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Published: January 20th 2018
Before heading to Cambodia I didn’t really know a great deal about the history of the country and as we drove from the airport into the city of Phnom Penh it immediately reminded me of India with the dusty roads, market stalls and amount of traffic on the road. Very much in contrast to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore that we'd already visited in South East Asia.
I’d heard of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge but it wasn't until we visited the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide (S-21 Prison) and The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh that I gathered any real understanding of just how bad things were under him and how recently it all happened. As we were walking around The Killing Fields the statistic that stuck out most to me was when the narrator on the audio guide asked you to imagine the population of your country back home and then asked you to imagine that 1 in 4 of that population had been killed by Pol Pot and his regime.
Having grown up as part of a family of four it made the statistic more difficult to swallow. There were stories that you could barely believe such
as the Killing Tree, a tree against which children and infants were smashed because their parents were accused of crimes against the Khmer Rouge and they were killed so there was no chance of the children growing up and seeking revenge for their parents death. In the Tuol Sleng Museum, which had once been a high school that was converted into a prison, there were rooms full of portraits of faces belonging to those who had been imprisoned here before later being killed all with a look that suggested they didn't know where they were or what they were doing there. It's difficult to believe that it all managed to take place without the rest of the world realising and especially after the World Wars. It wasn’t the most cheerful of days and it's difficult to put everything you feel as you walk around and learn about what happened into words but I’m glad we took the time to visit both places.
After three weeks without we decided we were well overdue some beach time so we headed to Sihanoukville on the south west coast and spent two days not straying far from the swimming pool at our hostel
before heading to the island of Koh Rong. As beaches go 4K Beach was definitely one of the nicest I’ve ever been to with long stretches of white sand, clear waters and it was never too crowded either. One day we walked 45 minutes across the island through the jungle to Long Beach which is a 7 km stretch of white sand that we pretty much had to ourselves except for one other couple that we’d walked past. One of the other things we’d read about was that you could swim with the plankton seeing them light up in the water and on the boat trip back to where we were staying from Long Beach we got to jump into the sea once the sun had set and see it for ourselves. As soon as you jumped into the sea and splashed aroundit looked like there were Christmas lights flashing in the water and it was even better when you looked up and you could see the stars shining brightly in the sky as well. It really was a beautiful spot and it more than made up for the rats that we shared our room with for the first few
nights and the trio of Cambodian karaoke singers that felt like they were performing in our room for most of one of the nights we were there. The rumours are (I couldn’t find anything online to confirm) that the island has been bought by Chinese developers and it won’t be long until large resorts start popping up and it becomes more developed which would be a great shame. One of the drawbacks of visiting a place like this is that it can only be accessed by boat and when the sea is choppy I have been known to suffer. The day we left the island it was very windy and the earlier boats in the day had been cancelled. It wasn’t long till I looked like I’d just walked out of the shower drenched in sweat and was curled up in a ball with pins and needles in both arms and legs. I also happened to be sat next to a lovely American girl who would not stop going on about how she doesn’t get motion sickness because her mum used to make her read whilst driving on windy roads at home - needless to say I didn’t ask her
for her contact details so we could stay in touch!
Once back on dry land and fully recovered we took an overnight bus up to Siem Reap where we would spend a few days and explore the Angkor temples. Before that though we found ourselves celebrating the fact that we’d survived the last couple of days on Pub Street drinking beer for 15p! We found that the food in Cambodia wasn’t the best and largely seemed to cater towards western tastes but we did come across a couple of dishes that we enjoyed and went back to many times. The first was Beef Loc Lac which is fried beef with peppery taste served with fried onions and tomatoes. The second dish was Chicken Amok curry which is very similar to the green curries you get in Thailand - the best one we had was at a restaurant called Damnak AHA for anyone reading who might find themselves in that part of the world in the future.
A visit to Siem Reap wouldn’t be complete without going to visit the Temples of Angkor. We decided that we were going to cycle around the temples which involved waking up at
4am and cycling the 8 km or so from our hostel to Angkor Wat in time to see the sunrise. As the sun rose and the reflection of the impressive temple appeared on the pond in front of it we were kept entertained watching the hoards of tourists jostling for the best position so they could get the perfect photograph with as few heads and selfie sticks in as possible. We had decided the day before that we would just visit 5 or 6 of the temples in the area that covers 400 square kilometres and it was great fun cycling around exploring them all. Some of them were like mazes that you could walk in one entrance and it wouldn’t be long before you were scratching your head trying to figure out how to get back out again. Two of the temples we visited Ta Prohm, which was where they filmed the Tomb Raider film, and Ta Som had some fascinating trees that had grown around the brickwork of the temples and almost become part of the ruins as well. We were shattered by the time we cycled back to the hostel and after mapping out the route we took round the site we worked out we’d cycled approximately 50 km and that doesn’t account for all the walking around we'd done either - we slept well that night!
I think had we not spent a week on the beach in Koh Rong it's difficult to see how we would have spent as long as we did in Cambodia, but it also would have been very easy to spend an even longer amount of time on the island it was that beautiful. Our plan was to be in Vietnam for Christmas so our time ended with a rush to sort out Julia’s visa as her E-Visa hadn’t been processed in time and boarding a bus to Ho Chi Minh unsure whether the US$100 extra we paid for an express visa (we only realised 3 hours before the bus journey that we couldn’t get one on arrival!) would actually allow us to enter the country!
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