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Trip report - Zinders honeymoon in Thailand/Cambodia

Trip report - Zinders honeymoon in Thailand/Cambodia

Nov 14th, 2007, 03:37 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 103
Kooba - Our rate came out to about $250 per night. Not sure how that rates against the Pennisula or the Oriental. We had tea at the Oriental and that looked nice. I would probably stay at the Shangri-La again, tho, simply because it was so close to the SkyTrain.
zinders is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 05:55 PM
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loving it...
rhkkmk is offline  
Nov 15th, 2007, 02:33 PM
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Day 7 Siem Reap.

While Ive loved the temples, Im excited that were doing something different today. Ponheary has told us that Lori Carlson, who manages the Ponheary Lys Foundation, will be visiting the school with us, so Im also interested in talking with her.

Ponheary is all smiles when she pulls up. I can tell that for her, guiding is her job, but the work that she does with the schools is her passion. We meet Lori in the van. (I have to say, after days of just being with my husband, its kinda fun to have another American to talk to. Bad wife!) Shes taken about six months off from her job to be in southeast Asia and work with the Foundation (we had given some money before we came, so I suppose I was kinda interviewing to see where it all went). Her impressions of Cambodia, based on numerous visits, were extremely interesting.

Driving out in through the countryside was fascinating. We see men on bikes, toting huge crates filled with live baby pigs. We pass by huts that are practically open to the road, where kids are playing in the dirt. I think this is when it really sinks in for both my husband that Cambodia is truly in a different sphere economically than Thailand (he had been a little overly focused on Angkor Wat photography).

We had given Ponheary $40 US to buy noodles for the kids breakfast. But when we pull up, it turns out that the new principal had already cooked them breakfast. So we drop off Lori and head over to Banteay Srei. Im a little disappointed that were going to another temple, but Banteay is really beautiful reddish in color, and full of intricate carvings. We end up spending more time here than I think.

When were done, its still too early for lunch, so Ponheary takes us to the Land Mine Museum. I wouldnt characterize this as a must do, as it really seems like the pet project of one man, but it did have some information about Pol Pot. As were looking at the exhibits, I ask Ponheary about her experiences with the Khmer Rouge as she was about 13 when they came to power. Dara had already told us that their father, a teacher, had been killed, but Im a little unprepared for how truly horrible her story is. She and her siblings survived, mainly because villagers who had been friends with her father would leave food for the family at night (she said that Dara would crawl on all fours, like a cat to get the food). As other families were dying, the Khmer Rouge asked her mother why her own children were still alive. When she refused to answer, she was horribly beaten (she is still alive today). And then she tells me the worst part of the story: when the family did have access to food, she and her sister ended up overfeeding their youngest sibling a baby girl too much flat rice and the baby ended up dying. I murdered my sister, Ponheary said, in a very matter-a-fact tone.

Im a journalist, so Ive heard horrible and tragic stories on the job. But Ponhearys story is one of the worst Ive heard. Lori later told me that most Cambodians dont like to talk about the time under the Khmer Rouge. As part of their Buddhist beliefs, they feel that those who committed the atrocities will have to pay for their actions through karma, and they eschew war crime prosecution (indeed, its the UN who recently ordered the arrest of the top Khmer officials). Ponheary and Dara are different, Lori said they understand that its important to talk about it so it doesnt happen again. In any case, I was humbled that Ponheary chose to talk about her experiences. Im sure no matter how many times she tells it, it is still difficult.

Its lunchtime so we head back to the school to visit the children and hand out the noodle packets. Our $40 buys two noodle packets essential, Lori says, because people realized that when the children only received one packet, they would bring it home to their families instead of eating it. Handing out the noodle packets to the happy kids, and then hanging out and playing with them after they ate lunch, was the best experience of the trip. My husband really got into it, and seeing this side of him brought tears to my eyes.

Lori and Ponheary showed me around the school and talked about the improvements that have been made. The kids go only for a half-day, because their families need them at home to work. Incentives such as bicycles, uniforms and extra noodle packets are important, as it shows the family that there are tangible benefits to their children attending.

After we return from the school, we take our lunch break at the Grand Café on pub street, and really enjoy the Franco-Cambodian food here. Its starting to rain a nice change from the heat, although little do we know that much of our trip from here on out will be rather soggy, due to a monsoon in Vietnam. Despite the rain, we decide to head out to the Floating Village on Tonle Sap lake, about 45 minutes out of town. Here again, as soon as we leave the tourist area of Siem Reap, the poverty of Cambodia is stark, and Ponheary points out the squatters who live along the riverbanks.

