A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

Phnom Penh

Cambodia

After 4 nights in Siem Reap, we headed to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, which is much smaller than you would expect a capital to be. Another nail-biting, white-knuckle bus ride kept us on the edge of our seats for the 6-hour journey. No rules, no one else deserves to be on the road but us, and no looking back - just amazing!

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This was our route.

We found ourselves at a little riverfront guesthouse with air-con, hot water and cable TV (all the luxuries for only $10/night). We did not have any itinerary planned while in Phnom Penh, just relaxing and seeing the city a bit. We managed to stumble upon the Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC) the first evening where we sipped some drinks, watched the sunset, and pretended to be journalists. The prices were decent since it was happy hour, and the views from the balcony onto the streets below were great!

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The national museum of Cambodia at sunset.

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The first day we simply walked around the City and let the sites come to us. We stumbled upon a bustling street market that kept us entertained (and disgusted) for a while. Brilliant fruit and vegetables abound, people everywhere, and some not so pretty sites (especially for the vegetarians in the crowd). Scooters, people, vendors and the occasional stray dog filled every inch of this street.

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The following day we hired a tuk-tuk to take us about 15 km out of town to the "Killing Fields" of Choeung Ek. This was just one of thousands of horrific sights in Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge practiced genocide from 1975 to 1979. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge soldiers killed 1.7 million Cambodians, or 21 percent of the population, in an effort to return the country back to "year zero" (a completely agrarian society) by exterminating or "re-educating" the intellects and those against the regime. It's hard to imagine that such atrocities happened just a couple of decades ago and they are surely happening elsewhere now. We were also surprised how little we knew about it before coming here (almost nothing).

The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek contain approximately 8,000 human skulls in a glass shrine that were excavated from this location. As you walked around the grounds there were many human bones and tattered clothing that were partially exposed, which was equally hard to stomach.

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After the Killing Fields, we headed to the S-21 prison memorial site in Phnom Penh where 17,000 people were detained, interrogated, and tortured from 1975 to 1979. This former high school was taken over by the Khmer Rouge as a prison. In the prison cellblocks, there were haunting photos of the former prisoners; young, old, men, & women. If you could read or write, or even wore glasses, you were a target of the Khmer Rouge. Only about 15 people who were detained in this prison survived.

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We spent a lot of time just walking around and exploring the city, as there are not too many "tourist" attractions. Here are a few photos:

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One of the local kids you see around town. Some are clothed, some partially, some not at all. His family was nearby enjoying the park.

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In Cambodia, gambling is a national pastime. Almost every alley you look down has a group gathered around a deck of cards. At night, they play by candlelight on the street.

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A comfortable place to nap?

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Two different worlds - girls walking down the street with buckets on their heads next to a Mercedes.

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Posted by rebmamber 08:26 Archived in Cambodia Comments (5)

Off to Cambodia

Border to Siem Reap and Angkor

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After a 6-hour bus ride from Bangkok, we arrived at the lovely Cambodian border town Poipet. I (Justin) overpaid our visa fee, which zipped us through the border in about 1 hour, instead of 2-3 hours (basically sweetening the coffee of the border patrol, you gotta love corruption!). We had heard that the town of Poipet was about the worst place in all of Cambodia, and it definitely lived up to it’s reputation.

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The chaotic border crossing. Adding to the confusion, the two countries drive on different sides of the road!

From there we had two options to get to Siem Reap, a 5 hour bus ride or a 3 hour cab ride on the infamous “nightmare road”. The bus ride was $10 pp, and the taxi was $40 for the whole car. We asked everyone around the border we could find until we managed to locate a Finnish couple who had the same timesaving idea that we had. So we were off! We think the taxi drivers either have an ongoing bet who can make the best time, or who can make the most people in the car pee their pants, because this guy flew. While speeds of 55 mph may not seem like that fast, you have to realize what this road is like. I had to remove my sunglasses as they kept on falling off and my head literally hit the ceiling many times. In addition to the road conditions, there are no real traffic lanes, nor considerations of imaginary traffic lanes in Cambodia. We were all over that road, into oncoming traffic, swerving around animals, people, whatever. It was like we were in the Baja 5000 in a Toyota Camry; I can't believe that car made the trip. After a 12-hour day of travel, we kissed the solid ground in Siem Reap and made our way to a guesthouse.

The next day we headed off to explore the ancient ruins of the Khmer Empire. The Khmer Empire established it’s capital in the area of what is now Siem Reap in the early 9th Century. The empire at its greatest extended over the valleys of the lower present-day Thailand and the lower present-day Cambodia and Vietnam and north into Laos. The capital city was centered around the massive Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious structure. When Europe was in the Dark Ages and London only had 50,000 residents, Angkor has 3 million inhabitants and the ability to build some of the greatest temples ever built.

Angkor Wat
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Justin at the top of Angkor Wat.

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The view above the trees.

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They built glorious temples throughout the city, all with extensive carvings. The temples were all made of stone and were built to house the Gods. The empire thrived for hundreds of years until the Thais captured Angkor and the capital was abandoned in the 1400’s. The only surviving structures today are made of stone, as the wooded ones were either burned or taken back by the jungle.

The size and ornateness of the temples is quite mind boggling, I hope these pictures do it justice, a few of them have a good looking model or two in them for perspective.

Banyon

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There are over 200 of these large faces on this temple, pointing in the 4 directions of the compass.

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Ta Prohm

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This temple has been taken over by the jungle and the massive banyan roots.

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Preah Khan

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Justin showing some novice monks a few pictures from home.

We toured the temples for two days with a guide that took us around in a tuk-tuk. The third day we rented bikes from town and saw the sites on our own.

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The town of Siem Reap was very nice with lots of restaurants and nightlife to keep the tourists happy. We were overwhelmed at times by the constant begging and the onslaught of people selling the same thing over and over again. It was very heart wrenching to have a 5-year-old carrying a 6-month-old follow you saying, “poor, milk, help”. We at times would buy a carton of milk for the child, but once that happened the kids came out of everywhere after you, which made us feel that we were not greatly impacting the child’s life by this small offering. We decided that money was not the best thing, because it would probably just go to the parents sitting around the corner, so we mainly have given food, which the kids usually eat on the spot. Hey, we can’t all be like Angelina Jolie, who by the way has a drink named after her at one of the places in town. We have had many discussions between us and other travelers about the children and the overall poverty situation in Cambodia and we have not found a solution (big surprise), but maybe the fact that we are openly discussing this between us, other travelers, and now you is a step in the right direction to finding a way to help.

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Overwhelmed by bracelet sellers.

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To follow are just a few other photos of some of the things we have seen here in Cambodia. You’ll notice several pictures dealing with various methods of transportation by the locals, which still amaze us.

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They will ride for hours on the top of trucks and vans like this. This was a mild case, we saw many much more loaded.

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Supposedly, this is not a frog or a toad. Not sure what it is, but it's cute!

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We accept the photo assignment given by Coomey (iwannafly), and will be keeping our eyes open.

Posted by rebmamber 01:38 Archived in Cambodia Comments (6)

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