The Capital of Cambodia: Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh was my first destination in Cambodia and it is the capital. I took a bus for 9 USD from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh and the trip took around 7 hours. Crossing the border was easy. The bus company took care of the visas by asking passports and money (35 USD) and everything went smoothly. The first thing I saw in Cambodia were big casinos at the border, which was quite surprising. There weren’t many hotels or houses so it made me think that who goes to the casinos near the border?!

A pickup from the bus stop was included in the hostel room price so I had no problem to find the hostel because there was a taxi driver waiting for me at the bus stop. The hostel is near Wat Phnom which I went to see on the first day. I didn’t go anywhere else on that day because I was dead tired after the bus trip. I went to sleep at 9 am! The night was crazy because I saw couple of dreams that felt real and I wasn’t sure if they were dreams or not. The other dream was a repetition of the other day when I bought sunglasses. Except in this dream the vendor didn’t sell the sunglasses to me. After I woke up I had to check that do I have the sunglasses or not :-D and I did have them. The other dream was a bit more thrilling.. I saw a dream where the guy on the next top bunk bed was singing extremely loud in the middle of the night and I asked him to sing in the morning or when people are not sleeping. I found out later from others that he was actually hitting and kicking his bed and fighting about something… I still don’t know if I said anything hehe..

My second day in Phnom Penh was pretty boring because I stayed almost the whole day in the hostel. I had to sacrifice one day for school assignments because they have a deadline so I had no choice. And it is my last university course so I didn’t actually mind. I spend most of the time in the bar / restaurant area where they play good music, the chairs are comfortable and it is a kind of an outdoor area.

On the third day I finally had time to go and see what Phnom Penh has to offer. I left already 9 am because I woke up quite early again, and I came back to the hostel around 4:30 pm so I spent quite many hours in the downtown. I decided to walk as much as I can and take a tuk tuk when I get tired. After doing almost nothing for two days, except sitting, I just wanted to walk around. First I went to National Museum of Cambodia which was a bit of a disappointment. The entrance fee was 5 USD which is quite a lot. Due to the high price I was expecting something great but the museum was just full of ancient sculptures. I usually skip sculptures but this time I couldn’t.. At least they had really nice and interesting sculptures of Buddhas and Hindu gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). The museum building and its yard were really nice too. But I wouldn’t say that all this was worth of 5 USD.

After the National Museum I visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was about the horrible genocide that happened right after the civil war. The genocide ended in 1979 which is only 36 years ago. 2 million people were killed. The history and the recorded evidence are very disturbing. The rulers of Khmer Rouge, that was behind the genocide, forbidded education and thought that power lies in work. People were forced to work and people who somehow seemed “suspicious” or opposite to forced labor were put to prison or were killed or something else horrible happened to them. The prison time was full of sadistic torture. Just awful to hear and see. I decided to skip Killing fields because I think Tuol Sleng museum has shown me enough of this part of the history of Cambodia. Plus it is a bit expensive to go there because it is a bit far from the city.

I guess going to sleep early and waking up early feels natural now so I won’t try to force myself to change it even thought I’d like to wake up later. Today I woke up early again and went to see the Royal Palace. Because I was quite efficient yesterday, I had nothing special left for today. So I just walked around the city, went to the river and enjoyed the warm breeze and had an ice coffee and a fruit shake. The Royal Palace was really nice even thought I think that the entrance fee was quite high again, 6,25 USD. You enter to a yard which is full of beautiful buildings and nice flora. Visitors need to dress conservatively here. I also got a sunburn today because I was careless and forgot to put more sun cream. The sun and the weather seemed a lot hotter today compared to yesterday.

I also encountered today two young girls who were selling bracelets. I was sitting on a bench near the river and the girls came in front of me and laughed a bit. Then they explained that they had tried to guess what is my nationality. The other one guessed Japanese and the other one Chinese. I laughed a bit too hehe.. Then they asked me that what is my home country and I had to explain a bit because they had never heard of it (like most of the Vietnamese and Cambodians who had asked my nationality). They said that they aren’t selling anything because they have a free day but of course they tried selling me the bracelets. I said that I have only 1 USD extra so if they agree I can buy a bracelet from both of them with this one dollar. They gave me great discount and I let them pick me the bracelets. We talked a bit and it is hard to not be sad when you hear that kind of stories. They were really cheerful, full of joy but still didn’t possess much.

