Tag Archives: museum

Exploring the Mega….Mexico City

With a population of around 9 million, it is hard to believe that Mexico City is basically built over a lake.  Factor in frequent seismic activity and terrible air pollution trapped in a geographic bowl and you might wonder why Mexico City still receives over 2 million international visitors each year.   But Mexico City checks every box, besides beach.  It’s got history, culture, food, architecture, and even sun.  Sun being our main goal, as even Texas gets too cold in the winter for Riki.

Central Mexico has a very lengthy and unique history.  Twenty five miles northeast of modern day Mexico City lies Teotihuacán, which dates to around 200 BC and was occupied by up to 250,000 people at its height.  The pyramids still located at this archaeological site are one of the most popular day trips from Mexico City.  Teotihuacán fell in the 7th or 8th century possibly due to internal uprisings.  But other city centers in the area filled the void after its collapse.  In 1325, the Mexicas, took a small natural island in Lake Texcoco and expanded it to create a new city, Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City.  The Aztecs dominated the area until the arrival of the Spanish, who conquered the city in 1520.  The Spanish built over the historic city and expanded the metropolitan area, which has now reached over 20 million people.  But that’s just the brief version.

We flew out of San Antonio a week before Christmas.  The flights were significantly cheaper, non-stop and San Antonio is only about an hour south of Austin. Plus, we got to stop at the outlets on the way so I could get new walking shoes for the trip, which is always a gamble but my other ones were just as much of a gamble considering the rough shape they were in.  At the airport, we bought a sim card for $6 and then took the metro to our hostel near the Zócalo.  We pack light, but I would not recommend taking the metro with any type of bag, and not recommend taking it at all during rush hour.  It’s chaotic, completely packed and involves a lot of stairs.  We dropped our stuff in our $25/night hostel (on the fifth floor, no elevator, no window, shared bathroom, but great location) and headed out to explore the historic district.  The Zócalo, which is the main square in the historic district, was completely covered in potted red poinsettias and the facades of half the buildings were lit up with giant Christmas light displays.

Radio Stations
Ciudad de México

We braved the metro again the next day and stumbled upon the Artesania Ciudadela, which is a tangled market selling a lot of souvenirs.  We must have been there a bit too early, as most of the shops were closed, so we carried on to Chapultapec Park to visit the Anthropology Museum.   I had visited the Museo Nacional de Antropología (Anthropology Museum) last time I was in Mexico City, but that was 10 years ago, and honestly, even after three hours in the museum, Riki and I both agreed that we could come back.

Entrance to Museo Nacional de Antropología
Inside Museo Nacional de Antropología
Teotihuacan model in Museo Nacional de Antropología
Sacrificial stone in Museo Nacional de Antropología, where they put the bloody hearts apparently
The start of Mexico City
Aztec sun stone in Museo Nacional de Antropología
Oaxaca mural, Museo Nacional de Antropología
Monte Alban near Oaxaca, Museo Nacional de Antropología

However, lunch beckoned.  We didn’t exactly hit the jackpot with food though. Ordering randomly, we ended up with some sort of meat item vaguely resembling cloudy jello in a taco. It was better than it sounds. Later, after walking Zona Rosa and the San Juan market, we again ordered randomly and got a white bread sandwich with hogshead cheese, or at least we think that’s what it was.  Luckily, the mojitos were good.

Mexico City skyscrapers
Ángel de la Independencia
Ángel de la Independencia
CDMX street corner

That evening, after over 30,000 steps, a hot shower was in order. Unfortunately, there was no hot water in our shared bathroom, I forgot to bring my towel and because I was standing there so long waiting for the hot water to arrive, the motion-sensing lights went out me.  Cue naked flailing around, splashing cold water everywhere as I tried to get the light to come back on before someone else walked in.

As we usually avoid group tours, we did some research on how to get to Teotihuacán on our own.  So we set out early-ish. 3 metro lines and a $2.75 beater of a bus later complete with hitchhiking mariachi players, we arrived at the pyramids.  This being my second time here, I was surprised to realize we must have skipped the south part of the site before.  Our first stop was to see the plumed or feathered serpent, which we had seen a replica of in the anthropology museum and something I don’t remember seeing on my last trip.  This section of the pyramid is largely intact because it was protected by a later pyramid built up against it.  These phenomenal creatures are supposed to represent Quetzalcoatl, the God of Wind and Wisdom, who is kind of like a snake-bird.

