Sihanoukville

After a few days in Phnom Penh it was time for the beach, so we headed down to Sihanoukville! We attempted to book a seat on one of the bigger tour buses, but unfortunately they were all full. We had been warned about the mini buses… they are faster, but can sometimes be crazy drivers. So we said, “How bad can the mini bus be?” Well, it might just be the way they drive in Cambodia but playing chicken with larger vehicles does not sound safe no matter where you are. It was a good thing that we were almost at the back of the bus, because we probably didn’t really see how many close calls we had! We won’t be doing that again.

We made it to Sihanoukville safe and sound, checked into our hotel, and made the short two block walk to the beach. The beach is beautiful! It’s lined with little restaurant/bars with heaps of tables, bowl chairs, and lawn chairs. The water is perfectly warm enough to enjoy but cold enough to cool off. We found some lawn chairs to sit and relax and enjoy a beach drink. A few travelers and a couple locals started up a game of soccer in front of us and they were looking for one more, so Adam joined in. Adam’s team definitely won, but he thinks it was due to the skills of the 13 year old local.

We had read that you can hire a moto (scooter), so the next day, we walked across the street and inquired. For $6 you get a moto for a WHOLE DAY! Trusting Adam at the wheel, we tested out the Cambodian driving. Luckily, there were not many people on the roads and a good number of them appeared to be westerners. We headed a few kilometers down the coast to a little less crowded beach, called Otres Beach, but still had a few restaurants and plenty of people wanting to sell you all sorts of things. You don’t have to move from your beach chair and you can buy sunglasses, jewelry, a bag of fresh fruit cut right there for you, get a massage, manicure, pedicure, they will even shave your legs! No joke, the first day we were there a woman came up and told me that she thought I could use my legs to be shaven. We spent the day laying in the sun and under our umbrella, jumping in the water when we got to hot, eating fresh fruit, drinking coconut water straight from the coconut, RELAXING!

The next morning we traveled back to Phnom Penh, this time we took the large tour bus and it was much better, though they definitely pack them to the max! There was one family of four sharing two seats and one girl that got on stowed her motorcycle in the luggage storage below the bus. We were dropped off at the airport and took a short flight to Siem Reap. Tomorrow we are off to see Angkor Wat!! I can’t wait!

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Phnom Penh

We arrived late Thursday in Phnom Penh.  When we woke up the next morning to explore this new city, it was a stark difference coming from Tokyo which is a risk adverse society, orderly and clean to Phnom Penh which is chaos with what appears to have few to no rules of the road or much else.

We attempted to walk to breakfast, our first mistake, as the sidewalks are covered in motos and tables and chairs with small stalls set up cooking all sorts of Khmer cuisine.  After being asked about 100 times, “tuk tuk sir/lady” we found ourselves at the main part of town.  If you look interested in anything here, there are about 10 people that immediately surround you to make sure you know that they can help you out with whatever it is and they have plenty of suggestions for you as well.  We are easy prey, so we signed up for a 3 hour boat cruise up the Mekong River and then found a nice tuk tuk driver, Mr. Curly Rath, who had planned a whole day for us.

Our tuk tuk driver, Mr. Curly Rath

Our tuk tuk driver, Mr. Curly Rath

Giant load on the tuk tuk... there were some even bigger than this!

Giant load on the tuk tuk… there were some even bigger than this!

Of course one of the biggest things to do in Phnom Penh is to visit Choeung Ek or the Killing Fields and S21, the remembrance of the atrocities from the Khmer Rouge.  That was our first stop.  It is such a tragic history.  In 1975 the Khmer Rouge regime were in power and under Pol Pot they trained peasants from rural Cambodia that were uneducated to join the army and killed an estimated 3 million Cambodians.  Schools, museums, hospitals, places of worship were all closed and educated people were forced out of their homes and accused of crimes that they hadn’t committed.  These people were sent to places like Choeung Ek and executed and buried in mass graves.  Choeung Ek is kept as a memorial now to all the victims of this terrible tragedy.  It is now a peaceful place where this story can be told and the victims remembered.  S21 is the site of a museum now where the halls of the old school are hauntingly covered with the faces of thousands of people who went through this terrible place.  It was amazing to see near the front of the museum two of the remaining living survivors, sharing their stories of this time.

One of the mass graves

One of the mass graves

Memorial to the victims

Memorial to the victims

I don’t think that anyone can ever really process such horrible events, so spending the afternoon on the river was a good place for us to be.  We floated by small villages seeing people jumping off their docks for an afternoon dip and laughing children splashing along the shores as their mothers sat nearby preparing food.  We visited a small village where they make silk.  This wonderful young girl showed us the process from growing the small silk worms to harvesting their cocoons and spinning the silk and weaving it on the loom.  We even had a chance to try it ourselves and of course they said they would hire Adam instantly!

