The red shadow 

So I finally arrived in Cambodia.  I had been advised to get the visa online to save time but it takes 3 days to get it processed and by the time I was ready to leave it was too late.  So I got at the airport of Phnom Penh without a visa and was already prepared to have to go through long lines and boring procedures when in the end it all took me about 15 minutes (and I also saved some 10$ comparing to online visa). 

The hostel I had reserved promised to send someone at the airport to pick me up but when I got there you guess it, nobody was waiting for me.  I bought a SIM card and started to talk with Whitney,  a girl from the US that was on the same plane as me.  We were going in the same direction so we decided to split the cost of a tuk tuk.  

We jumped in and the first thing we were told was to watch our bags.  Snatching bags and mobiles phones is pretty common here in Cambodia and so we were on the know. The traffic was pretty bad,  Thailand style and it took us about an hour to get to our destination.  

At the moment to check in at Billabong hotel and hostel I was preceded by a group of French Chinese and so I had to wait and be patient.  About ten minutes later I finally managed to do my check-in and I was then showed to my room. 

EditDorms here are pretty big and spacious.  I got a lower bunk bed as requested and the locker is so big that my entire backpack fits in.  Fantastic! That night I went for dinner with a couple of very nice Japanese guys that were staying in my dorm.  Walking around the city we managed to find this place where only locals go.  The food was good,  big and cheap.  The day after together with Hiro and So we decided to go to the killing fields

I remember when I was a kid that in the news they talked about the Khmer Rouge but I didn’t know much about the history of Cambodia and what really happened here. So when I decided to go to the killing fields I was not really aware of what I would have found.  We got there in about 30 minutes with rented motorbikes and paid the 5 dollars entry fee.  The audio guide was explaining what every stop was and what happened there.  Shivers were running down my spine and the memory went automatically to my visit to Auschwitz.  The atrocities that human kind can commit are really inexplicable.  I cannot understand or accept that someone in their right mind can do something so terrible to some other human being (or animal for that matter). Violence has no justification or motive in my mind and I really struggle to understand what happened in Cambodia or in Germany/Poland under the Nazis. 

To finish with the horror tour the following day I went to visit the genocide museum aka S21 a former school turned into torture zone during the Khmer Rouge occupation.

Phnom Penh is not a nice city.  It’s chaotic and there are areas where you don’t want to go at night (I almost got my phone stolen one night).  The only positive thing in my opinion is that there are plenty of vegetarian restaurants around the city.  I only had time to visit a few but the food there was very good.  

I went to EVERGREEN for breakfast.  I had a plate of noodles pretty big and then shared a yummy soup with my friend.  For dinner I went to VEGETARIAN 1000 a buffet like place where you can choose from different trays of food and they cost 1000 or 2000 riels (25/50c). The last day I went for breakfast to Surn Yi vegetarian restaurant and had noodles and mock pork.  Although the “pork” was pretty good,  the noodles were very poor, they didn’t taste of anything but maybe it was just my plate.  The choice in this place is pretty big and it is very popular according to Trip Advisor. 

I made it out of Phnom Penh direction Kep because I needed a rest from the chaos and noise of the big city. 

Kep is a small village four hour drive from Phnom Penh,  towards the coast.  I checked in at Kepmandou Lounge a nice and small hostel by the beach built from wood in a cabin style.  Clean and nice,  very quiet at night.  It rained almost all the time during the 2 days I was there but I just needed to rest so I didn’t mind.  I caught up on some movies that I wanted to see and just chilled. 

After Kep it was time to move to Sihanoukville where I was to start my next volunteering period on Sunday.  Sihanoukville is a city known for its tourism.  It’s not interesting in an artistic or historical way but my hostel was a little outside town,  once again by the beach and I was looking forward to enjoy my peaceful time…. Never have I been so wrong. At Footprints the dorm is just upstairs from the bar area.  The place is made of wood and there are no walls.  I went to bed around 11 pm and the music was still full blast (in any other hostel I have been the music stops at 10/10.30pm the latest). I actually had to go downstairs and ask to tone the music down a little.  At 3 am I woke up and there were still people at the bar chatting and laughing as of it was during the day.  The music came from the outside.  Somewhere not far away somebody was playing full blast techno  music.  And they didn’t stop until 8 am. The manager of the hostel apologized to me a thousand time but the damage was done.  I also thought to move to another hostel but I was too lazy and I only had one night left.  The second night was better,  no music from the outside but the bar closed at midnight.  Bu.t that night I was in kinda good mood as I had a very good pizza at Jin’s with Carlos a guy from Barcelona met on the bus from Kep. 