Near the entrance to Teotihuacán
The plumed serpent temple

Next, we went all the way to the other side of the archaeological site and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, the tallest one at 216 feet (65 m).  It was quite crowded as we ascended, but about halfway up we found orange barricades set out in a way which suggested they had to stop people on busier days to limit the flow.  The steps are very steep and there is only one hand rail but the view from the top is worth it.  Next we climbed the Pyramid to the Moon, though you are only allowed about halfway up.  This site is largely reconstructed and it is interesting to see the different techniques used at different time periods to delineate the reconstructed parts.  Old photos show this site largely covered in brush and there are still some grassy mounds that haven’t been excavated.  There are even a couple of spots where you can still view original murals.

Our return bus left from right outside of the last gate, was a bit less beat up than the first one and dropped us off at a metro that was more convenient to get back downtown.  We headed straight to the Roma neighborhood where we had delicious, large mojitos before wandering back to the hostel.

CDMX Street art

I was excited to show Riki the Templo Mayor, which is located just off the Zócalo and is the area where Tenochtitlan was founded in 1325.  The museum is amazing and showcases the artifacts found in the archaeological site. It also does a great job explaining how the 7 different layers of the superseded temples interact.  You can walk down between the ruins and then visit the museum where they house the artifacts; my favorite being the exhibit where they lay out the bones of the numerous animals they found.

Templo Mayor and the Cathedral in the background
Skulls at Templo Mayor
Templo Mayor Mosaic
Diego Rivera mural at Palacio Nacional

We did a quick visit to the Palacio National to see the Diego Rivera murals before finding a sophisticated place overlooking the Templo Mayor for lunch.  Two hours, numerous fancy drinks, multiple courses including crickets, and less than $50 later, we needed a nap.  Some of the indigenous tribes were out on the square blessing people with odorous herbs and dancing.  We watched that before heading into the cathedral and then back for a rest.

Torre Latinoamericana from the Zócalo
Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heavens
Blessings on the Zócalo

Later, we walked to the Bella Artes, where there was a folkloric ballet performance that evening.  We inquired about the ticket cost, but as they were almost $100 a piece, we opted to walk towards the Republic tower for a nice view.  From the top, we could see the skating rink and then spotted what looked like a carnival in the streets.  We ventured a few blocks north and were overwhelmed by the noise, lights, and atmosphere of the street fair.

Saturday we reserved for markets.  After running to catch the metro, Riki managed to squeeze in, leaving me on the platform as the doors thumped shut.  Luckily, the trains come so often that he caught me on the next train just a few minutes later, but we never ran for the metro again.  Our first stop was in San Angelo, where they have a lot of local artists, but it was quite packed with tourists and expensive.

El Bazar Sabado, San Angelo

We took the metro to Coyoacan, where we found the main square packed with people hanging out.

Coyoacan most likely means “place of the coyotes” in Nahautl

The market here was huge, loaded with piñatas, which were very tempting, if only we had a better way to ship them home.

Coyoacan Market


Outisde Frida Kahlo’s house

We found a rooftop near Frida Kahlo’s house to rest before the long metro ride back to the Zócalo.  We ventured into a packed restaurant called El Quatro 20, where, surrounded by chaos, we had a great, cheap meal with huge beers. Just what we needed after a long day of shopping (though not buying).

On our last full day in Mexico City, we caught La Lagunilla market, where Riki was hoping to browse the antiques, probably looking for old books, if I had to guess.  There was a small section of antiques, but the quality varied and nothing really struck us.  We then ventured to the Jardin del Arte, which had some of the same artists we had seen on Saturday.

We then found a fruit market and walked on Reforma to the Metro Insurgentes.  Unfortunately, on our way home, in the Pino Suarez metro stop, Riki got pickpocketed as he entered the metro.  A group of people pushed us into the car as people were still trying to exit and managed to reach in Riki’s front pocket during the chaos and take his wallet.  We spoke with the police there who recommended reporting the incident back by the Insurgentes stop.  We went back to the hostel to cancel all our cards and then took an Uber to the Tourist Police.  And we were not alone.  Three other groups of tourists were in there, and the exact same thing had happened to them, in the same metro station.  He didn’t have that much money in his wallet, as we always split it up between us, but we were left without a debit card and down to one credit card.  Luckily, we were meeting my parents the next day and they were able to hold us over for the rest of the trip.  But it left us with an unfortunate impression. And we didn’t ride the metro there again.  To mourn the loss of the wallet, we stopped at a bar on Calle Geneve where we met two Mexican-Americans who cheered us up as we enjoyed our liquid dinner.