Overall I enjoyed Phnom Penh a lot. I was a bit surprised about the higher prices because I thought Cambodia would be cheaper than Vietnam. But I have heard that Phnom Penh is more expensive than for example Siem Reap. Basically all the meals that I had (breakfast and dinner) cost around 3 USD (from the cheapest end) and the tuk tuks were quite expensive (one trip in the city 2-4 USD). I had really yummy fruit shakes that cost only 1-2 USD and the motorcycle taxis are cheaper than tuk tuks so not everything seems expensive. The city had nice atmosphere and the people are nice and they have good sense of humour. On the other hand I got the impression that there are more poor people (or they are more visible), there were more children selling stuff and I also encountered few beggars (old and disabled people). I also saw how a woman left a baby on a pavement and left somewhere. The baby was on an asphalt without pants and only a thin blanket under him/her. I don’t know how that ended but I didn’t feel comfortable and I am afraid to see other disturbing things..

Comments about the hostel Eighty8 Backpackers:

  • Rooms, beds and washroom are ok
  • Receptionists seem not very proactive, and when you are asking something it feels like you are disturbing them
  • Bar staff ok and the food is good (also prices very affordable)
  • Breakfast not included
  • There were two blackouts during my stay, and the internet isn’t very good which made me write this post twice and once the restaurant “forgot” my order because of the internet (kitchen didn’t get the information)
  • There is a pool and a pool table (freeee)
  • Bed in a mixed dorm (6 people) is 7,75 USD per night
  • For some reason I got 3 USD voucher to the bar..

Japanese Bambi

Yey I had the Japanese language mid-term exam today. The semester is officially in midway which makes me a bit sad and happy at the same time. This means that I’ve been here already for 2,5 months and I still have 2,5 months time to explore Japan. At the same time it means that I am almost done with all the courses that I need to study for my degree. But don’t get too excited I still have a master’s thesis to write when I return to Finland…

Anyway I was pretty happy after the exam because I studied quite a lot for it and I think it went well. After the test I realized that I’ve been studying Japanese language only for two months and I am able to say many things in Japanese and write a bit. I may not understand it much but at least I’ve learned something. :-D I even know around 45 kanjis (not my favourite part of studying the language).

I have been quite busy this week with school stuff and I still have few things I need to do during the weekend. This weekend I plan to go to see the autumn colours and maybe try to go an onsen. I found one option where one can go also to a sauna!! I reeaally hope I can go and warm up in a sauna because the weather is getting colder and colder. Luckily we have sunlight for at least 12 hours during the day. I hope the days won’t get much darker…

Last weekend we went to Nara. Nara is around 45 minutes away from Kyoto (by train) and it costed around 600 yens (like around 4 euros) to get there. One of our teachers told us that Nara and Kyoto were the only cities in Japan that weren’t bombed during the Second World War because they had so many World Heritage areas. Nara is also famous of the deers because they live in the city. Legend tells that a god (Takemikazuchi) arrived to Nara riding on a deer and since then the deers have been regarded as heavenly. I thought that there would be only few deers but the tourist area was packed with deers.

If you travel to Nara bring water bottles and snacks with you because we found it a bit challenging to find convenience stores in the touristic area of Nara. It is reasonable that they do not sells snacks there because once you are eating something the deers want to get to know with you (or more speficially with your food). Also it might be wise to look for a restaurant in before hand. We just went there without any recommondations of local restaurants and ended up after a restaurant search eating pasta in some cafe. It was the saddest pasta I’ve ever eaten. I ordered a creamy pasta with three or four different mushrooms.. reality was that the pasta was small and I could barely see or taste the mushroom(s) but the at least it was creamy as the menu promised.

The deers were so cute and interesting though. Although the deers were nice one should still be careful because they are still wild animals. They can attack you if they want to! You can also buy special cookies and feed the deers but I didn’t want to do it after I saw how the cute deers turned into little devils. Once someone showed they had a cookie the deers became a bit aggressive and some deers started biting pieces of cloths and rubbing their heads on the cookie holders with a demanding look on their faces. Some had a little more delicate approach and bowed for a cookie.

I really loved the deers and the Todaiji temple with the huge Buddha. Here are some pics from the trip to Nara:

Next we plan to go to Kobe and to Tokyo.




Bohemian rhapsody

I’ve been here so far a month but it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for so long. Now that the courses have started and I have a some sort of a daily routine the time seems to fly. I have classes every day but on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I have only one class which is perfect start and end of the school week. For the first week we were able to go to classes and check what the teachers say about their courses and after the first week we had to enroll for the courses. I chose first 11 courses but I am dropping off two so in total I’ll have 9 courses. We will study all the courses through the semester and in the end of the semester we will have exams or reports. We have one class of 90 minutes every week. I have three courses of Japanese language so I am expecting to actually learn some Japanese during my stay here :-D

I remember reading earlier this year an article about the hardness of different languages and I remember that Japanese was in the category of “the hardest language to learn”. I can totally agree with that. So far the writing system is still a mystery to me but I become ridiculously happy when I am able to read something although I might not understand the meaning of the word. I get the same reaction if I understand what someone is saying in Japanese or if I spot a familiar word. I believe that I can learn the basic grammar quite easily and the pronunciation (you pronounce Japanese words the same way like Finnish words) but learning the words can be a struggle.

