Phnom Phen, Siam Reap, Sihanoukville, Kampot
12.08.2009 - 01.09.2009 34 °C
I arrived in Cambodia by bus from Saigon, it was probably the easiest border crossing so far...no problems and a luxury bus to carry us in! We arrived in Phnom Phen and stayed in the backpacker lakeside area. The lake was not the beautiful scenic scene described in the travel book but had thousands of dead fish floating in it, a big machine digging up part of the lake on the horizon, and as we found out when we got to our room, the bathroom was a hole straight down into the lake...no good for swimming and no wonder the poor little fishes were goners! I made a pact not to eat any seafood when we were there!
The accomodation we stayed in was right on the lake in a little tin roofed shack room, Phnom Phen was definately one of the hottest places I have been so far, in the morning we had to be out of our room by 8am in the morning as once the sun had been on the tin roof for a few hours it was an oven cooking us alive!
I had started reading a book called Stay Alive My Son about the life and escape of a family in the Cambodian genocide so I had an idea of some of the recent history of Cambodia but nothing prepared me for the visit to the S21 prison or the Killing Fields. We took a tuk tuk first to the S21 prison which was a school turned into the most notorious prison of the Khmer Rouge where they tortured and killed thousands of Cambodians. The prison has now been converted into a museum but the pictures on display are very hard hitting showing bodies exactly how they found them when the prison was discovered, and faces and pictures of the torture of hundreds of people who were held there some just young boys and girls. The head of the prison is currently under trial along with the rest of the Khmer Rouge leaders and we tried to spend a morning at one of the trials but unfortunately they were not on at the weekends when we were there.
Next up was the killing fields which have been tastefully made into a memorial ground and museum to honour the thousands of people who were murdered there and left in mass graves of up to 400 people per grave. They have made the area into a place that can be visited so that future Cambodians and visitors can see and learn from what happened during the Khmer Rouge reign in the hopes that nothing like it ever happens again. At the fields there were still remains of items of clothing left behind from those who had been murdered and a massive pile of skulls from the bodies that were found with heads including ones of children and babies. There have been some images I have seen that I will always remember forever and I think that this is one of them.
For the first few days in Cambodia especially as we travelled round the countryside I couldn't help but think about how places and people would have been affected during the time of the Khmer Rouge, but the more time I spent there the more I found that the people in Cambodia are the most fun loving in all South East Asia. Every where we went we could always have a joke with the younger guys and girls, the children were the best behaved children I have ever met, sitting on a bus on there mums lap for 10 hours and not a peep out of them and the older ladies on the bus would always wave a goodbye when they got off at their stop. The children were really welcoming to us, never shy always jumping around us and shouting hello and waving, in Siam Reip I was walking down the street when one young girl came and jumped up on my hip, popped a piece of the bread she was eating down my top and ran off again. It was definately the Cambodian people that made Cambodia a great place for me!
After a few days in Phnom Phen we got the bus up to Siam Reap in preparation for Angkor Wat! I was really excited until I found out that we were getting up at 5am in the morning in order to see the temple at sunrise but it was definately worth it. It was beautiful! That day we also went to Bayon the temple with loads of carved faces around it and the temple used in the filiming of Tomb raider which was really cool and had loads of trees woven in and out of the buildings.
I have been having a traditional massage in every country I have visited so far..what a luxury! In Cambodia the governement pay blind people to learn how to give massages in order that they can be self sufficient and earn a living so I went to have my first massage by a blind women in Siam Reap. It was pretty strange as the room was above her house in a backalley in the city, there was just a small fan, pretty dirty sheets, and a lot of grungy looking furniture... not the luxury I had come to expect from my massages in other countries but the massage was lovely all the same.
Siam Reap was where the 'Tripod' (me, Sarah, and Emma) that started in Laos came to an end with a very messy night that started with a Cambodian BBQ of snake, crocodile, ostrich, buffalo and chicken and ended being driven 100 meters round the corner in a tuk tuk as we had given in to the driver that had been hassling us all night! It was a sad day I loved every minute of travelling with Emma and Sarah and it was strange to know that in a few days I would be on my own again after 3 months of having travel buddies to rely on.
After the thrill of Angkor Wat there was not a lot left to do in Siam Riep although the bars and cafes were really nice there. We got a bus down to the very south of Cambodia to the beach side resort of Sihanoukville and stayed on a little beach called Serendipity. It was not really what I had envisaged and after the beautiful beaches in Goa Thailand and Vietnam I was a little bit disappointed. The whole beach was just one long line of bars with a mix of drunk westerners and Cambodian children who were trying to sell bracelets, give you a massage, wax your legs or give you a pedicure! It wasn't exactly the biggest confidence booster each day arriving to the beach and being told that my toe nails needed a bit of a going over and that they found a hairy patch on my legs! Anyway the last day we were there we managed to find a bit of the paradise promised..we went to a beach much further down the coast which only had about 10 people on it, no hawkers, beautiful clean sand and massive waves...bliss! I also spent a day at the national park boating through the mangroves, swimming in the sea on a beach with no one else on it, and watching the locals in the river catching oysters.....Happy days!
Sihanoukville was good for partying, cheap drinks, and cheap accomodation, there was a place called Utopia where you paid 1USD on arrival and then could stay in the dorm room for as long as you wanted...of course you had to put up with the all night partying right outside the door. We spent a few nights partying on the beach at a place called the Dolphin Shack, dancing on the bar and drinking free shots and meeting some crazy people...one of them was a guy from Alabama called Sherman something something something the third (would have been better if I could remember the something something something) he was a crazy American who had bought a cheap motorbike and biked from Vietnam down to the beach in Cambodia...he spent every night drinking and every day eating shrimp on the beach.
Sihanoukville was not the safest place, whilst I was there I was walking down the road with a German girl I had met and someone ran up behind her and tried to snatch her bag, then the next day at the beach some young boys came over to try and sell some t-shirts to us and managed to steal Sherman something something something the thirds wallet!
I felt like I had been to the main tourist hotspots in Cambodia but not really encountered the real Cambodian countrside and people outside of these areas so I decided to spend a few days in Kampot in the south east of the country. This was the best decision ever...what a lovely little town, it was so quiet you could ride a bike around really easily through the countryside, jump in the river to cool down, have a drink by the side of the river, explore caves....and the people here were so genuine and nice. I lost count of the number of times people shouted hello as I cycled past. We stopped for a break one day at a little shop and the people started sharing there food with us and letting us try their fruits and before long what had started with just 5 people in the shop turned into a massive gathering all just watching us drink water and eat fruit.
The day that we went to the caves we turned up to a group of around 8 children all running after the tuk tuk wanting to lead us into the caves and be our guide, we decided to let them all be our guides and had so much more fun because of it. Had we gone on our own we would have walked into and around the cave and back out again. With the children they took us through the cave showed us bats had us jumping up and over the rocks, squeezing through the tiniest gaps and eventually out the otherside. Brilliant!
I was sad to leave Kampot but I knew that my time in Indonesia was being eaten up the longer I spent in Cambodia so after a lovely 3 week visit I got on the bumpy bus over the border to Bangkok.