Don’t leave Venice if you don’t…

Venice, Italy is a beautiful island and definitely as must visit places in Italy. Venice is definitely is in the top 3 places to see in Italy. I am not too sure whether it’s me or Italy is just so mesmerizing that makes me want to come back for more. On my previous trip (which was a long time ago in 2005), I was fortunate to have visited Rome, Florence, Siena and Pisa. So I was looking forward to visit the other places such as Venice and Milan to complete my must visit in Italy. Look out for Milan write up soon but for now, let’s focus on Venice.

Venice is a city in the north-eastern of Italy which consist of 118 small islands. How amazing is that. It is a small island however it has been pretty much the same since a long time ago. Venice is listed as one of World Heritage site. Venice is also one of the most romantic places to be especially with your special one.

Here is my take on what you can’t miss in Venice!

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Venice, San Marco

~ Get lost in Venice

It’s very easy to get lost here so it’s important for you to get your directions right. Get a map from the hotel and try to spend a little bit of time to understand what’s where. If you are a smart phone user (which I am sure you are one) then it’s a good thing. I downloaded a few offline map and city guide on my Iphone6+ which turned out to be a great help. The function ‘locate me’ in these apps helps to identifies where you are at and you can figure how or where to go from there. Do note that the street / road name are on the building itself.

~ Grand Canal

The Grand Canal is the entry point to Venice. If you are travelling by bus, train or car, you will end up here being the main access point. Since Venice is free of any motor vehicle, you will be traveling by water buses, taxi or gondolas. The Grand Canal stretches for about 3800metres till Saint Mark Basin. The banks of Grand Canal are lined with many buildings which are mostly from 13th to 18th century. You will find many luxurious hotels along the Grand Canal. It’s also a beautiful area to check out especially at night despite being a busy spot.

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Grand Canal

~ Piazza San Marco

Also known as St Mark’s Square is a public space surrounded by St Mark’s basilica, clock tower and Doge Palace. Saint Mark Basilica is cathedral church of Roman Catholic since 11th century. The interior of this building is fascinating however we choose not to visit. Anyhow, should you choose to enter, do be prepared for a long queue for tickets. Otherwise check with your hotel on how to buy tickets in advance which will save you a lot of time.

The buildings here are beautiful and with lots of amazing structure. It’s a pretty good are for photo moment and perhaps hang out. Florian café is just around the corner. This café has been around since 1720 and one of the oldest café still in operation. Do note that the prize is steep considering its prime location. We were here and hoping to try it out but unfortunately they only serve light food and pastries which was not what we wanted.

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Piazza San Marco.

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Piazza San Marco.

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Piazza San Marco.

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Piazza San Marco.

~ Venice cuisine

Seafood is a must have here as it’s easy to get and fresh. Spritz is a common drink here in many cafes and restaurants. It is a combination of white wine, bitter and sparking water. Do not skip Tiramisu, yes the must have dessert in Italy. Many say that this delicious dessert is actually originated from Venice. The list doesn’t stop here. There is so many other things you should try, from Venetian wine, pasta dishes, the Bellini, pastries, coffee and so on…

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Gelato @ Nicos

~ Rialto Bridge / Market

The Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) is the oldest bridge across the canal. Also famous for the Rialto market which is a must see place. The market has been in operation for 7 centuries. The vegetable and fish market are open from early morning till about 12pm. This is a place to sight fresh vegetable and vivid seafood which makes good photo opportunities. The fresh fruits are so tantalizing.

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Rialto Market

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Rialto Market

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Rialto Market

~ Island hopping; Murano, Burano and Torcello.

Murano is a small island next to Venice. They are made famous for being a world class glass producer which is known as Murano glass. Burano is made famous for its lace and also for its fisherman houses painted in bright colours. Torcello is the first centre of civilization. The main attraction is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta which is founded in 639.

