The last place I left you was right before our trek into the Thai jungle. We were picked up from our hostel in a pickup truck with seats and a cover in the back and smuched in with 5 Dutch (I would seriously regret not learning Dutch the rest of the trip), 4 French, and 2 Germans. Our first stop was a market for supplies then a hill tribe for some home made pad thai before taking off in the rain to start hiking. Welcome to the rainy season! Our guide was incredibly knowledgable and collected mushrooms for dinner and taught us little tricks like making banana leaves into hats. After several hours of very soggy hiking (or slipping in my case), we arrived at our cabins amongst the hill tribe where we spent the night. The next day we hiked again in the rain, but passed by some lovely waterfalls (one which had a small python swimming around it while we were dipping our feet). Then spent our second night in one very large jungle hut where I got to show off a bit of Netherlands knowledge =). Aside from the rooster at 5am (there are chickens and stray dogs everywhere), under our cozy mosquito nets I slept fairly well. On the last day, we hiked a small bit then arrived at an elephant camp. While we were waiting there was a baby monkey on a leash that wanted to play with all of us and even though I'm not an animal lover, this monkey melted my heart. 3 of us hopped on the bare back of an elephant for an hour long ride. Elephants apparently eat for about 20 hours a day and sleep for 4! As soon as we finished we were carted off for a bamboo raft ride down the river which was quite nice until the rain came back and we headed back to Chiang Mai very dirty, wet, and VERY smelly.
The next day we took another pickup truck cab to a market to learn about basic Thai ingredients and then to an organic farm for our Thai cooking class. Following a small tour of the farm we got right to cooking! We made tom yam soup, yellow and green curry, tofu cashew stir fry, sweet and sour sauce, pad thai, pad see ew, spring rolls, and mango sticky rice. I have never been so full. Let me know when I can come cook for you! That evening we went to Chiang Mai's night market where I bought a new camera (my first one did not survive the first day of our very wet hike).
From Chiang Mai we flew a boutique airline (ha) to Bangkok, took a shuttle to a bus station, took a mini bus to the Thai border (almost got scammed into taking an expensive cab, but were saved by some Brits), walked across the border, shared a cab with a Thai backbackper, got passed to a tuk tuk driver, and FINALLY made it to our hostel in Siem Reap! We managed to run into the same Brits and joined them for dinner and drinks (Cambodia's main beers are Cambodia, Angkor, and Kingdom... not the most creative). After a hostel switch the next day we went to a silk farm and learned about the intricate process that is involved in transforming silkworm coccoons into fabric. Then we cam back for a foot and shoulder massage and a stroll through another market.
The next morning we woke up at 5am to catch the sun rise at Angkor Wat with our guide, Mr. Top Cho and our tuk tuk driver. They don't call Angkor Wat one of the 7 Wonders of the World for nothing. It was very impressive even in ruins. Our guide explained all of the history and the meaning behind all of the detailed carvings and pictures on the walls (it's a mix of Buddhist and Hindu since religion depended on whoever was ruling at the time). We explored the massive site for 10 hours, visiting only the main temples in the complex. My favorite was Ta Prohm where trees have grown on the walls giving the site an Indiana Jones feel and clear view of the power of nature. Exhausted we had our typical dinner of curry and noodles and enjoyed a swim in our hostel's pool.
Through with Siem Reap we took a very bumpy ride to Phnom Penh. We had a surprisingly delicious lunch (it's amazing how much better the food gets once you get away from the restaurants offering pizza and spaghetti) and went to a thrift store, Sakura. The store was a little disappointing, but the ride through the crazy streets of Phnom Penh by tuk tuk was awesome. We then walked to the city's main temple, Wat Prohm and had a Thai dinner (we missed Thai cuisine already) with some Australians from our hostel (Australians are everywhere here).
We joined up with a Swiss girl and a German guy (I have a soft spot for solo travellers now) and went to Phnom Penh's predominant site, the Killing Fields. An excellent audioguide accompanied with personal narratives took us through the area and past only a few of the many mass graves. In the middle of the area is a stupa memorial with 17 layers of skulls and bones excavated from the graves. It's hard to put into words my feelings there. This was only intensified by our next stop, the S-21 Prison Museum. This was once a school in Phnom Penh, but was converted into a prison where people were tried for false crimes and tortured before they were sent bound up at night to be brutally executed at the Killing Fields. It's hard to imagine that in such a short time since the Holocaust happened the world could stand idly by while another genocide occurred. Moreover, the Khmer Rouge continued to be backed by the US even after these atrocities and the trials are STILL going on today to convict the perpetrators.
Nonetheless, Cambodians are determined to move on. So our next step was to the Russian Market (there is nothing Russian about it though). While we were waiting for our tuk tuk, we had every other tuk tuk driver asking us if we needed one, old women begging, and a child sadly looking at us. The poverty here was very apparent. Especially since about 80% of their economy revolves around tourists and the rest around agriculture (particularly rice which is back breaking work). On a brighter note, we had an awesome dinner at a restuarant called Suki Soup that gives the table a little stove to make a soup in with whatever ingredients you choose. We were obviously quite clueless and had several people babysitting us and telling us what to eat when. It was DELICIOUS.
On our last day in Phnom Penh, we intended to sleep in but were woken up by hammers and drills next door (Cambodians are early risers). Exhausted from the heat we wandered around, stopped in a charity store and went for a very long lunch at Daughters of Cambodia that helps victims of sex trafficking through rehabilitation and job training. Then to the central market which was massive. Finally, we went to get massages from the blind, but mine was really a semi-blind massage since he could still pretty much see... Lastly, we went to a small movie theatre that was once a living room (run by a Dutch guy) and saw Terms of Endearment (Ashley and I bawled our eyes out). The theatre was lovely and a total expat haven.
Once again we were woken up super early by a political rally going on across the street from our hostel. A politician from the opposition party was exiled 11 years ago for pulling up a border marking with Vietnam and accusing the Vietnamese of slowly taking their territory. However, he was returning on this day since elections are coming soon (although the ruling party is probably going to win as they have done for quite some time thanks to a great deal of corruption). Before we could delve in more to the political excitement, we were on our bus to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam!!
More on Vietnam soon! In the mean time, enjoy more Thailand pictures and Cambodia pictures!