A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jasdeep_virdee

Young & innocent Cambodia

Ankor Wat, one of the world's greatest achievements against the impact of humankind darkest moments, the Khmer Rouge regime.

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For those who don’t know where Cambodia is, well it is nestled between Thailand (West), Vietnam (East) and Laos just above it. Thousands of travellers flock to Cambodia for 1 reason and that is to check out Angkor Wat but not many people like me knew anything about the Khmer Rouge regime. This brutal civil war culminated in the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. During this period thousands of Cambodians, including the vast majority of the country’s educated people, were relocated to the countryside, tortured to death or executed. Thousands of people who spoke foreign languages or wore spectacles were branded as ‘parasites’ and systematically killed. Hundreds and thousands more died of mistreatment, malnutrition and disease. Almost 2 million Cambodians died during this period as a direct result of the policies of the Khmer Rouge. It was in 1978 when Vietnam had invaded and overthrew the Khmer Rouge who had fled westward in to the jungles bordering Thailand. At this point millions of Cambodians set off by foot looking for lost ones, family members who may have survived the apocalypse. What was even more alarming for me was after 2 decades of out came out agreement between the UN and the Cambodian government who created the first court to bring surviving members to trail. The ring leader of this revolution, Pol Pot had escaped punishment when he died at the comfort of his own home in 1998.

Cambodia city Phnom Penh is unique in its own way combining charm and cold sadness, from the waterfront shops, promenade and palm trees to Tuol Sleng Museum. This museum is not for the faint hearted but it hides nothing! Illustrating very disturbing and uncensored look into the darkest side of what the living conditions were for the Cambodians during the genocide period.
Not knowing much of the Khmer Rouge I decided to visit Tuol Sleng Museum to learn more about what had happened. This is the far most intense museum experience (apart from The Nelson Mandela Museum, Johannesburg) I have been to during my travels, where silence doesn’t have to be requested – the power of speech is simply lost here. Class rooms were converted into slaughter rooms, with single rusty beds that still remain with a black and white picture of what was left of the victim. On some of the floors you will find barb wire draped around ‘exit route’ from stopping Cambodians ending their own life. Suffering is what was these Cambodians had gone through I am talking about everyone from little boys and girls, adults and senior citizens! Pol Pots regime had converted this school into one of the largest detention and torture centre. Almost everyone held here was later executed at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Detainees who died during the torture were buried in mass graves inside the prison grounds (100 victims a day). During my visit I actually came by some of the survivors who stood next to their cell and talked about their experience.
Walking through the killing fields broke me down! There are 129 mass graves, 43 of which have never been disinterred. As you enter you will see this blinding white stupa that serves as a memorial to approximately 17,000 men, women and children who were executed here by Pol Pot regime. Due to weather erosion you could make out pieces of cloth submerging from the soil of the deceased, there was a killing tree that was used to bash little children against the bark until broken and then chucked in the mass grave. All this was very overwhelming but to see Cambodian now they are the most humble nation that I have come across. As much as this was a disturbing experience it is a must to actually appreciate what this country has gone through not so long ago.
After the shocking history of Phnom Penh I decided to head towards the coast and go to KohTonsay Island aka Rabbit Island. It is your typical under developed island with simple beach huts and nothing to do but to chill out, warm waters to go swimming, tubing or the odd snorkelling but I was taught how to do a forward roll in the water…I know what you guys are thinking lol but I finally done it yay! I remember I had the most amazing evening when I, Emmanuelle and the local Cambodia guy went swimming in the evening for a couple of hours. The sky was covered by stars and the waters were illuminated with the fluorescent algae which would alight when ever we moved around combined with back flips and more forward rolls/hand sides. A great night!

