Cambodja October 2004
An early rise for the long journey to Phnom Phen, capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia (or is it Queendom now)... read more
24/10/2004 Into Cambodia
An early rise for the long journey to Phnom Phen, capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia (or is it Queendom now ?). The Vietnamese border is as usual very very slow, just to get the exit stamp. Getting the visa on arrival and stamps on Cambodian side goes very smooth and fast. We eat our first Cambodian meal waiting for the bus driver. The driver is not only making money with us passengers, but also seems to be into some good old fashioned gasoline smuggling. Just 10 minutes over the border he stops next to some shackle house that suddenly transforms into a barrel storage. One after the other, we stopped counting at 20 , are loaded into the back of the bus. The smell is obvious and the backpacks being put on top of it all should make the police clear that this is a regular tourist transport. Well, this is Cambodia, a country were people try to make a living any way they can. We check in in a real backpackers place, the Nanin 2 guesthouse, for just 4 US dollar for our room, it even has a shower (cold) and fan (dangerously low on the ceiling).
We have a walk and notice the big difference with any other state capital we have seen so far. Only some large streets in the center are paved, made of concrete, all roads on the map in between or just dirt roads. So lets not think about what great life dogs and rats might have here. We sleep high and dry.
25/10/2004 Phnom Phen
We walk to the nice side of the city, the area between the national museum and Mekong river. The displays of the national museum make us realize that we have a lot of reading to do before heading to the temples of Angkor. Hindu and
Buddhist statues and stories, things we have never really studied or learned about. The museum is full of statues rescued from the temples. As the temple complexes are so big, still today peaces of statues or even complete torsos get stolen, or when to
heavy to transport just left in peaces on the sites. So some of the unique peaces are collected here. After this culture absorption we head to Friends, an ngo
organization that gets street children into normal life again, by giving them learning opportunities and reintegration in society. We eat delicious Asian food, tapas style, for 10 bucks, all for the good cause off course ! After we visit the Royal Palace, build by the King in the 19th century, inspired by the Palace grounds in Thailand. Same same, but different, as there are almost no people, and the Pagoda has shiny silver tiles. Sofie tried to smuggle one out but had to leave them because too
heavy. One part is not visit able, as a new king is to be crowned in a few days. King Shihanouk, the leader of the country over the last 50 years, stepped down and his son will follow him on the throne to become the new King. Some local expats claim that he is more of a queen
though, being an unmarried, single man in his fifties, lived most of is life in Paris, as a ballet dancer...
We head for a beer with a view in the Foreign Correspondents Club of Phnom Phen, housed on 2nd and 3rd floor of a
beautifully renovated colonial building, with a view on the Mekong. (writer Carol Livingston was here during the opening in 1993 when she wrote her 'Gecko Tails', a chronicle about Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge time, on the brink of becoming democratic. Sadly enough the UN lead elections where probably the book example of democratic failure. Well, read the book to know more. We head to the Lakeside where Richard and Holly are staying and end up drinking lots of beers over the pool table.
26/10/2004 Phnom Phen
The Cambodians have gone through the cruelest of times when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge started there
guerrilla war, helped by secret US carpet bombing, King Shihanouks exile to
Beijing and South Vietnamese intrusions in the country, which left the country in chaos, and for grabs to the Khmer Rouge. In 75 the Khmer Rouge walked into Phnom Phen, and started evacuating the city, this was two weeks before Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. Year zero was born, and Cambodia to become transformed into a Maoist, peasant-dominated, agrarian cooperative. Hundreds of thousands of people, including the majority of educated people were moved to the
country side, to work in work camps, under circumstances of mistreatment,
malnutrition and disease. Those who spoke a foreign language or had diplomas where systematically executed. Between 1975 and 1979 about two million people died as direct consequence of the Khmer Rouge government. It was the Vietnamese who finally overthrew the Khmer Rouge as nobody else was interested in what was going on. The subsequent chaos and millions of people trying to flee the country, and no crops looked after any more, caused hundreds of thousands more deaths in 1979 and 1980. The Khmer Rouge stayed active with guerrilla warfare, financed by china, Thailand , and indirectly the Us. In 1993 UN led elections brought some kind of peace that kept standing till now. The political system is far from democratic, and having two prime ministers because the two coalition parties won't agree other wise is not perfect. But the people live on and build up there new life. It can not get worse then it already was once. Read 'When broken glass floats' from Chanrithy Him for a true story of a survivor.
