Sunrise at Angkor Wat
We flew into the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, and didn’t really know what to expect. Cambodia was a bit of the unknown to us but we were ready and excited to explore the place, especially the Temples of Angkor. After getting off the flight the first thing we noticed was how ridiculously cheap everything is in Cambodia . As an example, the first shop we saw was a mobile phone shop where we managed to buy a pre paid sim card with 500 minutes of local calls and a 1gb data package for £2. £2!
Our hotel in Phnom Penh was also cheap. It cost us £10 a night but this, by no means, was a budget hotel. The room was huge with one double bed, an extra single bed with en suite, air conditioning
Rice Paddy field
Now given that we had just spent around a month in Malaysia and Singapore where the beer costs around £3 a pint, I may have got a little excited. I may have drunk several free beers and befriended some Australian travellers and drank several more at a price of 70p per pint… I say ‘I may’ as I can’t really remember. Ali in the meantime was, of course, sensible. She didn’t really enjoy any of the drinks, so she went to bed early. The only thing I really remember is spending quite a bit of time in the toilet at the end of the night… oh and breaking the hotel shower, which a less-than-impressed Ali had to fix.
Fun night aside, we actually came to Cambodia to learn about the
During this time, the government destroyed numerous ‘westernised’ buildings and controlled every aspect of the Cambodian people’s lives: what they wore; who they spoke to; what they ate and how they worked. All previous possessions and money were stripped from the
As if the above treatment wasn’t bad enough
Our killing field’s visit was
Once the government had the written confessions, they would then ‘cleanse’ the accused of their sins. This is where the killing
The remains of the bodies have been largely removed from the
Thankfully the monstrosities that occurred between 1975-1979 have
Temples of Angkor
We also really enjoyed the Capital Phonm Penh. It was one of the most laid back cities we’ve ever been to, which for SEA is just remarkable. We even felt reasonably safe crossing the road. But after people watching in the streets, attending a couple of bars and eating some delicious food in the restaurants, it was time for us to catch a bus to Siem Reap; the main reason we chose to visit Cambodia.
Siem Reap is the city that is located the closest to the Temples of Angkor. To get from Phomn Penh we took an 8 hour bus, which was, erm, an experience. The main road running from Phomn Penh to Siem Reap is a single lane carriageway, but honestly, the bus driver clearly didn’t know this. He spent most of the time with his hand on the horn and on the wrong side of the road. We had several close calls with other buses/lorries and we truly felt sorry for anyone on a moped. For this reason we made a note never to take one of the cheaper buses and always travel during the day whilst in Cambodia.
Arriving in Siem Reap was an experience. For Cambodia, Siem Reap is quite developed but once you leave the main strip, we felt Siem Reap was anything but developed. For example, we had to go on a significant dirt-track road to reach our hotel and ‘off the beaten track’, so they say, was full of shanty-type houses. We felt, for one of the larger cities in Cambodia, this was a bit odd. It just shows how poor the country actually is. The hotel,however, was very well-developed. It was easily a three star hotel with a swimming pool and only cost £10 per night, including breakfast and with free transfers to the centre of town (about a ten minute TukTuk ride). If that wasn’t good enough for £10, because the owners were Canadian and it was ‘Canada day’ on the day we arrived, we got free food and drink on the evening. We just couldn’t believe that everywhere we went in Cambodia seemed to want to ply us with free alcohol, not that we were complaining.
For the next two days we hired a TukTuk driver called “Pie” to drive us around the temples of Angkor. You really do need some form of transport to see the temples. They are so vast and far apart that it’s not really practical to walk between them, nor desirable in the baking sun. Over the two days we managed to walk around, on top of and in-between no less than 10 temples, including seeing the sunrise at the famous Angkor Wat (the temple on the Cambodian flag) and Angkor Thom. Our favourite temple, however, had to be Ta Prohm. Nature has had its way with Ta Prohm and trees are literally growing out and all over the walls and door ways, oh and one of the Tomb Raider films was shot there too.
Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider temple)
The thing that we were not prepared for during our temple visit was begging. In fairness, the beggars always wanted to sell you something, as opposed to you just giving them money, but it was relentless. We were literally hounded and we’ve never experienced anything like it. To paint you a picture, it was like when you see a celebrity go to a red carpet event, step out of the limo and then be greeted by hundreds of paparazzi screaming and shouting to take their picture. Our experience was a bit like that, except we’re not celebs, the red carpet was a mud path, our limo was a beaten-up moped with a carriage on the back and the people were screaming and shouting for us to buy something. Anything. We were even randomly approached by an official security guard to ask if we wanted to buy a fake security badge. We just looked at him baffled and moved away from him and his badges promptly.
The worst though was that the parents set their kids on you. Their adorable big-eyed, innocent-faced and begging kids. We kept asking “why aren’t you at school?” and a programmed response was “school in the afternoon/morning”, depending on the time of day. I didn’t want to give them a penny, since it’s nearly always counter-productive to do so, but I caved in when a 5-year-old was talking to us for 10 minutes and laughing that she didn’t understand and only wanted $1 for 10 postcards. Ali later discovered that the girl had actually given us 14 post cards for $1. Bless her, she really ought to go to school more.
It’s fair to say that we had an absolutely fantastic time in Cambodia. From learning about their recent tragic history, to seeing the fantastic temples of Angkor and interacting with a variety of people from Cambodia. I also bought a pint of Cambodian beer for 30 pence! and we ate some fantastic Khmer food. Our favourite restaurant, called Haven Training Restaurant in Siem Reap, did some of the best food we have tasted in SEA. The restaurant also only recruits people who have recently left an orphanage and trains them as chefs and/or hospitality to give them a bright future in the tourism industry.We would highly recommend this place to anyone who visits the temples or stays in Siem Reap. Great food and service, the latter being quite hard to find in SEA (at least when you’re on our budget!).
We loved Cambodia so much that we almost extended our stay, we really did want to spend so much more time in the country. However, we had a set visa for Vietnam and we thought we were going to spend around 3-4 weeks exploring that country. So enthusiastically we headed over to Vietnam to explore another unknown country to us. Oh how we wish we stayed in Cambodia for longer…
Gary & Ali