Exploring Phnom Penh

Jared and I have had a wonderful time in Cambodia. We’ve loved working with the children at Bykota House, and taking time to explore this big city.

To better understand Cambodia’s history, we took a day to visit the killing fields and S21. If you want to read about that post, click here.

In Cambodia, motorbikes pulling a small carriage are called tuk-tuks, and they are the main form of transportation in Phnom Penh. It’s quite fun to have an open-carriage ride everywhere you go. If you are a little more adventurous, you can also take taxi-motorbikes. Jared and I did this several times. The taxi-motorbikes are men on motorbikes giving rides to others. They have no problem fitting themselves and two passengers on their little bike!Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phnom Penh is definitely a diverse city. You have the nice, well-kept areas that are absulutely beautiful, and you have the back streets that are covered with trash. IMG_1600
But regardless, all of the major sight-seeing areas are well kept and beautiful.

One very popular area in Phnom Pehn is known as the River Side. The walkway lining the Mekong River is dotted with flags from countries around the world. Also, on the weekends, there is a night-market. We went to the night market with some friends and learned that they have a large food-stand area in the back with very tasty food. Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, CambodiaThe Royal Palace is located near the river side, and it’s quite a sight to see. It’s been the home of the Kings of Cambodia since the late 1800’s (except during the Khmer Rouge reign).Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, CambodiaMarkets, markets, markets. There are lots of great markets in Phnom Pehn. Russian was closest to us, we went there the most. You can find anything from fresh produce to souvenirs.Phnom Penh, CambodiaPhnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Located near the Russian market is a fabulous coffee shop called Jars of Clay. This is a must-visit stop during your stay in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, CambodiaPhnom Penh, Cambodia
Take a few seconds to read their story and you’ll understand why I fell in love with this place. Phnom Penh, CambodiaPhnom Penh, Cambodia
Not only do they have a great mission, but everything we’ve ordered there has been great. Also, for you french-press fans, they sell it by the pot and bring the whole press to your table.

All in all, we had a great time sight-seeing in Phnom Pehn, but nothing could compare with our time spent volunteering with International Orphan Aid.

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Cambodia’s Gruesome Past

Over the three weeks that we stayed in Phnom Penh, Jared and I got out several times to explore the city. If you know anything about Cambodia, you know that it’s had a gruesome past. In effort to understand the culture, Jared and I made a trip to visit Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, and the Killing Fields.

Toul Sleng, also known as S-21, was a school-turned-prison by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. Seeing all of pictures and reading the stories put us both in a very somber mood. Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia
We also visited some of the Killing Fields located near the city of Phnom Pehn. Civilian prisoners were taking from S-21 in truck loads and dropped off at these fields. The Khmer Rouge would then execute them and place their bodies in mass graves.

As we walked through the fields, we noticed that bones were still surfacing from the ground. Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Here you can see pictures of bones which have surfaced from one of the mass graves. In the above picture, it is easy to make out three bones which have surfaced since the grounds keepers last collected them.Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia
After doing some forensic investigation to find out the approximate age and gender of the owners, these skulls were all stored in glass cases for people to see. Many of them have distinct marks from machetes, are cracked in half, or have bullet holes through them.

It is still hard to believe that approximately 2 million of the 7 million people in this country were ruthlessly murdered under the reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge… and that this all happened from 1975-1979!

Walking through Cambodia’s recent history was difficult, but it helped us better understand why Cambodia is where it’s at today.

Ancient Remains of a Great Kingdom

Visiting Cambodia has been top on my list for over a decade due to the ruins of Siem Reap. I absolutely love visiting ancient ruins of great kingdoms, and ever since Tomb Raider came out, I’ve been dying to see this place with my own eyes. Thankfully, all of my expectations were met, and I left feeling satisfied.

We arrived late in Siem Reap and after checking into our hotel, we headed out to explore for a bit. Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia

Not wanting to waste any precious time, we woke up at 4:30 the following morning to get an early start on our temple exploring. Even at 5am, we were able to find a tuk-tuk driver, and the ticket gates were open selling passes. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Wanting to avoid the crowds, we did things backwards. Most people head to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise, and then continue on to see the rest of the temple. We strted at Ta Prohm, and worked our way backwards until we got to Angkor Wat.