Floating village

Floating village

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Winding the silk

Winding the silk

Me giving it a try

Me giving it a try

Adam working the loom

Adam working the loom

We were just about wrapping things up and they had shared a few bananas with us when Adam started clutching his stomach, saying he didn’t feel well and then started throwing up everywhere!  It was my initial instinct to move out of the way so I didn’t get hit by it and as I was moving away, the Cambodian women rushed in to comfort him.  Then they were coaching me on how I could rub his back and comfort him better.  They must have thought I was such a terrible wife!  With Adam feeling a bit better we headed back towards the city.

Sunset over the city

Sunset over the city

The following day we visited the Royal Palace.  There are a number of really beautiful buildings here, most notable, the Silver Pagoda which has 5,000 silver tiles each made with 1kg of silver.  We also visited the National Museum and Wat Phnom, meaning Hill Temple.  We met our friends Arun and Priya, from Australia, for a lovely dinner in the city.  Sunday we are off to the coast for some time at the beach!

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom

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Tokyo

Joe and Mayu dropped us off at the train station in Nagano and we hopped on the bullet train to Tokyo. Obviously it is incredibly fast but very, very smooth. We spent the last few days of our time in Japan in Tokyo. I’m not sure quite what I was anticipating, but it absolutely exceeded all expectations that I had. It is a huge city with a large and very effective public transportation system. It’s incredibly clean, people are friendly, and there are plenty of things to keep people like us busy!

Us with Mayu and Joe at the train station before we took the bullet train from Nagano to Tokyo

Us with Mayu and Joe at the train station before we took the bullet train from Nagano to Tokyo

The first day we woke up at 4:00am to try to get into the tuna auction at the Tsjukiji Fish Market (one of the world’s biggest fish markets and 1 of about 10 wholesale market in Tokyo). The first 140 people to queue up at this obscene hour get into the famous tuna auction. Unfortunately for us, we were about 10 minutes too late! So, you would wonder, what do you do with yourself when you’re awake so early in the morning?? You wander around until a few small establishments open and then you eat a huge SUSHI BREAKFAST!! Yes, we were surprised too! We really just wanted to sit somewhere inside where it was warm and have a cup of coffee, but we found ourselves eating the “chef special” which was an array of fresh sushi. Most of it was quite good, minus the sea urchin and shrimp head.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

 

Motor things that the fish are transported on

Motor things that the fish are transported on

 

These are the shellfish things that we ate in Hokkaido

These are the shellfish things that we ate in Hokkaido

 

The "chef special" sushi breakfast

The “chef special” sushi breakfast

We spent the rest of the day visiting the Tokyo Tower where you can have a 360 degree view of the city and just barely see Mt Fuji on a clear day. Cruising on a boat ride up the Sumida River to Asakusa to see the Senso-ji Temple. Wandering through a market where we sampled steamed buns with a sweet bean filling, which is quite good. We visited the electronics area of Akihabara which is a sea of neon lights and every sort of electronic item you could want! Adam could have spent hours there.

View from the Tokyo Tower towards Mt Fuji

View from the Tokyo Tower towards Mt Fuji

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Electronic Town

Electronic Town

The next day we did a tour of the imperial grounds and walked around, Shibuya and Harajuku, both great for shopping and people watching! We were there for Valentine’s Day which is interesting because it could actually be a bigger holiday in Japan than in the US. In Japan the women give men chocolate on the 14th of February and then on the 14th of March then men have to give women chocolate. We saw tons of women lined up outside of sweet shops waiting to buy the perfect chocolates for their men. We ventured out for dinner to a place that was recommended in our guide book and by a friend. After wandering around, lost in the cold for at least an hour we finally found the place! It was on this small, little, quiet street, but as soon as the door opened you would have thought we had just walked into a huge party thrown for us. The guys that work at this restaurant are so full of energy and have large, loud greetings for everyone that comes and goes from this wonderful little restaurant. We were so happy that we hadn’t given up on our search. We had a fabulous meal and went home happy.

The next morning we got up to travel to Phnom Pehn and I was really sick… something from our fantastic dinner was no longer so fantastic.

View from Imperial Palace grounds

View from Imperial Palace grounds

Temple at the Imperial Palace

Temple at the Imperial Palace

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Our once fabulous dinner

Our once fabulous dinner

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Niigata and Nagano Prefecture

This past weekend we flew from Niseko to Niigata Prefecture where Adam’s friend Joe lives and did some skiing in Niigata and Nagano, home of the 1998 Olympics. Joe and his fiance Mayu were such wonderful hosts, showing us around, teaching us about Japan, skiing with us, and being our translators. We had a really great time together! With four people, all of our gear, and Joe’s european car, we were a bit tight on space. Good thing we had a few Coloradoans and some tie downs handy!

We also visited the Jigokudani Yaenkoen Monkey Park where there’s a troop of about 200 Japanese Macaque. The monkeys come here to take onsen (natural hot springs). They are so cute to watch and it was so chilly the day we were there, we were wishing we could jump in there with them!

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More Pictures from Hokkaido

Finally, here are some more pictures from our time in Hokkaido.

Leaving Melbourne

 

Skiing Niseko

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The single chair lift

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Mount Fuji of the North… Not a bad view from the gondola!

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Big smiles for a powder day!

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Good thing that is in degrees C and not F

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The traditional Japanese drum performance at our hotel

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