I actually started my Cambodian adventure in taking 10days out to try out Vipassana meditation, the centre was held in Battambamg. I have never been in a room full of 66 women and 50 men that exuberated pure silence 24hrs a day. Our day started at 4am where we would hear the sound of the alarm going off. At 4.30am we were summoned to the Dhamma Hall (meditating hall) for a 2hrs meditation. Each sitting that we undertook was occupied by an audio instructing us what to do/feel etc. At 6.30pm we would hear the dong go off and then we all go to the diner room for breakfast. We all had to sit facing the window, the wall or other persons back never face to face. From 8am till 9am we would go for our 2nd sitting, followed by a 5minute break then from 9am-11am our third sitting. At 11am we would sit for lunch and we would be free to do other chores till 1am. At 1pm till 5pm we would have hourly sittings with a 5min interval after every hour. Between 5pm – 6pm we would sit for dinner and then 6pm-7pm another sitting. 7pm till 8pm we would attend an hour discourse session where we would sit and watch a video highlighting of what we should/have learnt on day 1, 2, etc. Our last meditation sitting was from 8pm-9pm. This was repeated for 10 days. At 1st you could imagine day was kind of exciting as I was new to this, come day three (the breaking point) I was finding it hard to be quiet and not being able to make any conversation/physical contact with others. By the end of this experience I found myself very relaxed, chilled out, happy and full of compassion! Leaving the centre and entering Phnom Penh was very hard, very nosy/chaotic but the techniques that I acquired during my stay at the centre has helped me get through the most stressful moments that I have had so far.

My last stop in Cambodia was to visit Siem Reap. This was my favourite place to stay but the bus ride was not that pleasant lol. A very chilled out town that resemblance Amsterdam with the canals and mini bridges. Hiring bicycles and getting lost is one of the past times to do around here but the main attraction is Ankor Wat. You are offered three different packages (1 day for $20, 3 day £40 and for 7 days $60) I chose to do the 1 day and I managed to get to see all the main temples on bicycle (as I was feeling alike superwomen lol but hiring a tuk tuk for $15 is always another option). The ruins are no doubt amazing to look at but I don’t know how some people could do 7 days of this lol. It was an early start for me, leaving the hostel at 4.30am to see sunrise at Ankor wat and then making my way to the sunset temple at 5.30pm. I reached back to my hostel (Tropical Breeze hostel – rooms were at $4 a night with free coffee and free use of bicycles) at 19pm. To eat out was relatively cheap (and most of the souvenirs you could barter but overall a lot cheaper then other parts of Cambodia. I brought myself a hammock for $2 and 2 dresses for $9 but this was only with help of a local friend who I had met in my mediation course.
Throughout Cambodia there was one thing that stood out for me and yet I still can not understand why this was a trend…most women would wear cartoon animated trouser night suit as everyday wear…puzzling lol. Most convient way to get to places is to ride a cycle and you will see little children who can barley touch the pedals cycling on adult bicycles to and from school, with their friends sitting in a make shift extra seat. The only one thing that I found confusing was the combination of using 2 different currencies, you would pay for an item in Cambodian Riel and you will receive you change in US Dollars (vice versa). Lastly, I digged learning how to cook a few Cambodian dishes at my friend’s home esp the fresh spring rolls :) Cambodia is a country to enjoy but you may feel ants in you pants after 2/3 weeks…I was here for 1 month.

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 20:50 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

The Beach aka Thailand, the land of the Elephants!

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It was an early start as with all boarder crossings from Malaysia to Thailand’s Hat Yai, with straight forward formalities. From Hat Yai I decided to stay a few nights in Krabi at Ao Nang. The beach town was not as bad as the infamous Patong Beach (Phuket) with all your typical beach shops, nightlife, farangs (foreigners) spending their days on the beach and nights getting shit faced. Just on the outskirts of the main beach town the area was a lot quieter, loads of limestone rocks covered in all things green with the locals just going on by their daily duties. I was lucky to get in touch with locals/expats that have stayed in this area for over 20yrs to show me hidden gems of this area. Quieter beaches with hardly anyone there,