Uber is so cheap in Mexico City.  I was feeling generous as it was Christmas Eve and gave a 50% tip, but our 20 minute ride to the bus station was still less than $5.  We next took a first class bus for 6.5 hours ($24 each) to Oaxaca to meet up with my parents for a week.

Part 1 – On the road to Northern Spain….Madrid to Infiesto

When I asked Riki to get together pictures from our trip to Spain this summer, he gave me a thumb drive per usual with some selected photos.  But since this thumb drive contained over 1300 photos from just the first week of our trip, it has taken me awhile to get this blog together.  That, and I’ve been busy learning German.  Our 17 day road trip around Spain with my parents began and ended in Madrid, and so will this blog.  However, it will be in 3 parts due to the enormous amount of pictures.

This part will cover our first week, up until the wedding in Infiesto.  The next will cover from Bilbao to Barcelona and the last will be the south; Granada, Cordoba and then back to Madrid, via Toledo.  The photos are organized in mosaics for space reasons – just click on a picture to make it larger.

17 days, about 1800 miles/3000 kms give or take a few.

We met up with my parents at the Madrid airport, having flown from Zurich and they having flown from the US.  From there, we took the train to Atocha Train Station and walked to our rented apartment, which turned out to be tiny and  not air-conditioned, but very well located.

A master of all things free, I had researched the free hours of the Madrid art museums and we were able to visit the Reina Sophia, Thyssen Bornemisza and the Prado all for nothing.  As the master of good views, Riki had researched the Belles Artes building and we were able to get great views of downtown Madrid from the top, though not for free.

Our trip coincided with Gay Pride week so the city was decorated with rainbows and we witnessed a festive parade in one of the squares.  The rest of our two days in Madrid were spent enjoying the heat, wandering the lively streets, and eating.

Though we really enjoyed Madrid, I was anxious to get on the road and see the rest of the country.  We picked up our rental car, packed it to the gills with our luggage and headed about an hour outside of Madrid to Segovia, a UNESCO site and home to a 2nd century Roman aqueduct.  It also has an incredible Alcazar (fortress) that we climbed for nice views (another Riki find).  It was here that we first witnessed the huge white storks, which nest on the tops of trees and buildings.

After lunch, we got back in the car and headed to Ávila, another UNESCO site, about an hour away.  Ávila is known for its 12th c. walls and we walked over a kilometer of them and through the small city before getting back in the car.

From there, we drove about another hour to Salamanca, another UNESCO site, where we would spend two nights.  Salamanca is a university town and full of small walking streets, and the mandatory Plaza Mayor.  It is an incredibly beautiful city and we were lucky enough to have two charming friends here.  We ate delicious food and even bought 2 kilos of jamón ibérico, the maximum allowed to export to Switzerland.  If only we were allowed to take the whole leg.

Our next stop was León, which is known for its Gothic cathedral with incredible stained glass.  Since Riki didn’t actually go in the cathedral, I don’t have pictures, but I have an abundance of street art and graffiti shots he took while my mom and I toured the church.  We had lunch here and then continued onto our main destination, Infiesto, the wedding location.

So the whole point of this trip was to see my Spaniard get married in Infiesto, Asturias.  But Riki doesn’t have a single photo on his camera from the town or the event.  So I had to steal some from the phone.  Infiesto is a tiny place, set in an amazing location.  The wedding was great fun, with a great view, amazing food and definitely a worthy cause.

Lagniappe 1, Riki’s Thoughts….Cambodia

(I have been hounding Riki for months about typing up his journal notes for me to post.  Now, as we are sitting in the Swiss Alps, it all comes together and all you guys who have been bugging me about this can all relax.  And check out the pictures too – some hand drawn maps included.)

The Journal (Just a bit larger than an index card)
The Journal (Just a bit larger than an index card)
Cambodia Map


Border Crossing from Phu Quoc (Vietnam)

– 5 Buses, 1 Boat, & 1 Clueless Tuktuk

– Didn’t have luggage with us at one point, separated when driving to Bus Station, was not cool

– There was an immediate change in buildings and stores on the other side of the border (much poorer construction with far fewer supplies). There was also a crazy big casino right on the Cambodian side (many vices found in Cambodia are not allowed in Vietnam).

