‘Snookyville’ and Koh Rong Sanloem

‘Snookyville’ and Koh Rong Sanloem

Whilst we’ve been travelling, accommodation and food are probably our single largest bills. Finding cheap accommodation big enough for two adults and two young children isn’t always easy. The less we spend the longer we can extend our travels. We easily spend $5-1000 per month in most places.

‘Great!’, we have a house-sit for 2 months in Sihanoukville, saving us $500 USD per month (by Cambodian standards). How wrong could we be!

It was essentially a disaster. From the end of June to end of September is the rainy season in southern Cambodia and it’s not unusual for the rain to pour down for four to five days on end. It also doesn’t help that the property we were in had no A/C and flooded three times including the ceiling collapsing in two of the rooms we didn’t use. Yes, it was that bad!

While spending 2 months there we were constantly on the search for child-friendly places, such as ‘King Fried Chicken’ and ‘Café Awaken’.

I honestly don’t know why people live in such a place, other than to escape civilization because of some secret they have. Many of the people we met had some very interesting story to tell :‑X

We became experts in many different cafes & would recommend the following:

Starfish bakery – they even do free Khmer lessons every Saturday afternoon.

Enocafe – Best coffee & pizza in Sihanoukville

The Bavarian – Best German food in Sihanoukville.

Hugo – I loved this place, run by a couple of Czech gents – the beer & food is cheap & wholesome!

You and Me restaurant – great local food & expat hangout

The Sandan – part of a non-profit charity chain. Expensive but nice for a special occasion

Waterhouse café (Otres)

There are some Vegan options, but I really don’t do cardboard food so can’t recommend them. I’m sure others have a better opinion than I. These were:

The Dao of Life

Yellow breakfast

As a treat get to Sokha beach resort, where you will be spoilt, but at $20 each for a day pass it is expensive. You can sit in and use the restaurant for afternoon tea and dinner for free though.

Otres beach is the main attraction, but the build-up of rubbish, which isn’t helped by the fact that the refuse company stopped removing waste whilst we were there, is making it worse. I believe it has been rectified, but it’s easy to throw rubbish over a wall, hoping n-one will notice.

Living in a basic hut with a fan can be great fun, as you can see from our Koh Rong trip, but some of the places on Otres are far too small.

Otres 1 is plagued by the poor road surface, which means you can’t even get a scooter to many of the places.

Koh Rong & Koh Rong Sanloem

The main attraction for Sihanoukville must be the islands of Koh Rong and its baby sister, Koh Rong Sanloem.

We only stayed on Sanloem for four days & it more than made up for the remainder of the time spent in ‘Snooky’.

I managed to get a couple of dives in Koh Rong Sanloem, but it’s not recommended as the visibility is so poor you can hardly see anything. Even when visibility is good, there’s not much to see as it’s been overfished, like so many places in Asia.

It’s definitely worth staying there for longer to explore the island and the many bars.

One of the highlights is the bio-luminescent algae in the water. As you swim, the trails of your arms and legs light up. One of those rare activities that a photo is almost impossible to capture.


We will still look for housesits but be more careful about the conditions we are prepared to accept.

Next stop – Kuala Lumpur

Phnom Penh – The troubled capital of Cambodia.

Phnom Penh – The troubled capital of Cambodia.

After Siem Reap, we stupidly decided to transfer to Phnom Penh and extend our visas there which takes a week. In hindsight, we wished we would have extended our stay in Siem Reap and extended our Visas there. (we didn’t do our research very well here for the visa options!, but the not so friendly customs officer in Hanoi, Vietnam didn’t help either)

There isn’t really that much to do in Phnom Penh apart from the Royal Palace, National Museum ( where there are a few original relics from Angkor) and the killing fields. It’s a worthwhile trip, but only for a maximum 3-4 days. As we travel as a family, I would n’t recommend SL21 and the killing fields for the faint-hearted and very young children.

Wat Phnom – Birthplace of Phnom Penh
King Ponhea Yat – the last Khmer King

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is a sight to behold. The buildings and mausoleums dedicated to the Royal family are tremendous. The monarchy is still held in high regard in Cambodia.

National Museum

When in the Angkor Museum, Siem Reap, there is reference many times to the original artefact being at the National Museum in PP. This is a slight exaggeration, as the museum is very small and many of the artefacts are in overseas Museums, such as Paris.

You can easily get around the museum within a half day.  It’s a worthwhile visit including one of the many not-for-profit cafes or restaurants nearby.

