Month: July 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Sick In Sihanoukville

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Parasite. Say the world to any traveller in South East Asia and you’ll get a look of wide-eyed horror. I know, it happens every time I tell this story. When travelling in South East Asia, it’s not uncommon to get a little bit of sickness and/or diarrhoea along the way. Most travellers will experience it when they go to a new country and maybe try some different foods. Some lucky travellers may not experience it at all. But what happens when you get really sick? Unfortunately, I have first-hand knowledge of this, so let me tell you my story…

The Beginning

I was in Kampot when I first started to feel unwell. On Sunday evening I had a couple of stomach cramps but thought they would pass. The following morning the cramps were agonising and I ended up spending the whole day within 5 metres of a toilet. I seriously hoped it would pass and that it was just a 24-hour bug. I was wrong. I’d agreed to meet my friend in Sihanoukville on Tuesday so we could go to Koh Rong together. I took paracetamol and a lot of Imodium and managed to get the 2 hour bus to Sihanoukville.

Sihanoukville

Once I arrived in Sihanoukville I went for a nap. I woke up because the agonising stomach pains had returned. At this point, I hadn’t been vomiting but I also had no appetite. I hoped that by drinking plenty of water I would stay hydrated and the bug would pass through. On Wednesday evening I started throwing up and it was apparent that I wouldn’t be going to Koh Rong the following day.

Seeking out a doctor

By Thursday afternoon, I was unable to keep any fluids down so decided it was time to see a doctor. I used Google to find out which hospital in the area would be best to visit and got in a tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk driver took me to a dodgy looking surgery and told me that the doctor spoke English. He told me that the hospital I’d asked to go to would make me wait a long time. I told him I didn’t care and that I wanted to go to the hospital I’d originally asked for. I ended up having to shout at him to take me to the hospital which he eventually did.

I got to the CT Clinic and was immediately seen by a nurse who took my temperature and blood pressure. She made notes of all my symptoms then I was seen by a doctor. The doctor said I would be staying overnight as they weren’t sure what was wrong with me.

I was put into a room and put on a saline drip. The staff all spoke English and were very nice. I had some blood taken (turns out they were testing for malaria and dengue) and was told to provide a stool sample (lovely).

A Diagnosis!

On Saturday morning the doctor came to see me and told me that the lab had figured out what was wrong with me – an intestinal parasite! Intestinal amoebiosis to be more precise. I was given two options – take tablets to get rid of it for 7 days, or take one very strong dose and stay in the hospital for an extra day, meaning I’d be better the following day. I opted to take the strong dose. I literally slept all day after I took the tablets.

Going Home!

Well, not home, but leaving the hospital. On Sunday morning I was released after I’d paid my bill. My bill can, fortunately, be claimed back on my travel insurance.

For the next few days, I slept a lot. I think after over a week of barely eating I was exhausted! I was just glad that the stomach cramps had gone because they were truly awful.

Moving Forward

Since being in the hospital I’ve definitely been more fussy about what I eat in South East Asia. For a week after being in the hospital I couldn’t eat any fatty, oily, spicy or raw food. Even now, over a month later, my stomach still doesn’t like any amount of spice, whereas before I could have some spicy foods.

I’m also extra paranoid about eating street food, especially if it’s been sitting out.

I was lucky to be able to get good medical care so my experience of being ill in Cambodia is different to so many other travellers.

What You Need to Know About Intestinal Amoebiosis

This particular parasite is contracted through drinking contaminated water, which in the case of South East Asia, happens to be the tap water. Obviously, I haven’t been drinking tap water in South East Asia, so the most likely way I got it, is from raw vegetables contaminated with the parasite. I’d eaten a couple of salads in Phnom Penh, so this seems the most likely way.

Not everyone that gets the parasite will show symptoms. Some people it might not affect and it can pass through unnoticed. Others may be unwell for a couple of days before it passes through. I was unlucky and it managed to latch on to my intestines. If left untreated, it can burrow through your intestines where it will then infect your liver, causing an abscess. It can eventually be fatal.

 

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Why You Need To Visit The Killing Fields

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Recently, I visited the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Cambodian history before I visited. But part of travelling is about learning, right?

