Published: August 11th 2006August 1st 2006
Poverty is the norm in Cambodia
Crossing the Boarder
I unfortunately was running very late by the time I reached the border and got there just only an hour before dusk (6pm). But Siem Reap was only 200km further on so I was not concerned.
I cannot enthasis too much just how poor Cambodia is. If Englands a first world country and Thailand a third world country then Cambodia is a 5th world country. That is how stark the differents between the Thailand and Cambodia is and you just have to walk 500m across the border to see it. It is shocking so say the least. How two neighbouring countries can be so much different in wealth is beyond me!
Tax Evasion Cambodia Style
To cross from Thailand into Cambodia first you have to exit Thailand by going through thier exit customs. The brder is about 10 yards beyond that. You then have about 100 yards to go before you reach Cambodian customs and security. Why so far you may ask? Well the interviening space is filled up with Las Vegas style casinos. Yep that is right. Stuck in no mans land between the 2 border checkpoints are casinos. I believe they are located there
Major Trade Route
The 'Major Trade Route'between Poipet and Siem Reap.
to avoid tax and entry visas. This frew me somewhat so I took a little while to find my way to Cambodian customs. I did not gamble though! Maybe on my next trip here I will book a night at one of the casinos and dabble a little at blackjack and poker. Purely for research purposes of course ;-)
Journey to Siem Reap
The journey from Poipet on the border with Thailand to Siem Reap is about 200km and is reported to becoming one of the major trade routes between the two countries. I crossed the border planning to get a shared pickup to Siem Reap. However on arrival I discovered that the Cambodian idea of a shared pickup is nothing like the Thai version I have come to love. Gone is the safety cage. Gone are the cusions. Gone are the seats! They are litterally just ordinary pickup trucks with about 20 people climbed onto the back without even anything to hold onto to keep them on the back of the pickup!
I quickely reappraised the situation and opted for a airconditioned taxi instead, 25 pounds; but I figured it was worth it.
Cambodia seems to be very flat and mostly rice paddies.
we set on the 'MAJOR TRADE ROUTE
' to Siem Reap. 'Major Trade route' the bochure said, so you can imagine my suprise when just a km or too out of town the tarmac ended. Yes you read that correctly. This major trade route is a nothing more than a dirt road. A dirt road that fluctuates from between 4 and 6 lanes wide but a dirt road none the less. Being made of dirt and being the monsoon season there was also one or two pot holes in the road. One or two million that is!!!!!
The taxi was having to zig zag from one side of the rad to the other to avoid the worst of them. And when I say worst I'm talking about hole big enough to hide an Elephant in! The ride was like one long journey along a car test track with the most fiendishly testing bumps and holes imaginable thrown in. I was holding on to the car door handle for dear life!
To make matters worse it had not rained for a few days so the big trucks in front kicked up tons of dust. So mush so that you could not even
Guardians on bridge over moat of Ankor Thom.
see them and only know you were still on the road by looking out of the side window! All this done in the pitch black of night. I say pitch black as there are not any street lights in Cambodia. No cats eyes in the road. Not even light from houses adjacent to the roads as they do not HAVE any lights. They are neither connected to the electricity grid nor can the afford the electricity!
In the west 200km takes 1 - 2 hours depending on which lunatic is driving, mentioning no names, Mr Harrison. My driver was taking potholes at 50km an hour; but due to the zig zagging to avoid the worst of it the journey it still took an agonising 4 and 1/2 hours to reach Siem Reap!
At the end of the journey I fealt like I should buy the driver a new suspension or something his car had taken that much of a pounding!
NOTE: The taxi was also an ordinary saloon car not a 4x4!
Even more incredible is the fact that I got speaking to a guy from Denmark while in Siem Reap and when he heard how long the jurney
Ankor Thom Entrance
South Gate to Ankor Thom. Ankor Thom is 1 square km in size!
took he replied that the roads had improved then as he did the same journey 4 years before and it took him 8 hours!!!!!!
To be honest there is very little to say about Siem Reap. I think it is Cambodia's second city and it is about the size of a large village. Due to tourist money it is beginning to enter the 21st century, but still has alot of poverty and beggers. Its sole purpose seams to be to provide a base for tourists visiting the temple ruins.
The kids selling travel guide books and postcards are a laugth though. They will ask you were you are from and then claim to be from the capital of your country! All in the cause of a sale. They do not quit either and try to get you to at least agree to buy something 'thew next time' you see them.
Supprisingly despite its poverty Cambodia is actually more expensive than Thailand. I think this is as they see how much money tourists have that they are desperate to get the most out of them. Bargains are this to be had if you haggle though. I had
Part of Ankor Thom
one little girl offer me a bamboo flute for 1 dollar. Then when I said no thanks 2 for a dollar. Still no thanks from me. 3 for a dollar. Nope. Ok four for a dollar!
I do not know what the girls markup rate was but I gust could not figure out what to do with four bamboo flutes and so left her to chase the mirriad of other tourists around.
The ruined Temples
Spectacular. Breath taking. Huge. A must see. I'll let the photos say the rest.
NOTE: The temples are definately not suited for people in wheelchairs as there as many near vertical stairs and raised door threasholds.
Not too much to buy here apart from the usual sourviner stuff. The only exception is stone carvings. Cambodia seams to have some great stone masons at work. Though the best stuff I saw was not in town but rather in shops randomly placed alone the 'Major Trade Route' road side.
So time to answer the key questions abuot any travel destination. Would I go back to Siem Reap?
Yes! There are still countless spectacular ruins for me to visit. Though
Part of Ankor Thom
next time I'm flighing there. Would I go back to visit other parts of Cambodia?
To be honest no. There just does not seam to be anything to see other than the ruins. Would I recommend the Ankor ruins to others?
YES! The Ankor ruins is a must visit for any deserning traveller.
APPOLOGY: I'm having trouble getting images off my camera now that its memory is full up. They are still there as I've managed to get a few off earlier today; but the camera isbeing very tempermental about waking up so the rest may have to wait until I return to England as I do not have the manual with me right now.
There are more photos below