Cambodia


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Asia » Cambodia
August 17th 2008
Published: August 17th 2008
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So we last wrote as we were about to cross the border in to Cambodia, well what a journey that was…I’d say one of our worst yet!

We went to catch the boat at 8am and were surprised at how many people there were waiting with us, as we’d seen hardly anyone walking around the island. Loads of us were crammed onto a tiny longtail boat with all of our heavy bags, I’m surprised we didn’t capsize with the amount of weight there must have been. The boat ride didn’t take very long but once we’d arrived at the mainland we had to wait for about an hour for minibuses to pick us all up. The Cambodian border was only a 40min drive away and when we arrived we were surprised to stop outside of 3 small wooden huts on the Laos side, it looked nothing like any border checkpoint we’d seen before. I didn’t know where to go as it looked abandoned, but after a couple of minutes a man came out and walked to the smallest hut there…apparently that was immigration! We had to walk across no-mans land to Cambodian immigration and about half way there we noticed a big stone sign standing in the middle of some trees saying ‘Cambodge’ on one side and ‘Laos’ on the other; apparently it was left over from when the French occupied Cambodia. Once everyone had got their visas and passports stamped we all crammed into 2 minibuses which meant 12 in a 9 seater and broken air-con…HOT! We stopped for lunch about an hour later in a small café which had high prices and small portions but as we had 9hrs left until we arrived in Phnom Penh there wasn’t much we could do about it. We were shocked to see a very old, rusty, small bus pull up as we were eating which we were then told we’d be going the rest of the way in! It got worse when we saw the inside of the bus which was piled full of wooden planks, you had to crawl along the planks to get to the seats at the back of the bus, and our knees were banging against the seats in front of us….not what we expected when we’d paid for ‘VIP’! Matters were made worse when 2hrs from Phnom Penh we stopped at another café which was swarming with bugs, so when everyone got back on the bus the bugs came along for the ride. I had a cricket jumping in my hair at one point! Eventually we arrived in Phnom Penh at 11pm and were quickly snapped up by a local and taken to his guesthouse; for $4 we had a hot shower, double room with fan right on the lakeside…bargain. The strange thing about Cambodia is they use American dollars and Cambodian riel as currency. So anything under $1 has to be paid in riel which is very confusing.
We had a nice long lie-in the next day before paying $5 each to hire a tuk-tuk for the day. We first went to the Killing Fields at Cheung Ek, 13km away, where they have found loads of mass graves and are still to excavate 50% of the area. The first thing we saw when we arrived was the massive memorial building which was filled with skulls and bones found in the mass graves; there were also victims clothes collected in a pile at the bottom. There was a small section with some information on the Killing Fields but it was nowhere near enough. There were also pieces of bone and clothing scattered around the area (obviously left on purpose) which Nick and I found really distasteful. It didn’t seem like they were trying very hard to put across how horrible this part of their history was, it just seemed like a money making tourist trap. We didn’t stay too long before heading to the S-21 prison inside Phnom Penh. S-21 used to be a school but during Pol Pots regime it was turned into a prison where inmates were tortured for information before being sent to the Killing Fields to be executed. We both found the prison much more interesting and it really hit home how badly the Cambodians were treated. There were 3 buildings in total at S-21: 1 - big cells used for torture, 2 - tiny holding cells only big enough to lie down in, 3 - Information block with surviver’s accounts, pictures and torture machines/tools.
The next day we decided to go to Sihanoukville, a small coastal town in western Cambodia, where we’d planned to meet friends. It was really nice weather when we arrived so we went to the beach to play frisbee, before hiring a cinema room for the evening and watching a couple of films. For the next 4 days it rained heavily so we couldn’t do much apart from play cards, go on the internet, watch TV in our rooms and look forward to dinner (which was fine as Cambodia does amazing western food). One day we did decide to risk it and cycle to the local market, what a foolish idea! We had only been cycling for about 5mins before it started absolutely chucking it down! As you can imagine by the time we got to the market we were in no mood to look around as we were soaked to the bone. After wondering around for 20mins we decided to cycle back, but when we arrived at our bikes our friends had lost the key to their bike lock! 10mins later with no luck on the key front we carried the bikes over to a local repair shop and asked them to saw it off! Luckily the guesthouse staff didn’t notice that we only returned one lock! At the end of the week we splashed out on our first roast dinner in 6months and boy was it worth it! 2 meats, Yorkshire pud, roast potatoes, veg, stuffing and gravy…YUM!
As the weather wasn’t getting any better we headed back toward Phnom Penh stopping about an hour away in a small town called Kampot. There wasn’t much to do there apart from visit some of the local caves, which weren’t really that great and were full of biting ants. At the first cave Nick made friends with a little girl who took the clip off his shorts and started to play with it, although Nick did seem a little upset he let her keep it. Our friend also started playing with their pet monkey which was quite funny; Nick was staying as far away as he could! On the way back to our tuk-tuk it started raining so we sheltered underneath a locals house which was quite nice.
We then went back to Phnom Penh and spent a few days relaxing in the guesthouse during the day and going out to the bars in the evening. One bar had a flip the coin game during happy hour, where if you got it right you got the drink free. I unbelievably got 6/6 right! Nick came a close second with 4/6 and our friends were absolutely useless which was really funny as the more you get wrong the more addictive the game becomes.
For our last few days in Cambodia we caught the bus to Siem Reap where the Angkor temples are. We hired a tuk-tuk for the day which picked us up at 8am and set off very slowly toward Angkor Wat, the main temple complex. It cost $20 for a day pass to see all of the Angkor temples which looked like it was being put to some use as nearly all of the temples were being renovated. I actually found Angkor Wat a bit disappointing as it had scaffolding all over it and you couldn’t climb the steep steps which is one of the main highlights. After Angkor Wat we went to Angkor Thom (an ancient city full of temples) which was home to the Bayon - mine and Nick’s favourite temple complex. From a distance it just looked like a pile of crumbling rocks but as you got closer you could start to make out the faces carved into the rocks. Everywhere you looked there seemed to be a massive carving of the 4-faced Buddha. Another of our favourites was Ta Phrom which was featured in ‘Tomb Raider’, where all the trees are growing out of the temple ruins. Although they say Ta Phrom is being left to crumble to give people an idea of what the other temples would look like there are actually wooden walkways covering the complex and they are starting to replace parts of it with new stones. After 4hrs of temples in the boiling hot weather we were both ready to go back to our guesthouse.
We stayed in Siem Reap for 1 more day before catching a taxi to the Thai border and then a minibus to Bangkok for a couple of days shopping before our flight to COLD New Zealand!


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