We get into a boat and head out. The Floating Village is just that houses that float so fishermen and others who live off of the lake can move with the seasons. Of course, tourism is also a factor: once we reach the middle of the lake, I watch as a small boat approaches. Its a woman and her son, selling soda and beer to tourists. On the way back, we stop at a fish farm. Its a bit of a tourist trap, but its raining pretty hard now, so its not a bad stop. Overall, a worthwhile visit.

We are a little emotionally spent after the long day, so we decide to give the Happy Herb Pizza a try. Not for everyone on this board, I know, but lets just say the pizza lives up to its name the herb is an entire layer under the cheese. About an hour after we eat, it all kicks in and we are, indeed, happy. We also make a stop at the Night Bazaar, where I find a few souvenirs.

That night, however, I awake with a sharp pain in my abdomen. It seems to go away in the morning and I decide not to bother Don about it until I see how I feel the next day when we fly from Siem Reap to Bangkok and then onward to Chiang Mai and the north country.

Siem Reap Summary: We are simultaneously enchanted, awed, overwhelmed, moved, and saddened by our time in Cambodia. Now that Im back in the States, I find that Im listing it as my favorite experience of the whole trip. The country really hits you on so many levels, from the abject poverty to the sublime beauty to the horrifying history. Our trip would have been a tad soulless without our stop here.

Up next: Chiang Dao, the Nest and Hill Country trekking. (it may be a few days as Im heading out of town for a wedding)
zinders is offline  
Nov 15th, 2007, 05:22 PM
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have fun...we will be awaiting your return
rhkkmk is offline  
Nov 15th, 2007, 07:04 PM
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Glad you're having a great honeymoon and trip. Happy Travels!
Guenmai is offline  
Nov 15th, 2007, 07:53 PM
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I really enjoyed your report of your time with Ponheary,Lori and the school kids. It sounds so rewarding!! Looking forward to the rest of your report.
wintersp is offline  
Nov 16th, 2007, 12:24 AM
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Keep it coming. Great detail about Siem Riep.

When we visited Cambodia, we were struck by poverty at a very basic level. Seeing the people performing road work while sitting down using hand tools was an eye-opener.

We'll be meeting the famous Lori Carlson in a couple of days.
Gpanda is offline  
Nov 16th, 2007, 01:58 AM
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It was a sweet spot in my month to meet the two of you in Siem Reap and visit with the kids at Knar School.

And yes, I too enjoyed talking with some native english speakers...you may have noticed that!

I'd love to post the section about your school trip on the website if you don't mind....you journalism people know how to string some words together.....can you get that new hacky-sack playing husband of yours to email me a few of your best shots????


[email protected]
offwego is offline  
Nov 16th, 2007, 04:55 AM
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Your trip to Siem Reap is also very similar to ours!

The pigs on the back of the bikes was an amazing photo we never managed to get (did you?)

Our other favourite was the "gas station" - Johnnie Walker Red for Regular and Black for "high test"


Elizabeth_S is online now  
Nov 16th, 2007, 05:34 AM
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Great Siem Reap report - we felt that the experiences that Ponheary shared with us about her life when the Khmer Rouge were in power was an essential part of our visit - that and spending time handing out supplies to the school kids. We met Lori Carlson in Bangkok last February - it is always great to hear about the progress being made on account of the PLF.
Craig is offline  
Nov 18th, 2007, 10:14 AM
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Thanks so much for the detailed report. We are doing a very similar itinerary and so are eagerly awaiting your next post. Have already booked Ponheary for 3 days in Siem Reap in July. Will take your advice on showers !
jcasale is offline  
Nov 18th, 2007, 02:00 PM
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thanks so much. loved the detail of your report.
could you confirm that you spent 2.5 days in SR -- seeing temples the first afternoon, then the whole next day and then the last day doing the school and tonle sap village? Which tonle sap village did you see?
did that seem to be the right amount of time?
appreciate your response.
alison is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 05:50 AM
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Lori - Sure, I'll get Don to send some photos. He has some GREAT ones of the kids. Let me know if you want me to clean up any of the prose. Writing off the top of my head is different than for publication!

Alison - Yes, we only spent 2.5 days touring, three nights total (we left Siem Reap early the next day). You could easily do another day of temples, if you wish, as we only saw the highlights. Basically, we had 5 guided sessions - 3 of temples, 1 of the school/temple and the 4th at Tonle Sap. I have no idea which village it was at Tonle Sap - I just knew it as the "Floating" one. Any other questions, just ask!
zinders is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 08:02 AM
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Hi zinders - welcome back from the wedding. Can't wait to see the rest of your trip posted. I also saw your reply under Cambodia regarding the cost for Ponheary and Dara. BTW - we have confirmed Ponheary for our 3 days in SR based on your experience (and other mentions of her). We have also reserved a room at Bopha Angkor - how did you like it? The reviews in Frommers and on Trip Advisor looked good.

