cambodia, part 1 (2011)

Sunday, June 01, 2014
Right after the community project in Phnom Penh, i embark on my trip of the banana pancake trail - a well trodden and constantly growing routes around Southeast Asia. This term is highly associated with backpackers who use lonely planet as travel guides. Banana pancake trails materialise when an influx of backpackers to an area (mainly due to the lonely planet guidebooks) leads to a rise in the number of restaurants/hostels serving food adapted to western desires which includes banana pancakes. Of course, this trail has no clear geographical definition, and been expanding throughout the years. I still remember when i was planning this trip two years ago, the typical route was cambodia, vietnam, laos, thailand, and malaysia. But i believe this has been extended to Myanmar, India, Indonesia and even China by now.

Here's a quick summary of my route:

Counterclock-wise direction on the banana pancake trail
From Phnom Penh, the team travelled to Siem Reap together and we spent a few days touring around. We probably woke up at 4am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Yes, that sounds crazy but it really does make the experience that much better. Besides Angkor Wat, you should not miss Bayon Temple (towers with huge faces of buddha) and Ta Prohm (location for the tomb raider movie). We tried some of the local delicacy and exotic meat that was available - crocodile, snake, frog, ostrich and kangaroo (you name it, they have it). Not forgetting the different kind of bugs you can get at the Old Market. If you want to grab a drink, people-watch or have a scoop of Siem Reap's best ice cream at Blue Pumpkin, Pub Street is the place to be. It is probably the only place in the world where you can get 50 cent draft beers during happy hour, and did i mention happy hour lasts all day?

After Siem Reap, the team went on their separate ways, and i headed to Phnom Penh to catch the bus to Ho Chi Minh. But, the week before while we were still in the village we had the weekend off and had the chance to tour around Phnom Penh. First stop was, Tuol Sleng Museum, a place with shattering reminder of the indiscriminate horror committed upon and by the Cambodian people. Every victim was photographed by the regime’s record keepers, and many of these black-and-white photos are displayed throughout the rooms of the museum. We manage to meet one of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge, it felt so surreal that i have no idea whether to smile or not when taking a picture with him. A group of us rented bikes and make our way to The Killing Fields, another emotional site where you will see more than 8,000 skulls being displayed and many holes left open in the ground which were used as mass graves. Well, if you're not into these disheartening sites, you can head to Russian Market to do some shopping. It's a huge market where you can get souvenirs, t-shirts (this is where you can get the 'same same but different' shirts), and not forgetting disco watch (basically, a casio lookalike watch with colorful light function). You might want to end off the day at the Riverside for some food and drinks, as well as some of the best value massages in the region.

I took a 6-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh, which currently cost about US$13. It is considered a short ride as compared to the 24-hour bus ride that i took to crossover from Hanoi to Udon Thani. Stay tuned for part 2 of the series where i will write on my journey through Vietnam.