Cambodia is a country with a difficult history. Not so long ago the Red Khmer ruled the country which resulted in a genocide. More than 3 million people died over a period of 30 years. So with that in mind it’s kind of hard to walk around this country. All the people you see lost one or more family members during the regime of Pol Pot. Some of them were forced to marry the person they call their husband or wife, resulting in numerous rapes and assaults.
We only stayed four days in Cambodia. We started in Phnom Penh and from there we travelled to Siem Reap.
This is the capital city of Cambodia. It contains a lot of history as well – good and bad. We stayed here for a full day – arriving late in the afternoon and leaving, the next day, in the evening. We stayed in The Blue Corner Boutique Hotel – the name was fancier than the hotelroom ;-), but it was a good place for just one night.
We started our exploration of the city with a visit to the Wat Phnom. The temple gives you a nice view over the city. The only thing that made this temple special, was the pink color of the stupa :-). A nicer temple to visit was the Wat Ounalom, with the typical Cambodian structures.
The nexy day we started with a walk towards the Independence Monument, but for the better part of the day we dived into the history of the Red Khmer…
We started with a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – S21 Prison. This is a former school that turned into a prison during the regime of the Red Khmer. Pictures of the victims, beds, blood stains, torture gear, … Everything you didn’t want to see was there. Around some of the buildings you could still see the fences and the wires they put up, to make sure that no prisoner could kill himself by jumping of the buildings.
After that we arranged something with a tuktuk-driver so he would take us to the Choeung Ek Killing Field, one of the many mass graves. Here we could see bones sticking out of the grass, clothes that are still rising to the surface, tombs everywhere, … and a tree. The tree was used to kill babies. The ‘soldiers’ took the babies away from the mother, smacked them into the tree and threw them into the grave. After that they killed the mother and threw them in as well. Let’s say that you don’t leave this place with a smile…
After our introduction into the black history of Cambodia, we returned to the city center. The boyfriend visited the Royal Palace and the Wat Phreah Kao. I stayed outside, because you had to be completely covered up and a scarf wasn’t sufficient. Sure, you could by a t-shirt and some trousers at the entrance, but why should anybody do that? It wasn’t even worth it.
After taking the night bus at 23h(30) – I don’t remember – we arrived in Siem Reap at about 5h30-6h. I preferred the night bus to the night train… although at some point I really don’t want to know at what speed the bus was “cruising”… But we arrived safe and sound in Siem Reap. We had arranged a pick-up service and an early check-in in The Season Square Villa, were we got greeted by a shirtless youngster. During the 5 minutes that we were standing there, a huge cockroach crossed the room. If there’s one insect that I really can’t stand… it’s a cockroach. The stress was building up inside of me as we went to our room. We had booked a room with a fan, so they took away the remote control for the air-conditioning and left us in the room, a room with wall plugs hanging out. First we had the cockroach and second we had the room with wall plugs hanging out of the wall, giving us electric shocks when we tried to use them. So… we checked out immediately and went to the nearest hotel with a decent score on booking: The Green Leaf Boutique Hotel. Best decision we ever made. I don’t understand why we didn’t made a reservation there to begin with:-) :-). It was one of the nicest hotels we stayed in during our journey.
After a rough start of the day, we started walking around the city, looking for a tourist office to book a tour on the Tonlé Sap. By coincidence we stumbled upon the Khmer Fly Centre, they offered a tour on the Tonlé Sap with a visit to Kampong Phluk for a good price. So in the afternoon we hopped on board of the minivan and got a bumpy ride to the main lake of the country.
Before doing the tour I was sceptic about the Tonlé Sap and the villages around it. I’ve read that the floating villages in Chong Khneas were too touristic, so we really didn’t want to visit that city. I preferred a tour to Kampong Khleang. But that was further away, and nobody arranged a tour so far, at least not during rainy season. So we had to take a cab and arrange a boat if we wanted to visit Kampong Khleang. There weren’t many operators that arranged a visit to any other city than Chong Khneas, but luckily for us, the Khmer Fly Centre did! And we really liked the tour. The guides were okay. One of them actually lived in Kampong Phluk, which gave us the opportunity to visit one of the houses from the inside. I thought that was really unique! It’s hard to imagine that in a couple of months the lake can be so high, that the stilt village turns into a floating village…
Our final day in Cambodia was dedicated to the ancient ruins of the Angkor Empire. We woke up very early in the morning, because our tuktuk-driver for the day would pick us up at 4h30 *yawn*. We had to leave this early if we wanted to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat! Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy, so we didn’t had a perfect sunrise, but seeing the ruin rise up in front of you, that’s priceless! It was worth the effort of getting out of bed so early in the morning.
After we visited the temple – and you really have enough time to visit the temple and have breakfast in one of the stands next to the ruins – our driver took us to Bayon. We were way to early, so we walked around a bit, escaping the monkeys who tent to attack humans. Bayon is also known as the temple of the heads. I don’t know how they made the temple, but they really did a good job!
The next temple we visited was Baphuon. Well, I didn’t visit it. they wouldn’t let you in if you weren’t properly dressed. But it was way too hot to wrap myself up in layers of clothes, so I just waited ‘till the boyfriend took enough pictures for me ;-).
After Baphuon we walked towards the Royal Temple, The Elephants Terrace and The Leper King Terrace. We almost skipped the Leper King Terrace because we didn’t find the right “way to visit” the ruins, but luckily for us we did just in time :-).
Our driver picked us up and drove us to Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda, before we had to climb the Ta Keo. And what a climb that was! You had to use both hands and feet to get yourselves up. Once I got on top of the temple, I was afraid to come back down.. so that turned out to be a great experience as well ;-). But luckily everybody was very patient with me and I got down without hurting myself or anybody else in the process.
Before lunchtime we got to visit Ta Prohm – or the jungle temple – as well. One of the temples that I was looking forward to. One problem: many other tourist were looking forward to it as well. Mainly touristic buses… who rushed the proces of seeing the temple. We were glad that we got to take some pathways away from the other tourist, to see some spots of the temple that not everybody gets to see. I really loved (!) this temple.
Before we returned back to the city, we stopped at Banteay Kdei and Srah Sang. Thunderclouds were starting to color the sky, so we were glad that we could end our (exhausting) day-trip here.
Nine hours full of ruin and temple fun! What more could a girl want? :-). The Angkor ruins really were something special. There so big, so peaceful and so strange. This was the main reason why we came to Cambodia, and it didn’t’ disappoint us.