We're in Cambodia! On the 8th we flew from Bangkok into the capitol of Phnom Penh. A one hour flight that took us down over flood plains and open green lushcious landscapes. A totally different place to the busy manicness of Bangkok! It was amazing to see when we were in the taxi from the airport, whole familes perched on the back of a moto, tiny kids faces peering out between their parents, kids holding their baby brother or sisters whilst balancing their household posessions!
Whilst on the flight, me and Lucy picked a guesthouse from the Lonely Planet that sounded reasonable. 'The Sunday Guesthouse'was our pick... a small, friendly atmosphere with very good english speaking people at the reception desk to welcome us in. We chose to have a room with aircon and a shower - however, sadly the aircon was more like a whisp of fresh air! Not the best when it's ridiculously hot outside and in! We luckily had a big fan above our begds, although this made a loud banging sound every so often so sleeping was a bit disturbed. Overall though it wasn't a bad place.
The area we were in was a little out of the way from the riverfront busyness and bustle, so we felt a bit out of the atmosphere of the place. Especially at night when the little side road we were on, had no lights and became a bit scary, so we would always take a tuk tukl ride there and back from the riverfront after eating. We booked ourselves onto a tour for the following day to see the Killing Fields and the Tuol sleng Genocide Museum.
We shared a tuk tuk with another english guy - a law student who has just arrived into Cambodia from travelling around Australia and New Zealand for a couple of months, now doing Cambodia and Vietnam before going back to London for a job. Also on our tuk tuk was a Dutch couple who were lovely and gave us some really helpfull tips on Vietnam and places we should see whilst we're out there. The weather was intesntly hot and walking around an open field was just so hot!!
The Killing Fields holds the graves of victims from the Kghmer Rouge. One grave consists of over 450 bodies alone! It's about the same size as my bathroom...dreadfull to think about it. Most of them were headless aswell. A tall monument stands at the entrance of the field holding a glass case with the many skulls, jaw bones and bodfy bones that were dug up after the Khmer Rouge passed. Cambodia wanted to preserve as much of what they found as they could, including rags of clothing from the bodies which were dumped alongside the bodies. Mothers were found lying next to their babies blankets, but no signs of the children - these were in another ditch somewhere else in the field. The killing of the young children is what I think personally to be the worst story and event I have ever heard - Pol Pot the leader of the Khmer Rouge decided he didn't want the children to grow up and hate him for what had happened to their familes and their lives...therefore he used the ''smacking tree'' - a tree that stood in the middle of the field which soliders would literally smack the babies / young children against until they were dead, then fling them into the ditches to bury. What an awful thing to happen!
Next we went onto the Tuol Sleng Museum, about a 20 minute drive from the fields through countryside and little villages. This was another shocking and devistating place to see. What was once a school was turned into a prison to use for the Khmer Rouge. Ghostly empty rooms, some of which still have metal beds in them with blood stained floors. These were used for torture rooms, victims were tied down to the beds used metal chains and terrible crimes were commited on them by soliders.
Victims were not allowed to cry during torture, if they were they would be tortured even more until they stopped! The other rooms inside the prison were built vobviously very quickly, tiny brick cells line the rooms, probably no more than 1/2 a meter wide and long! Again, blood stains dot the floors. In another building, the whole other wall is covered in barbed wire to stop anyone from escaping, guards would stand otutside 24/7 to ensure no-one tried to commit suicide. I came away from seeing both places feeling pretty qeusy and depressed. I think both me and Lucy needed some lighthearted entertainment for the rest of the day! So, we took a tuk tuk into the centre and took a walk along the river until we found a lovely little cafe.
That evening, we went for an indian meal along the riverfront. An interesting experience - our first sight of street children. We had both been told about it but didn't quiter know what to expect. Certainly not to see young children probably at the age of 3/4 wandering the streets alone, barefooted trying to sell bracelets and books to travellers. As we sat waiting for our meal, a young boy came in asking for money in return for a book (which we had been warned are photocopies with a hard cover, probably would fall apart within minutes). It's clearly not their choice to be on the street, they're only doing what their parents have asked I guess! But, this boy was very thin, he looked tired and it hasd just starting to rain outside so he was looking for some warmth and cover. A couple of women opposite us offered the boy some food, to which he was so pleased with! Before they knew it, 2 more children came into the restaurant to share with the boy, and then a woman appeared outside in the rain - he ran out to give his mum and piece of chicken wrapped in tissue. A kind gesture but very sad to see, especially when a whole table full of food arrived on our table - we'd ordered too much!
