A Phnom Penh Post

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D E C I S I O N S ,  D E C I S I O N S

My 21 day visa-free stay in Vietnam was coming to a close, I opened my laptop and googled “How to extend visa in Vietnam?” It turned out extending a visa would cost me a neck, ok done. Haha nope, but a whopping $300. I. Cannot. Afford. That… Juggling options in my head and low key panicking where the hell am I gonna get money, I decided to go to Cambodia. I was not gonna shell out that amount of money for a visa extension, hmmm might as well travel, right? So here’s the plan: exit on my 20th day, cross the border to Cambodia, party in Phnom Penh, party harder in Siem Reap, then apply visa on arrival in Vietnam (which costs $85: $35 for visa approval letter plus $50 for the stamp). Whew! I paid for the visa online and got my approval letter two days later allowing me 3 month stay with multiple entries.

Phnom Penh is just roughly 7 hour bus ride away from Saigon. My third time exiting a country, ugh (ubos na ubos na me). Second time solo backpacking. And my first time in Cambodia. Also, first time celebrating Christmas away from my family. A bit sad but still hyped AF.

On my first day in Phnom Penh, I stayed in a hotel. Nah, this was not a hotel nor a hostel. It’s the mansion of my couchsurfing host from Nigeria, Silver (pictured below, left).

We didn’t get to talk much, he’s busy with an event so I just rested with a hungry stomach in his pad. The following morning, he took me to breakfast. Literally just took me, I ate while he and his friend watched me eat. He said they don’t normally have breakfast. Weird. Anyways, I have a long day ahead so we awkwardly parted ways. Thank god.

D A Y  2   I N   O U D O N G   M O U N T A I N

Sokleab, a tuktuk driver, contacted me in Couchsurfing and asked if I was willing to join his tour and share cost with another tourist. He got me at sharing the cost, so I said yes. Now we were off to Oudong, a town 40 km from Phnom Penh.

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Back in the day this place was royal residence and Cambodia’s former capital for more than 250 years until 1866. Sokleab, Geoffrey and I hiked mountain Phnom Udong to witness a few majestic temples and rewarded ourselves with this view.

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It was a whole day of marveling at the grandeur of Khmer architecture. Here are just some of the sights and temples I took pleasure in capturing –

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Don’t be fooled by the serene water, this pond has starving “little monsters” waiting for the tourists to toss a bread or two.

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The intricacy of  it all got me speechless!

We also encountered some aggressive monkeys, this was the only one who posed for me.

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Plus I got to eat frogs, zoom in to the right of the photo below. I didn’t like it. At least the coffee made up for it.

 

T H E   B A C K P A C K E R S

We got back at the city at around 6:00pm and I checked in at Dynsey Flashpacker Hostel. It so happened that Geoffrey was staying at the same backpacker lodge I booked online. And for some reason, we were sharing the same room. What were the odds?! FYI this was one of the cheapest hostels here in the city, it cost me $4 a night.

The best thing about backpacker hostels is that aside from interacting with the locals when you are in a foreign land, you can meet a lot of travelers from around the world. Share a story or two, drink a beer or two (not for me, I usually drink 5 – 6 beers and I’m just getting started, eat new delicacies with Sokleab and Geoffrey, and heck yeah even join a mini birthday party when you literally met the celebrant a few seconds ago, I’m not talking about you Andor 😛 It was a roller coaster fun celebrating your birthday, Jenna. The only girl I know who decided to celebrate her birthday visiting S-21 and The Killing Fields. Then there’s Franck who I got all the good stuff. Franck, do you remember the name of the funny Chinese guy? 🙂

(From L-R, clockwise – Sokleab, Franck, Jenna, Andor and Geoffrey modeling for our tuktuk ride)

C A M B OD I A ‘S   H O R R I F I C   P A S T

I won’t dwell on the details of my visit to S-21 and The Killing Fields museum, it’s something you have to experience it yourselves. I was appalled and speechless after that ordeal. I know humans are cruel but to do that on their own flesh and blood, their own countrymen was beyond comprehension. And to think that this happened just 40 years ago, a modern day case of inhumane act fueled by blinded beliefs. I really hope and pray, History Will Never Repeat Itself. 