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Torcello Island

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Murano Glass factory

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Fisherman houses in Burano Island

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A small shop selling Lace products, Burano Island

~ Gondola

Firstly, I have to declare that I didn’t take any gondola ride. Let me share with you that it will cost 80Euro for a 40minutes ride in a gondola that can fit about 4-6 adults. Since it was only two of us we decided to skip this and spend our money elsewhere. There are many places that you can hire a gondola however the rates are about the same. Beware that by taking gondola at popular places which end up being stuck a little longer in traffic congestion. Nonetheless, it is a very popular among tourist.

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Venetian Gondolas

Well there you go a summary of Venice. Despite all that Venice expects about 3,000,000 tourists recorded in year 2006. Can you imagine how many tourists would have visited in 2015?

Have you been to Venice? If yes, let me know if I had missed out anything. If you have not been here, would you consider visiting Venice soon? Feel free so share some comments below.

Brussels… often overlooked but you shouldn’t!

Brussels is the capital and largest city of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union (EU) and headquarters for NATO. A lot of people tend to skip Brussels when they are in Europe. I have made the same mistake too earlier. This time I was determined to see what Brussels has to offer.

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Map of Belgium.

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Travelling from London via Eurostar.

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The Brussels Central Station

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A short walk to the hotel.. beautiful sunny day!

We arrived at Brussels Midi via Eurostar train from London. From here you will need to take a train to get to Brussels Central which is a metro and railway station in the central of Brussels. The journey from Brussels Midi to Brussels Central only took a while (less than 10minutes) as it was only two stop away. After getting our directions right, we decided to walk to our hotel which is located pretty near from here.

We reached the hotel in about 10 minutes. It seems to be in a good location and I can see lots of eateries and shops nearby. Without wasting time we got ourselves checked in and ready to explore Brussels. The location of this hotel is just perfect, just a few street away from the Grand place. I will be posting about the hotel in another post soon.

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Walking around in Brussels.

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Walking around in Brussels.

So what is considered as a must do when in Brussels? Well, here is my take on that;

Discover the city on foot. There is so much to see when you are exploring the city on foot. The city is not that big and you can see most things in one day.

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The Grand Place, Brussels.

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The Grand Place, Brussels.

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The Grand Place, Brussels.

Grand Place.

This a must see buildings in Brussels. It’s a huge cobblestone square with amazing buildings from the earlier centuries (some reference say from the 12th century). Amazing architecture and if can, check out the view at night. The surrounding area are now occupied by many cafes and restaurants. It is an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998.

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Enjoying our meal @ Fritland.

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This is one of their signature sandwich, chicken @ Fritland.

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Lots of waffle shops like this one..

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Waffle with dark chocolate dressing and fresh strawberry. This was really really good!

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Churros. What can i say it was good too! Drizzled with nutella & caramel sauce, whipped cream.

Waffles, Chocolate, Beers, Mussels and Fries.

These are some of the food which are very famous in Belgium. There are so many different shops/café who claims to be selling the best version so it all depends on your budget.  You can also check with your hotel on where to go to get these.

Do check out my review on Pierre Marcolini chocolate here: http://www.tripadvisor.com.my/ShowUserReviews-g188644-d2090796-r290614503-Pierre_Marcolini-Brussels.html

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All these people are here to see the little fella..

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Here is the little fella, The Manneken Pis.

Manneken Pis.

Its basically means ‘little man pee’ which is a small bronze sculpture and considered as a landmark. Apparently it has been there since 1619. The statue is located at the junction of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat.

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Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

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Inside of Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

This is a Roman Catholic Church. The church was given cathedral status in 1962. The patron saints of the church, St. Michael and St. Gudula, are also the patron saints of the city of Brussels.

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The entrance of Galeries Royales St Hubert.

Galeries Royales St Hubert.

Located near the Grand Place, the Galerie de la Reine is beautiful shopping mall. You will find lots of luxury boutiques, chocolate shops, watchmakers and restaurants in here.

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Hard Rock Cafe Brussels. A must place for me to visit in any country.

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Hard Rock Cafe Brussels. A must place for me to visit in any country.

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Brussels seems to be famous for their street art too..

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This is right in front of the hotel. So many shops, cafe and stores around. Very convenient.

To wrap it up, I loved Brussels. It was pretty easy going and quite laid back city. I do enjoy the food especially the chocolates!

