A new country, Cambodia, our final destination for Asia.
Cambodia is quite a difficult country to travel, as it's an awkward shape, meaning you often have to travel back to the capital Phnom Penh in order to move on. It's the central point for travel. We had decided that as we were to spend some time in the capital at the end of our trip buying clothes for New Zealand we would simply pass through and book a bus straight to Siem Reap, the true heart of Cambodia.
Funnily, the bus journeys, though they were still very testing of ones patience, became less aggravating and more enjoyable. Probably because we both knew the end was in sight and soon we'd been on our last long haul journey across country. Annoyingly, we arrived into Siem Reap late at night, meaning it was all the more difficult to find cheap accommodation. We had a wonderful tuk tuk journey through the city though, it's not a particularly beautiful place but after an 8 hour journey it felt refreshing to be riding around in the dark watching all the tourists in the restaurants and the locals going about their every day work. We actually managed to stumble across a gem of a hotel, after having been told the one we wished to stay at was full we decided to ask next door, not expecting them to have any rooms, and to be extremely expensive if they did as it was a hugely popular area. Amazingly, they had rooms and they were the cheapest we had stayed in for a long time. Yippee! Within minutes we were checked in, tucked in and fast asleep!
Siem Reap is the heart of Cambodia, the tourist capital so to speak due to its proximity to Angkor Wat, the historical temples. We had decided not to visit on our first day as we wanted to go for sunrise and needed to organise a driver and other such details before heading up there. Instead, we wondered the town and decided to visit a local war museum. We were both particularly interested in the countries history of conflict, what with its involvement in the Vietnam war, the Cambodian civil war and the Khmer Rouge rule. As we arrived we thought we had made another terrible decision that had cost us rather a lot in tuk tuk charges, as we seemed to be at a small field with a few battered tanks in it. It was deserted! Thankfully, two other girls turned up and the museum provided us with a tour guide else it would have been a bit of a wasted journey.
Our tour guide began by telling us a little of the history of the Cambodian civil war that he himself had fought in. He must've been early fifties and called himself "the cat" telling us he, like a cat, had nine lives. The amount of injuries this man had suffered was unbelievable, it was a miracle he was alive. He first walked us over to a weapon house and revealed that he had been shot nine times by AK47's, pointing out the scars for us to see. He then pulled up a trouser leg to reveal a prosthetic leg, whilst telling us that he lost his own when a land mine exploded in the 80's. Next, he came very close to my face, I soon learnt he was quite drunk as his breath reeked of spirits, telling me to look into his left eye. He told me that he was blind in both eyes until the late 80's when The UN found him and paid for an operation to recover his eyesight. It had been successful but as the years had passed he had lost sight in one eye and that was now badly affecting his vision in the other. Soon he would be completely blind. As a result of the land mine injuries his body was full of shrapnel, you could feel and see it under his skin, he was living with tetanus. He was a very sad man. He had joined the army at 13 and there was a chilling photograph of him, a young child, with his gun. He told us shortly after joining, he and some friends were fishing when a grenade exploded killing all the children except he. The drinking was a result of a traumatising life, he had lived on the streets, no wife, no family, no friends except the bottle. It was a heart breaking history.
He showed us around the garden which was full of destroyed tanks that had been recovered from areas of conflict. Some of which he explained his friends had been killed in. I'm not sure how much of that was true, or embellished for the sake of a charitable donation but it was interesting non the less. After half an hour Cat began popping pills and seemed to be slurring his words, whether his was a result of the alcohol or something else I don't know. It was a hugely interesting afternoon, albeit an emotionally draining one, but I felt really glad we had visited. As we left, the heat hit us. It was mostly 45 degrees in the afternoons, far too hot to do anything so we headed home for a siesta!
The next morning we were up at. 4.30am stumbling around our room like blind moles! We had arranged for Sam, the chap who took us to the war museum to take us to Angkor Wat for sunrise, which meant a 5am pick up. Again, it felt quite magical to be driving around the city at that time in the morning, zipping past like minded tourists in their tuk tuk's and watching the local market stalls being set up! As we were visiting religious temples, I of course had covered my shoulders and ankles and was surprised to err that when we arrived to purchase our tickets I was the odd one out. All the other girls had thrown caution to the wind and were wearing tiny shorts, vest tops, mini skirts you name it and it was on show. I found it quite disrespectful. Even if they do let the rules slip a little for tourists, or give us a little more lenience I think it's wrong to abuse that. We are visiting their country and should respect their customs and traditions. Anyhow, we arrived in the pitch black and made our way across the bridge into Angkor Wat. It was incredibly busy but luckily we managed to find ourselves a remote spot to watch the sunrise over the largest temple. They say it's the centre of Buddhism and its an amazing structure, much larger than I had expected. After watching the sun peak through the clouds, we decided to venture into the grounds of the temple just as the sun was rising as it would mean we had the place to ourselves! It was absolutely incredible. Wandering through corridor after corridor of crumbling ruin. It's actually still used by monks but there were none there when we visited. It truly was beautiful in the light of dawn.
Being the clever pair we are, our little early morning jaunt during sunrise meant we managed to stay one step ahead of the rest of the tourists having each temple practically to ourselves. Sam next drove us to Angkor Thom, the ancient citadel. We visited the Bayon, which I think was both of our favourites, Karen you would of loved it! It was an incredible structure of faces of the king, but each face was made of a number of individual blocks. At one point the temple had been destroyed and had to be painstakingly rebuilt, finding each and every block from the forest and finding its place. It was quite simply, a huge jigsaw and I absolutely loved it. After that we roamed around the old palace grounds, visiting a number of other temples, before Sam picked us up and drove us to the number one tourist site, the tomb raider temple. They had actually filmed much of the film there so the crowds flocked to see it. It was again, very beautiful, but certainly not my favourite. As mid day came around, the sun was certainly taking its toll on us both and we decided we'd seen enough. We were both well and truly blown away by Siem Reap and would go back in and instant. It was magical, that's the only way I can describe it. You felt like an explorer, discovering each temple for the first time.
In true Dan and Sara fashion we followed our educational morning, with an evening of debauchery and alcohol sitting in an ironically named bar 'Angkor What!' Another couple came to join us and it soon transpired she was another of the Crawford clan! Of course we both loved that and spent hours talking about how we could be distant relatives! It was a really fun night. Siem Reap is an awesome night out, pub street is the place to be. On the way home we stopped off at the supermarket and found a giant panty liner, for those of you who know the story from Christmas you will understand how funny this seemed to us and I have a great photo of Dan with said item. It was an advertisement by the way, not a random one we found on the street. Yuck!! We decided to buy rations as we were taking an 8 hour boat journey the next morning to Battambang. We must've been a bit squify as we only bought bread and a huge tub of peanut butter. Great! We must've known we were going to be hungover!