One of the torture rooms – you can make out a picture on the wall of one of the remaining victims left behind after the Khmer Rouge evacuated quickly.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – SL21

If you’re interested in modern history, a highlight (or lowlight depending on your viewpoint), was the visit to the ex-School-turned-prison for the Khmer Rouge in the late 70’s. The history of the Khmer Rouge and a chronicle of the Cambodian Genocide as part of Pol Pot’s ‘experiment’ into collectivist farms and forced labour. He was responsible for the deaths of approximately 25% of the Cambodian population, an estimated 1 to 3 million people.

Bear in mind the Khmer Rouge was in alliance with the Vietnamese Government against US-backed forces so the whole area is linked to the Vietnam War & so-called ‘Communist’ threat raging across Asia at the time.

Of 20,000 inmates of Tuol Sleng, there were only seven survivors, of which two were in attendance, Chum Mey being one of them. It is an uncomfortable experience meeting the survivors of such a camp. What do you say? I was lost for words when Chum Mey smiled and nodded to me. All I could think to do was return his smile, with my hand across my heart and lightly bow to him (as is common across Asia).

Kaung Kek Leu (also known as ‘Comrade Duch’) the prison commandant was sentenced only in 2010 to life imprisonment by a UN war crimes tribunal in Cambodia.

It is a harrowing, unforgettable visit which certainly tests your emotions.

Tuol Sleng Memorial within the gardens

Ghosts of Tuol Sleng

As everyone who has visited Tuol Sleng – I too have been stunned by the photos of the victims staring at me from the past.

“Ghosts of Tuol Sleng” is an attempt to shed new light on the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide, by presenting them in a different way than the usual mug shot, that everyone who visits Tuol Sleng will be familiar with.

By photographing the individual pictures in different light conditions, and with visitors to the museum interacting, my aim is to revitalize the victims, show them as human beings – who like you and I – just wanted to live, but never got the chance, dehumanized by a gruesome regime.

None of the pictures are manipulated, but are reflections of the light cast by the images on the glass that protects the photos.

Photographing the reflection of the image instead of the image itself, a ghostlike feeling passes through the pictures.

According to popular Khmer belief, a person who hasn’t been given a proper burial will have to live on as a ghost, unable to find peace. While shooting the pictures this was unknown to me.

When a person dies in Cambodia, the body is usually taken to the local monastery, where it’s cremated. At the funeral, Buddhist monks will chant prayers, to comfort the family and give the mortal’s soul a safe passage to the afterlife.

The gact that none of Tuol Slengs inmates were given a proper burial after being executed in the Killing fields at Choeung Ek 15km. outside Phnom Penh – is a continuing source of suffering for surviving family members.

Of Tuol Slengs 20,000 inmates only 7 survived.

Contrary to popular belief – we can only hope that the victims of Tuol Sleng have been able to find peace, and won’t have to live like ghosts in the afterlife. It’s hard to imagine that their suffering should continue after what they endured. I prefer to believe that it didn’t.

Yours sincerely,

Stefan V. Jensen

It is worth going to Phnom Penh but for only a long weekend, as then you will have covered most of the sights.

We stayed at the NKS hotel also known as Ny Ka Smy Hotel, which was one of the cleanest hotels we have stayed in. It is in an upcoming area of PP, a short walk away from the Russian market, with many bars. Unfortunately, the open sewer runs beside the hotel and we all fell ill. I assume when it rains the lack of a hygienic drain system means you walk the dirt into your room, even though it is common practice to take your shoes off at the door. Young kids with a severe bout of projectile vomiting is not fun.

It’s not really a place we enjoyed (possibly due to falling ill), but also due the lack of interesting activities.

Why troubled as I state in the title? While we were there the current ruling party declared they could dissolve any other party they wished. It doesn’t sound good for any form of simple democracy that exists at present.


Next Stop – Sihanoukville

Gateway To Angkor

Gateway To Angkor

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is a backpacker town, dedicated to serving the millions of tourists who visit to see the Angkorian temple ruins.

If you haven’t heard about Angkor Wat and the hundreds of temple ruins then here’s a brief history lesson.

Dating from the 9th to the 16th century, the Khmer empire ruled most of South East Asia (encompassing parts of modern Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand). Setting up its base in and around what is now the most extensive temple ruins worldwide at Angkor Wat.

When the western world was still living in the middle ages, massive empires were being built, what was an utterly alien land. The equivalent of finding a martian empire today!

The site was lost, or ‘hidden’ after the Siam empire overthrew the Khmer regime in the 16th century. Angkor Wat was re-discovered by Henri Mouhot (albeit controversial) in the 1860’s


Brilliant detail on a door lintel

Banteay Srei – Citadel of the Women

We also got to see another of the magical sites at Banteay Srei, which although small has some fantastic carvings. The best of the Angkor sites?