– Drive through the countryside was really cool – dried rice paddies, flat, pockets of palm trees with little wooden huts. Much more similar to Laos than Vietnam.


Phnom Penh

– Crazy Tuktuk guys introduced us to the city as 10 of them would run 30 meters alongside the minivans seeking any business they could (each time we let a person off as we wound our way through the city), absolute madness.

– Traffic in this city is like Vietnam, but more cars and absolutely no organization whatsoever. They have quite wide roads, which makes it far more difficult and dangerous to cross (nothing like the organized chaos of Hanoi & HCMC), and there are Toyota Camrys everywhere, likely 90% of all the cars, all different ages (probably some knockoffs too).

– Great to be able to get draught beer again, $0.50 for a glass, but I miss ripping off the labels from the bottles (to save for art projects at a later date).

– Back to seeing SexPats (far more than we saw in Bangkok). Granted the Khmer women are all beautiful, it’s very weird and off-putting to see 7 skinny women, dressed like they are out clubbing, hanging out in front of the bars, at ALL hours of the day trying to lure in tourists, as well as all the 18 year old Khmer girls (some likely younger) hanging out with 60 – 70 year old white men.

– Some of the SexPats are young (but really quite unfortunately ugly) men hanging out with these beautiful women.

– Saw, at a minimart, a short Khmer girl holding the crotch of the much taller white guy… from behind (through the legs)… at the cash register (while the cashier, her friend, Julie and I all look at each other trying to hold back our ?laughter?).

– Genocide/Prison Museum was very intense (especially the movie we saw where one of the few surviving prisoners was interviewing his former guards), you could still see the signs of it being used as a school before the Khmer Rouge took control.

– I noticed that all the faces of the KR leaders were completely scratched off by people (even some I didn’t recognize).

– I also noticed that the pictures they had of the prisoners, were awful and showed an obsessive/crazy rule (where everybody was always suspicious of all others), but there were a number of duplicates (saw this even though all prisoners had the same haircuts, women: short bob & men: even shorter).

– The City seemed a little more sketchy/rustic/poorer than all of the other major cities we visited, but it definitely wasn’t the shit hole that a bunch of people made it out to be before we got there.

– Once again, the men, like in the rest of SEAsia have these amazing mole hairs on their faces that grow out about 3 inches/8 cm, everything else they shave or can’t grow (I heard somewhere that they are good luck).

– One can definitely notice that there aren’t as many older Khmer people as there were older people in the other countries in the region (a still highly visible aspect of the genocide).

– We are convinced (especially Julie) that we need to buy these awesome PJ’s that all the ladies here are wearing (usually top and bottom matching) all day…

– It is really odd using US Dollars here (with Khmer Riel as the small change 4000=1). Got a $2 bill! (a couple we met didn’t realize that they are legal tender in the US, you just don’t see them much) But apparently they often don’t accept them at stores/food stalls in Cambodia (though they are more than willing to include them in your change).


North East Cambodia – Kratie & Banlung

– The red dirt/soil up here is amazing (much like Cuba), but it can be quite awful when it’s all dust

– In Kratie, just a couple of minutes up the road from the Irrawaddy dolphins was this amazing place with boardwalks, thatch roofs & hammocks everywhere over these small rapids (whish I could spend every weekend there forever…). There were some kids doing flips and posing for pictures after we went onto a sandbar past where the people use the toilet, pretty impressive acrobatics.

– All the kids in the northeast are really cute when you ask if you can take their pictures (they never ask for anything, candy or money, unlike all the other touristy places we go), and they are always very excited to see themselves in the picture.

– In the north especially, but really most places in Cambodia, the locals are all wearing soccer/football jerseys (literally half of all people, mostly young to middle age men and women, the older ladies all wear PJ’s).


Siem Reap & Angkor Park

Angkor Map

– “Siem Reap is a tourist town that I like.” – Julie remark at the market

– The city is completely transformed at night, with ten times more people out and about (having all just left a long day at the temples).

– Was fun to go to Angkor Wat at sunset (instead of that hill where everybody else goes) and be slowly chased out by the guards at closing (like 20 other people doing this too). Was actually able to get a couple of photos of the temple with a few, if any people, ruining the view.

– Waking up in the morning and leaving the hostel by 5 and arriving at 6 at Bayon, all alone, was super frigging awesome! Walking around, losing your bearings, all dark, mysterious faces on the stones, etc…. We did the same thing at Ta Prohm the next day and it was equally as awesome, but two British girls beat us by half an hour (but they hadn’t entered yet because it was still too dark to see anything).