Krabi…the story of day three!

This is our 3rd day in Krabi and also the last day here. I got up late and had breakfast at the hotel. Didn’t rush at all and taking everything in so slowly. After that, we went for a walk in the town area and the beach front. Everything seem so calm and serene since it was early. A total contrast on how this place would be in the evenings, mostly hectic and noisy or rather ‘happening’. I also notice that there are many shops are being handed over to ‘foreigners’ to run the place which i feel loosing its authenticity. Also, there are many western/Indian/middle eastern eateries here which over shines the local Thai restaurants which i feel rather off odd about. I hope the locals there will put some control on this matter.

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Some of the shops which are just opened for business.

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At the beach.

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At the beach.

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At the beach.

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Along the beach side.

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Shops at Ao Nang..

I stop by and got souvenirs to be brought back home including a few packets of tom yam paste! Which by the way was really good! Haha. Krabi has been a ‘gentle’ trip to unwind and relax in that 3 days time. I managed to do what  I wanted to do, lots of food and massages. The people here has been good to us and shown us what is good hospitality is all about. As usual, I always liked Thailand for the people and how pleasant they are. Hmm which part of Thailand should I visit next?

Krabi…The story of day two!

Day two at Krabi. We have booked for elephant ride and ATV ride for today. We had breakfast at hotel and waited for our transport which arrived on time. Despite being to Thailand for many times, this will be my first time trying out these activities.

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Me in the tuk-tuk which is the transport of the day!

The driver picked up other guest from surrounding area before heading on our journey to the elephant ride. It took about 1hour 30minutes for us to reach here. For obvious reason, the elephant ride is located in jungle where elephant feel most comfortable at. Upon arrival we were entertained by a baby elephant show which lasted for about 15minutes. The show was good and the baby elephant was cute. You have an opportunity to take some photos with the baby elephant.

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The baby elephant show.

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The baby elephant show.

Here comes the actual reason why we came here, for the ride. We got on an adult elephant, looks kind of old. The two of us sat on the back of the elephant and off we go with the ride. It was slow ride but I would say quite bumpy. The ride lasted about 15minutes going through the jungle terrain which was awesome. It’s amazing how such huge animals are able to keep good balance especially when we are on his back. After a while, the elephant that we were on kept pausing his walk, the handler gave him a couple of really hard knock on his head and the elephant started to move. That thing spoiled the whole experience. We felt sorry for the elephant and for the way it’s being treated.  When we got down from it, we bought some bananas to feed the elephant.

Don’t judge me based on this, I was merely curious to try this out since it is being offered here. It’s a one in a lifetime experience and once is enough.

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On the elephant..

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Our elephant ride.

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Feeding the elephant…

Moving on. We headed for the ATV ride which is about 40minutes away from the elephant place. The driver dropped us at the ATV place and told us that he will be back later to pick us up. We got ourselves registered and waited for our turn. This will be our 1st time with ATV ride. We had to sign a consent form and went through ‘trial ride’ before being handed over with a real ATV. My partner had some hiccups with the ATV so he got a ‘milder’ version of the ATV. The journey begins. We were handed with an ATV for each of us and we followed a guide who brought us along the trail which is in jungle! How cool is that! The ride lasted for about 1hour and went through dry and wet terrain and through jungle.  I really enjoyed the ride and it was so much of fun! When we were done, our driver is already there waiting for us. We took our ride back to Ao Nang and stopped for lunch.

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The trial track

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Me on the ATV

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Both of us on ATV…

We decided to treat ourselves with a nice lunch at this posh looking restaurant in Ao Nang. It’s called Tanta Restaurant. We sat and order our food; Pad Thai (I just love this dish), fish cake and a seafood tom yum noodle dish. For our drinks, we had iced tea and coconut shake which was rather refreshing.

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Tanta Restaurant

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Tanta Restaurant

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Tanta Restaurant: Iced Tea & Coconut Shake

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Tanta Restaurant: Pad Thai

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Tanta Restaurant: Fish cake

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Tanta Restaurant: Tom Yam Noodle

Guess what we did after lunch? Well, it’s time for massage! We went to the same place we had massage on the 1st day. This time, I had a full body massage with virgin coconut oil which was really good. It is supposed to be ‘cooling’ for your body.