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“Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime”

R E A L I Z A T I O N S

If you have a day to spare in Phnom Penh, I highly suggest you take time to visit these museums and contemplate how we, in our own little way, can stop atrocity like this from happening again. I know you’re thinking about NoKor, Syria, Venezuela, or even your respective country. Yes, it’s happening right before our very eyes, monstrosities still exist today. Are we doing something about it, anything just to even address these? I will leave this open ended.

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Such innocence, let’s strive to keep it this way. Let the kids be kids, let them have a better life.

A N O T H E R   D A Y ,   A N O T H E R   A D V E N T U R E

The next day I joined another city tour with Sokleab and this time around I was with a family from Malaysia. They were really nice and friendly.

We went to Silk island and learned how silk farming created a sustainable livelihood for the farmers and weavers, we also enjoyed fresh, humongous mangoes from locals, and fed some animals in the zoo.

We then tried some rice cakes at Central Market, and ended the tour at Independence Museum and Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

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Independence Monument

Later that night, I hopped from one famous spot to another: Wat Phnom, Night Market, chilled at riverside, and met another backpacker from Switzerland, Dany. Sokleab took us to Royal Palace, Diamond Island, and Love Park.

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Wat Phnom

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View at riverside
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Royal Palace
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Diamond Island
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Love Park

A    D A Y    B E F O R E   C H R I S T M A S

Another first for me – to celebrate Christmas away from family. I was kinda sad but the adventurer in me couldn’t contain the excitement. It’s always the unknown that exhilarates me. I packed my bag, had breakfast and checked out of the hostel. Boarding a bus bound for Siem Reap and staring at the window, I couldn’t help but think of my mom, my brother and my dogs back home. They were really supportive of my decisions (yes..dogs included), even though I had major bad ones. I guess that’s what your family is for – to celebrate with you in good times and to understand you in times of the bad. Why does a bus window bring out all these emotions?! Anyone else feeling the same way? Damn these movies and K dramas!

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That’s it for now, I will be talking about my Christmas in Siem Reap, my itinerary and expenses for the entire trip on my next post! Aahhh it’s gotta be good!

Quickies, out.
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My Instant Family in Ho Chi Minh City

The Situation

I had a good job back in the Philippines, the pay was adequate, too, but I felt that there’s something missing, something I have yet to find. Purpose? Mission? Maybe. Love life? We’ll see. I have thought long and hard and decided to risk everything. So I quit my job and packed my bags for the “greener pasture.” There’s only one plan – that is, to land a job in Singapore before my tourist visa expires. 24 days later, I was still funemployed at the most expensive city in the world. You’ve read that wrong – it should be f’ing unemployed. But don’t curse, kids. Leave it to the adults, especially the jobless. Anyway, I needed to exit and so I booked the cheapest flight to Vietnam. I was all down, sickly and stressed the entire time I was in Singapore. I could easily say that was my lowest point – alone and far from my loved ones. To make matters worst, I learned that our puppy died back home mauled to death by her older sister and brother. Murphy’s law everybody!

There’s a famous saying from Mark Twain:  “…you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” But why do I feel like the universe is really determined to break me? Why do I feel like I made the wrong decision? A massive mistake.

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As depressed as I was, I had to move forward and pray. And by forward, I mean out of the country, else I might get deported. I prepared everything from my flights, to hostel bookings and itinerary. This way, I won’t have problems in the airport. I also posted my travel plans in Couchsurfing. I wasn’t expecting much from that app since I wasn’t able to find hosts here in SG but I was shookt with the responses from Vietnam. I got 2 hosts and a handful of local travelers willing to accompany me on my impromptu trip. I decided to cancel my hostel booking and accept Ricardo’s offer to host, I figured I can save money while living with the locals and learning their culture. I also didn’t want to celebrate my birthday alone roaming the crazy streets of Saigon.

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S A I G O N

I arrived at Saigon in a humid, Thursday afternoon, 26th of October. I took a Grab Bike from the airport to District 9. Lakas maka Hunger Games. Saigon boasts a lot of skyscrapers, soon to rise buildings (perfect for my rooftop climbs), and vast highways catering to the progressing economy of the city. The streets were overrun by motorbikes, undeniably alarming to a point when you’re literally rubbing elbows to a fellow commuter. But the riders were just chill and reserved, so I wasn’t scared at all – documenting the 22km ride through my Instagram stories. District 9 is situated 21km away from the more popular, touristy districts which only means it’s way cheaper here. Guhreat.

