Phnom Penh - Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)
Phnom Penh (18/06/2011 - 20/06/2011)
We arrived in Cambodia after a nice and easy morning completing our Mekong Delta tour; visiting a local village of floating houses, and the fish farms they run there for export (got splashed by some VERY hungry fish - they went crackers splashing around for their food!!), and then continued to sail along in the boat to the border of Vietnam/Cambodia, enjoying the view sat in the sun on the roof of the boat, returning the many waves of all the children who would excitedly run alongside us at the rivers edge, desperately trying to keep up with us for as long as possible - very cute! The border crossing itself was a piece of cake - thanks to our very good tour company (one of the main reasons booking with them) - they completed all the paperwork - we just sat and all enjoyed lunch, our last meal with our fellow tour buddies - using up every last Dong we had. After about an hour we all had our visas arranged, and were now on dry Cambodian land. We all crammed into a tiny bus - the boys at the front chatting about sports - shock! The girls all in the back trying to read - but having to resort to chilling out with some music as we couldn’t concentrate what with the over excited lads in front competing for main stage within the group. I was sat by the window - so took the opportunity to take in the Cambodian countryside, realising that this is one county we won’t get to see much of. It was beautiful, huge vast areas of lush green fields, broken by shacks on stilts, and the inhabitants of the iscolated village (women, children, cows, goats...etc). Nice to watch daily life for them taking place - amoungst the tropical settings - sun shining very brightly - introducing this country as a very beautiful place. We arrived in Phnom Penh after a quick 3 hour journey and all gratefully climbed out of the bus - desperate for a good stretch.
It turned out we were a little further out from the tourist area - the others decided to share tuk tuks and head for the traveller area on the waterfront, but as their budgets were bigger than ours, we had to say our goodbyes to the groups at this point and head off to the cheaper area in search of a dive that we could afford! Ha! We managed to find the one we had headed for as per LP book and checked in - our 1 hour walk had paid off as it was cheaper than the others had headed for. The place was nice, room was decent with rooftop bar, which is always nice. Refreshed with a drink, we headed out to the waterfront area in search of arranging a tour to the Killing Fields the next day. We couldn’t find any tour companies anywhere - which seemed strange - so we decided to get a tuk tuk, recommended by the hostel, as we had been quoted a good price. Before heading back to the hostel to make such arrangements, we enjoyed tea at a water front restaurant (the only one at a fair price) and tucked into jacket potato cheese & beans! YUMMMY!!! To say the least - it went down very nicely indeed!!! Topped off by a firework display over the water - which was great to sit and enjoy at the same time! Back at the hostel, we made arrangements for the tuk tuk, and asked the young lad running the place (really nice guy) that if he heard anyone else going that way - to ask them if they wanted to share tuk tuk there, splitting the cost. We retired for an earlyish night - not stopped the past few days so pretty shattered come night time. Up early the next day ready to get up & out for a day steeped in history. Getting ready, Lauren popped up on Skype, which was fab as I had been wanting to talk to her for ages. She had just got in from a night out in town - so we had a type talk, not to wake the rest of the house. Really good to hear from her & that she is doing so well - but unfortunutely got cut short as the lad running the hostel knocked on the door to tell us he had found some people that wanted to share with us. I said bye to Laur, and rushed upstairs to scoff some breakfast and meet up with them. Agreeing a cheap price, we headed off to the Killing Fields, used by the Khmer Rouge just 30 years ago. Inside we read all of the history inside the first section, and then watched an information video to provide visitors with an understanding of exactly what had happened in that terrible 4year period of Cambodian history. After digesting as much information as we could (appauled that the EVIL animals have not yet received punishment suitable to their crimes) we respectfully visited the area which was used by the Khmer Rouge as a mass slaughter and mass grave sight. The grounds were an open area - and very silent and still - everyone respectfully taking the time to contemplate exactly where they were - ourselves included. Without wanting to talk too sadly of what we seen, it included in summary, a monument built in memory of all those whose lost their lives during this horrific period, the monument encased the preserved skeleton bones of all who have been recovered from the mass graves. We viewed the various areas where graves had been discovered, including one grave which when excavated, was discovered to only include headless bodies, another to include all women and children. We also sadly seen the tree which was used to slaughter babies on mass by swinging them from their legs, breaking their tiny heads against the tree, before tossing its poor defencless body into the immediate pit. As I’m sure you can imagine - it was unbelievably sad to walk around such a place. So hard to contemplate the barbaric information we had just learned was real - and had happened here - most shocking of all, just 30years ago!!! Terrible!! We took our time to try to appreciate what these poor people must have suffered - and eventually met up with two other Canadian girls we had shared the tuk tuk with to return to the centre of Phnom Penh, as we planned to visit S21 that afternoon.
