marked the start of the modem era of history. Most of the old sculptures from the Angkor time are made of sandstone, and are huge, larger than life depictions of dancers, kings and gods. The outside is a beautiful red colored building that looks like a temple. In the center of the building, there is an outdoor garden area with beautiful fountains and fish swimming in the ponds.

The Royal Palace is right next door to the National Museum, and is yellow in color. There is a wall all around the complex, and the buildings inside are beautiful. There is a Throne Hall, a Temple and a Silver Pagoda. When constructed, the Silver Pagoda was inlaid with more than 5,000 silver tiles! Over half the area inside the palace is off limits because the king still 'lives' there. However, Leah told me he spends almost all of his time in China now and has almost zero power left in Cambodia. The palace has a beautiful green grass area in front of it, where there are hundreds of birds you can chase, and people selling popcorn kernels to feed them much like St. Mark's Square in Venice.

Across from the Palace is the waterfront on the Mekong River and a road filled with little cafes and shops. The main road was filled with motorbikes and tuktuks, where I took this funny picture of 9 people riding on one motorbike pulling a wagon!

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After we visited the waterfront, we went back to the house for a late lunch. Then I packed up my bags and headed back to the airport. My flight got back to Singapore at 9:30pm on Tuesday.

Posted by Cassi 20:39 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodian Flooding

Pictures of the Flooding.. and other pictures from my trip


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Since I have been spending most of my time in my room lately just browsing the internet - I am getting better, my fever has dropped but I still have my cough - I saw a picture on an MSNBC article today and thought I would share it with you all.

Although I did not take the first picture below, nor do I know exactly where it was taken, this was the view I had when I was flying over Cambodia last week. The flood went as far as I could see in the distance, and stopped barely on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. It is hard to describe what it is like looking down over floods from an airplane, but this picture captures it. It is funny because I wanted to grab my camera for a picture, but right as I was about to get up, the captain came on and said get ready for landing, and the seatbelt sign lit back up. I wish I had kept my camera with me and not put it in the overhead bin, but this picture will do for now.

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Also, I've added pictures of the powerlines in Cambodia that I didn't show before. When I started taking pictures of the powerlines, James could not understand why I found them funny. He asked 'Do you not have power lines at home?'. Yes we have them, no we do not have mangled masses of them hanging on every corner like this! I have never seen so many wires connected to just one pole. This really makes me appreciate the burying of wires that happens in so many of our neighborhoods.

Posted by Cassi 22:14 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

4:30am wake up call..


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On the morning of December 12th I landed in Siem Reap, checked into my guest house and I rented a bike (a pedal bike, not a motorbike). I spent the afternoon wandering through downtown of Siem Reap, which consisted of mostly dirt roads on the outskirts, and a few paved ones right in the town center. There were shops, a few bars on Pub Street, and 3 big markets that were within biking distance. But that night I got to bed early to start my adventure the next day.

There is no way to describe Angkor Wat, the description according to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and Wikipedia is as follows:

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake (Tonlé Sap) and south of the Kulen Hills, near modern-day Siem Reap, in Siem Reap Province, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat, said to be the world's largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together, they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture. Visitor numbers approach two million annually. In 2007, an international team of researchers using satellite photographs and other modern techniques concluded that Angkor had been the largest preindustrial city in the world, with an elaborate system of infrastructure connecting an urban sprawl of at least 1,000 square kilometres (390 sq mi) to the well-known temples at its core. The closest rival to Angkor, the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala, was between 100 and 150 square kilometres (39 and 58 sq mi) in total size. Although its population remains a topic of research and debate, newly identified agricultural systems in the Angkor area may have supported up to one million people.

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I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to make it to Angkor Wat for sunrise - and it was spectacular. The view is from across the ponds located within the first walls, but outside of the actual temple. After sunrise, my day began. I had a tuktuk driver with me all day, telling me about each of the temples and showing me around the site. It is hard to imagine how big these ruins stretch, and the main temples are impossible to walk through in a single day. I cant even begin to explain how many different sites there are and how much time is needed to see them all. I had gotten a three day pass (which if anyone ever goes you need at LEAST 3 days), and started out on the outer loop for day 1.