So today we visit Tuol Sleng, the prison in central Phnom Phen, used by Khmer rouge to torture people for false convictions, used to process people to the killing fields. It is an old
school building, with all class rooms converted in cells, and torture rooms. Paintings on one survivor (only 2 survived) tell the story of what about 21000 'opponents' had to endure before being exterminated. It is quite a miserable place, we became very quite for a while.
27/10/2004 Phnom Phen
We have a long sleep and head to the Russian market. No real good buys here, but nice to wander around. Did some internet action to put the Vietnam stories online and bought our ticket for
Siem Reap, the town to explore the Angkor temples from !
28/10/2004 Siem Reap
On the road we stop for a break and I notice some women selling black leggy things. They are fried spiders, quite a delicacy in the region. They didn't use to have this here long time ago. They learned it during the dark times of Khmer Rouge and now find the grilled spiders quite a snack. Off course Sofie stays far away from
all his and hides in the bus.
After some walking around, together with Holly and Richard, we find the good price for quality Dara guesthouse. We found out that a three day pass to the temples gives you
an extra free sunset the day before you start , if you get there after 4pm. So off we go in a tuktuk and join a huge crowd on top of Phnom Bakheng for a sunset over the big lake. We stay quite long to let the crowd
disappear and when turning around notice the moon is rising as the sun left for the night. Once down we ask our driver to stop in front of Angkor Wat. The setting is perfect, a round rainbow around the moon in the reflection of the water in front of the contour of Angkor Wat.
29/10/2004 Siem Reap
At 5.30am the alarm clock goes. If you want to see the sun rise, you have to be
harsh on yourself. Same tuktuk driver drops us in front of Angkor Wat where we see a meager
sunrise, nothing compared to the moon rise the day before. The full days consists off doing the small tour around. In the past this was done by elephant, but the number of tourists does not allow that, we would need a elephant highway. We knew there would be lots of people, but this many ? So we see the gates of Angkor Thom, the Bayon, with more than 200 big unsettling faces looking down at you, from every angle it seems. After we get excited by the small empty (no tourists) Preah Palilay, overgrown with some huge trees, and Tha Prom, a big temple left to the imagination, a power play between rocks and jungle. This is Indiana Jones style, and also where Lara Croft did some of here fancy tomb raiding. We end a fully booked day with sunset at Angkor Wat.
30/10/2004 Siem Reap
No sunrise today so a longer sleep and off for an easy day to the most remote temple of Bantaye Srei. The bas
relieves pitched out of the walls have a 3D feeling as they really come alive and out of the pink sandstone rocks. This is the most detailed work of the Angkorian period, one of the first build. We keep a relaxed pace and sit down in the shade to read about the adventures of Shiva, Vishnu and other Hindu deities. Most of the Angkorean temples were build be the god-kings, called devarajas, between the 9nth and 13th centuries, dedicated first to Vishnu and Shiva, later to Buddha. The afternoon we enter a more
quite Angkor Wat and study the bas relieves around the central level, depicting the life of Vishnu, with 800 meter of
superb carvings of demons, gods, apsara dancers, beasts...
31/10/2004 Siem Reap
Our last day on the visiting pass, and we decide to see some new temples with some of our favorites. Preah Khan doesn't see to many tourists and is a perfect start, followed by the jungle temple. We spend another 2 hours there, discovering new corners and spots in this jungle temple. We
didn't make the planned sunset though as I am to exhausted, probably an overdose of temples. We decide to buy our ticket
for Bangkok and thus its our last night in Cambodia.
Cambodia Is a great country, with lots of tourist potential. We only had the time schedule to see small parts of it, but surely enjoyed the strange but good vibe of Phnom Phen, the pleasant happiness of a people that endured so much in the past, and of course the
splendor and magnitude of the Angkor temples. Brilliant !
Keep on tripping,