Bangkok, Thailand...In 3 weeks Kiren and I managed to get to see quite a bit of Thailand. We had started in the southern parts to experience what Thailand is renowned for…their beaches. We decided to hit the west coast large teardrop island (which is massive) the undisputed tourism queen Phuket (poo-get). We mainly chilled in the South (Naiharn) /East (Rawai) coast but we did make it to the infamous Patong Beach. This place has ‘TOWIE’ written all over it, with bars lined up against one another (on Bangla Road), with lady boyz trying to win you over with ‘Free’ Ping Pong shows (which we did not go to), Pitbull ft Neo ‘lets do it tonight’ or Rihanna’s ‘we found love’ blasting on top of each other, beach buckets filled to the rim with alcohol and the odd person just throwing a half sedated baby sloth for that extra bhat. Not mine scene at all The beach along Patong was not all that either – more of a wheatish brown sand, the sea did not look that turquoise blue waters promised but as we were told that they were in their rainy season. Naiharn beach was my favourite even though the Polksi have taken over the islands as expats and have transferred this amazing beach with high end hotel embedded into the limestone rock formation. Moving on we hit up Phi Phi Leh Island as predicted nothing unique apart from the erected penis outside Slinkys bar. I was very surprised that such a small island could hold the amount of shops/stores/hotels, for me this made walking through the streets very claustrophobic. On the other hand this island does have stunning limestone cliffs with warm tropical translucent waters. It will no doubt evoke a tear due to its beauty. Shed a few more tears when you realise that you have to share it with drunken, speedo wearing, package holiday makers/young backpackers! The trip to Maya Beach would have been better if you could have it all for yourself! It is seriously one of the best beach that I have seen during my travels the other being Tulum Beach in Mexico but snorkelling was a very big disappointment – if not all but most of the coral was dead with hardly not many tropical fish to see.

Metaphorically all roads do lead to and leave from Bangkok which made it very annoying travelling in and around Thailand. The opposite of the relaxed living standards of southern Thailand Bangkok is always on the move…people seriously do not sleep in this city! Crowded with shopping malls, soaring skyscrapers, uber-cool cafes/restaurants surrounded with simple street food stalls, homeless families, markets, temples, traffic jams and exhaust fumes! Your either gonna love it or hate…it took a while but I’d must admit I did like but only for a few days. Sukhumvit is drowning with bars/restaurants catered for the older, sleazy foreign man looking for a bit young female action! In the old town (30mins walk from National Stadium (one of many last stops on the MRT/Skyline tube) to the back-packers hub lying on Kho San Road – there is nothing special about this area. Best left alone. Nightlife in Bangkok is a must just to let your hair down and I am glad that I went. We hit RCA road for some unique Thai clubbing. A very small road that more and less comprises of 2 big clubs where the local young Thais get really dressed (nothing looked slutty) for a night of heavy drinking, dancing, chilling on the outdoor serviced tables, banging music (from International music, R’n’B, Thai hiphop etc) with no agro from different parties. I loved it even though I felt like a tramp compared to the girls there!

Arriving to Chaing Mai was amazing once we finally managed to get to our hostel (our bus dropped us off at a different location at 6am and it took us nearly 4hrs to get out Hostel to pick us up!). It is a cool place just to kick back, enjoy the fresh clean air with 0% humidity and soak up some of the cultural Thai classes from Thai cooking, meditation and massage schools. We on the other hand decided to get on a tour 7-day whistle stop of Northern Thailand. We started off on a 2night 3day hike combined with Elephant trekking. This was a great experience especially the Elephant trekking. There are many companies throughtout Thailand that do not treat their elephants with respect which is sad but I am glad the company that we went with were recommeded by the TAT office (Transport Authority of Thailand). Once your on top of an elephant everything seems so small. The ride was compromised with our baby elephant squarting muddy all over us because we had stopped giving him sugar cane lol. We also got to see Chiang Rai's amazing Wat Rong Khun. This temple is a contemporary unconventional Buddhist temple. The White Temple is one of the most unusual temples we have ever visited.

