I am officially in love with Cambodia.
I apologise for the lack of posting, its just been rather difficult to find time to get online over the past few days. I'll try to recap everything thats been going on...
So we met our tour group on saturday in a very nice hotel in Bangkok (a lovely change from Khao San Road!). I'm sharing a room for the whole trip with this girl from Bristol, she is very easy to get along with (also helped by the fact that we watch all the same crappy TV shows). We are 13 in the group (plus Pok, our tour leader) and everyone is great, exchanging travelling stories and such. It really makes you realise that the best part about travelling is the people you meet.
We had a long 7 hour drive on sunday to get to Siem Reap, the ancient capital of Cambodia and the main city near Angkor Wat. This involved a "lovely" walk with backpacks at midday across the border, loads of paperwork and quite a bit of waiting around. The second we got into Cambodia though everything looks completely different - just one isolated road in the middle of empty fields with the odd trees and houses. Absolutely beautiful scenery. Siem Reap really emphasised the difference between Cambodia and the chaos of Bangkok - everyone is very friendly, easy going, and not as pushy. There are tons of references to French culture, from Creperies scattered around to french names and buildings.
On Monday morning we got up at the refreshing time of 4.30AM (yes, its not all relaxing!) to watch the sun rise over the temples of Angkor Wat. As you walk towards it in the pitch dark, it is very surreal. Slowly as the sun rises you get to see the magestic design though, it was well worth the early wake up call. We then spent the next 10 hours exploring it as well as the surrounding temples. In the blistering and unbearable heat of course! It was exhausting but completely worth it. The temples here are very individual and different from each other, and nothing like you have ever seen before. We even saw the one they used to film Tomb Raider, which was by far by favourite - trees that are a few hundred years old have grown around the ruins and its very beautiful. That evening we tried the obligatory fish massage - imagine sticking your feel in a massive aquarium full of little fish. Very ticklish!
Tuesday we took a local bus (which wasn't nearly as bad as everyone kept making it out to be, it had air-con so I was happy!) for 6 hours across the country to reach Phnom Penh, the capital. Lovely city, very tastfully renovated buildings after most of them were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime. Last night a few of us found ourselves at a tiny local expat bar; owned by a retired british guy who moved out here "to get away from the hypocrisy of the west" as he explained to us over a few drinks, he runs his bar, deals with the corrupt and illogical nature of Cambodia everyday, and serves food to the local children who live in the dumps of Phnom Penh. Another guy, who works with my roommates' school friend who is out here volunteering, was adopted by americans after his parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge, and has come back to learn the language, earn some money and use it to build a school. He showed us the grenades he found when digging up the school - very weird!
That whole evening was a great change from the more standard tourist things we've been doing, it helps you understand life here a bit more and what you have to deal with here on a daily basis.
Today was rather rough; we visited the S-21 prison and the Killing Field. Walking around the prison, seeing the blood stains still in the cells, the torture instruments, the paintings of what went on, the mug shots of the prisoners... makes you feel sick to your stomach. The Killing Fields were just as bad; you are literally walking on bones. You look down and see a piece of bone or clothing sticking out of the ground. The worst was the tree they used to hang children off of.
Apologies for the rather sinister paragraph there, but it was very powerful. The worst part is to think that it wasn't even that long ago.
On a slightly more optimistic note, we will be attempting to cool off by the pool this afternoon. Tonight we are going to a very local restaurant, owned by a man who runs a school for children. Should be good! Tomorrow we take a local bus again, this time heading to Sinouhkville near the sea for some much needed beach and snorkelling time :)