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Holiday in Cambodia
Rating : ( 4.8 )

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Oct 28, 2003 05:08

Pros: incredible place, beautiful wats
Cons: none

Well, here we are in Cambodia. Phnom Penh. It's be a long, sobering day.

To catch everyone up, after heading out from Bangkok to Siem Reap (translated: Siam destroyed) to see Angkor Wat, we found our way to Battambang to get our Vietnam Visas and then on to Phnom Penh.

Our stay in Bangkok was enjoyable, even braving the massive "weekend markets" turned out well. The highlight was still the Royal Barges, chanting and silently rowing by. It was the whole experience of it that made it fun. Sarah and I headed for the river that evening to see if we could find a spot to watch. Since you never know if an alley is an alley or someone's back yard in Bangkok, we took a chance and headed off a street through what seemed to be the kitchen to some restaraunt (they were still cooking as we walked through) towards the river. Luckily we stumbled on what I think were riverside shops and restaurants (closed for the evening) where shop owners were selling seats for the barge viewing. We got riverfront seats for only a few dollars and I can't stress enough how impressive the show was. We really felt like we were viewing it was many Thai would, I suppose that's because we didn't see any other westerners in those shop and restaurant seats.

The barges were rehearsing for an APEC summit later that week. We were there when the summit occurred and although we were not in Bangkok long, seeing those streets completely shut down was indeed eerie. From Bangkok we headed to Cambdia, Seam Reap, and Angkor Wat. After what was going to be the first of a string of long travel days we made it to Seam Reap and the next morning headed out to Angkor.

I probably can't say anything about Angkor that hasn't been said before, it is indeed incredible. Sarah and I decided to hike around a 17 km loop that first day to get a look at Angkor Wat and may other Wats in the area. I don't know what it is about ruins but they always capture my imagination. My favorite over the two days we visited was Bantea Kdei, a smaller ruin that I probably liked partly because there was hardly anyone there.

Our "big scare" in Siem Reap was, in fact, a spider in our room. "Spiderzilla" I like to call it. After being in SE Asia for two months now I have yet to see one of this size outside of our room - it was a little smaller than your average computer mouse. Me, being the hunter gatherer that I am, took care of the situation by making a b-line for the front desk where one of the small Cambodian women working at our hotel sprayed it with some Raid and then grabbed it bare handed even though it still looked alive. I don't think they looked at me with much respect after that!

From Siem Riep we headed to Batambang to get our Vietnam Visa. We took a boat, and when the boat arrived we were assaulted by the most persistent hawkers yet. They started yelling from the dock as the boat approached and then, before the boat even docked they were jumping aboard like something out of "Pirates of the Carribean." Still, we managed to get out "unhawked".

There's really not much to do in Battambang other than get a visa to Vietnam so that's pretty much all we did. Deciding not to brave the Cambodian roads out of battambang, we opted for the train, which we knew ahead of time was unbelievably slow. I think I calculated it having an average speed of 20kph. Battambang is the end or start of the line, so as we stopped along the way, Sarah and I go more and more "fans" as we went. I can remember looking up from my book and seeing faces (mostly of children) all the way around us staring - exactly like out of the movies. We ended up stopping only a few hours bus ride out of Phnom Penh (at a point we knew the roads were good) because we didn't want to arrive in Phnom Penh at nighttime - we left at 6:30 in the morning and would've arrived at 8 or 9 at night!

So after being in Phnom Penh for a few days this morning we visited Tuol Sleng Museaum, formerly Security Prison 21 of the Khmer Rouge. Here was the one of the prison and interrogation camps the Khmer Rouge used before sending those kept there on to the infamous killing fields. Pictures of how the camp looked after the Khmer Rouge fled as well as pictures of hundreds of prisoners documented by the Khmer Rouge were on display in the various prison cells. The feel of that place was enough to make one sick. From there, Sarah and I were unsure if wanted to continue on to the killing fields outside of Phnom Pehn but for whatever reason we did. Walking though the fields there would occasionally be a small pile of bones next to a tree or mass grave marker. Many of the mass graves had been excavated but many had still been left untouched. A central pagoda was made there as a memorial and held the sculls of hundreds. I guess this is the kind of place you visit to remind yourself of where you are, kind of like like any landmark. The bizarre thing was, if you didn't know where you were, it would've just been a pretty field in the country. Still, this was a hard place to visit.

Not to totally change the subject (that last paragraph leaves a hard transition) but after one more night in Phnom Penh we should be off to Vietnam. We'll keep you posted whoever "you" happens to be).