It is one of the most extraordinary temples that I have ever see – extravagant, ornate, blindingly white, just like a fairly tale. My favourite part of the White Temple is the bridge that leads to the main building. To reach the Abode of the Buddha you have to cross the bridge representing the cycle of rebirth with the pits of hell below. There are all kinds of ghoulish creatures and disembodied heads of people who haven’t managed yet to overcome cravings and obtain entrance to the Abode of Buddha.At first the inside of the main temple seems simple and like many Thai temples with a Buddha statue and people praying peacefully before it. But then you turn around and see the incongruous epic mural depicting an apocalyptic end of the world with demons, explosions and strangely, many references to popular culture including the Matrix, Avatar, Michael Jackson, Spiderman and even the Twin Towers. Photos are not allowed inside unfortunately. Once you have visited the main temple there is still more to see including a wishing well and the world’s most beautiful public toilets… Even if you are feeling templed-out don’t miss the White Temple if you are in northern Thailand. From here we were off to the 'Golden Triangle'. It is where 3 countries (Thailand, Burma and Laos) are met, forming a triangle. This area was once used a for the opium trade which was a easy cash crop for the regions minorities. Here you could take a boat ride to see Myanmar and to Laos where you are allowed to get off and wonder around. I did not do this as Laos is on my next country to visit. This Golden Triangle was worth it as we also got to see the Long Neck Tribe.

I decided to stay on a week longer to witness what the whole vegetarian festival was about. Taken more seriously in Phuket than throughout Thailand I decided to head back to Phuket town. I managed to get a couch (more like my own en-suite bedroom with a balcony) at an amazing house snuggled in the cliffs overlooking Chalong, you could see Coral bay and on a good day even Ko Phi Phi.
One of the most exciting aspects of the vegetarian festival are the various, (and sometimes gruesome) ceremonies which are held to invoke the gods. Firewalking, body piercing and other acts of self mortification undertaken by participants acting as mediums of the gods, have become more spectacular and daring as each year goes by. The ceremonies of the festival take place in the vicinity of the six Chinese temples scattered throughout Phuket. The main temple is Jui Tui Shrine not far from the Fresh Market in Phuket Town. The first event is the raising of the Lantern Pole, an act that notifies the nine Chinese gods that the festival is about to begin. The pole is at least ten metres tall and once erected, celebrants believe that the Hindu god, Shiva, descends bringing spiritual power to the event.
There was a 2 day procession walk that started from the early hours of the morning which finished around lunch time. This is where thousands gather from all over Thailand to witness men and women puncture their cheeks with various items including knives, skewers and other household items. It is believed that the Chinese gods will protect such persons from harm, and little blood or scarring results from such mutilation acts. This is definitely not recommended for the faint hearted to witness

My 6weeks here in Thailand had flown by real quick. This is a country with a wide spectrum of wonderful, beautiful people and the landscape to match it. The food is no doubt out of this world! Yet there was so much I did miss out in my 1st visit to Thailand. A must to come back and travel to the West and East of Thailand.

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 20:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Marvelous Malaysia

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My time here in Malaysia has been less sightseeing, more about getting to know the local people and working within the communities. So I decided to get some volunteering work at SPCA (Society of Prevention to Cruelty to Animals). I was here for 2 weeks, working from 8.30am till 5pm Mon-Fri, slowly welcoming back the realties of going back to a 9-5pm work routine for my return back home. No doubt it was hard work (not mentally but physically) but with the great team of people I felt part of the family very quickly and the hours would fly-bi. I was not expecting the harsh realties of looking after strayed/abused cats/dogs

I did make time to see some parts of the mainland of Malaysia (The Island I will see at another time lol) and it is a beautiful country. My 1st stop was in KL where the great twin Petronas towers stand with a glowing city, high flying environment with the odd flashy tower blocks lol. Not many backpackers/tourist stay here for longer than 2 days….I was here for a week! Not because there is so much to see but it was more of a detox from the packing and unpacking.