It is a small site, but very informative with separate buildings housing an explanation of the site. It is one of the most intricately carved places and makes for some great detailed shots

Look at this fella’

Look at this fella’

Cambodian landmine musicians giving a recital

Oversaturated? I know, but best to bring out the detail!

Phnom Kulen

Phnom Kulen (P’nom Koo’Lun), AKA Mountain of Lychees, is the location of K’bal Spean riverbed. We didn’t make it here, as it’s a trek which we didn’t want to do with the young girls. We did get to the animal sanctuary here – although a trek, we’d recommend this and the landmine museum on return to Siem Reap.

Particularly harrowing painting of the effects of mines

Apopo Humanitarian Demining – on the way to Angkor Thom: Mine detection using Rats

Roluos Group

The area of the Roluos group of temples was the starting point of the Khmer empire, where Jayavarman II from the mid 9th century built. These are Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko.

If you go here, then some people also make an excursion to see the stilted houses and floating villages on the coast of Tonle Sap lake, a 30-minute drive south. It is only advisable during monsoon season. Otherwise, the water level is too low.

Figure 1 Bakong and Wat

Bakong Peak from the wall

Bakong Wat Fauna

Preah Ko

Preah Ko

Ancient and New

Ancient Khmer script is similar to Sanskrit


Most disappointing due to being under cover

Lolei Buddha within temple on grounds

Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat became the capital of the Khmer empire and is the largest religious temple in the World. Built as a Hindu temple by Suryavarman II in the 12th century, it later became a Buddhist temple or Wat in the late 12th century, which it remains today.

It is a temple within a temple, as the inner temple resembles Mount Meru, the kingdom of the Hindu Devas (Gods). A 3.7km wall & moat surround the outer galleried temple built later.

It is a fantastic site and well worth spending a couple of days viewing and exploring.

Apsara Dancer

Ancient and New

The reality of crowds

Apsara Dancer

The churning of the ocean of milk

The Galleried temple holds a series of detailed Bas-reliefs dating back to the 12th century. It shows the king Suyavarman II going into battle. It is amazing that such a site still exists, even though it has gone through an extensive renovation project.

We spent the best part of a day just browsing through here.

Vishnu is surrounded by the Asuras (demons) and Devas (Gods) and fortunately the heavenly Apsara dancers providing much-needed encouragement obviously proved too much for the hot-blooded demons and the good willed out.

From the churning of the primordial soup was nature created


Battle of Kurukshetra

The signpost states: “The reliefs sculpted on the southern section of the western gallery represent the concluding episode of the Mahabharata, a renowned Indian epic tale. The Battle of Kurukshetra, when the Pandava and Kaurava clans meet in final deadly combat. Interestingly the Mahabharata is virtually unknown in modern Cambodia. Unlike the Ramayans, which continues to permeate all aspects of Khmer culture, the Mahabharata would seem to have faded from cultural practice and memory with the decline of the Angkorian Empire.”

Heaven & Hell

The sign-post at the entrance to Hell reads, “The reliefs sculpted on the eastern section of the southern gallery represent the 37 Heavens and 32 Hells derived from Indian traditions. The Hells on the lower registers are pictured in greater detail than the Heavens above. Each hell is in fact identified by an accompanying inscription. Thius we read “Avici”, “Raurava”, etc., names still known and feared in Cambodia today.”

It’s also suggested some of the graphic scenes were used as models for torture by the Khmer Rouge.

Heaven Hell

Hell for the poor buggers!


Graced in Heaven

Passes, what to see, when to go

I won’t go into so much graphic detail with any history lessons. This has been one of the highlights of our Asian trip. Enough information exists on the internet which is better suited for research. I hope you like my photo gallery of the site.

We got a seven-day pass, which is the maximum you can get without having to buy again. We made this last two weeks, as it is easy to become ‘templed out’ if you visit every day. The mid-day heat in Cambodia is not forgiving. As we had Amelie and Soraya, we went early morning for 8-9am or mid to late afternoon.

There was a lot of debate over the 70+% price increase before we arrived, as the prices had not increased in 10 years or so. The main debate surrounds who benefits from this.

Cambodia is struggling in many areas, such as the hospital which relies largely on charity donations. It would be ‘criminal’ if the proceeds only go into an offshore pot somewhere!

However, regardless of the politics surrounding this subject, the price is well worth it and makes the seven-day pass even more value than the one day and three-day passes.

My recommendation is have a quick guided tour of many of the main sites then drill down into where you want to concentrate more. We spent an extra day each at Bayon (The face towers) and AngKor Wat and tha Bas-Reliefs.

The tour guide is useful for $15 for two hours (a rip-off for Asia, but that’s the problem of USD pricing), but it’s also worth reading up a bit in advance.