S21 is a school that the Khmer Rouge transformed into a prison, used to torture and murder anyone that they felt like, basically! (They targeted educated individuals in particular in the persuit of achieving a peasant nation that they could inflict with slave labour). This prison was used to hold and torture people before they were sent to the Killing Fields. We entered the school and stood in the playground. It was so confusing, your head counjours up images and sounds of children playing - which is immediately inturrupted by the sight of barbed wire fences used to prevent prisoners from being able to commit suicide, and the graves of 14 individuals, to my mind where a chalked in football pitch should be. These graves are for the individuals found by the Vietnamese when they took power from the Khmer Rouge. These were the last people to be murdered here - for them the Vietnamese were sadly just that little bit too late.
In each of the classrooms of the first building block, the layout hadn’t changed from that of classrooms - just the purpose was clearly different - as the picture on the wall of each room indicated as it detailed the way in which the 14 individuals laying outside were found by the Vietnamese. The torture they had suffered was horrific. We then continued to the next block, which no longer contained classroom sized rooms - these has been sectioned up into many many tiny cells for prisoners to be held in. The third building played an informative video, again detailing exactly what had happened within these walls, and interviewed prisoners & guards which was interesting to see them talk about - if not a little disturbing to hear the guards joke about the way they knowingly treated people. We then contined throughout the third building to read room after room, full of information, providing personal accounts describing the many ways in which the Khmer Rouge affected peoples lives. Wall after wall after wall of photographs of all of the people who have been sadly murdered by the Khmer Rouge - which is easy to document and they proudly documented all of their victims, in what feels like some sort of trophy.
The whole day was headsplitting. My head pounded under the strain of taking all of this information in - whilst battling the emotion of wanting to burst into tears over all those pictures of the tiny little boys and girls.
(I saw a picture of a girl with a hairclip in and pointed out to Ollie, only to realise how stupid I was for doing so - I couldn’t help but think that all that I was learning about was some prehistoric tradgedy that would never be allowed in todays world. Seeing a hair clip shocked me - I didn’t think they had hair clips back then - and then as soon as that though came into my head - the realisation that this had only happened 30years ago punched me in the stomach - sick for the poor little girl with the hair clip).
This day really was a very sad day. But it was also a very informative day. I am glad to have learned about the history of Cambodia - especially as it is meant to be very fresh today, with everyone knowing someone who lost their life to the reigeme.
I cannot believe I live in a world that can do such things - but today has brought back the reality that we do.
The sights we have visited today make it very clear that the purpose of visitor entry to them, is to ensure they the acts of the Khmer Rouge are never forgotten, meaning that they will hopefully never be allowed to return again - in Cambodia, or any other country. That message was strong and I think very true and important.
We ended that day by returning to the hostel, gettings some food at the rooftop (I had to order 2portions as we seem to be back to tiny food again! Damn it! Ha!) and booking our onward bus to Siem Reap for the next morning.
