12.11.2010 - 18.11.2010
Cambodia is a worry for me – I have been more nervous about this country than perhaps anything else. I have been hoarding food and researching every possible scam (of which there are a great many) – forewarned is forearmed and all that but it didn’t help my nervous expectations.
We arrived in Cambodia after a 2 day Mekong river cruise but I was ready for the first scam that everyone is subjected to on entering Cambodia – the visa processing fee. A visa for Cambodia costs $20, it’s very easy to complete the paper work and doesn’t take much time. Helpful individuals (in this case our tour guide) will tell you the complete opposite and charge you a $5 fee to process it for you which is wholly unnecessary. In our case she only wanted $2 per person to process the visa and since we didn’t have any change we gave her $2 for both of us. I would gladly pay $1 at every border to have my paperwork completed.
I have nothing for you, sorry..... There were no more scams (at least that we were aware of). There are certainly lots of people begging for money or trying to sell you dodgy books and sunglasses (the book sellers are mostly children so obviously Niamh was buying) but there was no pressure, no hassle – a simple no thank you was plenty to be allowed on your way.
Phnom Penh turned out to be a lovely city although I suspect we spent most of our time in an area catering to tourism and the many NGOs that are present in Cambodia’s capital city. The food is excellent, the accommodation was some of the cleanest and most comfortable we have seen to date.
Cambodia has an extremely sad, turbulent and violent history and nowhere is this more apparent than at the two top tourist destinations in Phnom Penh. S21 is an old school converted into a prison that was used to house and torture opponents and members of the Pol Pot regime. The Killing Fields is where the residents of S21 and thousands of others were taken for execution. The Cambodian government is keen for people to visit and be made aware of the atrocities and genocide that occurred in Cambodia, not least, to try and prevent it occurring again.
My experience was that even when surrounded by the torture instruments, the mass graves and the transparent stupa, being the final resting place for over 8000 human skulls, it was impossible to get a sense of the barbarity and scale of the genocide that occurred here. There was time for a moment of quiet reflection standing next to a gnarled old tree that had perhaps the saddest history of all.
On a more positive note we got the opportunity to visit more palaces and wats (we had missed a couple of days of wat-ing whilst boating on the Mekong) we tried the Cambodian chicken curry half and half that nearly matched up to Fidel’s own and a poutine that puts the Cayman efforts to shame.
Next stop the wat capital of the world – Siem Reap.
We arrived in Siem Reap and checked into our posh hotel, with a pool on the roof, ready for a swim. Naturally it rained so instead we rested up ready to once again hit the bicycles for a 3 day cycle tour of Angkor Wat and surrounding areas.
To say that we are a bit wat-ed out at this point would be an understatement but at least a cycle tour would provide some exercise to break up the seemingly endless supply of temples in this area. Once again Cambodia comes through with a surprising victory. Temples and wats here are brilliant – old ruins entangled with tree routes but with enough structure to climb up towers, creep through corridors and explore all sorts of nooks and crannies. As if that wasn’t enough our first temple was where parts of tomb raider were filmed – well if it’s good enough for Lara it’ll do me.
The temples were just a small part of our tour, much of our journey was through small villages in the Cambodian countryside where you get a real insight into the Cambodian daily life. Children would come running out of the houses, schools and orphanages to scream out hello or bye bye and they seemed so happy to see us that even I got caught up in the infectious atmosphere and was waving and calling out greetings with the best of them.
The only downside to the trip was the sunset over the temples – it all started out well – a long climb up the hill, scrambling up near vertical staircases to reach the top level of the temple. Then the first few drops of rain were felt. Good news at first – it gave me a clear view over Angkor Wat and some nice rainbow photos. Then the rain got heavier and heavier. If it had taken 20 minutes to climb to the top with relatively small crowds and dry underfoot it took perhaps double that to get back when everyone was descending the treacherous, slippy stairs at once. The photo we have of us afterwards does not do our sodden wetness justice. Had we jumped in our hotel pool fully clothed we would not have been wetter than we were when we climbed on the bus to come home. On the bright side, the sunset, which was somehow not obscured by the rain, was spectacular.
The final day of our cycle tour was ANOTHER boat trip to another floating market, give me strength......
This one was actually pretty good, boats heading back and forth with all manner of vegetables and fruits. I was quite taken with the floating pig pen. The real highlight was having our packed lunches in one of the floating village houses. It was our boat driver’s father’s house with 3 generations living on the river in a one room structure (with a screened off area for the “marital couple” to sleep.) The patriarch was an old man who had lost his wife 10 years earlier when she was fishing and accidently hit upon some unexploded ordinance. Educated whilst the French were still very much in town he spoke francais along with Vietnamese. My french language skills which are have been unused for the best part of 20 years suddenly came in handy. I managed to thank him, tell him that he was very kind for allowing us to use his house for our lunch and that he had a lovely home. At least I think that was what I said – either way he seemed very happy about it all.
Exhausted once again we made our way to the airport and made our way to Malaysia.