The Killing Fields

The Choeung Ek Killing Fields, near Phnom Penh, are often more simply known as ‘The Killing Fields’. Choeung Ek is one of thousands of such sites around Cambodia, where 1 in 5 Cambodians is estimated to have died during the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime in the 1970’s.

Tourists can visit the site, where prisoners from the S21 prison were brought to be murdered. There is an audio tour which includes stories from survivors and is truly heartbreaking to listen to.

There are many mass graves, many of which are fenced off and adorned with bracelets, left behind by tourists. I’m not sure why bracelets are left – solidarity? Remembrance?

In the rainy season, it’s common for pieces of clothing and human bones and teeth to make their way to the surface. A stark reminder of the horrors that occurred in these now peaceful fields.

killing fields mass graves bracelets AlexExplorestheWorld I walked around the Killing Fields alone, even though I was with a group. Most visitors do the same. It’s shocking that a genocide of this scale happened a mere 30 years after the end of the Second World War.  

 One of the most shocking parts is the Killing Tree, now adorned with bracelets, with a sign simply saying, “Killing Tree against which executioners beat children.” 

killing fields tree phnom penh AlexExplorestheWorld

The final stop of the audio tour is the stupa, a lasting memorial to victims of the Khmer Rouge. Inside is a number of human skulls, categorised into age groups and how they died. It’s shocking to see because every single skull was once a Cambodian person, who died a brutal death. 

killing fields skulls phnom penh cambodia AlexExplorestheWorld

The narrator of the audio tour asks all listeners to remember what they’ve seen at Choeung Ek, in the hope that we can prevent similar atrocities occurring in the future.

“It is important for me that the new generation of Cambodians and Cambodian Americans become active and tell the world what happened to them and their families … I want them never to forget the faces of their relatives and friends who were killed during that time. The dead are crying out for justice.” – Dith Pran, from his compilation “Chldren of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors”

S21 Prison – Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

S21 is a former high school which became a prison under the Khmer Rouge. The site was kept top secret until liberated in 1979. Up to 20,000 prisoners were kept here. Only 7 made it out alive.

The tour takes you through the different cell blocks. Some were used to hold prisoners in extremely small cells. Some were used as torture rooms. When the prison was liberated, bodies of prisoners were left tied to beds on which they’d been tortured. A Vietnamese journalist documented this and the pictures can be seen on the walls of some of the cells.

Many of the former cells contain photographs of the former prisoners, many of whom tragically remain unidentified to this day. There were also descriptions of the brutalities faced by the prisoners, including waterboarding and other torture techniques.

s21 tuol sleng genocide museum AlexExplorestheWorld

After

By the end of the day, I felt I’d learned a lot about the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. It was awful to hear about the atrocities that happened, but I believe it’s important that people continue to learn and remember.

I still had some questions which I felt hadn’t been answered:

  • How much did the international community know about what was happening in Cambodia at the time?
  • Why did it take so long to bring the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge to justice?

It’s insane to think that this happened only 30 years after the end of the Second World War when the Allied forces were horrified to find concentration camps in Germany and surrounding Nazi-held countries. What’s worse, is that genocides have happened since, and continue to happen in the present day. Perhaps one day we can stop history repeating itself. 

 I experienced so much kindness from the Khmer people. It’s heartbreaking that anyone over the age of 40 lived through these horrors. 

For more information about the Killing Fields, please see the official website for the museums.

If anyone can answer my questions, please let me know!

 

 

 

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5 Things To Do For First Time Visitors In Phnom Penh

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“Phnom Penh isn’t that good. You’ll want to be in and out as quickly as possible. ” – What every traveller said to me when I told them I was going to Cambodia. I’ll be honest, I was slightly nervous to visit Phnom Penh, simply because it seems to have a bad reputation amongst backpackers. In actual fact, I was pleasantly surprised by Phnom Penh (although that could be that I was pleased to not be crammed into the back of a minibus, and I enjoyed what the city had to offer.

Here are a few sights to help you make the most of your trip to Phnom Penh:

1.The Killing Fields and S21

Killing Fields Phnom Penh AlexExplorestheWorld

Most tourists will visit The Killing Fields and S21 when in Phnom Penh. It’s awful to see what Cambodia went through a mere 40 years ago. I think it’s important for all people to remember the terrible parts of history so we can hopefully stop repeating them.