So,  comes Sunday and Roy,  my host comes and pick me up.  We drive for about 30 minutes and we arrive in Ream. He’s a Brit that lived for many years in Thailand and them moved to Cambodia with his Thai wife.  They are getting ready a resort by the river with bungalows and animals, the Ream Yacht club.  They need help with fixing and painting and here I am.  The place is in the middle of nowhere but that’s the charm of it.  The silence here is deafening and nature rules.  I just love it here. 

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Melaka and Penang 

After KL it was time to move to a smaller place and this was Melaka (aka Malacca). 

Melaka is a city two hours drive south of KL.  I checked in at “Victor’s guest house ” (30, Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Kampung Jawa, 75100 Melaka).

 The place is very nice,  clean and very quiet and the staff very helpful. At first you have the impression that it is located far from the center but don’t be fooled by appearance.  Behind the hostel there is the river.  The entire area is under massive restructure and there are plenty of nice places to get a coffee or beer.  Walking along the river and crossing the bridge you’re in the cultural center of the city in 10 minutes. Melaka has a long story of invasion from different people (Portuguese,  Dutch, English)  and it is all reflected in the architecture and the language.  People are very nice and friendly and you never feel uneasy anywhere in the city.  Apparently the night market is very nice but it’s only on weekends so I didn’t get the chance to see it.  

At the hostel I met some people and together we went to have food in a Himalayan restaurant not far.  The food was good and cheap but the communication with the staff was not easy. Melaka is a place that I really enjoyed. Life is easy and quiet there although the tourist and you can take a rest from the fast pace of KL. On my second day I had lunch at “Mori vegetarian tea house ” (3, Jalan Kampung Kuli, 75200 Melaka), a bit pricey but the food was delicious!!! 

After two days in Melaka it was time to move on and since Singapore was not an option (that’s where people usually go after Melaka)  I decided to move north to Penang an island on the west coast. The bus trip was long (around 9 hours)  but not too bad.  I arrived at Butterworth harbor and from there I took the ferry to George Town.  The trip is about 10 minutes and once in George Town you land at the bus station. 

My host David told me to fetch the 302 to get to his place as he was not at home yet but after almost half an hour I was not even half way as the traffic is pretty bad so David – that in the meantime had freed himself – told me to get off at the first stop and wait for him there. And I did. And I waited another half hour.  

David lives in Gelugor 15 mins drive from the city.  We arrived at his place and after a shower we drive back to the city for dinner in an Indian place called “Thali-NR sweets cafe ” (Lebuh Penang, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang) in Little India. The food is very good and very cheap like in most places in George town well known for this.  I was supposed to spend only a couple of days in Padang but in the end I stayed 4. The city is very nice,  good choices for food and I felt at home there. In the morning David worked so I had a lot of time to visit and in the evening we met for dinner.  

  

On my second day there I met Tom and Jep,  from CS and with them I went to the temple on the hill and the evening we had dinner with David. After dinner David explained the he does charity work three nights a week and asked me if I wanted to tag along.  With his volunteer friends he goes around the city and distribute food and water to the homeless.  It was nice and sad at the same time.  People know them and wait for them.  They’re very nice and humble and when they take the food they say thanks 20 times. It’s been a very nice and enriching experience. 

The following day David was working only half day so in the afternoon we went hiking on a beach half an hour out of the city. The hike is fine but not for everyone.  Along the way we met with people from a CS group that David attend to and they invited us to a BBQ at the beach later on. After an hour we arrived at the beach but couldn’t swim as the water was very shallow and muddy.  To go back we took a boat as it was getting dark and it’s not advisable to do the hike at night.  We then drove to the beach for the BBQ. The others were already there and setting up the fire. It was very nice to spend time with them and talk.  They’re all members of CS from different origins and religions.  Indians,  Chinese,  Malay,  Buddhist,  Muslim and they all get along very well.  That’s why I really like Malaysia!!!

After the BBQ someone suggested to get into the water and since no one had a bathing suit we skinny dip although it’s forbidden in Malaysia.  It was funny,  we laughed a lot and a Muslim girl that until 2 minutes before was wearing a veil bathed with 5 naked men (she was wearing T-shirt and underwear) and wasn’t worried or offended by that.  Well on the contrary actually!!!  We saw the fluorescent plankton (amazing!!!)  and the water was so good that we couldn’t get out. 

On my third day I met Leo,  a local guy in CS also and with him we went to the protestant cemetery and the haunted school.  I have a thing for cemeteries and abandoned building although I don’t believe in ghosts or burial as for that.  Afterwards we had lunch at a place called “Yin’s sourdough bakery and cafe” (11, Pesara Claimant, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang) because I was craving for pizza and I heard that in this place was very good.  And indeed it was,  pesto and mushrooms pizza.  Delicious!!! 

Leo is a local artist that lived in Armenian street very close to the bicycle painting and his place is full of cool stuff as he works as interior designer.  For dinner I bought some Indian food and got home where David had already arrived. 

