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Cambodia's cities

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 16 August 2017 | Views [252]

Getting to Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh from Phù Quoc Island was a little stressful. We took a boat to the border town of Ha Tien in Vietnam, handed over our passports, photo and money to some strangers and watched them take off while we waited for a van to take us to the border. It's always a little worrisome to find yourself without a passport but we scheduled the crossing through our hotel in Phu Quoc and this was our best option. Luckily, we arrived at the border safely and didn't have to wait long to cross over. The small van took us to the sleepy Cambodian town of Kep where we boarded a large bus for the five hour ride to Phnom Penh.

Danny had visited Phnom Penh seven years ago and it had changed. The city was teaming with familiarity; Dominos Pizza, Starbucks, Tous Les Jours, Korean food and more. No longer was this a dirty, small, unsafe city. We felt perfectly safe that first night as we ventured out for noodle soup and grabbed a drink at the sports bar playing the D.C. United soccer match and a NFL preseason game. Maybe this city wasn't so bad.

That being said, we only had one day in the city since our preference is nature and small towns. We made the most of that day learning about Cambodia's horrible genocide by the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s. Cambodia was a French colony that gained independence only to be bombed in the Vietnam War. In the struggle to find its identity afterwards, a communist leader came into power that killed almost one third of the population. We visited S21, a school turned into a brutal prison and torture camp. We then visited the Killing Fields (one of many in this country) where S21 prisoners were sent to be executed. It was a somber morning, but to understand this country and its people, we needed to understand its history. We spent the afternoon strolling the city's river walk and visiting a small temple. 

The next day we took a long, bumpy bus ride to Battambang. It's the second largest city in Cambodia but felt like a small village compared to the Capital. We spent three days touring the temples and countryside. We found an amazing tuk tuk driver who knew his town and proudly shared all of his knowledge. We think he has aspirations to become a tour guide. Over two days he took us to many places:

 

~ The Bamboo Train - A motorized bamboo pallet that sped down old railway tracks through the countryside.

~ Wat Bana - Temple ruins at the top of a hill. We stopped here for lunch in a hut over a lake. Than relaxed in hammocks.

~ Phnom Sampeau - A complex of temples at the top of the hill. We had to keep an eye out for crazy macaques monkeys but the view was beautiful. At dusk we waited for hundreds of thousands of bats to come out of a cave at the bottom of the hill. Amazing.

~ The homes of locals making rice wine, rice paper, fish paste (smelly) and bamboo mats

~ In the country side we saw children swimming in the river and running to the street as we drove by to shout hello.

~ Lots of Buddhist temples and monks in golden robes.

On our last night in Battambang we went to the Phare Ponleu Selpak, a Cirque du Soleil like show performed by teenagers. It was amazing watching them flip, juggle and act on stage. All the kids performing are underprivileged kids who earn an education and some money through this performance school. The school, started by a French man, teaches performing arts, music and classical arts as a way to help the children.

We surprisingly loved the small little city of Battambang and were sad to leave. But it was time for Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat! So we said goodbye to Battambang and boarded another bumpy Cambodian bus.

 

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