Travel Cambodia – A week in Khmer

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Arrived in Phnom Penh late at the coach depot with around 20 smiling taxi and Tuk-Tuk drivers giving us the old Cambodian charm before the doors even opened, what these divers didn’t know is that we are as tight as 2 coats of paint and had been sitting for 7 hours, the last thing we wanted was to sit down again, but nonetheless you can’t help but feel that bit guilty when having to say no to the smiling hopeful faces. The atmosphere was already a lot friendlier than the previous country we felt so we took a wander to our residence for the next few days I the 30 degree night air. It was a quick walk as I was that hungry I started chasing the cockroaches in the hope of a quick fix. Once thing that was really surprising was how much we were getting stared and smiled at, not in a bad way, the locals just wanted to talk and seemed to be curious about us (either that or i had another head growing out my neck which I was unaware of) or they were probably just thinking ‘what is this girl doing with this plonker’…I would say the latter is more feasible. There wasn’t much open late at night so we jumped in a little restaurant filled with locals who just watched us eat and kept smiling and talking away to us in broken but still impressive English. The menu was in Cambodian….. outrageous 🙂 so we just asked for anything with chicken, the duly obliged and brought us a plate of chicken bones and steamed rice. Not one to back down, I took on the bones, then had a search on Google for dental implants in Phnom Penh.

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We hired a scooter from our hotel, and headed out with me teeth barely intact from the previous nights cuisine, the roads were as crazy as ever but we were pretty used to them by now however we had been warned that the Cambodian police still very much like their corruption and will pull you over and demand money, luckily we never got stopped by them at any point but I was ready and willing to hand over Megan as payment if required. First thing we noticed was how much they are building in the city, especially near the river, the second thing we noticed was the unfortunate amount of Cambodians walking and living on the streets with some form of disability and basically relying on empathy for survival, or so it seems on the surface, is obviously quite difficult to comprehend just how these people survive and as much as they think we are made of money (it was all westerners that were being asked constantly and not the locals) there’s only so much we could hand out before having to shake the head.

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On another happy note, we took a trip to the Tuol Sleng genocide museum located on 113th Street which housed little know murder and torture of circa 20,000 innocent Cambodians (some 14 foreign nationals including 2 sailors who were sailing around the world living out there dream but unfortunately, unknowingly sailed into Cambodian waters) all at the hands of paranoid socio paths called the Khmer Rouge. I wont bore you with the details but have put a link here where you can read about the atrocity that happened, after going and researching we cannot find any reason for the needless slaughter other than paranoia from the group that rose to power, be aware though as its not a nice read and literally involves the soldiers of these so called freedom fighters using a tree, now called the killing fields, to beat babies to death off as bullets were to expensive (not one part of that sentence should ever really be written or read). If that wasn’t bad enough while taking the tour, we had the misfortune to come across a completely moronic couple who were taking smiling selfies throughout the torture chambers (where it states do not take photos…) and pretending to cry when standing in front of some of the pictures of men and women dead or dying and still in shackles next to slowly tortured souls who were barely recognisable as humans any more, we had to walk away in disgust and refrain ourselves from giving the pair of them a good shake….it took a lot of tongue biting I can assure you and done nothing to increase the very little faith we have in humanity.

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After we seen as much as we could in the capital we headed up to Siem Reap on a small 55.000KHR (ÂŁ11) coach, It was supposed to be around a 5 hour journey but the driver must have left the oven on or was on to a winner cause he got us there in just over 3 hours. Another late night arrival so makes it hard to get a look and feel for what we were to call home for the next few nights but it was a pretty nice looking city built beside a river , Tonle Sap, as most city’s tend to be. We got checked in then went out to explore for a bit, being lazy git’s we hired a scooter, you can hire a scooter pretty much anywhere in South East Asia as the only requirement is handing over your passport and as long as your not foaming at the mouth they require no further documentation that you can drive, one quick look around the busy streets will confirm this as the average age on the bikes must have been about 3 and a half.

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We got up early and tried to make the most of the 1 full day we were there, truth be told if we had known how nice it was we probably would have stayed a few more nights, we decided to check out the famous Angkor Watt temple around 20 minutes drive North from the city centre. The temple was built, roughly, in 1130-1150 and covers some 162.6 hectares (and still more being uncovered today). Even the drive to the temples is very picturesque (although you need to drive or hire a taxi to the ticket booth located a good 10 mins drive from the temples). They offer a 1,2 or 3 day pass for the site as its so big it’s pretty near impossible to check it all out in one day unless you just want to drive past each temple, we opted for the one day so we had to choose our locations wisely. There are no plaques or conveniently placed information signs on the temples but there are hoards of locals who will frequently ask as you walk in if you would like a tour guide (we never took one but I’m pretty sure they were not doing it for free or to just practice English) and they could pretty much tell you what they want as you stroll around and you’d be none the wiser, note that these are plain clothed locals and not from recognised tour guides. You can also buy books from these gentleman if you’d like to decipher Japanese I paperback form as you walk. The temples were very impressive albeit very crowded but lets face it your never going to get these places to yourself….unless you maybe want to seize and sack it, but again nothing is safe from the tacky crap they sell at the shops/tents dotted outside these beautiful feats of craftsmanship, after all nothing say’s Cambodian culture like and oversized inflatable beer bottle.

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Sunrise is supposed to be pretty spectacular at the main temple but we unfortunately missed this….again as I could not get my lazy ass out my bed. We took in a few more temples and just admired some from the scooter as some let you drive around them, we were relatively fortunate though as afterwards I came across an article advising that from February 2017 Angkor Watt is doubling the entrance fee and have gave no reason but I don’t think anyone is naive enough to think its for anything other than lining peoples pockets, a one day pass will set you back $20 US….Angkor Watt receives around 20.1 million visitors each year……I’m pretty sure that the grounds do not require a 100% mark up to keep it running. If your planing on visiting this site we would definitely recommend your own transport as, lets be honest, if you’ve seen one’ve seen them all, and it’s nice to have the freedom to move from temple to temple whenever you want as they are just not walk able if you want to make the most of your ticket.
We headed back to Siem Reap to chill out for the night and just have a stroll around, we had dinner on a small rooftop garden overlooking the river and the busy street called ‘Pub Street’ where all the teeny-boppers and party animal strutted their stuff, similar to Kho San Road in Bangkok, luckily we were further away and could watch them from our rooftop antique gym. This town was small, picturesque and pretty cheap for food etc. We took a Tuk-Tuk (see what I done there :)) to the airport in the morning, it took about 30 minutes but only cost us about ÂŁ5, we are but only skint travellers but we couldn’t help but feel like we were robbing the poor guy.

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Anyway…on to the next adventure….Singapore bound.