– It was so amazing climbing over the boulders and stones at the fallen temples (especially Ta Nei, Ta Prohm, Beng Mealea, etc.). Though it was awkward to be “contributing” to the slow destruction of the temples… but everybody else was way worse, and I was always very careful never to step on any of the carved stones.

– The temple being restored by the Chinese (every temple has different countries helping to restore them in their own unique ways: France, India, Japan, Germany, etc.) looks disappointingly fake, with new stones of different colors everywhere.

– Our guidebook ($10 in Phnom Penh with a week to read it vs. $5-8 in the Temple park) is obviously a rip-off used there for the last 15 years, but also awesome. I would read it twice before we visited a temple (so I could walk around a take pictures of the stuff I had learned about), while Julie studied it and used it as a guide at the temples (though sometimes it was quite hilariously out of date).

– Saw a gutter punk looking white guy without shoes on at least three occasions throughout the day… I dunno… I guess its relatively clean, but still, how does one climb over all those sharp rocks and steps?

– Its really interesting to see the legacy of when the region changed between the religions (Hinduism, two types of Buddhism). Lots of whole Buddhas scraped off walls, same with some of the faces of Hindu gods. Looked way different from the general looting that has taken place (& it’s vast).


Koh Ta Kiev

Koh Ta Kiev Map

– Various thoughts while sitting on beach/patio: It’s so cool here with all the little beaches where you are alone and feel like you have the whole island to yourself. Perfect setup they have here at Coral Beach, right before the rocks start, and after all the other bungalows and day trippers, with 3/4 nice little beaches.

– What I’ve “accomplished” since I’ve been here (on the island): sewed on all of the flag patches I had, made a piece of “art” – an intense dream catcher thingy with stuff found on the beach, started working on my journal again, and learned a couple of new fun games.

– One of my favorite things to do on a vacation (or in life really): have a nice breakfast, with coffee, sitting on a small dock over the clear blue water with an amazing view of the gently lapping waves of the bay…

– Perfect situation #10 (I don’t remember all, they just happen…): sitting on the tree house level platform with the sun going down, with a group of people playing music and singing on the beach below (some of them had great voices).

– Different times at the Absinthe Distillery: First Night – with staff , had the green one, kittens playing all around me, guy (owner?) asleep in corner. Second Time – with Chilean couple, show up right as they are closing, kittens asleep, guy asleep in corner, tried the strongest one. Third Time – no drink, changed camera battery, guy asleep in corner.

– Funny moment when a group of Italian girls from Florence and Rome were arguing about who’s city had the greatest culture/legacy.

– Pretty sad when we had to leave the island. I had an amazing time doing nothing, but would not have made it much longer there… tummy issues, wanted a hot shower (had only washed with soap maybe two times), no more sand…

– … only to be stuck at a shithole place for two terrible nights with termite noises, Rat poo, and the giant accompanying Rat (who moved rocks and wasn’t afraid of us at all!).

Otres Beach One

– I imagine this to be what Phu Quoc (Vietnam) was like 5/10 years ago. But here there are more shacks (“bungalows”), a flat red dirt road, and a bunch of empty beach chairs.

– Said “Aokun” (Thank you) for the first time in a week (was a little weird how it was like a western peoples utopia on the island). I was also odd looking at some of these beach places (bar/restaurant/hostel things) where it looks like 5-10 western kids (“employees”) were doing nothing , one “working” at the bar while all the others took up all the bar chairs, while the one Khmer guy or girl does all the actual work.

– Ladies and Girls selling trinkets in Cambodia (at least the southern part) be like: “If you don’t buy now, you promise, if you buy later, you buy from me? Pinkie promise?”

Riki’s first trip over the equator….Jakarta, Indonesia

We took a 1.5 hour minibus to the Phuket airport from Phang Nga, which was uneventful, except for the rude guy who took up two seats and then spilled his coke all over the floor. We were very early for our 7 pm flight, but the airport had free wifi and we were able get some research done and I even finished a few blogs. The Phuket airport was packed with tourists, which made for very interesting people-watching. We had plenty of time to explore, but this also meant we needed to eat. Having depleted our snacks, we went to a ‘New York deli’ and tried to order a chicken sandwich.

Sorry, no bread.