The following day I decided to stay at home and organize my next move. So after fetching information from blogs and websites I prepared my bags and went buy the bus ticket to Perenthian island for that same night. 

Hanging out like a coffin (in Sagada)

I arrived in Sagada yesterday afternoon to see the world famous hanging coffins.

The city itself is just another Asian city, nothing really special.

I checked in at “Clairence Inn”. It is a very decent place close to the bus station, the rooms are nice and clean and have shared bathroom. For 300 pesos per night you have a very good value for money.

Afterwards I went for lunch at Masferré and managed to have a very good vegetarian combo, admittedly one of the best meal I had since I arrived in the Philippines. But don’t even think of getting a “pizza”. Once again, the dough was frozen and the overall very bad (one of the guys I had lunch with tried his luck!) The only VERY negative thing about this place is the service. It is run buy a bunch of adolescents, very impolite and annoying. They look at you, the laugh at you, they ignore you. All in all a very unpleasant experience (apart from the food, which unfortunately doesn’t make up for everything else)

In the afternoon I went visiting the hanging coffins. It is a very unique custom they have here in Sagada. If you like, you can decide that once you die you have your​ coffin hunged on a wall inside the cemetery perimeter. There are rules of course, not everyone can do that. You have to be old (from 40 on…!!!!) and your entire family has to agree. The reasons why they ​do this are not very clear. Some says it is to have your body close to heaven, some says it is because the dead don’t want to be eaten by the animals and insects when their body is buried in the ground. To visit the coffins you need a guide that is not very necessary as the hicking goes, but you can still ask as many questions as you want (and then you are free to believe or not his answers).

As I realized I was running out of cash I headed at the ATM by the information office. For some reason neither of my cards (Visa and MasterCard) worked. So I went out the ATM at the “mall”. Same problem. So following morning I went to the bank office. No luck either. I explained my issue to the bank clerk and I’ve been answered that Visa and MasterCard don’t work here. So I asked: so what cards work here? And the answer came with the best smile (only one I’ve seen since I arrived): only local cards!
Now, I’m stranded here with close to no money in my pocket and waiting for the bus to Manila that leaves this afternoon. Luckily I managed to buy the ticket yesterday, and that’s what left me high and dry.

 For dinner I went with some Spanish guys met here to this place called “Slabhouse Cafe” where they serve very big plates and the food is pretty good.

I can’t say I’ve enjoyed my staying here. People, it hurts to say, are not very friendly. They don’t smile and are not helpful. If you’re in trouble they make fun of you (excluding the girl at the hostel). The WiFi doesn’t work and if you don’t have a local SIM card to look on your phone for information, you have to rely on people that most of the time don’t understand what you’re saying and the rest of the time pretend not to understand.

But I have to admit that vegetarian food is good and aplenty out here! Silver lining 😊

You adapt (or you die…)

In my very long career as vegetarian (going vegan) I’ve never had any problem eating anywhere I went. Of course it was a question of accepting compromises and be flexible but I never had such a hard time as I’m having in Manila (I guess I will discover if the same applies for the rest of the Philippines).

It has been VERY hard to have a decent meal. A few times I had to adapt to have a “pizza” normal size that translated into Filipino measure means what we in Italy call “pizzetta” something a little more than an appetizer. And it looks like this…

Being an italian hard core (as far as food goes) in general I avoid pasta or pizza in places like Domino’s and the likes but the other day was really hungry and finding food had been a challenge. So I resigned myself to have a pizza at a pizza parlor…how sad!

But finally yesterday my CS host took me to a vegetarian place called Harvesters Vegetarian (Banawe street corner Del Monte, Quezon City) and it was awesome!

I was finally able to have a very decent meal that I wolfed down in a blink of an eye.

I’m under the impression that the Philippines are still not very used to foreigners. Every time I asked for vegetarian food they looked at me as if they didn’t understand what I was talking about. For the three days I spent in Manila, most of the time I was the only white face around, especially in the neighborhood where my host lives (Sampaloc).

The Philippines are very different from the other countries I’ve visited in Asia (Thailand, Laos and Vietnam so far). Even though at first sight you can tell is Asia, they have nothing to do with what I know. First of all they are Catholic. On Sunday the churches are packed with people.

Second, they don’t eat with chopsticks (and for me it feels very weird to have Asian food with spoon and fork, no knife provided so far).

And then, they have Spanish family names, English first names but Asian features, and they all look very different from each other with many different “trademarks” I guess provided by the several invasions that they have suffered in the past.

Also, they speak 2 languages, 3 if you consider Taglish a mix of English and Tagalog. I’ve been explained that when a sentence in Tagalog (or Filipino as it is a called now) is too long they just switch to English.

Curious people. They spend HOURS waiting stuck in traffic and never complain. The first time I got on a cab I was going mad. I guess I still have plenty to discover of this interesting land.

The ad for yet another “pizza”