Cambodia thus far

30 04 2010

The epic journey from Cairns to Cambodia began early on Sunday morning, we flew with Virgin Blue for 3 hours, followed by a 2 hour lay over, then a very enjoyable flight on Emirates airline to Bangkok which took 9.5 hours. The plane was very nice and the food way, dare I say, great! We arrived Bangkok airport at 1:00 and slept on a bench in the bus terminal until 7:00. We had a quick breakfast at the airport then boarded a bus to the Thai/Cambodia border town of Aranya Prathet. After 4 hours on the bus we arrived the border,waited in a line to leave Thailand then another line to get our Cambodian Visas then another line to enter Cambodia, this took at least 2 hours. THEN we boarded another bus from the Cambodian border town Poipet to Siem Reap. When we finally arrived we were starving, tired and homeless so we checked into the Popular Guesthouse and had some well needed food and a sleep.

The next morning we enjoyed the morning on the upstairs patio of our guesthouse while reading up on Cambodia and planning our trip, had coffee and noodles for breakfast. We went for a walk around the markets in the afternoon in the dead of the heat and dust and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. In the evening we booked  tuk tuk (scooter with trailer behind where you sit) to take us to the floating village Chong Kneas on the Tonle Sap lake. The boat we took down the river was ancient and the water was only a foot deep at best, which made for a slow and dragging ride.  The floating village was quite a sight however so that made it worth it. People live on boats and have a fully functioning village of 4000 people complete with schools, shops, churches etc and they all fish for a living. You do not need to pay for land on the water so most of the inhabitants are the most poor. On the way back our boat broke down (of course it wouldn’t be an epic adventure if it didn’t) and we did not get back until it was pretty dark.

The next morning we were up bright and early at 4:30 am to catch a tuk tuk to visit the temples of Angkor. Our first temple was Angkor Wat for the sunrise. This temple is HUGE and is believed to be the biggest religious monument on earth or the 8th wonder of the ancient word. There was coffee and baguette for breakfast as we watched the sun come up behind the clouds then wandered inside while it was still cool. There was a festival going on that day and there was over 4000 monks and maybe 30 thousand other people there so finding our tuk tuk took us almost an hour. When we finally located him amongst the sea of tuk tuks we went to the next temple Ta Kao which is a small bu very steep pyramid which you can climb to the top, Jeff was able to do it, I stubbed my toe on a stone nd ripped a chunk off my toe nail half way up.  Next we went to Bayon, our favorite temple which features 216 giant faces called Avalokiteshvara. We grabbed some coconut and mango slushies from the street vendor and ventured in to the massive glaring faces of Bayon. The next temple was Ta Prohm which is the location for some of the scenes from Tomb Raider. It is almost completely destroyed by the forces of nature, with huge trees growing right into and out of the stones.  Our last stop was Banteay Kdei and Sras Srang both of which we were too sweaty and tired to fully  enjoy. We slammed back 3 1.5 litre bottles of water and headed back to our guesthouse. We stopped  at a orphangae on the way back to town to give the children some pencils, which they greatly appreciated. We had a long nap from 1 om til 5 then went out on the town for some dinner and drinks. Hey, at 25 cents happy hour on beer, it’s hard to resist.

The following day we embarked on the journey to Phenom Pehn, a truly epic 6 hour bus ride on the bumpy roads of rural Cambodia, sitting at the back with  5 others, one of which was a car sick boy we bounced along  not even knowing if we were on the correct bus the entire time.  We arrived the city which is MUCH bigger than the one we departed and checked out a couple of guest houses, we found a cheap one near a nicer one we checked out and planted ourselves in the lobby for dinner and a cold pop. We spent the evening talking with other travellers and crashed early, though the Guest house staff were having a huge party with loud music. 

This morning we grabbed a tuk tuk for a day of Cambodian history. We grabbed 3 Danish girls to  come with us to share the cost of a ride and off we went. First we stopped at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which is the former Khmer Rouge S21 prison. There were thousands of people imprisoned, interrogated and tortured there under Pol Pot in 1975-1978  before they were taken to the killing fields for execution. The museum is an eery look at the tiny cells where prisoners were kept, the rooms where 50+ people slept all shackled together and mug shots of all the people who were imprisoned there.  There was displays of torture devices used and artistic renditions of how the devices were used, which were painted by one of only 7 survivors. It was alot to take in, but very informative. We watched a video about the history of the Khmer Rouge’s regime. On the way to the next site we stopped at a local street stall to grab some delicious baguette sandwiches . Next we went to the killing fields of Choeung Ek, about 17kms from town. There is a 17 level stupa built as a memorial and grave type structure with 9000 skulls and human bones of people who were killed there. They estimate that 2 million Cambodians were killed in the 3 years of Khmer Rouge only 3 decades ago. As you walk around the park there is a huge fenced off portion which has not yet been excavated among the 89 or so mass graves that have been dug up. There was a section where the children were put as the guy Duch who lead the prison thought that the children would grow up to seek revenge and needed to be eliminated also. We were shocked to read about the horrors of these places. We were supposed to go o see the Royal Palace but decided not to and headed to the river front for an evening stroll and some dinner. We saw an elephant walking down the street among cars and scooters and happy little children dancing on the street. It’s crazy that all of this horrible stuff happened to the Cambodians and they are so poor here but still have a smile on their faces. It makes us greedy north Americans look like spoiled brats compared the people here, who are always friendly to visitors and happy to be alive. It’s been a real eye opener.

Now we head to Sihanoukville to soak up some sun by the beach. Stay tuned





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