Ok, but you have panini bread, can I have it on panini bread?

No, set menu.

Ok, but you don’t have a chicken panini.


So I can’t get chicken on panini bread?

No, set menu.”

My only other option was a sliced meat resembling ham, so we left and I decided to break my super-chain rule and went to DQ for some ice cream. But then the guy in front of me had a very similar problem. He wanted a chocolate sundae, but they didn’t have any more plastic cups for the sundaes. But they had ice cream, and chocolate, and paper cups of the same size. But they couldn’t put the sundae in the paper cup because that was only for blizzards. So he left. I ordered a mango and sticky rice blizzard and was thankful I even got to eat.

Arriving in Jakarta at 10 pm, we had arranged for our hostel to pick us up as the public transport options were not available that late. We paid our $35 visa fee (which is being suspended later this month, just a few weeks too late for us) and went out to find our driver. But he wasn’t there. Eventually, we got in contact with the hostel, they called the driver, woke him up, and he hurried over to collect us. Not a great intro to Jakarta.

Luckily, the next day was much better. Many people skip Jakarta, as it is big, bustling and hectic. Fortunately, that’s right up our alley. We arranged for our train to Yogyakarta the next day and then headed out to wander the neighborhoods around our hostel. Jakarta has some Dutch influence from when it was an influential trading center in the 18th century.  It was later occupied by the Japanese in 1942.  The Dutch tried to return after the Japanese fell in 1945.  They were met with resistance, but still managed to prolong Indonesia’s independence until 1949.  Indonesia is now made up of thousands of islands with many different cultures.

Within minutes of leaving our hostel to explore the neighborhood, we had heard “Hey mister” a dozen times and were a bit perplexed. Where did they learn this? Why not just “Hello.” So nobody was talking to me, just Mister (Riki). It was a bit strange. But we soon realized that this was all in a friendly way – nobody wanted to sell us anything or scam us. Just a greeting. Big smiles, lots of waving and many curious looks. Not many tourists walk the small alleys there.

Poor frogs – alive, but shackled together


Then we walked to the old center, around a very crowded square (as it was Saturday – it was packed with locals) and where we were less noticed. Locals were renting bikes which came with matching sun hats to pedal around the plaza and take pictures.

Old Dutch bridge
Not a job I’d want – the water is very polluted
This waterway was particularly odorous
Old town plaza
Bikes with matching hats
There must be loads of pictures of us on Indonesian Facebook. We get stopped every day to take pictures, so we get one for ourselves as well.


We navigated back to a big bus stop and found our way south to the National Museum.

This museum may be worth it in itself to visit Jakarta. We arrived only 2 hours before closing, and we had to hurry through to see everything. It is very well laid out, with different sections for all the different cultures of Indonesia. I had no idea they were so different. It was a great introduction to the country for us, complete with good English translations. We have been to so many terrible museums on this trip, but this one is incredible. And it costs less than $1 for foreigners. A favorite section had miniature models of all the different kinds of houses around the countries.


But there were sections on language, music, religion and clothing as well. The penis sheaths being particularly amusing.



The next day we took a walk around a neighborhood that was heavily affected by the riots in 1998.  After the Asia financial crisis in 1997, Jakarta became an epicenter for violence and crime.  At one point, four students were shot by security officers at a university.  This sparked riots that lasted for four days, damaged about 6,000 buildings and killed about 1,200 people.  There is not much left to see now, but we did notice that many neighborhoods still have tall gates at each street, presumably to curtail the spread of violence.

Big gate


We then headed to the train station for our 8.5 hour trip to Yogyakarta, which was smooth, but incredibly uncomfortable on hard seats that were very upright.

