Rolling out of Thailand and across the border into Cambodia was a long, hot, all day task. By the time we landed in Siem Reap, it was after dark. As we hopped off the bus, there was a gaggle of tuk tuk drivers looking to take us to our hostel. We hadn’t booked a hostel yet, so we just wanted to be dropped in the center of town. We haggled with our driver and he agreed to drop us at the pharmacy near Pub Street for $2.
As we approached what appeared to be downtown, our driver stopped the tuk tuk. He told us that our destination was just a few blocks up on the right, but that he could not drive us there. We told him that thats not what we had negotiated. He now informed us that he did not have a license and the police in the downtown district would charge him $5 if he stopped where we had asked him to take us. How convenient, eh? Well, I, in an onry-ready to get there- tired of people trying to take advantage of unassuming tourist- type of mood would not have it. We had no clue if we were actually close to our destination. I refused to pay the driver. He insisted, but my stubbornness won out. . We asked that he drive us past the pharmacy, and then stop as soon as he could after. After a bit of arguing, he finally agreed.
We asked that he drive us past the pharmacy, to show us where it was and then stop as soon as he was clear of the police. Well as soon as we passed the pharmacy Mr. Tuk Tuk driver decided to start taking every turn he could as he bee lined it away from downtown. There were clearly no police around , yet he refused to stop. I yelled that he must stop, or I was jumping out, and he wouldnt get any of the fare. He kept going,. As soon as he slowed, I grabbed my bag, and bailed out of the tuk tuk. Instantly I realized I had made a mistake.
I left my beautiful wife in the tuk tuk!.
Luckily, after she started yelling at him that she was going to follow my dismount. He stopped. He came walking back, asking why I jumped out and why I would not pay. It was pretty obvious that he was trying to run us out of town where we would have no option but to pay him more money to return us to town.
He knew he was in the wrong and simply walked away.
Welcome to Cambodia!
Our time in Cambodia was short, just 5 days. We came to Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor, which is the largest religious ruins site in the world. The most famous temple, Angkor Wat, is in fact just one of the temples in the area. The temples are incredible, and I will rely mostly on the photo gallery to describe them. There was a lot of variety amongst the temples, depending on when, and how long ago they were built. We spent 3 days wandering through the ruins. Some of the temples have been largely restored, while others are still quite dilapidated, er, ruined. Our favorites were Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdel which were both rather rough. It felt as though we had found our own Indiana Jones adventure. Thick tree roots had partially swallowed ancient walls of intricately carved stone. The amazing thing is that the structures were still standing. After over 900 years (for some of them anyways), they still remain stacked. In many cases, archeologists have spent a whole lot of time painstakingly putting back the pieces of collapse areas, making Angkor also the largest puzzle in the world.
We spent a total of 3 days visiting the sites. It broke down like this:
– Pre Rup
– Banteay Sray- Super intricate carvings!
– Neak Pean- which was actually kind of lame as it was mostly closed
– Preah Khan – Our favorite of the day
– Phnom Bakheng – We went for sunset and we were a little underwhelmed
– Ta Promh
– Ta Keo
– Banteay Kdel
– Sras Srang – a huge hand dug pool that we ate lunch next to
– Angkor Wat- sunrise
– Angkor Thom
– Terrace of the Lepper King
– Terrace of the Elephants
The first two days, we hired a tuk tuk to take us around for the whole day, but on the last day, we rented bicycles to ride around Angkor Wat, and Angkor Thom. We rode towards Angkor Wat just before sunrise, in an attempt to beat some of the crowds. As we pedalled easily along, I hear this big crash- KABOOM! – behind me. Barbara attempted to remove her jacket while wheeling her way down the road. She mentioned something about being an awesome multitasker… I beg to differ. Luckily she escaped with little more than a flesh wound.
From Siem Reap, we had to take a bus down to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, which should have been just a short 6 hour ride away. We purchased our tickets at a tourist travel agency, but somehow, some way, we ended up on the locals bus. Now, normally this is not an issue for us. In fact, we almost prefer it. However, we managed to get the big bus of blunders. Because it was a locals bus, it was not an express/direct bus, and we ended up stopping every 15-20 minutes to pick up or drop somebody off. About 3 hours in, our driver realized that he had blown out the rear passenger side ourside tire. So, in a moment of brilliance, he and his partner quick changed the in just less than 18 minutes, and we were on the road again. However, another hour down the road- you know right around noon, when the sun is the hottest- we blew another tire. THis time he has no spare, so we slow roll the next 2 kilometers to a roadside stop to do the switch-a-roo. By this time, the AC had also seized to actually cool anything, and the temperature inside the bus began to skyrocket. It was well over 90 degrees in there and the windows dont open…it was getting sticky. Back on the road for 10 minutes before the driver realized that he had not gotten the bolts all the way tight. At this point the two monks who were sitting at the front of the bus- you know the guys known for their patience- looked at each other, grabbed their bags and jumped off the bus to hail another ride. Barbara and I stuck it out. A full four hours overdue, we rolled into Phnom Penh sweaty, sticky and so glad that was our last bus ride for a while.
The following day, we set off to see some of the more somber museums in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge- a nasty set of government leaders who took over the country in the 70’s- left an indelible mark on this country. The genocide that occurred here killed off over 2 million people in just 4 short years.
Barbara and I went to tour both the S-21 prison museum and the killing fields. Both were appalling and disturbing. It is so difficult to describe the horrors that occurred here. I think that if you should ever find yourself in Cambodia, you must go do these tours.
The S-21 prison was a secret torture site in Phnom Penh, that was used to coerce confessions from innocent people so that the Khmer Rouge had a reason to put them to death. The sick, demented people running the place took photos of every person who went through the prison (over 20,000 in total). Many of these photos are on display at the museum.
The killing fields are located about 10 miles outside of town. The prisoners who had made their confessions would be brought out here and killed and pushed into huge mass graves. An impressive audio tour led us around the site, slowly telling us the dark history of this place. After the Khmer Rouge was ousted, the killing fields were found, and eventually excavation began. Over 9000 bodies of men, women, and even children were found. There are still thousands more in the ground, but they will remain there to rest in peace. The bones that were removed from the ground have been placed in a glass walled shrine at the site of the killing fields.
The two sights left us both in a solemn mood. Its hard to believe that one group of people could do so much harm to an entire country. The Cambodian people though have done an remarkable job of putting the past behind them, and moving on. They also, in making these two sites into well done museums, have done an incredible job making sure that no one forgets that atrocities that they have endured.
Cambodia was a short and fast part of our journey. However it left quite a mark on both Barbara and me. There is so much history here. The end of our time in Cambodia marks the end of our time in Southeast Asia. We had an incredible two months here, and certainly will miss it. But now its onward to Australia!
Full Big Picture Gallery, that really shows what we saw: