Cambodia - Days 1 to 4

Submitted by derms on Thu, 30/12/2004 - 10:23am.

Lotte and I spent two weeks in Cambodia and its been awesome!! We decided to go on a "package" tour so that all our accomodation etc would be taken care of. This is a blow by blow account of what we did.

Day 1 - Phnom Penh: We got a late flight from Bangkok and arrived in Phnom Penh at about 7 o'clock. It took us about 50 minutes to go through the visa checks - almost as long as the flight itself (as an aside a tourist visa costs $25 US!). Upon arrival, we met up with our tour guide and he took us out to a bar called Sharkeys with a few of his friends. The bar was filled with old white guys hooking up with young Cambodian girls. One of the tour guide's friends had recently broken up with a Cambodian girl and she threatened to throw battery acid on his face - something that is apparently not that uncommon.

Day 2 - Siem Reap: We travelled for about 5 hours by bus to reach Seam Reap, which is the city right next to Angkor Thom - the Capital of the Ancient Khmer Empire. At one point Angkor Thom was the largest city in the world - apparently in the vicinity of one million people lived there. The legacy of this once great city are the temples that were built nearby, the most famous being the Angkor Wat temple. We were due to tour the temples on day 3 and had this day to ourselves. We spent it crusing around the center of Siem Reap. French colonial buildings are quite a common feature in Cambodia and Siem Reap is no exception. Downtown Siem Reap is a bustling place - there were so many tourists (apparently 80% of the people living in Siem Reap make their money through tourism). We encountered many beggars, quite a few with limbs that had been blown away by land mines (which are still a problem in the west of Cambodia). It's quite sad to see how numerous they are. At night we took in a traditional Khmer dance while feasting on a banquet of Khmer food.

Day 3 - Siem Reap: We were roused early for our tour of the Angkor Temples. The temples are spread over an area of more than 400 square kilometers - fortunately we had a chauffeur. As an aside, most of the vehicles in Cambodia don't have any licence plates and many of the cars are right-hand-drive - even though they drive in the right hand lane (the cars are cheaper I'm told). Also, there don't seem to be any road rules - there is no "give way to the right" or any thing like that. Cars/bikes just merge randomly at intersections - it's everyone for themselves. It's not really dangerous though, as they drive painfully slow (which is really annoying if your travelling long distances). But anyway, back to Angkor.

The Angkor Temples have to be seen to be believed - the old addage "a picture is worth a thousand words" applies so I will keep my description brief and put up pictures at a later date. Some of the temples have been ravaged by the surrounding forrest while others have been restored to their former glory. There are a few areas in the temples were, if you put your back against the wall and hit your chest, the "thump" sound reverberates around the room (it was meant to be quite therapeutic). Also, I think the Ancient Khmer's wore size two shoes - the steps to the top of the temples were almost impossible to ascend for me and my clumsy size 13 feet.

The Angkor Wat temple is an awesome sight, particularly at night. It was apparently dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. The Cambodians are now mostly Buddhists but at one point the dominant religion was Hindhuism. Our guide told us much about the history of the temples and the meanings of their many markings. Apparently if a female dancer holds her index finger against her thumb it means that she is a virgin. The markings also depict scenes of wars that were fought and of Gods with many women. Oh yeah, for all you movie buffs, Tomb Raider was filmed in and around the Angkor Temples.

The King of Cambodia was also at Angkor the same day as us and Cambodian flags were out in force - particularly along the roads to the Angkor Temples. The king is not really respected amongst the Cambodians I spoke to - mainly because he only really looks out for himself and because he's gay. Anytime there is a crisis in Cambodia he flees to China or North Korea - I will touch on the Cambodia/North Korean connection later.

Anyway, at night we watched a traditional Khmer shadow puppet show and headed off to a bar called the "Angkor What?" - our guide kept refering to it as the "Angkor Wat What" - I don't think he got the joke. A lone bartender was serving all the customers - he looked like an English guy in his late twenties. We got chatting to a lawyer from Scottland. Apparently, he knew the bartender from Law School (but didn't know that he worked there). It turns out that the bartender got bored of his job as a Lawyer and found this job on google. He applied for it - online - and got it. Random.

Day 4 - Siem Reap: Today we crused up a river where we encountered a "Vietnamese Floating Village". The Vietnamese live on the houseboats because they are not allowed to have any land - there is some bad blood between the Vietnamese and Cambodians. It was pretty funny to see pigs lying in their floating sties. Also amusing is the karaoke sound systems found on some of these bamboo boats. One of the floating farms even kept crocodiles.

Later that day we visited the Aki Ra's Landmine Museum. It's a museum dedicated to the Landmine problems that were/are still faced in Cambodia and is extremely impressive. The are old unexploded mines, pictures of people laying and clearing mines as well as brutal accounts of the Khmer Rouge attrocities - some with accompanying paintings. The guy who runs it, Aki Ra, was orphaned by the Khmer Rouge and became a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. He clears landmines in his spare time and has even adopted children who were injured by landmines. Remarkable guy.

We spent the night drinking wine and watching dutch television - for some reason our hostel had a dutch television station. Bizzare.

( categories: Cambodia )