I decided to go to The Perenthians islands (22nd Aug – 24th Aug) which are located on the East coast of Malaysia. There were two parts of the island Besar and Kecil. The most populated was Kecil the small island which was the cheapest for backpackers and for my budget. It had your white-sand beach, turquoise blue waters that boasted with marine life that reached close enough to the foot of the beach, all this was surrounded by a jungle-fringed interior that had no sign of high-rise buildings/no cars and no ATM machines which left me in a bit of a pickle lol but I managed to have just enough to get me back to the mainland.

Ok so Malaysia (well more so of the state of Penang) food has been noted to have received incredible reviews and a must-taste country. The hawker centres here just the same as they were in Singapore but the style of cooking different. There are 2 diff style of cooking. You have the Malay and the Chinese style. The Malay style has a more Muslim Indian cooking. I have been digging the Pasembur here – a mixture of meat/veg coated in a batter where you can select what you would like. The pieces get chopped up in little pieces and then covered by this banging sauce! There is also a dish called Murtabk which is a cross between a Paratha (fried chappati) and an omelette. Inside the Paratha there is an omelette that consists of either veg/meat filling. It is served with a curry. Looks like it won’t do anything for the hunger but it does fill you up. You then have the Chinese cooking. Lighter servings but the flavours of each dish have been incredible! My favourite has to be steamed fish with ginger. There is also the infamous Laksa but the tuna fishy smell of the broth does not do it for me. I did try out the Sczhen dishes very heavy in terms of peanut sauce but very tasty. I dig the selection of vegetables that look simple but the taste has always been fresh/zingy.

My time here flew by real quick that I actually over stayed by 1 day which was brought to my attention when I was crossing the boarder to my next destination Thailand.

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 02:19 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Eat, Pray, Love....and snorkelling

