Cambodia and Angkor Wat

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February 23rd 2010
Published: February 28th 2010
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Departed the islands for the border to Cambodia in the morning. A few of the people I had previously met were heading on the same route as myself and leaving as well so I hung out with them and we chatted and played different game on the long bus ride. When we reached the border I had about the equivalent of 25$ American as I hadn't been anywhere near an ATM in almost a week. Took 2$ to get stamped out of Laos, then since I had no picture for my visa, would be another 25$ to get it. I gave them 23$ then pleaded poor and eventually they just let me on. The Cambodian stamp was another dollar and I only had about ten baht on me (about 30 cents) and they just took that and let me into the country. It was obvious they were trying to supplement their meager salaries with these "charges" but I didn't feel too bad about that.

Cambodia had one hell of a bad string of luck for the past few centuries. After the fall of the Angkor empire, bits of the country was taken by both Siam and Vietnam and then of course French colonialism made it's appearance for a while which is still evident to this day to certain degrees. Then the Vietnam war decimated the region and resulted in tons of artillery destroying Cambodian landscape. However the worst incidents no doubt took place between 75-79 with the Khmer Rouge revolution led by Pol Pot. Under this ultra-communist system, the cities were evacuated, monetary system abolished, education was frowned upon, all dissent was squashed, and free will was eliminated. The "goal" was to make the country completely self-sufficient by focusing on unattainable rice production goals. In time though this government suspected everyone of overpowering them and thus even eliminated those within the regime that were thought to be "plotting" against Pot and his minions. Up to three million people were killed during this period, many tortured first. Cambodia thus has a very young population even today and had to rebuild from scratch having virtually no infrastructure remaining and no educated populace left.

As we went through the north of the country and made our way down I could see that Cambodia was a very dry and dusty (the areas I saw, although to be fair it was dry season). The humidity was unbelievable and the temperature roamed around 40c during midday. After more bus games and popping a valium to knock myself out for a while, we eventually arrived at almost 2am at our guest house in Siem Reap. Eight of us decided to stick together and got two rooms of four people each. We were all zonked out that night.

The following day provided the real intro to Cambodian culture and its people who, apart from the touts that are extremely aggressive, are very friendly and quite adept at English as well for the most part. We walked to the market, checked out the city. I found food to be much more than in other parts of this region but that could be attributed to where we were in the city. I noticed many maimed beggars hobbling about, no doubt a result of the numerous undiscovered landmines that still lurk in the remote countryside. Sad to see and a stark reminder of Cambodia's bleak history.

The big draw of Siem Reap are the nearby Angkor Wat temples, one of the wonders of the world. The temples are between one to two thousand years old. We decided we'd get up and get there to see the sunrise. Somehow all of us managed to get up for this although it was pretty rough admittedly, considering we went to sleep at around 2am. We reached the main temple right before the sun ripped through and were treated to a spectacular scene. It was worth the trouble.

From there we began exploring the multitudes of temples in the area. We did the giant ones first and progressed through to all sorts of medium ones. My favourite temple by far was the "tree temple" which consisted of an original temple being bombarded and overrun by tree roots ripping through the infrastructure. It was a clash of human ingenuity and nature combining forces to create a wicked scene on the senses. All in all we were there for about eight hours and I can safely say that I'll be templed out for the next little bit, mind you it'll be quite difficult to outdo what we saw there. The only downside to the whole experience was that it was expensive to get in BUT worse of all were the touts who were extremely aggressive and unrelenting, I had to hold myself back from knocking out a few. Apparently the word no is lacking from their English vocabulary. Not enough to tarnish the experience to be sure.

Upon returning I passed out for quite a while and then took it easy in the evening, just reflecting on different things. We left the next day for the capital.

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