On the 10th of October we caught a bus to Battambang. The guesthouse took us along to the bus station for a bus at 9.45, however after sitting arounfd for an hour we realised it wasn't coming. So we asked the guy sat next to us if he knew when the bus was arriving - his english wasn't that great, so his reply wasn't very clear...he asked us to write it down and then he asked his supervisor at the station. 11.45 was the answer! The guy offered us a 'sweet dessert'but unsure what it was, lucy asked if it had meat in it and if it was vegetarian...this ended up in us writing down vegetarian for him so he could understand it. He then rang up his english teacher and asked me to explain down the phone....I couldn''t hear anything they said back so we weren't getting anywhere really. Still, the guy seemed pretty pleased to be talking to us and as we left on the coach he ran out to wave goodbye!
We were the only white westerners on the 5 hour coach journey to Battambang. It was an interesting journey, lots of loud beeping. Cars seem to just beep at eachother out here - it's their way of saying 'get out of my way, I'm overtaking you'; which happened A LOT! Getting to sleep on the bus wasn't quite so easy. But when we did manage to get a bit of kip, we woke to see a guy oppostite giggling in delight to have seen me dribble! Not my finest moment! Half way we made a stop off at a little shack, food stalls selling food and drink and cages with rabbits / baby chick bundled in. We decided not to get any food having seen the 'kitchen'', not the most hygenic! In fact a lot of what we've seen in Cambodia just seems quite dirty and unhygenic. The streets and river all smell pretty bad! Scarfs have come in handy as face masks.
About 5pm we finally arrive into Battambang, seems a lot smaller and managable that Phnom penh. We had booked a couple of nights at the 'Royal Hotel', just across the road from the market place. This time we decided to go for just a fan and cold water, although we sturuck very lucky as the room was huge and the shower was pretty warm. That evening we sat up on the roof terrace and watched the sunset while watching the world go by.
The next day we 'have a lovely tuk tuk driver take us on a tour to several places ariound Battambong. First we take a ride on the Bamboo Train. A very exciting journey! An hour's worth of bumping around on a manmade bamboo platform, vibrating along the small single track. It was interesting when we met another bamboo train coming in the opposite direction. One of us had to get up off the train whilst the driver picked ours off the track, allowing the others to go past. I met a snake along the way....which made me jump up and try to stand on the train which the driver was panicked by as I could easily have fallen off whilst sitting let alone standing! The bright green snake got caught up when we passed through a big bush....he slithered along beside me until he fell down a gap in the middle of the train into the track. I didn't panick atall....NOT! hehe.
At half way we stopped at a small remote village where we were met by an elderly guy with just 2 front teeth and beautiful little girl. They invited us into their shack for a drink and some food. I had a tiny bananna which had grown on their tree in their back garden - delicious and so sweet! An elderly women brought over a little çambodian dessert' and insisted we try....It looked like something wrappe in a leaf with possibly rice or bean inside. We both asked if it was meat to which they said no, so I thought to be polite I'd try a bit. 'Mmm Lovely'....it was disgusting!! I couldn't let on though, i didn't want to upset the women so Lucy tried some, pulling away a bit when a piece of red meat fell out of the centre. We both looked at eachother and grabbed the coke to have a sip. Whatever was inside the 'dessert'must have been pretty potent becuase for the rest of the day, whatever I smelt, whatever we ate or drank tasted of it!! Not Nice!
We took the bamboo train back, then went onto the Temple Hill and Magic Caves. The tuk tuk could only go so far so the rest we had to climb...a whole 368 steps worth up a steep incline! In the heat....it was hard work! Amazing views over Battambang up the top though. After here we went onto Phnom Samrou - another temple on the hill. We both shared a moto, our first experience of it and it was pretty fun. Our driver took us all the way up the top to see some amazing views once again. All the temples have recently been re-built as most of them were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge. On the way home, we stopped off at Crocodile Hill for a photo. Nothing very interesting but it was in the shape of a crocodile!
On the 12th we woke at 6am to catch a boat all the way to Siem Reap, a 7 hour journey along the Tonle Sap River. During the night it had rained a lot and for the first couple of hours on the boat it continued to rain. Lucy will hate me for telling you all, but as we stepped on the boat (carrying our huge rucksacks mind you), she slipped and fell on her bum. Everyone else managed to do it gracefully bless her. Think she got a bit of a nasty bruise on her leg from falling. She can laugh about it now. Around mid morning the weather started to clear and we were able to take photos of the floating villages. It was amazing to see some of the houses, risen high on stilts above the water - not looking very stable. Kids would peer out of their windows when we passed shouting hello and waving! So cute. Small wooden boats with whle families perched on a small platform. As we progress further towards Siem Reap, we leave the floating villages and enter a bit of remote landscape. So remote that I think we may have taken a wrong turn, as the large open river suddenly became a very small river with no room either side of the boat. We passed trees, overgrown bushes....as there are no windows on the boat - whoever was sitting on the outer edge had to crawl pretty much under their seat to hide from being hit by a tree branch - that was me! Unfortunately, along with all the foliage came BUGS and plenty of them! Spiders, massive grasshoppers, flies, mossies.....you name it, it was on board. It became a jungle! So we were all guarded with sticks, ready to pounce when anyone was attatcked by a bug! At the time it was pretty scary and lasted for over an hour, but looking back it was very funny! For the rest journey we shared our space with many bugs...becoming really itchy thinking they were crawling all in our clothes and our hair.