We were walking back to the hotel after the massage when we bumped into a row of stalls selling snacks in the evening. We couldn’t resist and headed over there to check it out. Apparently most of the stall operators here are Muslim hence the foods are pork-free which is fine with us.

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Yummy snacks

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Yummy snacks

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Yummy snacks: Prawn fritters

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Yummy snacks: Fried spring rolls

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Coconut water

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Pad thai…again! I love this thing.

We headed back to the hotel and had a short rest which lead to a couple of hours of nap time! By the time we got up, I was too lazy to head anywhere. We suppose to hang out for drinks in the town but feeling too lazy. We had our dinner at a small restaurant just beside our hotel and ended our day at Krabi.

Krabi…The story of day one!

Well, this trip actually happened in April 2014 so you have to pardon me for posting this so late. Anyway, this is summarized version of what did I do in Krabi.

Day One. This will be my last time using the LCCT terminal in KL. Moving forward, all AirAsia flights will be based at KLIA2 which is a brand new airport.

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We arrived around 5+am and this how chaotic the LCCT was…

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Having my favorite Macchiato at Starbucks!

We flew via Air Asia and arrived in Krabi International Airport at about 7.30am. Since it was early, we decided to take the airport bus to our hotel in Ao Nang. Normally I would have taken a taxi but this time trying something new in Thailand.

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Entering Krabi Airport.

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Got our tickets for Airport shuttle bus to Ao Nang area.

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Thats me.. in front of the Airport shuttle bus.

We arrive at hotel at around 9+am and we managed to check in early which were awesome. You can read about my post on the hotel here: https://brownboyspeaks.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/the-royal-nakara-ao-nang-we-loved-it/

So, since it was darn early, we just took our time and walked along the main area of Ao Nang. Most of shops were not opened as it was rather early. I have heard and read so many reviews on this ‘pancake’ so when i bumped into one, i decided i have to give it a try. Its very similar to roti canai which is available in Malaysia but this one is thinner and crispy and filled with so many type of fillings. Its a very sweet dessert.

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Pancake stall at Ao Nang.

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I had the nutella & banana pancake! 🙂

We spotted a massage shop which was just opened and ready to take on customer. We decided to go in for a message.

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At the massage place…

After a couple of hours passed by, we were out and feeling hungry so went to have lunch.

After filling our stomachs with spicy and yummy Thai food we decided to head back to the hotel for a rest.

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Our lunch.

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Our lunch, pineapple fried rice.

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Our lunch, tom yam kooong with rice.

We have booked a night market tour through the hotel earlier which cost us 300Baht per person. The tour agent will provide transport from hotel to the night market and return transportation as well. The transport came on time to pick us up and send us to town where the night market is at. You can find variety of local food being sold here along with merchandises. Everything seems to be looking good here in the market that we are so tempted to try out everything. We had dinner at one of the café just around the market.

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Tadaa.. the night market!

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Krabi night market

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Krabi night market

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Krabi night market

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Dinner near Krabi night market. Padthai noodle.

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Dinner near Krabi night market. Tom Yam seafood fried rice.

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Bought this at night market. Its sticky rice with mango which was really really good!

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Bought this too at night market, its called; meng kam. This was very fresh and really good, and cheap! The best i had!

That concludes the day one @ Krabi!

Killing Fields Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

For those who have been to Cambodia, the term Killing Fields is very common there. In fact, it is one of the to-do list in Cambodia. The entrance fee is about USD5 or 6 per person (sorry i cant seem to recall how much it cost) but it comes with an audio guide. The audio comes in many languages. I listened to the english version which was narrated by an ex-survivor of the killing field which was awesome and heart moving.

The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the communist Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Cambodian Civil War (1970–1975).

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Buddhist stupa that houses the skulls.

Analysis of 20,000 mass grave sites by the DC-Cam Mapping Program and Yale University indicate at least 1,386,734 victims of execution. Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of roughly 8 million. In 1979, communist Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term “killing fields” after his escape from the regime.