Watashi no namae wa Jaana desu. Watashi wa finrandojin desu.
My name is Jaana. I am Finnish.

Easy, right?

This week we will have another welcome party in another dormitory (there are five dormitories which equals five different welcome parties). Last weekend after the dormitory party we decided to stay in the city for the whole night. Our last train leaves from Kyoto Station around 00:30am and the first train starts to work around 5am so we really need to decide whether we want to go home early or stay up the whole night. After the dormitory party most people from the party went to a bar where you can sing karaoke. Before that we were able to lose one of us (still no one really knows how it happened) but we found him outside when were changing the bar to another place. Later we decided to go and rent a private karaoke room which is very popular here. People usually go there to sing or to sleep and wait for the first train of the morning. We did both :-D Mainly boys were singing and the girls were enjoying the show and sleeping a bit. There were also some small music instruments. The Japanese really love karaoke and singing, which was a surprise to me. Some even go and practice alone in order to improve their singing skill. So cute! I will be truly surprised if I will ever sing publicly.

Today I had a happy moment when we got gym accesses, yey!!! We had to take part in a “training room orientation workshop” which was held, of course, in Japanese but there was a person who was able to explain to us in English that how does the gym system work. It made me SO HAPPY. The Japanese part lasted 30 minutes and I could see that the instructor was also making demonstrations of how to use the gym equipment.. :-)
There will always be professionals who can help us if we want to ask about techniques and also a physiotherapist.

I am also planning to go to check out the basketball practices but I need some encouragement. I’ll keep you updated if I ever am brave enough to go and play.

Sorry no pics this time! Have a nice week :-)

PS. We had a small typhoon here on a night between Sunday and Monday. Because of it first two lectures were cancelled. It is usually a precaution when there are typhoons and if the typhoon is strong there might be more cancelled classes.

What’s up?

I am starting to feel that this place is like a home. Our own little crew consists of less than 10 people. We live in the same dormitory and there are also other foreign students (mostly Chinese) but we don’t really know them, and we have two helpful Japanese tutors who live also in the same dormitory. There are people from Indonesia, German, Canada, Italy, Romania, Thailand and Finland. We have a few courses that are only for us but in other courses there are also other students like Japanese.

We started learning Japanese last week which is very nice because my motivation to communicate in Japanese is pretty high. Outside university I haven’t met yet many who can speak English and in university the situation isn’t much better (some students speak well, luckily). So for example to find any information I need to learn some Japanese :-D I have actually managed altready to ask something in Japanese successfully! Yey!

The Japanese writing system includes hiragana, katakana and kanji. Hiragana and katakana both have 46 basic characters and kanji has… I don’t even know how many characters! Now I’ve started learning hiragana and so far I maybe know about half of all the characters… *sigh*
So my advice is to LEARN hiragana and katakana before you come to live in Japan.

I’ve attended to couple of parties which have been really interesting experiences. I haven’t been yet in a club or a bar so I am looking forward to see what’s the nightlife like. Our problem is that if we go to party late we have to either take the train that leaves 0.30am or the next possible train that leaves around 5am. Last Saturday we were at one dorm party and there will be also four more including our dormitory’s party. Ryukoku University’s all five dormitories are organizing a welcoming party, and next party will be on Friday. It is just chitchatting, hanging around and getting to know to new people (with some drinks and food).

Yesterday (yes Sunday!) we participated in “all you can drink” party which might sound notorious. To my “fortunate” they didn’t have almost anything I could drink. As I am not so young anymore and I have sampled quite many different drinks in my life, I know what I should avoid. They are called cocktails with liqueur. To my “fortunate” the whiskey that they had wasn’t really to my taste and beer was always running out when it was my turn to order. Also they didn’t have gin although it was on the drink menu :-D so I just enjoyed the music and watched people getting wasted. There was live music which I really like. Doesn’t even really matter what kind of music if it’s played live.

The weather is still very warm (to me hot). The weather forecast says that during the day it is 25-28 degrees. We should be happy because normally it is a bit colder already. Some people are wearing already autumn clothing! I bet I am still wearing summery clothing when it is November.

One thing that almost makes me flip is that I get mosquito bites but it is impossible to hear the mosquitoes. And when you see them it is almost impossible to kill them because they are so fast!

I’ll end this post with a mosquito-themed haiku:

“All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes.”
Kobayashi Issa