Ta Prohm was breath-taking. All of the trees growing around the ruins really made it feel like you stepped back in time as you walked through the temple grounds. Siem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, Cambodia

We explored other temples and ruins as we made our way to Bayon Temple.Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, Cambodia

As the day wore on, we finally made it to Angkor Wat, the largest of all the temples, and the largest religious structure in the world. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite because I can’t. Jared and I were awe-struck all day as we soaked in the ancient history surrounding us. Siem Reap, Cambodia Angkor Wat Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Angkor Wat Siem Reap, Cambodia Angkor Wat Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, Cambodia Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, CambodiaWithout doubt, our short visit to Siem Reap turned out to be one of my favorite days so far on trip. It is definitely a must to put it on and check it off of your bucket list someday!Siem Reap, Cambodia

Our fun in Siem Reap wasn’t quite over yet. After a day of exploring the temples, we wanted to check out the town some more. We ended up at the night market.Siem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, CambodiaJared lead me to a street vendor selling… food?
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After a crowd gathered around us, Jared informed everyone that I’d be eating tarantula and snake.Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, CambodiaI only ate a leg, and it honestly tasted fine… just like something fried. But, it was the thought of eating such a thing that made my stomach turn. I gladly gave the rest to my hungry husband who chowed it down like chicken. Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap, CambodiaYep, we ate snake as well. It didn’t taste as good as the tarantula, but it also didn’t taste bad, just something very hard that’s been fried. Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

Volunteering in Cambodia

Where do I begin with describing our time in Cambodia? We decided several months ago that we wanted to volunteer somewhere in Asia. However, after researching volunteer options, I became very worried about choosing an organization to work at due to the high amount of corruption that goes on in organizations recruiting volunteers in Asia.

You see, volunteering has become a big money scam in Asia. Many organizations use their facilities as a business to make money, instead of bettering the people and children. I’ve read countless volunteer-scam stories online, and it really made me worried about choosing an organization that I didn’t personally know.

I posted on Facebook to see if any of my friends had personal connections with an organization in Asia who might need some volunteers for a month in the spring. Our friend Kati reminded us that her parents operate a non-profit Children’s Home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Over the course of the the next few days, arrangements were made for us to stay with the Benz Family and help in anyway they could use us. Jared and I were very excited about this opportunity, but we didn’t know what to expect. Bykota House, Phnom Penh
We lived with the Benz Family at Bykota House for a short 3 weeks, and we loved every minute of it!

The first two weeks, we focused on spending time with the special needs kids. They all won our hearts over, and we will always cherish the precious time we spent with them. The last week we focused more on teaching the rest of the Children in school.

P.S. Yes, I’ll come out and say it–I’m really hoping that some of you fall in love with these children and come over to love on them!
Bykota House, Phnom Penh
This is Sammy. He is so sweet and full of love. We called him our little koala bear because he loves to climb up on you and cling to you like a koala.
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This is Tina. She is the most joyful little girl you’ll ever meet! She loved watching us play with the other kids, and she can laugh for hours on end.
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVF4_ajmVwA
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Sokchia also won our hearts over with his eagerness to learn and read. He can sit for hours with his pile of books.Bykota House, Phnom Penh Bykota House, Phnom Penh

At five years old, Theda is the youngest of the special needs kids. She is such a joy! She loves rolling around on the ground, but more than that, she loves being held in your arms. Bykota House, Phnom PenhBykota House, Phnom PenhBykota House, Phnom PenhBykota House, Phnom PenhBykota House, Phnom Penh

This is Hope; the most precious little girl you’ll ever meet. We had such a great time our first week playing games with her, but she got very ill and was hospitalized for several weeks. Thankfully, she came home the day before we left and we got to say goodbye to this amazing little girl.

http://instagram.com/p/lpU24xMJLg/

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Our entire time at Bykota House was filled with fun and laughter. We loved attending Small Group every Tuesday! Celebrating at the March Birthday party was a blast as well!Bykota House, Phnom Penh
We were also able to lead a Safety and Protection seminar. It was fun to play round with the kids while teaching them valuable material.
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Little did we know, Bykota House is home to the best pretzels in the world! Mark’s speciality? The Half Kilo Pretzel!
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Interested in being a part of the work God is doing in Cambodia? Contact Mark and Rhonda Benz to see what you can do to help out. They are always on the lookout for extra help and support! And trust us, it’ll be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made. Bykota House, Phnom Penh