Cambodia

Trip Start Aug 07, 2008
1
9
Trip End Dec 22, 2008


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Friday, November 14, 2008

So after two and
a half nights in Bangkok we woke up in the middle of the night for our Cambodia trip. I went with David (Swiss), Erik (German), Renaud (French Canadian), and Emily (Seattle!). We got to the border around 8am and got across without any problems. It was pretty funny, as soon as we got into Cambodia we saw like four or five big casinos, apparently Poipet is where a lot of Thais go to gamble (Gambling is illegal in Thailand and it's a pretty serious offense). Right after the casinos was a really run down dirt road, it had holes the size of craters (around ten feet wide and three to four feet deep), mud and puddles everywhere and it reeked of garbage and horse manure. This road was easily the dirtiest, poorest place I've ever seen.

After walking down this road for around half an hour we found a taxi to take us to Siem
Reap. The road alternated between the dirt and pavement, and the 60-70 mile trip took over three hours. After finding a cool guesthouse we had some dinner and went to Angkor Wat. The temples at Angkor Wat are anywhere from 900 to 1900 years old and they are pretty spectacular. Angkor Wat used to be a huge city, it was around 500,000 people when London had 50,000. They built these huge stone temples all over their city. They are pretty hard to describe, all of the walls had very detailed carvings, some of them told stories or had other meanings. I'll just let everybody look at the pictures. That night we went to Angkor What? Bar, we had seen the t-shirts from this place all over on our travels so we definitely wanted to check it out. The bar was pretty cool, they had good burgers and good beer but it wasn't that special.

We woke up early the next day and went on a tour of the temples. We started the day at the bigger, famous temples. They were pretty impressive but so crowded with tourists that it was really tough to appreciate them. We went to less crowded temples later in the day and that was pretty amazing. One of the temples we went to was especially cool, it was the only temple that they have left the way they found it 150 years ago. There were trees growing right out of the walls and the jungle had taken back a lot of the temple. It felt like there were actually ruins, walls were crumbling and hallways had collapsed it was really cool. This was actually the temple they use to film a lot of movies, including Tomb Raider.

That night we went to a night market and just walked around the city a little bit. Siem Reap is a pretty cool town but very touristy. It was a weird combination of young backpackers and older couples, which meant the town was a combination of really nice hotels and really cheap guesthouses. There is one main road lined with bars and restaurants that was pretty cool. We had dinner at a really fancy restaurant that served traditional Khmer food, it still only cost like $5.

The next morning we took a bus to Phnom Penh and the road was paved the whole way! Only Emily and Renaud came with me to Phnom Penh, Erik and David went back to Bangkok. The ride was uneventful and we arrived in Phnom Penh in time to get dinner and go to bed. We actually found a really good pizza place that was just a short walk from our hotel, which was pretty fancy. Phnom Penh is a really dirty and poor city and there is a ton of poverty, I don't think I'd be wrong in calling it a third world city (I think Cambodia is a
third world country too).

We got up early the next morning to see the sights in and around the city. We hired a tuk-tuk driver for the whole day, we thought we agreed to $6 but it ended up costing $15. Our first stop was the killing fields
of Cheung Ek, a mass grave from the Pol Pot genocide that serves as the resting place for 17,000 Cambodians, most of whom were held in Toul Sleng, Security Prison 21 or S-21. Our next stop was S-21, which was a detention and interrogation center. Both stops were a sobering experience, the only thing I have to compare it to is when I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington DC. But this was even more powerful that the Holocaust museum because we actually saw the mass graves with all the clothing of the victims and hundreds of skulls in a monument to the victims. S-21 was even more powerful. Because the
Khmer Rouge were sticklers for record keeping, every single prisoner that went through S-21 was photographed, leaving behind a very emotional and humanizing memory. Of the approximately 17,000
prisoners that went through S-21 only 12 survived. All in all the Khmer Rouge genocide killed around 2 million people, and millions more through starvation. I know this isn't the most lighthearted subject to talk
about but it's an important part of Cambodian history and it took place only 30 years ago. Just being in Cambodia you see the devastating effects everywhere, people without limbs, with horribly scarred and burned faces, and other equally horrible injuries. There is no doubt that the Pol Pot genocide should be talked about with the Holocaust and slavery as one of the worst human atrocities ever.

We were able to get that stuff out of the way in the morning and see some of the other sights
around Phnom Penh that afternoon. Our first stop was to Wat Phnom, a temple on top of the only hill in the
city. It is where the city was founded and it was a cool park area in a city that didn't really have a lot of
nice areas. After the temple we went to the old market, one of the several famous markets in Phnom Penh. It was a pretty cool market, they had just about everything you could want, clothes, bags, electronics, watches,
jewelry, you name it. Afterword we went to another famous market, the Russian market. Both markets had pretty much the same stuff, Cambodia has a lot of manufacturing so even the authentic stuff was really cheap. We all went a little bit crazy and bought a lot of stuff. I got five t-shirts, a couple books of postcards, a deck of playing cards, a cool picture, a mini sculpture, and an authentic (I hope) Puma sweatshirt. After getting back to the hotel and relaxing for a little bit we went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant by the river and to a club afterwards. The food was good and the club was called Heart of Darkness, we'd read that the club was a pretty sketchy place and were a little bit disappointed to discover it was just like a normal club, nice but normal.

The next morning we went to the national museum which was a beautiful building but other than
that it wasn't that exciting. We didn't really have much else to do so we went back to the old market and walked around town some more before we went to the airport and flew home.
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