From Thailand we were ready to do a loop for 4 weeks through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos before heading back into Thailand for Christmas. Although we knew that these countries were now well established on the backpacker route, we still had no real idea of what to expect. From Ko Chang we had booked a minibus which left at 7am to Siam Reap in Cambodia. The bus was advertised as a 10 hour journey, but it actually strolled into Siam Reap at 1am and 18 hours later! Fortunately we had made a reservation at a decent hotel who had been waiting for us to check in. After a 2 hour ordeal at immigration, everybody was ushered into a rickety old bus, and from here it was clear that Cambodia was a much poorer country than Thailand. The road from the immigration border to Siam Reap was just a bumpy dirt track, so bad in fact that every seat under the bus had a spare tyre as punctures were common. After only 10 minutes on the bus, it had become dark and it had also started to throw it down with rain, causing the bus to leak and steam up. This had made it impossible for the driver to see through the windscreen and it became obvious that he was just using his instinct to get us there! As the rain become heavier and the bus started to slide around on the muddy road it was quickly becoming a pretty hairy experience!
After finally reaching Siam Reap and crawling into bed after our long day travelling we were up the next day to check out some sights. Our first visit was to a war museum, where much to our delight, we could actually look inside the tanks and helicopters. Unlike your usual museum where everything is roped off and preserved, everything here was accessible and in it's original state. There were also plenty of guns from various wars which we were allowed to pick up, and so Crust set about re-enacting his favourite scenes from every stallone and schwarzeneeger film!
From the war museum we went to Angkor Wat, the biggest attraction in Cambodia. The Khmer were a large and successful empire back in the 6th Century and the city that they had built, including temples, had been constructed near to present day Siam Reap. For only $2 USD each we hired a driver from the hotel to drive us around the ruins for the day, which proved helpful as we didn't realise how big the place was! We were also amazed at how well it had stood the test of time, as most ruins generally require a lot of imagination to picture them in their former glory, but Angkor was still pretty much in tact and now under a World Preservation Order. Siam Reap is just generally used as a base for tourists visiting Angkor Wat, so with that ticked off and time against us, we headed to Phnom Penn (PP), the capital.
After the traumas of the bus journey we decided to take the 5 hour ferry to PP, which also turned out to be a mistake, it was rubbish! The South-Asian motto seems to be that something isn't full if everyone still has room to breathe, and this was definitely the case on the ferry! After another painful journey we had arrived in PP. Cambodia has had a history of civil war and violence and most of the tourist hotspots in PP are centred around these including S21 and the mass killing fields. In the mid 70s Pol Pot took charge of Cambodia and was the leader of a communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge, but soon after coming into power he began to kill people that were not pure Cambodian and later killed intellectuals, teachers and just people who wore glasses! It was not until 1980 that Cambodia was liberated by Vietnam, but by this time 2 million people had been killed. There are mass graves all over Cambodia but the largest of these is Cheoung Ek, and this is the one we visited. It was a pretty harrowing place, as was S21,(Security Prison 21) a school that had been turned into a prison to torture victims before being sent to the killing fields. In order to get back to Thailand for Christmas we were on a tight schedule, so after the few days in PP we made arrangements to get to Vietnam.