Siem Reap (20/06/2011 - 22/06/2011)
After another early start, we arrived at Siem Reap today mid afternoon. We ended up getting dropped off by the coach outside the centre, so we reluctantly had to get a tuk tuk as it was too far to walk, especially with backpacks! We arranged to be taken to the cheapest place in our LP book - but upon arrival, we realised the name of the hostel we were taken to, was very similar to the one we asked for - but definately not the same. We questioned this with the tuk tuk driver, and he said that if we didn’t like this one he would take us to the other one (basically he had lied - despite us having to listen to a speach the whole way there about how honest he was - sure sign that anyone is not I have learnt! Ha!). Ollie checked the rooms and said they were OK - the price was cheap - just £3.50 - so we took it rather than bothering to go any further - 2 other guys from our coach also did the same. I got into the room and realised Ollie had just signed us up to Monkey Janes the 2nd!!!! OH NO!!!! It was VILE!!! It was damp, smelly, the bathroom was like a shed attached to it, the walls didn’t even meet the ceiling meaning god knows what could have crawled in there!!! (Everytime I opened the door I was waiting to see a big fat snake slithering around in there - luckily - I didn’t!). Realising it was worse than he first thought - we decided that there was no way we could stay in there a minute longer than we had to - so we headed straight out to the centre. To cheer ourselves up, we decided to treat ourselves to a curry - but oh no - this delivered a big thick black hair in the curry, which was only just warm and not very tasty. In all fairness, the manager apologised and offered to cook it again for us - but we told him not to worry! Siem Reap is not my kinda place at this moment in time! Ha! We wandered round undeterred, and in all fairness, it seems like a nice enough place, and think us running into filth every step of the way is more our bad luck than anything else. Whilst wandering round, we tried to find a tour or bus to Angkor Wat the next day - but again, there didn’t seem to be any around. So further to a conversation with a very nice tuk tuk driver (not the same one as earlier - much to his annoyance - he was not happy with us for booking elsewhere! Ha!) we arranged a good day rate of $10 to take us there for sunrise and stay with us for the entire day. Now me & Ollie had wondered how long to spend at the temples, LP book says that it is a crime to do it in 1 day, and that a 3 day ticket should be bought at least. We weren’t sure that we would feel this way - and after reading up all about it - we decided to try and do it in one day, but if we needed to we would pay the extra of a second day (bearing in mind it is £20 per person per day!!!! VERY EXPENSIVE!!!). With the tuk tuk arranged, we headed to a bakery that we had passed earlier and stocked up on some very cheap and tasty looking treats in the hope that the smell of sugared buns might help lure us out of bed at 4.30am!! Stocked up on food - we headed back to our hostel to discover the place we had chosen to stay turns into party central by night. The bar area had all the tables pushed together - with all sorts sat round together chatting - big fat biker dudes, a random old cool Irish joker, older couples, and the usual backpacker crowd. We had a bit of a chat with the guys from our coach earlier today who has also decided to stay - and were encouraged by all the staff to drink and join in the party. We enjoyed a chat for a bit (more in hesitation of going back to the room than anything) but with a 4.30am rise looming we decided to leave the party animals to it and get some sleep in while we could.
Up the next morning - still pitch black - we quickly got ready and headed out to the tuk tuk who was waiting for us. We sped off to the site, rushing past the many other travellers who had the same idea as us. We (reluctantly) paid our entry fee and arranged with our driver where to meet him. We entered the temple gates, and approached the infamous temple. We eagerly awaited sunrise - camera ready in hand - but soon realised that there wasn’t going to be a beautiful red sky that morning. Shame - but never mind - still good to get up before the crowds. We wandered around the temple, which is set in beautifully stunning grounds (kinda like Ashton Court we think!). It was cool to see the sillouhette of the temple in the early morning light - very iconic and cool to know we were actually here seeing it for ourselves. We spent a few hours wandering around the vast temple, enjoying the many carvings (one of which I really wanted to see was receiving restoration work - so we couldn’t see it as up close as I would have liked - but oh well!) and decided that we would stop to enjoy some of our bakery snacks. As we walked to find a nice spot to sit, I felt “somthing” grab the bag of food from my hands. Expecting it to be a dog or Ollie acting the fool, I turned around to discover this was not the case - it was a HUGE monkey!!! Ha!! Ollie went to quickly take it back off him - but the monkey had other ideas - he lunged towards Ollie showing all of his teeth to him - I quickly told Ollie to leave him - neither of us want to spend the rest of the day sorting out shots. The monkey, realising we had accepted defeat, proceeded to sit just a few steps in front of us, open the bags of muffins and buns, and polish the lot off one by one!!! We couldn’t believe the cheek of him! Ha! The event had caused quite a stir, LP book warns of monkeys but nobody including ourselves has seen one there, and people gathered to take pictures of him tucking into our breakfast, and have a laugh at our expence! Ha! We waited until he had finished, and then sulked off laughing at our luck. Back at the tuk tuk, we were driven to another