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Easy English Community

Finally, I met my host Ric and he introduced me to his cousins and students. Apparently, he’s a full time English teacher who rents an entire building for his company – Easy English Community.

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And yes, that’s where he lives and teaches at the same time. How cool is that? Later that night, I joined his classes and got to meet more of his students. They’re all warm and welcoming. I really felt that I didn’t deserve their kindness. This was the first time that I traveled with no concrete plans whatsoever. I just wanna get out of Singapore and get lost in Vietnam. But the Easy English Community found and took me in like I was no stranger. The following day, Paul brought me to all the famous spots in HCMC with his motorbikes, offered to treat me drinks then took me to must try restaurants and coffee shops.

I got to visit some of them in the University of Technology and Education (UTE) c/o Ric where we had small chit chats, a few get to know you’s and exchanged Ph to Vn cultures. They even greeted me a happy birthday which I really appreciated.

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From L-R: Diamond, Sally, Maria, Roger, Eric, Kid, Michael, Lufy, Paul, Dylan, David, Sarah, Julia, Ricardo, May and Richard. Whew!

The one thing I will never ever forget was the fact that Ric and his dear students prepared a mini party for my birthday, they cooked and stayed up late just to celebrate my birthday. They even let me watch them play Football.

Motorbikes in the City

The next day, I got not only one but four tour guides. They volunteered to join me as we all explore District 1. As it turned out, they are tourists in the city. Most of them didn’t have the time to see the famous spots and I was so happy they got to visit these places the first time with me. It also made the trip into an adventure slash Waze and Google maps dependent ride haha!

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Kicking it off with one of the many pagodas here in HCMC. Viện Minh Đăng Quang pagoda is such a beaut!

And then, I found out that Kid (this kid in white shirt) skipped his class to accompany me. More so, he can talk and practice English. Not an excuse but I’ll take it. Here’s a sneak peak of our fun times in Saigon Zoo.

I arrived in Vietnam alone and lonely but in a matter of hours I gained friends, a family even, I never thought possible. That was the first time in a long time that I felt genuine happiness.

Hồng Ngự and Nong Lam

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Sally’s parents preparing food for the goats in a laid back afternoon in Hồng Ngự

Ric’s kindness is never ending – he brought me to Hồng Ngự, his hometown, which is a 5 hr bus ride from the city. I got to experience the country side of Vietnam. I will be featuring more of this on my next article.

His students were just as kind. Kid, Lassu and Yumi insisted on bringing me to another university – Nong Lam. We had photo shoots, long walks, a quick volleyball game, interactions with a few students, had some good street food finds and lots of laughs.

I Can Get Used To This

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Speaking time with Clinton

Thank you Ric for reaching out, for doing the extra, extra mile in making sure I am enjoying my stay, keeping me involved in your classes and to Diamond for teaching me how to make Vietnamese coffee. I love talking to your students, sharing a bit about myself, my hometown and helping them in my little way to be confident in speaking the English language.

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Typical Speaking night here in Easy English Community

To cap off my stay here, Ric decided to bring me in the early morning to the infamous Black Lady Mountain (996 masl) and later that night, I got to be a teacher to one of his classes. I really didn’t want to leave HCMC but I know I have to.

My first ever international students, we pulled it off guys and girls.

Ric, keep doing what you do best, who knows I might join you in the future! I know it’s hard doing everything all by yourself, just ask if you need help and always take it easy. Til our next adventure my brother from another mother.

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Ric and I hiking the Black Virgin Mountain before I return to Singapore

Thank you for accepting this lost stranger and kept feeding me baby duck haha!

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Not as instant as their coffee but here’s my instant family in HCMC.

I am still on the process of figuring things out, we all are. I don’t know where my feet will take me next. But I have a pretty good idea where I might be next month.

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For now, quickies out…

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Credits to Noob GFX for the Lightroom Creamy presets I used for some of my photos here. Follow them and see their awesome stuff!