Because I haven’t blogged in a fair few weeks, when I refer to the end, I’m referring to everything I’ve done in the last 6 weeks or so!
Our recess week for this semester fell at the end of February. A group of 3 friends and I decided to go to Cambodia for the week. Rather than country hop and attempt to see some combination of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, we decided to spend a bit longer in the one country so as to get a chance to really experience it. Looking back, I’m most definitely happy with this decision.
We were lucky enough to meet another 2 good friends of mine at the airport who were on the same flight as us and just so happened to have the same travel plans. We decided to team up and tackle Cambodia together. We started off in the capital, Phnom Penh. We spent about 2 days here and I’d say that’s probably long enough to see what there is to see. It’s a much dirtier and chaotic city than Siem Reap, but nonetheless enjoyable.
I’m ashamed to say that I barely knew anything about the horrifyingly recent communist dictatorship that tore Cambodia apart in the 1970s. We visited the genocide museum and the Killing Fields in and around Phnom Penh which opened our eyes to a lot of the atrocities that occurred here. It was an extremely difficult experience but very, very worthwhile. My friends and I all agreed that exposures like this are very important to help ensure that such things are never allowed to happen again.
The rest of our time in Phnom Penh was spent doing a bit of exploring and sightseeing around the city, along with eating at a lot of great (admittedly western) restaurants. We were all a bit nervous about trying the street food and prices were so cheap that we decided to indulge our cravings for various western delights =P. Our stomachs thanked us for this decision…well, for the most part (I still managed to come away with a parasite I picked up from something I ate or drank).
We took a bus to Siem Reap and arrived very late at night only to realise that the tuk-tuk driver we had arranged with our hostel to pick us up wasn’t there. We ended up having to take someone else who took us down the dodgiest looking alleyways I have ever experienced. We were 99% sure we were being abducted. I’m pretty sure all of our hearts stopped when our driver stopped down the darkest of the dark alleyways, got out and approached us. We were all giving what were probably inappropriately horrified stares to our driver who had just stopped us to ask directions =P. A funny story looking back, at least we can laugh about it now! Anyway, it turned out our driver wasn’t there because I had managed to give the wrong arrival time to the folk at the hostel…whoops =P.
Anyway, having arrived and settled in to our very nice hostel (Panda Guesthouse for anyone who is interested; central, clean, well furnished, nice staff) we got a good night sleep before waking up early to meet our friends for breakfast. We wolfed down some food, excited to get over to the temples around Angkor Wat (the main reason tourists flock to Cambodia in their thousands year after year). We spent the first day doing some of the lesser known temples around the outskirts of the complex so as to save the best ones for later. If I could remember the names of them all I’d tell you, but we did what the tuk-tuk drivers refer to as the ‘grand tour’.
We had such a fantastic time. Getting to walk around these temples largely unsupervised and unrestricted felt like such an unusual privilege. You really feel like you’re stepping into a whole other world as soon as you approach them. If you’re clever and you do the tour backwards, you manage to miss the big tourist crowds for most of the day. If you manage that, you’ll see what I mean about stepping into another world. The somewhat eery silence tends only to be broken by the rustling of trees, the humming of dragonflies and far off cries from monkeys. It was so, so incredible.
After almost an entire day walking around various temples, we were all fairly exhausted. We continued our trail of western restaurants, although we attempted to be adventurous by forcing ourselves to go to a different restaurant for every meal. This meant that we got to experience a variety of really great food.
After our dinner we stopped at one of those fish spas that seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment. $5 for 2 people to use the spa for as long as they like, and 2 beers. A hard deal to pass up, and so we spent the next few hours hanging out there, getting to know the locals who ran the spa and doing a lot of advertising for them to passing tourists =P. We ended up hanging out here every evening. I stuck my feet in for the first time on the second evening and it took me about 15 full minutes to stop laughing hysterically! I think I must have been the worst at adjusting to the strangeness of it =P. It really does take some getting used to.
Our second day at the temples was probably the best day of the week. We woke up to get to Angkor Wat for sunrise (along with every other tourist in Siem Reap at the time =P). It was absolutely incredible, an amazing thing to watch and very surreal. We finished our first day by going to the Angkor Wat museum so it was cool to know a bit of the history as well. I’d definitely recommend doing that, although the museum is very information heavy! You’ll want to skim read, a lot =P.