of the temples there named Bayon, which had many faces carved within it (216!), said to resemble the ruler at the time, watching down over the empire, demanding control. I liked this one - preferred it to Angkor Wat actually - it was very quirky. Cool to look at all the different faces looking at you from evey angle. We then contined round to look at more temples within that area (one is being reconstructed after it was taken apart by archaeologists years ago, and then the plans of how to put it back together were lost in the war - it has taken them years and years to reconstruct such plans to continue with its rebuild) and enjoyed strolling through the beautiful surroundings on a lovely bright sunny day, stopping for lunch (at 10.30am! Ha!) which was overpriced but tasty! Back with the driver we moved on to some more temples - and as lovely as they were - they were starting to all look the same by this point - and after looking a them for 6 hours already - we were almost not wanting the driver to stop as he passed another temple - but when he did we always got out to have a look round, too embarrassed by our ignorance of not being able to see the architectural difference to not! Ha! We reached the final set of temples which we were both looking forward to seeing. These temples have not received much restoration, and look pretty much as they would have when they were first discovered. Crumbling towers covered in sprawling mossy plants erupt from the earth. It was really cool to walk around this section - felt very Indiana Jones - the filming of Tomb Raider was actually done here, and you can see why! Huge trees had grown threw the temples, with their oversized roots bursting through walls and doors. Emerging out of the other side of the temple we looked for our tuk tuk only to realise there must be 2 entrance/exits - and we had come out the wrong one! Doh!! Ha! We walked, what turned out to be the long way round, back towards the tuk tuk via the road - laughing that we are the only two idiots who hire a tuk tuk for the day and end up walking round! Ha! Finding the driver - we didn’t admit our stupidity and just hopped in the back ready for a restful return journey. We ended up finishing the temple sightseeing about 2pm - feeling pretty ashamed that we were the shocking travellers who can’t even fill one day at the temples - let alone 3!!!! Ha! We reassured ourselves that we had been there fore 9 hours that day - and that we were templed out from India - not our fault! Ha! Definately glad we went to see it - but have no idea how people fill up 3 days there!!?
Anyway, journey back it tipped down with rain - the poor tuk tuk driver got SOAKED, but he didn’t stop until it went off - here they have to just work through it or they wouldn’t work in rain season, and it usually gets all of its droplets out in one big burst - and then shortly dries up after. On the way back we stopped off at Sinh Tourist office and booked our bus to Bangkok for the next day - can’t believe we will be in Thailand tomorrow!!! The tuk tuk kindly waited for us as we booked the bus, and after much debate over whether we should tip, we afforded a $1 tip to thank him, which he seemed happy with - bless. That afternoon we stocked up on more food for the journey tomorrow - back at the bakery getting more goodies seeing as we didn’t get to eat our first lot! Then enjoyed lunch in a bar which was a bargain - $3 a meal & drink - and then headed back to chill out at the hostel bar. We treated ourselves to a hot drink to accompany our cake we had treated ourselves to - delicious!! & looked up some nice beach huts for our Thailand beach. Later that night we had food at the hostel which was cheap and tasty - but I had managed to work up a really bad headache from lack of sleep I think - I tried to stay up as long as I could to catch Mum on Skype but in the end I had to give in and go to bed, knowing we had another early morning tomorrow. On getting into the pit (in which I had to sleep fully clothed which is boiling when you don’t have air con!) Ollie put on a bed time story on the internet which I listened to and sent me straight into the land of nod!
Kay & Ollie’s Cambodian Top Destinations
1. Phnom Penh
2. Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)
Kays Summary of Cambodia
Only spending about a week here is a short time - but I didn’t need anymore. I got to see the beautiful countryside and village life, even if it was just from a bus window. I got to see Angkor Wat - which to be honest was not the best - bit of an anti climax - but hey - you don’t know until you’ve tried it - and I can now say I have seen it. (Just glad I didn’t buy a 3day pass! Ha!)
Now the thing I am grateful to Cambodia for - is teaching me about the Khmer Rouge. I had never heard of this at all before coming away. Strange as it was such a short time ago. The visits we made to learn this history were felt much much deeper within me. I thought I had been moved by the history of Vietnam - but there was somthing about history we were learning that stuck with me SO much more. Perhaps because we were learning about it whilst stood in the actual fields and classrooms where it happened!? I don’t know - all I don’t is that I CANNOT believe this terrible evil happened such a short time ago. Again, I much more wide eyed about the world we live in - and the realities about all that we hear about in the news - I have just turned a blind eye to it before - ignorance is bliss as they say - but now I am glad I realise what those breaking news headlines really mean for people. (Not in a depressed about the world way - just an understanding of the realities).
So in summary - both countries I would not have changed a single thing - and I think will probably be the most influential countries to me in what I will have learned upon my return, along with India.