Posted by Cassi 15:12 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

The Temples of Angkor

Map of my Adventures


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This is a map of the overall Angkor Complex, to help show where I was visiting as I describe all the temples.

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Note:

The town of Siem Reap is to the south of this map a few more Km
The Temples of Banteay Srei are to the north of this map, and are labeled with an arrow up top

Posted by Cassi 16:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Angkor Thom: Bayon

The first stop on the trail...

The temples of Angkor include Angkor Thom, or the "Great City", which is a smaller walled region consisting of multiple temples. The most beautiful (in my perspective) is Bayon.

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The Bayon's most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak. The temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. The current main conservatory body, the Japanese Government team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as "the most striking expression of the baroque style" of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat.

The small carvings, the collapsing walls, and the giant faces made this temple a truly amazing sight. I could have spent hours in just this one temple. Unlike any tourist areas in the US, you can climb all over the temple walls - even the ones that are crumbling. You can run your hands over all the carvings that have been there hundreds of years

Posted by Cassi 16:44 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

The Rest of Angkor Thom

So Many Temples


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Angkor Thom has more than just Bayon within its walls. There were several other temples that I spent hours climbing up, walking through, and looking at the carvings. The map below is just the temples within the walls of Angkor Thom.... it is massive. Please note the size of Angkor Thom within the greater map of Angkor Wat on the previous post!

The gates to Angkor Thom were some of the most impressive gates I've ever seen (if you even call them gates, they are bigger than some buildings!). They had giant faces just like Bayon carved into the top of the massive stone structures.

Also within Angkor Thom there was Baphuon, a tall building with a beautiful view from the top out over the tree tops. That took me about 45 mins to climb and explore and take in the view from above. I visited a number of smaller structures, and lastly I spent a long amount of time on the Terrace of the Elephants, a long walkway with carvings on each side, elephant trunks reaching down to the ground from about 15 feet up.

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Posted by Cassi 16:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

The Big Loop

Temples, Temples and more Temples


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On the map, there are two distinct loops throughout the temples. On my first day I continued around the outer loop with the most space between temples because I had a TukTuk driver and guide with me to drive between the long distances. I stopped to eat lunch at a small stand after leaving Angkor Thom, and continued to climb and explore temples all day.

I saw all sorts of artwork at the temples, from painting, sketches and even beautiful traces of the carvings. I wanted to take all of them home with me, but I had zero room left and couldn't fit them anywhere.

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My first day at the Temples was over 12 hours long. Starting at Angkor Wat at sunrise and going until sunset was exhausting. But I would not have traded this experience for the world. My visit to the Angkor Temples was the most rewarding and inspiring thing I did in my time in Asia, and I had two more days to spend in Cambodia before my trip home.

Posted by Cassi 16:46 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Far Away Temples

Banteay Srei


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I ended the first day with a trip out to Banteay Srei, a temple to the north of the greater complex. Although this temple is outside the Angkor Wat area, it was well worth the 45 minute TukTuk ride I took (and fell asleep during!). This temple had the most beautiful and intricate carvings in the stones, and the details were absolutely amazing.

Banteay Srei is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable today. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. These factors have made the temple extremely popular with tourists, and have led to its being widely praised as a "precious gem", or the "jewel of Khmer art."

It's hard to believe this temple was created over a thousand years ago, and I can still go see carvings that look like they are new. This temple was absolutely breathtaking, and I'm glad I ventured out to see it even after a long day.

Posted by Cassi 16:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

TaProham and Trees

A Different World


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Picture a temple in ruins: trees overgrowing the walkways and the walls, and even causing the ceilings to crumble. Hundreds of bricks lay around the grounds, walls are missing, and trees stretch into the sky. This is TaProham: it looks like a movie set - and it is! This temple was used in the movie Tomb Raider, and it is simply amazing.

Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors. UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992. Today, it is one of the most visited complexes in Cambodia’s Angkor region.

Like I stated in a previous post, these temples allow visitors to climb on everything: the fallen blocks, the huge trees, everything. This temple looked like something that was just discovered and was still being cleared of the jungle that had taken it over. And that made this temple truely a special sight, so much so that I went back both days that I visited the Angkor Temples!

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Posted by Cassi 16:48 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Angkor Wat and The Little Circut

Biking around Angkor


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Day two at the Angkor Temples I decided to ride a bike instead of taking a TukTuk (Yes, a real bicycle, not a motorbike). Although this sounded like a good idea around 8am, it was a lot of work and by sunset I was ready to be home. I started off by exploring the grand Angkor Wat temples. Although I had watched sunrise here the day before, I didn't climb inside the temples and explore on my own. And for the next three hours, this is where I stayed.

Angkor Wat is surrounded by an outer wall, 1024 by 802 m and 4.5 m high, then is surrounded by a 30 m apron of open ground, and lastly a moat 190 m wide. The size of this area is much bigger than it looks on the map - Remember, this is just ONE temple shown. Once inside the temple, there are various different levels within the center core, and in the middle on the top there is the Wat.

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This is the biggest temple within the complex, the busiest temple, and the most well known. Being able to climb to the top of this temple was an amazing experience. From Angkor Wat I biked around the complex along the smaller loop, and saw various other temples and of course went back to TaProhm for a second day.

For the end of my second day, I hiked up the mountain in the middle of the Angkor Temples to Phnom Bakheng. This is where I decided to watch the sunset from on my second day in the temples. Two full days of climbing up temples, biking everywhere, hiking a mountain and taking in the views was the highlight of my time in Asia.

Note: the little circuit is Siem Reap - Angkor Wat west gate, Bayon, Victory Gate, Takeo, Ta Prohm, Sra Srang, Angkor Wat east entrance - Siem Reap with a Distance of 30+ km. I was ready for sleep by the end of this.

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Posted by Cassi 16:49 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Pub Street with Paul

Meeting another new "Cousin"


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Downtown Siem Reap has several different areas: Markets, Restaurants and of course, Pub Street. Pub Street is one road full of all the best nightlife, restaurants, clubs and bars. After my second day exploring the temples, I took my bike into downtown Siem Reap and met up with Paul. He is another one of those distant, not quite related to me "cousins" I met while in Asia, through my actual cousin and his wife.

Pub street is filled with shops open throughout the day, but after people start heading home from the temples around sunset, this street really fills up. It has several bars, including the famous Angkor Wat? bar (which is an awesome name in my opinion) and Xbar, where I spent my night.

First, Paul and I went out to dinner at an amazing Mexican Restaurant (yes, an amazing Mexican restaurant in the middle of Cambodia). Since leaving the US in July, I had only had Mexican one time and that was when my parents came to visit and we went out the Holland Village in Singapore. This was such a treat, after biking around the temples all morning I was ready for all the comfort food I could find, Mexican was perfect.

Getting to talk to an American who grew up outside of the States was a very interesting experience. Having such a different background and such different world views proved for exciting conversation. But at the same time we found we had a lot in common too. Paul said he had always wanted to travel to Vermont for the snowboarding and winter season, we both liked similar movies and of course we talked about traveling Southeast Asia. However a big difference between us: Paul can speak Cambodian just like James could, and once again I had to laugh when I heard the transition from English to Cambodian without any hesitation.

After dinner, Paul's band was playing at Xbar. This bar was all open air on the third story, and even had a half pipe for skate boarding on the roof! Just like all of my travels, I met people from all over the world at this place, with some amazing stories. Overall it was a great night, and I'm glad I got to meet Paul and see the town with him.

Posted by Cassi 16:50 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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