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Not part of the plan, not that there has been since I left home but I decided to get a flight out to Bali, Indonesia and I am glad that I did. I only spent 2 weeks here but it seems I have been here for months. I stayed in Kuta in the 1st couple of nights but was glad to leave as I felt I was in Ibiza/Malaga and not Indonesia. I travelled towards a place called Ubud famously know for the location of the bestseller ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. The book depicts Ubud down to the ‘T’. Everyone is called Mayan, Wayan or Warian depending on the order of birth; everyone seems to be in the arts, painters, dancers or sculptors. It is a very quaint little village, small buildings, and luscious amount of greenery/rice fields, food being cooked and served in banana leaves. The houses look very grand, each with a central place for prayers, outside all shops and homes you will see offerings being hand made from bamboo sticks into intricate designs all adorned in bright flowers and food. My time in Bali I had met a cool French chick, Marie. We had chilled in Ubud before moving to Lovina to get some beach time. We met Lille and Liam both from England in Lovina and I couldn’t ask for such cool travellers. The most incredible views from our beach cabin in the early hours of the mornings watching sunrise while the moon will be in sight. We went to see the morning rush of dolphins before hitting an afternoon snorkelling in pristine, clean, clear waters. I absolutely loved the snorkelling experience as it was my 1st time, I saw incredible marine life from blue starfish, nemo, pufferfish, small sharks and bright colourful array of fish! Leaving Lovina we headed to the Gillimunk port of Bali and stayde a night there. We came across an amazing black beach which was used by the locals as a drag racing lol, sunset was out of this world!
Bali has a huge Hindu population whereas the surrounding islands like Lombok, Gilli and Java where mainly Muslims and you can definitely see changes when leaving Bali for Java. The offerings had stopped in replace for prayers which would be practiced between 3 or 4 times a day. The food stayed slightly the same apart form Java would have meat on the menu. Nasi Goreng has been a hit (fried rice and an egg) as well as Tanhu/Tapay which is like steamed/fried tofu, gado gado (steamed veg with very hot sauce that looks like creamy rice – don’t be fooled like me lol) and also satay
We were a bit apprehensive about entering as the bible – The Lonely Planet and the Balinese locals all told us to be careful of our belongings as there were a lot of thieves in Java and that it is a dangerous place. 45 minutes after leaving Bali we arrived in Java and we were greeted by huge smiles and very courtesy people. We stayed in the National Park Baluran where we were surrounded my nice looking but vicious monkeys but small hidden away gem with your own (more and less) private beach. You would hear stories about monkeys running away with your belongings and I just happened to be a victim. My nuts were stolen from me and then the story went out – within a few minutes the tree was surrounded by other monkeys trying to get hold of nuts from the thief lol. .
During the evenings there was not much to do as Java was in the middle of Ramandan. Food stalls would open in the evenings but that would be it. So we decided to go on the Bromo tour and what an experience. It must have been the best sunrise I have ever seen so far. The Bromo volcano itself just looks unreal and also scenically beautiful but the only downside was the amount of us tourist that filled up the space waaay too many – as it was a long day as we left for the sunrise at 3am and we returned back to our hotel at 9am (Marie sadly left us to go back home) for a 12 hour journey to Yogarkarta our last stop before we hit Malaysia. Arriving in the cultural district of Java (Jarkarta being the economic epicentre) we were looked after the locals by helping us to find a place to sleep in the early hours of the morning (and no they did not ask for any money). We were welcomed by a lovely family where the dad looked like Mr Miyagi and the mother looked like Mother Teresa. We believe they had a son who reminded us of ‘crouching tiger hidden dragon’ lol. Three in a room for 5 nights and 4 days we paid £7.60 each! Bargain! We rented out motorbikes where we got to see the outside of the main city which was great apart from the minor accident that I got involved which was nursed by a couple of Bintangs  I did come across a restaurant that served Cobra and Python for their speciality dishes which were priced very cheaply at a £3.60 per dish! Early nights, early mornings comprised by food throughout the day with a spot of window shopping, and a lot of laughter was how rolled. I had an amazing time thanks to Lille, Liam and Marie…not forgetting Mr Miyagi / Mother Teresa.

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 23:23 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Slumdog to Millionnaire

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Leaving India after 3 months I was looking forward to a change. Not knowing much about Singapore I was not quite what to expect just apart it is a very clean country and how they don’t sell chewing gum. I was very fortunate to have been hosted by Kim’s aunt, who reminded me of myself. As I managed to get a really good flight deal to Bali I felt spending 3 nights, 4 days was not going to be enough time in Singapore but to be honest you kind of get the drift after 3 days. It is a very clean country (however on my last night I did see a rat lol), which is bursting out with so much money, the locals are very beautiful, extremely well dressed (even going out for breakfast), very polite and helpful. This was a total opposite contrast from where I just came from. The amount of shopping malls this little country has its crazy but each mall is very different. I remember one had an indoor ice skating rink, the other had a mini Venice gondola boat thing which would take you for a boat ride around this crazy water feature, a massive casino etc All the malls were graced with all high end stores from Prada, Gucci, Louis Vutton and there were not small and actually had customers at the counters lol. Electronic stores were also big here in size, everything you could imagine you would find up to the latest up and coming gadgets! Apart from the shopping scene (which is not my thing), food is a big pass time here in Singapore. There did not seem to be a ‘time’ to eat. Every hour something was cooking lol. So it works out to be a lot cheaper to eat out rather to buy your food and cook at home. All the locals tend to eat at ‘Hawker centres’ which are basically mini markets and a food court, which comprise of at least 50 odd mini (but big in quantity) of different food choices. Each stall only specialises in one type of dish so there is a lot of variety! I had this weird sweet dish that was made of lentils in a warm broth and sweet potatoes seemed more like a starter but it was a dessert.

Posted by jasdeep_virdee 23:16 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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