The rest of the second day we went around the temples in the Angkor Thom complex. Sooooo many temples! Bayon and Ta Phrom were incredible. We were exhausted by the end of the day but it was such an unforgettable experience.
On our third day we chilled for most of the day, wandered round some markets and ate lots of good food. We went to the Cambodian circus in the evening and that too was incredible. All proceeds go to a performing arts school where all the performers have come from. They were really, really talented. At one point there was a man balancing upside down on another man’s head, who himself was balancing on another man’s shoulders. Absolutely insane! Definitely worth going if you have a spare evening.
On the final day we went to the floating villages (about a half hour ride out of Siem Reap). Unfortunately the tide was quite low so we didn’t get to see the floating forest. The whole experience felt like a bit more hassle and a bit more money than it was worth, but we did get to go and see the inside of a floating school/orphanage. We also went to a few more lesser known temples that day which weren’t quite as grand, but much quieter…which was nice =P.
So that was Cambodia! A really great trip and I’d definitely recommend going there for a week or so. We took a night bus back to Phnom Penh to fly back to Singapore because it was about double the price to fly from Siem Reap.
I’ve been training for my first marathon for most of my time in Singapore, and it just so happened to fall on the morning after my Cambodia trip. Just to clarify…I arrived back to my flat about 10pm and had to be at my bus at 2am in the morning for the race at 4am…this is having already spent the previous bus on a night bus…safe to say I was not in the best of conditions come race day, but I still did it! I had an absolute blast and finished in around 3 hours 45 minutes. The route was incredible; I got to run around the centre of town, the business district, the gardens by the bay, East Coast Park, and even got to finish by running through the grand pix track.
A Visit from the Parents
Two days after my marathon madness (and a lot of sleeping to recover) my parents came to visit. Unfortunately I spent the first 4 days or so revising for an exam I had to sit, but after that I took some time off to show them around. I had got ahead with my work so that I could do some guilt-free touristy stuff. My parents had been to Singapore before so I tried to show them around a few places we either hadn’t been to before, that are new, or that we didn’t really get to explore properly on our previous trips.
I’m pretty sure they ended up having a good time and I really enjoyed having some time off of work! By the end we had run out of things to do in Singapore and my parents were happy just to chill, so we ended up lounging around their hotel and watching some movies for a few days which was actually really great!
An Unexpected End
About a week after my parents left I ended up having to make arrangements to head back to the UK early. Thankfully it’s only a handful of weeks before I would have been leaving anyway and I won’t really be missing any classes. I’ll be able to sit my exams from home and everyone, both in Singapore and Edinburgh, were really helpful in making arrangements for me.
I ended up spending a frantic few days trying to get everything organised; checking out of my flat, giving away all the things I couldn’t bring back with me, tying up loose ends at the law school, closing my bank account etc. The worst part, as usual, were all the goodbyes. I spread them out over 2 days because I had so many people to bid farewell! Thankfully us exchangers tend to love travelling (strange that =P) and so we’re all fairly confident that we’ll end up seeing each other again in the future.
My year in Singapore has been the single most valuable and exciting experience of my life so far. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I was so nervous and unsure to begin with, but within a few days I was so happy and settled that I didn’t think I’d ever want to leave. Now that I’m back in Scotland, I really am glad to be home! I’ve come to appreciate so many things about life at home that I didn’t before. And that’s one of the best things I’ve taken away from my year in Singapore. It was such a challenge to learn to live in Asia, but it was so worthwhile. I feel like I have learned so much. I honestly don’t think I’ll see the world the same way ever again.
In Singapore I got to climb my first proper mountain, learn to scuba dive, run my first marathon, make countless international friends, learn about areas of environmental law I otherwise wouldn’t have got to, rub shoulders with a few international law bigwigs and most importantly…I learnt how to pack my whole life into a single suitcase (something I thought I’d never be able to do).
Well that’s it from me and my Singaporean adventure. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and I hope that I managed to convey just a little bit of the wonderful world of Southeast Asia!