A bit of Cambodian culture

Trip Start May 18, 2005
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Trip End May 18, 2006


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Thursday, June 30, 2005

"Are we still alive?" "Did we actually live through that?" - a sample of the questions we asked ourselves after we finally arrived in Siem Reap. All will be explained.

The bus from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet (the Thai border town to Cambodia) was a good start - air conditioned, comfy seats and they even gave us a little cake and a bottle of water each (how nice). About 20k from the border we were pulled over by the cops and they jumped on board, scanning passports and papers for illegal immigrants. They got about 7 people on our bus alone and ushered them into the police station across the road. They were nice to us though I must say. The bus dropped us near the border, but not near enough for us walk there so a tuc tuc was required. 6 dollars is a bit steep, but its too hot to walk and besides we had no idea where we were going anyway.

The border area is a mad place, people everywhere of all kinds of nationalities and border guards with machine guns patrolling the fences. Bit of a que in the emmigration office to get stamped out of Thailand but that was ok. Then a 400 metre walk through no mans land between Thailand and Cambodia. There were loads of casinos here, I think because gambling is banned in both countries but not here in the middle. Loads of people everywhere, many who look as if they have been there for a long time, not able to pass into either country begging and stealing for a living. Taxi touts swarm around trying to convince you to take one of thier taxis to Siem Reap, which is where most westerners would be headed. But we decided beforehand to grab a cab in Poipet, the Cambodian border town which is more conveniently located right on the border. We had already gotten our Cambodian visa in Bangkok (highly reccommended for anyone dong this route because the border police always overcharge for the visas on the border) so could head straight past that office, which looked very busy, and into the immigration office to get our visa's stamped. Another que for a while then we were in Cambodia. Instantly very different to Thailand and even more madness than the no mans land with Toyota Camrys (90% of cars in Cambodia are Camrys - wierd), tuc tucs and pick up trucks all over the shop offering to take you where ever you want to go.

We had heard that the road to Siem Reap was in bad condition and the best and most comfortable way was to take a camry, which we did. It costs $20 dollars to hire the whole car for the journey. Best piece of advice we ever had. The road was absolutely awful. The worst road I have ever seen by a long shot, even worse than the ones in Mongolia and they were real bad. Potholes the size of everything from a football to a football stadium, and I'm not exaggerating. Most of the time there wasn't even any road, just a mud path with giant pools of mud with cars and trucks stuck in them. Huge trucks use this road as well and it gets worse with each one passing through. So we had 4 hours of bouncing around inside our camry listening to an eighties mix tape that the driver thought we might like. At least it was air conditioned. We picked up a couple of Aussies in a town called Sisophon, about an hour into our journey. They had braved the idea of taking a pick up truck to Siem Reap but couldn't handle it after an hour of being stacked in the back with animals and locals bouncing in, around and off the truck. Very cheap but very dangerous.

When we finally reached Seim Reap (HUGE sigh of relief) the driver then tried to over charge us by asking for $20 from each of us couples. We didn't give it to him obviously coz $20 was more than enough for the whole car for the journey. You gotta give him some credit for trying though.

Our guesthouse is pretty nice, clean rooms with the blessed 'Air Con' and sattelite TV with HBO and BBC. Not bad for a tenner a night. And as an added bonus, theres a crocodile farm outside our bedroom window!! Nearly had a heart attack when I saw them. They have about 50 crocs in an enclosure behind the guesthouse 'free for guests'. They have snakes too, but only 2.

What the hell are we doing in Siem Reap anyway I can hear you ask. Well, this is where the famous Temples of Ankor are - well famous if you've heard of them I suppose - though they are one of the seven wonders of the world. They are the ruins of some civilisation that lived here about a thousand years ago and dissapeared leaving thier cities and temples to the Jungle. They were uncovered again about a hundred years ago and some of them have been restored, some not at all. Theres about 60 temples in all scattered around the place.

Our guesthouse were kind enough to arrange a camry for us for 2 days temple visiting which is well worth it. It gets very hot here and the knowledge that you can always rereat to a Air Con car is great motivation for exploring a little further. Some of the temples, as I already mentioned, have been restored and a very touristy which is a dissapointment.

When you come to a place like Cambodia you almost expect yourself to be one of the few westerners here, but thats not the case. There are tons of tour groups, mostly from Korea and Japan, all over the place. Kinda ruins the atmostphere. The temples are still impressive though, especially Ankor Wat and Bayon, the 2 main ones. Our driver took us to about 20 temples over the 2 days and showed us some less visited ones as well, which I found more fun because you are free to explore them yourself without cheesy tourist info signs. They are not restored either and you can see the temple as it was rediscovered with the Jungle starting to eat it up. It almost feels like you just discovered it yourself as its so queit and untouched. Some of the sculptures and carvings are really detailed and have lasted a long time but most of them have been stolen and are sitting in some rich Texans living room or something. It's a shame but the country has seen so much poverty that keeping a few statues wasn't on the top of their list of priorities, like feeding their families. At the end of the second day we climbed to the top of the highest temple in the area and watched the sunset over Ankor with some monks. Quite enjoyable.

We're just chilling for a day now before our harrowing journey back to Thailand begins tomorrow. Wish us luck!!
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