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Buddhist stupa

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Close up on the skulls placed in the Stupa.

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Buddhist stupa

Choeung Ek, the site of a former orchard and mass grave of victims of the Khmer Rouge – killed between 1975 and 1979 – about 17 km south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is the best-known of the sites known as The Killing Fields, where the Khmer Rouge regime executed over one million people between 1975 and 1979. Mass graves containing 8,895 bodies were discovered at Choeung Ek after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. Many of the dead were former political prisoners who were kept by the Khmer Rouge in their Tuol Sleng detention centre.

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One of the many mass graves.

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Mass grave site. The colorful handmade wrist band probably is a well wishing sign for the soul to rest in peace.

Today, Choeung Ek is a memorial, marked by a Buddhist stupa. The stupa has acrylic glass sides and is filled with more than 5,000 human skulls. Some of the lower levels are opened during the day so that the skulls can be seen directly. Many have been shattered or smashed in. Human bones still litter the site. On May 3, 2005, the Municipality of Phnom Penh announced that they had entered into a 30-year agreement with JC Royal Co. to develop the memorial at Choeung Ek. As part of the agreement, they are not to disturb the remains still present in the field.

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Apparently this tree was used to torture and kill innocent women and child.

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Passing through the mass grave site.

Towards completing the tour of the site, I had to sit down for a while to take it all in. I still cant believe that such cruel mass murder had happened in late 70’s. Its was not as scary as I thought it would be. However it was very sad and a small part of me was angry that it had happened. I cant imagine how the locals would feel. But honestly I think they are also trying to move on from this. Every time when we speak about this with a Cambodian, you can sense the emotional feeling through their tone. I’m glad that they are in much better place now.

Apparently this has been made into a movie, called The Killing Fields. What you seem the movie?

 

Visited in July 2014.

Credits: Wikipedia only for some facts and figures. All photos are taken by me.

Koulen 2 Restaurant, Siam Reap, Cambodia

We were recommended to come here as it consists of free-flow of food buffet style and Apsara performance which is a Cambodian traditional dance performance. It will cost you USD12.00 per person which we thought is OK price, excluding drinks.  There are other similar concept places suggested by our guide however some are more expensive, some needs advance booking, some has elaborate performance etc.

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The Koulen Restaurant

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The Koulen Restaurant

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One of the decoration pieces in the restaurant.

We only decided to come here in the noon so our guide managed to squeeze a reservation for the two of us. We arrived here at around 6.50pm which was considered early. It is a huge restaurant with a stage for the performance. Most of the tables in front of the stage are reserved. We were seated near the entrance. This is not an air-conditioned restaurant but it is well ventilated. The buffet supposed to start at 7.30pm onwards however we were told that we can enjoy our buffet at around 7.15pm. Thank god, I was so hungry that evening!

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Me waiting patiently for the buffet to be ready! haha

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The stage at Koulen Restaurant

I was satisfied with the buffet; I mean you have salad, soup, fresh fruits, tempura counter, main course (chicken, beef, pork and seafood), rice, pasta and desserts mostly are cooked Cambodian style. I think it’s not fair to compare the buffet spread here to the hotel buffet spreads as I think the standards are different especially those western chain hotels. Well, you do get to see the traditional performance for about 30+minutes which is also include of the price that you have paid for. Generally the restaurant and buffet counter looks decent and clean. At times they are a bit slow in topping up the food. Sorry guys, I didn’t manage to take some photos of the buffet spread.

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Apsara performers

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Apsara performers

As for the show, it was ok. Some of the dance performances are very elaborate with beautiful colorful costume. Some of the performance seems like a folk dance which was interesting to see. Just like in many other countries, very small amount of people who are still interested to learn and perform ‘traditional’ dances. I hope places like this will be a good venue to support the local performers.

Visited in July 2014. How would I rate them? The atmosphere 4/5, Service 3.5/5, F&B 4/5.

Where at: No. 50 Street Sivatha, Mondul 2, Svaydangkum, Siam Reap, Cambodia