Published: March 5th 2012February 16th 2012
Our first introduction to Cambodia was when we crossed the border from Thailand into the town of Poipet. Just as you arrive into the town the sprawl of casinos awaits and this is where the Thais who want to gamble flock to at the weekends. Immediately the country seemed different to the other places we have been before. The streets were busy like other places but more with the locals pushing fruits and veg along and they were piled high for the market just over the border. The roads were dusty and people were using masks or scarves to keep the dust out. The immigration was quick but only because the officials have made up their own “express” charge on top of the visa price. Pay 300baht and you get your visa in 3 minutes. Don’t pay, wait until they are ready. It seems this sort of attitude was going to follow us for the rest of the journey as far as Siem Reap.
As soon as all the immigration stuff was done and dusted, John, Gunther (a German we met on the bus) and I tried to go get a taxi as we had read stuff and
this seemed to be the best and least corrupt option. Alas a taxi was not to be found and some government touts directed us towards a bus station which is a good few kilometres from town telling us we could get a taxi out there. So with little other option off we headed. When we arrived at the station the choices were a share taxi for 12 US dollars each for 4 people or the bus for 9 dollars. We thought we were grand but good oul Gunther met a German couple on the bus out to the station and let’s just say we were quickly demoted to just us!! So after asking lots of people to join us (no luck as most were in bigger groups or only needed 1 person), off we went to the bus.
That bus was not leaving the station until it was full so that was the first obstacle; I think we may have sat around for maybe 1hour 30mins. We get on the road and it seems grand apart from the mad beeping and road rules (or lack of) in the country. We were told the bus would take 3
hours so it wasn’t too bad. Then we stopped….. I really don’t know what kind of place they stopped at, I cannot describe it well enough but it was nearly desolate. The toilets were grim. The staff were riding on the wave of having every bus that came from the bus station stop there, things were overpriced but it was easy to negotiate if you felt the need (I saw one man say he only had 7 baht and he wanted a coconut so one of the staff accepted!).
Anyway, I got a coke and we chatted to a few of the kids hanging around trying to sell us bracelets and postcards. They showed us a large lizard on the ceiling and things were ok. Then we were there for ages with the bus drivers deciding to have a big dinner for themselves and appearing very comfortable. A French couple next to us started to get a bit anxious and were gesturing over to them but they weren’t too bothered. At this point, all the stories I read were starting to worry me. It was about 5pm and I knew it was going to get dark and
there are lots of crashes in night so not fun times. Anyway after another while when a bit of a revolution got up (all of us standing at the door of the bus, looking at the bus driver with the French couple continuing to point to their watch and look angry) the driver strolls over as casual as you like, opens the bus door and proceeds to tell us all if you want to get there quick you should have paid for a taxi!
When we arrived in Siem Reap it was of course dark and we were dropped to yet another dodgy looking bus station outside of town. The madness began with tuk tuk drivers trying their damnedest to get fares into town as well as work for the next day. We got a lovely man called Lee and he really wanted work the next day to do the Angkor Temples but we only had one nights accommodation so couldn’t tell him where we were going to be etc. The drive into Siem Reap was exhilarating. The carnage of who has right of way, the amount of traffic and the constant beeping really was heart in your mouth
stuff. You definitely need to have a strong disposition for some of the driving, fair play to the locals! We made it safe and sound to our hostel to be given a lovely hotel instead so all well that ends well! Siem Reap
Siem Reap is a vibrant, fun, infectious city. Not very large in size the main areas are centred around restaurants, pubs (on Pub Street), and night markets by the river. It is the jumping point for all visits to the Angkor Temples so there are lots of tourists but it’s not lost its natural Cambodian feel in spite of this.
There is a lot of poverty in Cambodia with street kids everywhere or people begging for a meal and this is definitely something that we haven’t had much exposure to so far (and I don’t know why). This was tough and I really found it difficult to say no at times. I suppose the level of poverty really hit home when we were having a BBQ in the main square one night. There were a large bunch of kids hanging around, chatting to tourists etc. Their clothes were dirty, a
couple of them were itching their heads at every second, and they were scrawny but often seemed happy when chatting/messing with tourists. A table of 10 people got up to leave and all of a sudden this one girl (about 10years old) rallied all the others up and they invaded the table for the scraps. I had the realisation moment when the kids one by one had no issue in eating of the last strands of meat from chicken legs, or taking a large bowl of soup and devouring it in record time. The girl was like a mother figure to the others and she kept directing them to tables and sharing out food with everyone. That was the moment that I was truly glad I came travelling. I think the negative spiral I have got caught up in when at home has got out of hand; I have nothing to be worrying about. The day I have to pick up an already eaten chicken bone will be that day!
Anyway now I am babbling again! The next few days we spent in Siem Reap either visiting temples or recovering from mad nights out. The temples were
amazing, we did 2 full day tours and we were just templed out by the end. How they made these humungous structures in the 12th
century by hand, without mechanical aids etc. is beyond me. Some of them are so detailed in the stone carvings, some are just a true statement of the faith people had to want to build them and some have nature intruding in their structure (in particular the trees have grown around the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed). The photos will hopefully give an idea of what they are like! We got up at 4.30am one morning to go to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat (the jewel of them all in the Cambodian people’s eyes). It was a mad experience, going out in the pitch black (no streetlights or road lamps here) and watching the temple coming to life as it got brighter. There were lots of people there but everyone was very quiet and it was really beautiful.
On our last day in Siem Reap we really spoiled ourselves ;) We had gone out the night before and had a fun night and I really wanted ice cream (the hangovers
are killing me) so we went to this American place called Swenson’s. Oh how can I explain the goodness of it? Macadamia ice-cream with chocolate peanut butter ice-cream with brownies and toffee sauce in a large glass. Heaven! When we found Swenson’s we also found a personal cinema so decided to give it a go! Basically you choose what film you want to watch and they give you a room to yourself with these massive comfy chairs to lounge in. A lovely way to spend the afternoon. We had a walk around markets and went for dinner in this place we spotted the night before. (We also ran into two of the Irish girls from Koh Tao, Eleanor and Edel. I heard this shout of my name in a random street in Siem Reap and here was me frantically trying to think who it could be!). So for dinner we had a traditional Khmer (Cambodian) BBQ. We chose our meats (chicken, beef, pork, fish, and crocodile) and they serve the food to you raw and you cook it yourself. It was GORGEOUS and a fun way to have dinner.
The next morning we were off to Phnom
Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
There are more photos below