History Lesson….Phnom Penh, Cambodia


1. Check out our new poll on the sidebar – where should we go next? (full site view only)

2. If you don’t know much about Cambodia’s recent history, read up.  It’s been a rough half-century for these people.

Leaving Phu Quoc, Vietnam for Phnom Penh was probably our most confusing day of travel yet.  We knew it was going to be rough going in and we had downloaded Insurgent to listen to on the way, so we thought we were prepared.  But alas, we weren’t.  We boarded a jam packed minibus to get to the ferry, which turned out to be an older one (not the nice Superdong we took over).  Our bags were put on the open top deck, too close to the spray from the fast boat in my opinion.  An hour and half later we were picked up at the ferry station in Ha Tien by a very nice minibus, large and clean.  Thought that was a good sign.  Wasn’t.  We were shuttled to a travel agency with a bunch of other Westerners, where we were told to give over our passports, $35 and our yellow international health books to get our visas.  I’m pretty sure the visa fee is only $30, but the lady would not budge and then insisted we would have to pay an extra $1 if we didn’t give the yellow health books.  I’d like to point out that the only thing in my yellow book is a yellow fever shot I got 7 years ago.  Its not going to tell the Cambodians much, if anything.  So we did all this and were told to wait an hour.  Meanwhile, we ate lunch and waited 2 hours before being put into a different, not as nice minibus with 8 other people to go to the border, without our passports.  At the border, we were kicked out of the minibus without our bags and told to walk.  To where, we didn’t know.  We went through one building, right around the metal detectors and out again.  No one stopped us until we reached an open hut, where they actually had our passports and proceeded to distribute them to our growing group of confused tourists.  Then we were beckoned back to our minibus, which had gone through a different route.  We were told to grab our bags and switch to a different minibus, that some other tourists had come across on.  We settled in, only 10 of us, half going to Phnom Penh.  Its comforting when you have other people in the same boat.  But that sentiment didn’t last, as we went about 3 minutes down the road, past the brand new casino, and turned around.  The driver got out and beckoned for Riki and I to exit the bus (not the other 4 people going to the same place).  We were loaded onto another minibus, empty, except for the 30 or so flies swarming around.  Then we just sat there.  With the flies in the heat, no English explanation.  Eventually, a bunch of Cambodians boarded the bus and off we went.  From there we did the normal thing, load as much stuff and people as you can possibly cram into the bus and go hurtling down the road, at top speed, only to stop abruptly when someone waves you down.  We eventually arrived in Phnom Penh, got dropped off in the middle of nowhere, except conveniently next to the bus driver’s friend, a tuk tuk driver.  We paid an exorbitant price to a different tuk tuk who didn’t know where he was going and arrived 30 minutes later at our hostel.  So long story short – 5 minibuses, 1 ferry, 1 lost tuk tuk and almost 10 hours later, and we were hungry.  Walking around that evening, we ran into one of the other couples from our original minibus in Vietnam.  Turns out, after they dropped us off, they stopped on the side of the road for no apparent reason and waited as well, arriving about the same time as us, but with about 10 less people in their minibus and not left in the middle of nowhere.

Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia.  It has about 2 million of Cambodia’s almost 15 million people.  But there isn’t much to do as a tourist.  We walked to the waterfront and then up to the S-21 genocide museum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEver wondered how to dry meat?  All you need is a chair and a laundry basket, and a little sun.  And maybe some flies.


In the 1970’s Cambodia had a leader, Pol Pot, who thought education was bad (despite going to universities in France).  He uprooted everyone from the cities and forced them to walk to rural areas and work the land.  So Phnom Penh became pretty deserted.  At one of the old high schools, a prison was created.  Pol Pot sent people perceived as political enemies here, some just for being educated.  Some for being “lazy.”  The people here, men, women and children, were detained and tortured until they confessed.  Most who confessed, confessed to made up things, like working for the KGB or the CIA or to wasting too much fabric in their tailoring shop.  The museum is housed in the school buildings and has an incredible exhibit on what happened here.  There are thousands of mug shots of prisoners displayed, as well as the “confessions” they made.  Once the prisoners confessed, they were killed, either from the torture or when taken to the killing fields nearby.  Only something like 12 people survived this prison.  Guards were also killed, for leaning on the walls while on duty.  In total, it is estimated that about 2 million people died while the Khmer Rouge were in power.  Half from executions and half from disease or starvation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey also had a video at the museum of an artist who survived, interviewing some of the guards who had worked there.  The guards were mostly teenagers at the time and had been told the prisoners were terrible enemies.  So that was a pretty somber visit.

After, we walked to the Russian Market, which has nothing to do with Russia anymore.  Then we went back to our hostel and had pizza for the first time since Nepal.


Our last day, we did a walking architecture self-tour.  It was a bit tough, as there weren’t any addresses on our guide and some of the buildings had been torn down.  But we found a book store and bought a book on Angkor Wat to prepare for next week.  We also went to the National Museum, which was mostly ancient sculptures that have been recovered from all over the world after being bought or looted from their original homes.

The next day, we boarded a real bus, – big, with only one person per seat and made it in a record 6 hours to Kratie, north and east of Phnom Penh.