We loved the feel of Cambodia. It’s a country full of poverty and a mixture of violence and corruption, but the people are very friendly, kind and welcoming. Our first taste of Cambodia was a 9 hour bus drive into Siem Reap. Leaving our passports with the bus driver to get express VISA’s was an uncomfortable experience, but we were reassured by our excellent tour guide Phil. Everything on the border went really quickly, which was a shock, it’s known for its slow progress while standing in the heat.
Siem Reap seemed very relaxed, very dusty and alive with backpackers and locals. We had a great first evening having a meal cooked by a charity that G Adventures work with providing extra English classes for children in the village. They try initiatives with the family to keep the kids in school. It’s great to see it working in the area.
Our first day started at 4 am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. This beautiful place was definitely on our bucket list and it lived up to our expectation, being one of the seven wonders of the world. Walking into the ruins in pitch black with torches leading the way was a wonderful way to start seeing the shapes and structure of the first temple, Angkor Wat. The sky was perfect shades of red, orange and a deep purple on the outskirts. We went to the smaller reflection pool where it was less crowded, the best decision.
The temple has gone through a lot since it was created by various Khmer Kings building their temples, palaces and cities close together. They wanted to show how grand the empire was. It’s been through war, riots and torn apart by many soldiers beheading all the Buddhist statues. It’s sad to see such a beautiful temple had been treated this way, but there is restoration in process and they are trying to create the sense of grandeur that it once had. We liked the rustic charm and sense of calmness around these temples even with a load of tourists traipsing through. We also got to visit the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple which was great to see the trees of the jungle taking over the man made structure. Then we visited the temple of four faces, the faces represent the four acts of kindness, the charming smile, sad smile, glad smile and beautiful smile.
After an early start and a long hot walk around the 3 temples, we went quad biking. It was a brilliant way to zoom around the countryside and see the sunset as we went off-roading. Stu nearly got thrown off by a cow and Emma nearly drove into the river while going too fast. Sexism is still strong here, with the girls having to kick up a fuss to be allowed to come along with the boy group which was allowed to go a lot faster. Plus grey helmets for boys and pink helmets for girls only. So when one of the girls had a slightly larger head (sorry Josica), they could not comprehend that she would need the grey slightly larger helmet. Instead they attempted to ram the pink one on nearly ripping her ears off.
Our next stop was the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. A big difference to the red dust and space of Siem Reap. The capital is noisy, smelly and chaotic with motorbikes and Tuk Tuks. We might have been on guard straight away just from the amount of times we were told that most likely one of us would have a bag snatched (no one did thankfully). Our full first day in the capital was a sombre and eye opening one. We headed for the Killing Fields and the school that was turned into a prison called S21. It was incredibly intense, we knew it was going to be but nothing really could have prepared us for what we saw. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodian government enacted Genocide killing up to 3 million of its 7 million Cambodians. In 1975 the government enforced everyone
out of the main towns and into the rice fields to work as farmers. There was mass confusion and secrets around why, they wanted to kill and squash anyone that would try and rise against the government to over throw them. Anyone that had a good job or an education, even people with glasses, were killed in the most horrific of ways. Always at night, and rarely by a bullet. Mainly by the leaves of the palm tree or a knife. It was awful to walk around the rectangles of dust and tree roots. There are still pieces of the victims clothing coming up to the surface along with their bones. You are practically walking over and next to these articles. The centre is a memorial of the skulls they have found and cleaned.
It was too much to witness. S21 was even more intense with blood stains still on the tiled floor of the narrow and disgusting made up cells. It was inhumane and disgusting, and yet there are countries that are doing this today, still not learning from grave errors.
It was a tough morning and we didn’t feel like doing a whole lot afterwards. Some of our group went for a swim, others to the temples but we dragged Alicia along for a massage. Which ended up in a hilarious room with the three of us all together getting our first massage. It was really good, very cheap and it made sure we were firm friends by the end of it. Alicia has told us that we have to write just how amazing she is… she’s alright.
Our last few days were in Sihanoukville, a small beach side town. We weren’t blown over by it, but we did manage to get to the white sandy beaches of an island about an hours boat ride away which was incredible to chill out on, swim in the warm sea and eat BBQ food prepared on the beach. A nice way to relax after the hectic busy capital.
The food in Cambodia has been really great. A lot of fragrant and coconut curries with random veg in for the veggies, and so much sticky rice which is Emma’s favourite. We’ve both been surprised at our efforts with the chopsticks and feel confident enough to eat nearly everything with them. Stuie’s favourite has been the ice creams that are made on freezing cold plates and rolled into thin spirals mainly for the Oreo and Nutella flavours!
Next stop Vietnam…