Published: April 18th 2011March 9th 2011
Victims of the Kmer Rouge, piled high in Choeng Ek.
Back in Phnom Penh, our days were spent largely on foot. We roamed around for hours a day soaking up the awesome atmosphere of Cambodia's capital. Indeed, K found it so 'awesome' that she walked into the Oxfam
office asking about employment! We found our way back to the Myanmar embassy where we received our long-awaited visas and came across a neighborhood of (relatively) quiet, leafy streets and nice apartment buildings. This would be a nice place to lay our heads should that oxfam job ever come up...
Our one 'excursion' from Phnom Penh was to the infamous 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek
. The site itself doesn't look like much but the museum tells a very different story. Many mass graves have been excavated here and inside the remembrance monument lie the skulls of the exhumed - literally piled in their thousands. A large tree on the grounds is accompanied by a sign explaining that this is where the babies were killed. To save ammunition they were held by the feet and bludgeoned against the trunk before being thrown into the pits. There is no 'camp' or prison at Choeung Ek as victims were trucked out here from Tuol Sleng
Signage in the 'killing fields'.
only kept waiting for as long as it took the executioners to get ready. As one can probably guess from the name, this isn't exactly a 'pleasant' site to visit but - as with the S-21 camp in town - it certainly gives some background to the life stories of otherwise ordinary Khmer people. Our guesthouse owner for example, who related her tale to K one night as we sat in the restaurant. She had been forced out of the city and made to work on a farm with virtually no food. She managed to survive by trading jewelry and other valuables for rice, which she had to ration and hide away. Eventually, she escaped to Thailand but not before much of her family had succumbed to the terrible conditions.
Our time in Phnom Penh came to a close and we took a bus to Cambodia's big tourist draw at Siem Reap
- the monumental (in every possible sense of the word) Angkor Wat
. Along the way we were offered fried tarantula, which we politely declined. It was good entertainment to watch the locals pick through the basket to dig out the choicest spiders though...
As expected, we
On a pretty ordinary day...
were greeted at the bus station by a raucous gaggle of tuk-tuk drivers offering rides into town (why are
Asian bus stations always miles from anywhere?) and tours of the Angkor temples. We shared the $1 ride with an English girl who later also found a dorm bed for $1 per night - That's
budget travel! Our driver seemed like a nice guy and once we'd found a guesthouse we arranged to hire him for a day of temple-touring. Unfortunately, when the day came and we forced ourselves up in the dark at 5am, our man was nowhere to be found. We waited for a while and then decided that as it was now too late to catch the sunrise (for the popular 'Angkor dawn' moment), we'd find another driver and go the following day. That afternoon we added a South-African backpacker to our roster and became a tour of four.
The next morning, things seemed to run more smoothly. We all showed up and soon found our ride waiting outside. Excellent. The fact that the dark sky was floodlit by continuous lightning all the way out to Angkor was something to think about, but despite the looming storm
Many big heads
The title says it all - Bayon temple.
we were in good spirits.
You might have seen a picture of Angkor Wat
at sunrise. If you read travel sites much you've probably seen dozens. It's an awesome spectacle when viewed from across the 'lake' - a small pool of water off to one side which nicely catches the fiery dawn sky. It was still pitch black when we crossed the moat and stood in front of the great monument but already there were hundreds of budding snappers staked out by the water. Maybe no-one had noticed the sky on the way out here? Or maybe it was just wishful thinking... Either way, there was no real 'dawn' - the sky just gradually became brighter until the world was a sort of misty, flat grey color. So much for the awesome spectacle. We headed inside just as the rain hit - hard. Sheltering inside the temple was easy enough - it's not like we were pushed for space! We all split up and wandered the dim halls in solitude. In some ways this was worth the bad weather as the 'sunrise by the lake' contingent seemed to mostly have taken shelter in an small external temple, leaving one
Looking around, somewhere in Angkor.
of Asia's most recognizable landmarks all but empty. It was quite eerie actually. As we regrouped near the entrance some time later, we stopped to watch a group of meditators doing some kind of yoga in an open courtyard - soaking in the continuing rain. We're not too sure what their story is but good luck to them - we can't imagine it's the easiest place to find concentration...
The next stop on our tour (and most peoples' tours) was Bayon
temple, famous for the 216 giant stone heads that watch eternally over the throng of day-trippers. Amazing
doesn't quite cut it in this case. 'Holy crap amazing'
- as scrawled in our notes - tells more of the story. Our day was then spent walking and riding from site to site, sometimes wandering off into the jungle along narrow tracks and sometimes arriving a large car parks filled with rickshaws, food stalls and handicraft sellers. One of the nice things about Asia is the general lack of 'health and safety' regulations compared to the west. You can climb all over the ruins, skulk down half-collapsed corridors and generally lose yourself in the maze of stone without worrying about
Under a tree
Ta Prohm temple.
being kicked out. It's amazing fun. Towards the end of the day we visited the Tah Prohm temple. The temple is popular both for it's size and condition, and because it featured in Tomb Raider
. It's infamy is justified and the place is full of incredible scenes just like we'd seen in National Geographic. Trees grow out of (and over, and through) ancient buildings here, it's just the way it is...
We arrived back at the hostel pretty beat after about 13 hours out. The next morning we awoke to the death of B's guitar. It had literally just fallen apart during the night and was now a very broken thing. $30 had purchased about 7 weeks of joy which doesn't seem too bad. On the upside, we didn't have to carry it anymore which was nice when we arrived at the Thai border the next day and had to queue with a couple of hundred other tourists. Still, it's the end of a (very short and quite insignificant) era. Onwards to Thailand, where we hoped to settle into a more down-tempo kinda groove.
There are more photos below