After the 7 hour journey we arrived in Siem Reap. As we pulled into the makeshift harbour - mud slide hill; there were loads of guys stood waiting. As the engine stopped, they all piled on board running for our bags. Ýou wan Tuk Tuk Lady'.....was mental! Luckily we had pre-booked a free pickup so a guy stood patiently with a name card saying 'Ms Lucy''. We had a 30 min ride into Siem Reap, taking us through small riverside villages. The look of the place was a lot nicer to both Phnom Penh and Battambang. More chilled out and a lot more to see culturally and places were very picturesque! Our driver 'Brutti"' explanied there had been a lot of rain over the past couple of days and the roads were very high in floods. Going through 1/2 a meter of water in a tuk tuk was quite entertaining! Some poor people were obviously not prepared for the floods and some of the water was just flowing into their houses, as they waded through it carrying on as normal as they could!
Our guesthouse was recommended to us by Sta, 'Bou Savvy''. It's a bit out of the way from the central markets and bustle of the plce. But very easily acessible by a 5 min tuk tuk or 20 min walk. The rooms are spacious, people really friendly and free internet which is a big bonus for writing this blog! Our driver offers to be our personal shoufer for whilst were here to see the temples of Angkor Wat. That evening we went to see the sunset over the temples, but undfortunately it was pretty cloudy so we didn't see much of a sunset. The next day we explore the temples, including Bayon ( the heads) and Elephant Terrace. Both really interestnig and amazing structures. The haeat was intense, bit of a sweat fest. It was a nice escape from the sun to walk around inside in the cool darkness of the temples though. Unfortunately that afternoon we had planned to walk around the famous Angkor Wat temple, but my haviana flip flop broke! Noooo! Bit of superglue that night has saved them. I will not throw them away just yet!
The next day we decided to have some time off from the temples, one day of intense walking around. We hired bikes and went on an explore around Siem Reap along the riverside. It took us along to the water in front of Angkor wat, a beautiful spot to take some time out and catch up with our journals. A group of alittle boys came along to join us, they had no understanding of english atall and all they wanted was a dollar....we didn't give in. They were so cheeky, onye little boy grabbed my bag and began to go through it, opening zips and pulling at the straps. Then when I said no, he mooned me! Cheeky little thing!
That night we had a look around the night market, although after 20 minutes of repeatative 'Hey lady, you wana try something', we needed a break and found somewhere for a bit of food and peace.....until a street seller joins us at our table that is!
Today, we woke at 4.45am expecting our tuk tuk driver to be at our guesthouse to take us to Angkor Wat to see the temples. As you all know, we both love our sleep so we we'rent too happy tro wake up at this time, let alone see that he hadn't turned up to collect us. We waited for half an hour but after no show we go back to bed thinking maybe we got it wrong at it was 5.45am...I set an alarm to wake myself up, but once again he still wasn't there! So, we both went back to sleep until 7 am. Finally he was there...but his excuse was 'it was cloudy' - well he could have told us not to wait around for him if that was the case grrrr! We said we were ready to leave then and there anyway, so he took us to Angkor Wat first thing. The weather was a bit dull and cloudy, but got out sunny after an hour or so. As we walked out of the back entrance we saw a group a small monkeys so spent half an hour or so watching them playfight with exachother. I think we got a little too close with our cameras though, as the mother pulled a pretty ugly face at us, showing her whole set of teeth....I turned and ran. Didn't want to risk getting bitten.
We then drove about 45 minutes out of siem reap to the temples in the mountains. On the way, the weather turned nasty and hasn't stopped all day. We waited in a cafe for a little while hoping it would calm down so we could walk up to the temples. I ordered a hot tea to try and warm myself up, but it came out luke warm and tasted and looked just like they'd scooped it up from the river...I'm waiting for the upset stomach to arrive...touch wood nothing at the mo!
So.....I don't know about you, but I've been sat here writing this for the last hour and I need a long cool drink! You're all now pretty up to date with our happenings our here in Cambodia. We have 2 more nights here, leaving on sunday to go to Kratie. A place where we can see the endangered Mekong dolphins. Then we're hoping to go across the border to Vietnam for 2 and a half weeks. Although, we've heard border crossings in a bus can take up to 36 hours !! eek...so we're trying to find a cheap flight.
Love to all
Love Lucy and Mads xx