Cambodia is the place I was most looking forward to on the trip, simply because it was the place I had read most about. Once you start looking into Cambodia, you realise there is a lot more to this country than the temples of Angkor Wat. OK, they are one of the seven man made wonders of the world but the history of the Cambodian people’s struggle against the Khmer Rouge is what made me want to learn more and more about this country.
So many people do not realise that in 1975 this country began a terrible life under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. The fact that this ‘civil war’ if you can call it that was so recent makes this place even more incredible, the Cambodian people are always smiling, happy and when you think of what these people have lived through & the memories they hold, you cant help but admire them.
For those of you who don’t know, I wont bore you with full details but The Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, they were themselves Cambodians but with strange beliefs. They kicked people out of towns and cities and people were forced to the countryside where they would work hard under the Khmer Rouges watchful eye planting rice, etc…
All food was rationed by the Khmer Rouge and many people died of starvation, exhaustion, etc… Strong young men were forced to join the army and anyone seen to be a traitor was tortured and killed. Later on, the traitors family would also be killed, in unimaginable ways. Their reign of terror went on for four years, until the Vietnamese got involved and stopped the Khmer Rouge. I have just finished reading the story of a five year old girl who lived through this time and have never been so touched by a story. If you would like to know more about this time, I suggest you read ‘First They Killed My Father’ by Loung Ung.
Anyway enough history, we arrived by bus from Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The border crossing was fairly simple as we had paid well over the normal price for a company to take us across. The first thought as you step over the border is that this country is very poor. The immigration office was a concrete building with parts of the roof falling down, fans to keep you cool (but only some worked) and a huge tree grew through the building, this is a nice feature we’ve seen in a few restaurants but here I don’t think it was a feature.
In Siem Reap we had to get a Tuk Tuk from the bus stop to our hostel. The hostel was nice and clean, a few ants in the bed but were getting used to that now. As it was late by the time we arrived and we had been traveling all day, we thought a beer was in order and walked along the river to Pub Street (which is exactly what it sounds like). First stop, a little restaurant for some Khmer curry, which is very nice, like a spicier Korma. We met four English guys and joined them in Temple Bar for free pool and some drinks, watch out for the Cambodian girls, they don’t look much but they can play pool.
Day two in Siem Reap and we thought we best go and see these temples while were here. Angkor Wat costs a bit to get to and see compared to other sights in Asia but it’s worth it. A Tuk Tuk driver will take you to each temple and wait for you, then take you to the next etc… we liked ours and bought him lunch, I think he was very grateful
The Temples of Angkor Wat are beautiful, some were heavily damaged by the Khmer Rouge (as they wanted to abolish religion). But this just adds feeling to the place, you could spend weeks exploring this huge area of temples because there are so many in such a huge area. They all have similar features but different lay outs. Some have stairs that are very steep to climb but the views from the top are worth it, even if like me you are scared of heights, others are mixed in with the jungle, giant trees have grown through the temples over the years and entwined together, one of which we saw is where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed. While at the Tomb Raider temple, we bumped into a lovely couple for New Zealand, who with the aide of their boat are sailing around the world. Coming from New Zealand, they’ve sailed and traveled over land for 4 years, just making it into Cambodia. Their trip sounds amazing and certainly made us both jealous.
We couldn’t explore the temples as much as we would have liked to because we didn’t have enough time in Siem Reap, this is a place where a two to three week holiday would be good, so we plan to return in the future.
That night we had another visit to Pub Street (of course because Manchester United were playing City). The game was on two big screens at the end of the street, we were luckily enough to get seats in one of the bars in front of the screen, but everytime it got interesting a crowd grew in the middle of the street, making it quite a cool place to watch the footie. I think John enjoyed himself; Rooney scored a belter and United won. My turn for some fun so we went to the night market, which is a labyrinth of stalls selling all kinds, including purses, hand bags and wallets made out of rice bags. So cool, I had to treat myself!
The next day, our final day there was spent relaxing and wondering around the city, we found this cool little restaurant called NYDC, if you ever visit Cambodia check it out the food is lovely and all profits go to Children who need it in Cambodia. Leaving the city it was still very poor in places and driving through the countryside looking into wooden huts on stilts it’s fair to say some Cambodians live very simple day to day lives (which is nice really). After speaking with people and hearing how rapidly the place has changed over the years it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s completely different when we return. More like it’s busy neighbour Thailand. Anyway next stop Phnom Pehn where the Killing Fields and old Khmer Rouge prisons await.