Entry to The Killing Fields and S21 is $6 each and includes an audio guide. Hiring a tuk-tuk for the day costs $18 and 4 people can fit in one tuk-tuk. I booked through the hostel I was staying in.

2. The Royal Palace

Cambodian Royal Palace Phnom Penh AlexExplorestheWorld

The Cambodian Royal Palace may not be as beautiful as the Thai Grand Palace, but it has a fraction of the visitors! The Cambodian Royal Palace is very beautiful and it’s easy to walk around. At no point are you trapped in a crowd, unlike the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It’s $6 entry to the palace and Silver Pagoda, which includes a map.

3. Markets

 Coconut Ice Cream Phnom Penh AlexExplorestheWorld

There’s plenty of markets to visit in Phnom Penh for keen shoppers. I went to the Weekend Night Market which was a great way to experience Cambodian food, as the market is mostly visited by local people. There’s also the Russian Market and the Central Market which are both popular.

4. Charities

Lunch Daughters of Cambodia Phnom Penh AlexExplorestheWorld

Cambodia lags behind the rest of South East Asia when it comes to development. 1 in 40 girls will be trafficked in this country. Really think about that number, and how high it is. A charity which I think does a great job is Daughters of Cambodia. DoC helps victims of trafficking by training them in a different industry and giving them an alternate way to make money other than in the sex trade. DoC has 9 different FairTrade businesses in Cambodia. I went to the Sugar ‘n Spice Cafe which had delicious food available to order (pictured above).

5. Sunset Cruise on the Mekong

Unfortunately for me, almost every day was cloudy in Cambodia, making a sunset cruise a little pointless. However, if you happen to be visiting when the weather is good, a sunset cruise would be ideal! The hostel I stayed in offered a sunset cruise for $10.

Do you have any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!

5 things to do in phnom penh 1

 

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Preparing for Myanmar

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I’ve been really excited to visit Myanmar ever since I decided to come to South East Asia. Maybe it’s because it’s probably the least Westernised country in the area. Or maybe it’s because Rudyard Kipling wrote so passionately about it. Or maybe I’ve just heard great things about it from everyone who’s visited.

Whatever the reason, Myanmar has a complicated history and has only recently elected a new government. This is why I’ve planned my trip to Myanmar more thoroughly than to other countries.

myanmar

Photo via Visualhunt.com

The Visa Situation

Myanmar gives out 28 days tourist visas, which cannot be extended. The visa must be obtained prior to travelling to Myanmar. This can be done either at a Burmese embassy or online. If you get an e-visa, you must fly into Myanmar. A visa obtained from an embassy allows you to enter via certain land borders. I got mine from the embassy in Bangkok, for 800 baht, simply because I was in the area and it’s the cheaper option.

Where Am I Going to Visit?

Myanmar only has a 28-day visa for tourists. I’ve done more planning as to where I want to go than I have done for any other South East Asian country. It looks like most tourists visit the same places, with destinations like Bagan and Inle Lake the most popular. I’d like to visit Mrauk U but I’m unsure whether that will be possible because the UK Foreign Office is currently advising against travel to this area. There’s a festival in Mandalay whilst I’m in Myanmar so I hope I’ll be able to see some of it.

Photo credit: Peter Voerman photography via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

Let’s Talk About the Weather

South East Asian countries have rainy/dry seasons so it’s important to check what season you’ll be heading there. From a quick search on average rainfall, it looks like I’ll be swimming through Myanmar, as August has the most rainfall of any month.

Safety

The UK Foreign Office website is a good starting point for safety and security tips. There is still political unrest in Myanmar between ethnic groups, so the Foreign Office advises to avoid those areas and even includes a handy colour-coded map.

Should I Take Anti-Malarials?

The choice to take antimalarials should always lie with the individual after taking advice from a travel nurse or doctor. I haven’t taken antimalarials in any other country but I intend to in Myanmar. This is because the risk of malaria seems to be higher there than in any other country in the region. The reason I haven’t taken antimalarials anywhere else is because I perceive the risk to be low and it would be expensive for me to take antimalarials for 8 months. Not to mention that many antimalarials come with undesirable side effects, such as additional sensitivity to the Sun, something my skin definitely does not need.