Not forgetting we have a young family, they weren’t completely bored with the history lessons,

Ta Prohm

One of the other most famous sites is Ta Prohm, due to the ravages of nature, as creeper vines, strangler figs and other local fauna, strangle the temple ruins. They certainly make for some atmospheric shots.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom, sited just north of Angkor Wat is the site of the central city of Angkor. Built in the late 12th century under the rule of Jayavarman VII and housed up to 750,000 people at the height of its rule. The capital of the Khmer empire.

Main Gate

The main gate is approached, with the Devas (Gods) and Asuras (Demons) each pulling the head of the mythical serpent, Naga, in a battle against good versus evil.

The head represents King Jayavarman VII in Buddhist ‘bodhisattva’ or enlightened pose.




Following on from the main gate is the famous temple known for its Buddhist pose heads on every column, Bayon. The centre of Angkor Thom.

It is another of those sites we could spend days touring around. It also shows a Bas-relief on the outside wall as well as the hundreds of heads facing the cardinal directions on each tower.

As Soraya says:  Enfenfants!

Break time as it’s getting hot!

Amelie studying something….?

Amazing Window surround of Apsara dancers!


Terrace of the Elephants

The Terrace of the elephants, built by Jayavarman VII as a viewing platform for the King to review his returning armies. Attached to the palace of Phimeneakas, which is in ruins now, the Elephant bas-reliefs make for some great pictures.

The Terrace of the Leper King

The Terrace, named after the state of the discoloured and moss-grown statue on it. It is rumoured that it was also a tribute to King Yasovarman I who had leprosy.

Recent problems

The water level around the moat is what keeps many of the monuments from collapsing, as the water table supports the mass of many towers.

As with most of Cambodia, people are impoverished, so they congregate rapidly around this site. The level is under threat from over-use and unregulated pumping, which could cause a collapse of the temples. There are mass re-locations of built-up dwellings away from the area every few years.


If you have time, then definitely get a seven-day pass. If not a three-day pass, so you don’t get ‘templed out’ and visit the temples over a period with half days or so.

Visit the Angkor National Museum for some much-needed respite and research.


We also visited many places in Siem Reap, which is a Backpacker town serving visitors to Angkor Wat. There are enough highlights in Siem Reap to keep you busy during the evening.

From Pub Street, the Buddhist temples, such as Wat Bo to the locally made concerns training staff in skills (Senteurs d‘AngKor). We even went to a brilliant circus show. Phare – the Cambodian Circus, which gives Cirque du Soleil a run for their money!

Giving Blood!

While I was here, I gave blood to the local hospital. Something I’m always conscious of doing (being ‘O’ Rhesus neg). The hospital and other medical services rely on much-needed charity. The Swiss founder of the Hospital Dr. Beat Richtner, puts on his ‘Beatocello’concerts as a fundraising effort, but this can’t last forever. I would recommend visiting his site: http://www.beat-richner.ch/

Wat Bo – 100 Buddha’s

Amelie and the Cats (Wat Bo)

Kulen Apsara dance

If you plan on spending longer than one month in Cambodia, you don’t need to visit Phnom Penh directly. Get a local travel agent to organise it for you. We found out to our cost; it wasn’t any quicker to visit Phnom Penh.

Lowlights. Or how not to get scammed

We all want a bargain when on holiday. Western, wealthy visitors make easy pickings for Cambodian scam artists. Although the majority of people we’ve come across in Asia have been great, there’s always one rotten egg.

For a Tuc-tuc, ask the hotel/hostel you are staying with. The drivers should be English speaking to a basic standard. The hotels charge them a commission for pushing customers their way. After a couple of days, we took our driver & paid him the difference, less a discount, so we both won. The prices were $15 while the hotels kept $5. We paid $12 or $13 direct. We walked around the corner of the hotel to meet him.


Don’t ask the Tuc-tuc rider to take you somewhere for dinner. It will be at western prices, albeit reasonable quality but there is no need to spend $10 on the main course anywhere in Cambodia!

Be ready to politely and firmly say ‘No’, to the Tuc-tuc drivers as they do hassle you quite a bit. After living in the Middle East I’m not particularly ‘fazed’ by hassling hawkers, but others of a more delicate disposition might be.

In Asian terms, Cambodia (and anywhere which charges in USD for that matter) is expensive. You can still look around for some cheap, good quality food and lodgings.

We stayed at the ‘The Villa Siem Reap’, booked via Agoda. Great location, large family style rooms and a pool to cool down in. Good location for the town, but not too close that you suffer from the partying.

Next stop – Phnom Penh

After our visit to Angkor Wat & Siem Reap, we went to Phnom Penh. This was a hit and miss visit. See you next time!