I think we are ending up replicating your whole trip - at least so far. The trekking part we probably won't do since dh has bad knees and trekking would not be his thing. I'd love to hear more about restaurants you liked and any other recommendations you have as we finalize our itinerary for June/July 2008. If you want to e-mail me directly I'm at [email protected]. Already heard from Alison and we will probably be in SR at the same time (which means she's hoping that Dara is free to guide since I already grabbed Ponheary !).
jcasale is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 09:49 AM
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We really liked Bopha. It's not as luxe as the Shangri-La, or some of the places we stayed in Phuket, but we enjoyed it. It's very convenient to Pub Street and the River. Nice pool, nice staff - and the food there was outstanding! They have a package called Poolside Evasion - it was a very good deal (and we didn't even take advantage of the 7-course Khmer meal that was included!) My only complaint was that the bathrooms could have been a bit more upscale.

Honestly, I felt a little uncomfy paying more for a hotel in Cambodia...i saw no need to go super-upscale when the people around me were so poor. hope that makes sense in a non-judgmental way!
zinders is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 01:48 PM
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Day 8 Siem Reap to Chiang Dao

Today was a day of transit. We leave Siem Reap around 9ish for Bangkok. Were supposed to change airports to make our connection for Chiang Mai, but the lovely people at Thai Air put us on an earlier flight that leaves from the international airport (we do this again going from Phuket to Bangkok saves us a taxi across Bangkok!)

Our flight to Chiang Mai is uneventful. A driver from the Chiang Dao Nest picks us up, right on time, and we drive about 90 minutes over some very bumpy roads (construction). We are staying at Nest 1, and while the owners arent around to greet us, a woman named Air is quite friendly, (even though we have MUCH bigger bags than the people who usually stay here).

In general, the Nest is geared to more of a budget traveler than the other places that we visited and the cottages, while cute, are on the rustic side. Our cottage contained a large comfy bed, a table, a dresser thats it. No TV, no reading lamps (which would have helped because the rooms were a little dim). I felt a bit like I was back on the backpacker circuit, with the good and bad that entails. The resort is surrounded by gorgeous mountains, though, and it is a spectacular get away from it all location.

Nest 1 has western food and the Nest 2, about 10 minutes away, serves Thai. We head down there and notice that Nest 2 has a better bar area than Nest 1. We order the spicy lovers meal (along with too much wine) and happily fall asleep after a day of transit. I do wake up that night with the same abdominal pain, which makes me start to worry about how things are going to go on our scheduled 3 day, 2 night trek. So I tell Don about the pain, but add that I wont mention it as were trekking unless it gets unbearable.
zinders is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 02:46 PM
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I've been going to my book club long enough to recognize "foreshadowing" when I read it!

Elizabeth_S is online now  
Nov 19th, 2007, 02:57 PM
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Loved your trip report (it's lovely to read a report by another writer). We're spending 6 nights in REP next Feb/March & have booked our guide Tek for temple tours, plan a visit to the Knar Primary school, the Koh Ker School & an early morning trip to the bird sanctuary that involves a 1.5 hour boat ride across lake & then transfer to a canoe--the Saurus Cranes there live nowhere else... so when you go back, you'll have another area to explore.

To read about the experiences of a child survivor of the Khmer Rouge death camps; THE SPIRIT OF SURVIVAL by Gail Sheehy. It's written from the POV of the 13 year old Khmer daughter she adopted, who survived 5 years in a death camp, escaping, alone, across the mountains into the refugee camps along the Thai border, where Gail met her... and eventually adopted her.

It's one of the best books I've ever read. Most Americans are, unfortunately, unaware of just what a holocaust the Khmer Rouge waged against their own people.
AskOksana is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 05:52 PM
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Hey Zinders,

Perhaps I am a bit dense, but when you refer to the Happy Herb Pizza, are you inferring that it has an herb on it that is smoked by cancer patients? Isn't that herb illegal in Cambodia?

I did a search for it here, but could find no other postings on it.
AskOksana is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 07:53 PM
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Zinders-I'm dying to know what happened with you. Did you get sick? Please post soon.

Oksana-yes, the "happy herb" she referred to is the same you can find in cafes in Amsterdam as well. Do a google search-you will find quite a bit. I'm not surprised you could not find reference to it here-you're more likely to find it over on the Lonely Planet Thorntree boards. Different crowd here. I'm sure it's illegal in Cambodia but just how much, not so sure. Rumor has it that just 10 years ago, you could buy it by the bale in the central market in Phnom Penh. Times have changed.
Kristina is offline  

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