The generic version of Malarone can be bought at ASDA Pharmacies in the UK and are a lot cheaper than a prescription. Mine cost £45 for 35 tablets. You need to tell the pharmacy the exact dates you plan to be away.

Check Fit For Travel if you want any further advice on health abroad.

Photo credit: edans via VisualHunt / CC BY

Myanmar or Burma?

The military changed the name to Myanmar back in 1989. Some Burmese people disagree with the name change because the military, as an unelected power had no right to change the name. The UK and the USA still use Burma as the official name, whereas the UN and most of the world use Myanmar. From looking through a couple of guide books, it seems that most Burmese people don’t really mind which name is used. More can be read about this here (I know the article is quite old).

Is anyone else planning a trip to Myanmar? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share in the comments below.

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Laos to Cambodia – A Journey Not To Be Repeated

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Crossing the border from Laos to Cambodia should be easy, right? When a travel agent in Laos tell you that you’ll be getting a direct bus from the border, you expect to get a direct bus from the border. Of course, this wasn’t the case and thoroughly rounded up my case that all transport in Laos is a bit rubbish. Here’s the length of time the journey should’ve taken:

Leaving Laos

As the heading suggests, the journey to Phnom Penh was not one of my favourites. I’d booked a ticket from Don Det, Laos, to Phnom Penh. This whole trip cost around $23. Something which really grinds my gears about travelling in South East Asia, is the waiting around. Waiting, always waiting, yet no one seems to know why. I got the boat from Don Det to Nakasong at 8am. I waited for over an hour to get a bus to the Cambodian border. This was probably the most comfortable vehicle I travelled in all day, even with its limited leg room.

Border Scams

The guy who seemed to be in charge of organising the trip to the border offered to sort our visa out for $40. This is unnecessary – it’s simple enough to do yourself without the extra cost. He did get a little rude with us when we refused.

I paid $2 for an exit stamp from Laos. And yes, I’d already read that this is a scam, and yes, I knew that technically I didn’t have to pay it, but considering you can’t enter Cambodia without a Laos exit stamp, what was I supposed to do?

The Cambodia border was slightly better. Only the ‘quarantine’ scam was open to us (hint: walk straight past them). They’ll tell you that you need the form if you need medical treatment in Cambodia. This is a complete lie – I ended up in the hospital in Cambodia and not one staff member asked for my quarantine form. A visa can be obtained on arrival for $35.

Finally in Cambodia

By this point, it’s heading towards lunch time. The whole group had to wait by the border for around an hour to get transport to our next destination. 16 of us squeezed into a minivan with our luggage, heading for a destination unknown to us. We knew we had to stop somewhere as the group was a mixture of tourists going to either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap.

We stopped at a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere but close to Stung Treng. We were there for perhaps an hour when a minivan came to pick up the group heading towards Phnom Penh. There were empty seats in the minivan, which seemed too good to be true. Of course, it was. About 5 minutes later we were dropped off and told to get on another bus. The bus was full. As in, the driver was sharing his seat full.

It took over half an hour to leave Stung Treng. Once we finally got moving, the driver kept stopping to pour water on the front of the bus which kept overheating.

The bus arrived in Kratie around 5pm and we had to change buses there. We were put in the back of a minivan. By this point, I was one of two westerners left travelling to Phnom Penh. We were in the back with no legroom and squished next to everyone’s luggage. Everyone else on the minivan seemed squashed as there were double the amount of people there should’ve been.

We spent 5 hours crammed in the back of the minivan, music blaring, legs cramping, but we made it to Phnom Penh!

What I Learned

  • Transport in Laos is officially the worst in South East Asia (I’m yet to experience Vietnam or Myanmar but I’ll keep you posted!)
  • Don’t attempt the journey from Don Det to Phnom Penh in one day. Maybe stop in Kratie or go to Siem Reap.
  • Always take extra dollars for land borders.

Want to read more? Check out my posts about my time in Laos!

 

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