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Nicola and Christopher's Grand Adventure! This is a little story of our 3 month journey through, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. We hope that you (our friends and family) enjoy reading about our trip!

Wat a lot of temples... just don't mention the rouge

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 1 September 2010 | Views [502]

Well folks we have made it to what we thought would be a highlight of this holiday, and believe us when we say that Angkor Wat did not let us down. Although we didn't have a spine tingling moment on arrival at Angkor Wat three days ago, the place is something else and definitely worth a visit if you happen to be swinging by Cambodia some time.

We spent a couple of days exploring Phnom Penh and coming to grips with the most annoying tuk-tuk drivers in the whole of SE Asia. We had read that there would be more beggers on the streets of Cambodia than anywhere else we had visited, and we are sad to say that is the case. The number of folks missing limbs is evident to see as you walk about this city, it definitely brings home how lucky we are to be from countries that embrace the the concept of the welfare state. There is no doubt this country has been ravaged by colonialism and civil war.

We spent our first day on a walking tour of the city, we tried in vain to enter the royal palace at the end of our day. Why oh why would we not be let in, we hear you cry? Well it had nothing to do with the length of Christopher's hair or Nicola's shorts (for once). As we walked the city we had noticed that it was unusual to see so many Vietnamese flags on show, we had read about the close bonds between the two countries. Vietnam booted the Khmer Rouge out of power (and then stayed a tad too long for the Khmer's liking). However to see the Vietnamese flags were almost as common as when we had been on the other side of the border. As we approached the temple the plethora of police and military said something was up, needless to say the heads of Vietnam had heard we were heading to Phnom Penh and wanted to one-up us, they only went and had a state visit. We had to return the next day.

On re-turning to the palace we were treated to some amazing architecture and splendid sights, although the question as to why the Khmer Rouge left such objects in place when they came to power remained. It would appear that they were concerned about how the rest of the world would perceive them, and so left the buildings mostly intact. The same went for the temples of Angkor.

We now had to negotiate with a tuk-tuk driver to be transported to the two most distressing sights on the whole of this trip. After running the gauntlet of drivers at the exit of the palace, Christopher thought it would be a good idea to flag a tuk-tuk down. The drivers who we had just re-buffed on principal didn't take too kindly to us flagging another driver down and after trying to drive us off the road proceeded to swear at us in his best Khmer (well we think it was swearing, Nicola is convinced that it was death threats, Christopher was only mildly concerned, silly boy!!)

We were now on our way to the prison/interrogation centre S-21 and the place where the those detained there were buried. One of the many things that make S-21 so distressing is the fact that it was a school before the Khmer Rouge took over and it is located in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Several of the buildings contain copies of the pictures that the Khmer Rouge took before and after interrogation, it is truely moving to look at these pictures. We wondered if they knew what was coming for them, it is hard to imagine that they thought anything else. 20k men, women and children were detained and killed either here or in the killing fields, in total 1.5-3 mn people died as a result of the Khmer Rouge's rule. We cannot do it justice in this blog. We then went to one of the killing fields, there is a Buddhist memorial there that contains the remains of some of the people that were killed/buried here, words fail us...

It was a sobering trip but went some way towards helping us understand this country and why it is the way it is. The fact that this happened relatively recently for us only helps to illuminate this country and this part of the world. The recent history of all the countries here is so intertwined, it has been one of the pleasures of getting to have a little taste of each one on this trip.

We took a bus to Siem Reap, a tourist hot spot that is the `jump-off' point for Ankor and its temples. We rented a couple of bikes (slightly better than our adventure in Quoy Nhon) and headed off for the temples. Angkor Wat (about 7km from Siem Reap) is supposedly the largest religious building in the world and after walking around it we could vouch for that. It is magnificent, walking among the ruins it is hard not to imagine what life would have been like when it was finished 800 years ago. The Bas Reliefs of Angkor are spectacular! We managed to squeeze in a couple of other temples, Bayon and Angkor Thom (the city of a million which the temple of Bayon is in). It was a tiring day, the heat and humidity is draining to the point that the afternoon rains offer a welcome relief.

We opted for the bike again on the second day, slightly poorer quality which was a shame as we were in for a 40km ride... maybe we would have opted for a tuk-tuk instead, oh well. We got to see about another 20 temples throughout the day. It was lovely to cycle through the countryside here, it is very flat and even though there must be thousands of tourists here, it doesn't feel that way. We were exhausted and templed out by the end of the second day. Nicola had lost feeling in her bottom and you can only imagine how sore Christopher was with his lack of covering there (not that he is saying anything about Nicola's!!!!). It was tough but rewarding. We opted for a tuk-tuk on the third day as the two temples we wanted to see were 30+km away. We had read that the stone work at Bantreay Srei made it a jewel of Angkor, we were not dissapointed.

Our time at the Angkor temples is up and we are heading to Sihanoukville and the south coast of Cambodia tomorrow morning. We know that we have spent too little time here and have barely scratched the surface. Along with Laos it is a country that we would already like to return to. We have little doubt that when we get time to reflect on our time here and all that we have seen and done, that Angkor will stand out as a real highlight (regardless of the tuk-tuk drivers and hawking children).  

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