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The Big Trip. Stephen, Laura, James and Sinead head for an epic adventure: 17 weeks in South America 8 weeks in New Zealand 2 weeks in Fiji 11 weeks in Australia 14 weeks in South East Asia.

Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Monday, 12 April 2010 | Views [1519]

After our relatively short bus journey (at this stage an 8 hour bus journey is short) from Saigon and an easy hop across the boarder we arrived in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. When we stepped off the bus outside the central market the first thing that hit us was the heat, in the 40s most days it was hot, the noise was another thing it was chaotic the market was huge with people everywhere everyone seemed to be selling something. As usual the minute we stepped off the bus there were hordes of tuk tuk drivers offering their services there were so many all talking at one time it was overwhelming and annoying. We finally agreed on one to take us to a hotel, so off we went. A couple of air conditioned hours, and a shower later we set out to see a little of the city and look for some food. We discovered that the street out side our hotel was home to many Korean restaurants and 'massage' parlours and other dodgy looking places. I would assume this is the part of the city you come to if your looking for a happy ending... If you know what I mean! Further down the city along the river is where we found all the bars and restaurants.

Up early the next morning so we could spend the day seeing some sites we negotiated a price with a tuk tuk driver for the day. Our first destination was the Killing Fields. For those who don't know, in the mid-70s a party called the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, and their reign ultimately led to a genocide. The killing fields are a very blunt name as that is exactly what it was. This was where they brought their prisoners (women, children, academics, high ranking officials, anyone who posed a threat to their reign) after they tortured them at a prison located in Phnom Penh, known as S-21. There are over 120 massive grave sights which held up to 400 people in a single plot.

Only 80 of these sights have been excavated. In these graves the remains of men women and children were found many had been beaten to death so precious bullets could be saved. One of the most disturbing sites was the Killing Tree. This is a huge old tree which the solders used to beat babies and children’s skulls against before they were tossed into the huge mass grave near by.

At the centre of the grounds, the government has since constructed a 17 level monument containing the skulls, bones, and clothes of the victims who were discovered in the excavated graves as a memorial to those that died during the genocide. Walking around the grounds which contained the remaining graves was where it hit us the extent of what happened here with pieces of bone and clothes sticking out of the ground. There was also a small museum that outlined in very graphic details of how people and small children were tortured and brutally murdered, sparing no details.  


The entire place just felt horrible and the sadness and shock could be seen on the faces of all the other tourists, it is impossible not to be effected by a place like this but despite all this it was worth seeing and we were very glad we went.


The next place we were brought was the S-21 prison. This was originally a high school, which the Khmer Rouge transformed into a prison and used to hold and torture people before they were taken to the near by killing fields.

This prison contained four different buildings in which all the class rooms had been turned into cells, all of which had their own horrifying purpose. Thousands of people were tortured here. Torture devices are still to be seen, as are blood stains on the walls. Hundreds of pictures of victims were on display. Many were mug shots of the prisoners taken when they arrived and some were pictures of tortured victims. It is so difficult to believe that something so tragic and gruesome occurred only 30 years ago. That night a few drinks were had.


The next day was time for fun, we decided we wanted to shoot some really big guns. We got a tuk tuk to an army base. When we arrived to a yard full of tanks we were led into a seating area and handed menus, yes a menu of guns, rocket launchers and grenades. we were all drawn to the rocket launcher, you get to shoot a rocket into the side of a mountain, however the $300 price tag had us thinking again. Finally me and Laura decided on M16, James decided on an anti aircraft gun and Stephen a handgun and K 60 automatic gun. Laura and I went first, then the boys followed. James and Stephen were like kids at Christmas.

That done we returned to the city to visit the Royal palace, except when we got there me and Laura were refused entry because we didn’t have our arms and legs covered… who knew shoulders were so offensive. So we decided to leave it for another day.

The next morning we first visited the national museum and then the Royal Palace, covered in all the right places this time.

The royal palace is huge with stunning buildings and gardens. On the palace grounds is the silver pagoda. The floor is tiled with solid silver tiles and it houses a huge gold Buddha encrusted with diamonds.



The next day we left Phnom Penn and headed to the sea side town of Shannoukville for a few days. When we arrived we booked into bungalows near the beach with no air conditioning just fans, which did noting just blew hot air around the room which is just torture considering the heat and humidity in Cambodia. Not surprisingly after a few days we left and decided to splash out on an air conditioned room. We stayed in Shannoukville nearly a week enjoying the outrageously cheap drink in the lively beach bars. We celebrated St Patrick’s day with green beer and shots hired some scooters and relaxed on the beaches.



Our last destination in Cambodia was Siem Reap. Siem Reap was a dusty little town until a few years ago when the nearby temples of Ankor Wat were discovered by the world. Now Siem Reap is a town filled with flashy resorts, hotels, bars and restaurants for the million or more tourists who visit every year. The Ankor Wat temples are made up of  hundreds of ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples which are thousands of years old spread out over many square miles of thick jungle.

T

he temples went untouched and undiscovered for many thousands of years but are now considered one of the wonders of the world. You could spend many days going from temple to temple and still not see them all. We arranged a tuck tuk to pick us up at 5 am and take us to the temples to see sunrise after which we spent the whole day travelling from site to site visiting the most popular temples. The heat was almost unbearable, well into the 40’s with no clouds and no breeze it was hard work with lots of climbing over fallen rocks and to the top of temples. Gallons of water was drank and we even got a guy selling us ice creams to give us a huge chunk of ice from his cool box which we used in an attempt to cool us down.

At about 10 am we stopped at some make shift restaurants for some breakfast. As we ate our driver went off to have a sleep in a hammock. When we finished eating and went back to the tuck tuk and began to climb in as our driver headed our way. One moment everything was fine next thing the motorbike at the front crashed to the ground knocking over the tuk tuk. We jumped out not knowing what had happened and next thing we were surrounded by about 15 Cambodian people who were looking at us as if we had just killed someone. The driver began inspecting his bike then he detached it from the tuk tuk on the back and rode off leaving us standing there not knowing what the hell to do. Eventually someone told us that something had broken and he had to go back into town to get it fixed so we waited for over an hour for him to return. What happened wasn’t tour fault but we still felt bad and at the end of the day we gave him an extra $5 anyway.

By the end of the day we were sweaty, dirty and exhausted but it was worth it. The temples are amazing, more so than we had expected. Many of the most impressive ones are buried deep in the jungle and have been taken over by huge trees which just grew up through walls. It really was like a lost world. The detail, the sculptures and carvings were amazing and it was not hard to see why this place is considered a wonder of the world.

The next day was Sunday so we chilled out had a very overpriced but very tasty Sunday roast in an Irish pub. Stephen and James treated themselves to a fish foot massage. This  involve sitting with your feet in a tank full if tiny fish and letting the fish nibble at your feet. They said it tickled like mad and were in hysterics for the first 5 mins.



Cambodia was without a doubt one of our favourite countries so far. Its very poor and some parts are horrible, smelly and dirty but some parts are amazing beautiful, full of old royal buildings, temples an monuments. The people are so friendly and helpful. The saddest thing about this country is the street children. In no other country have we seen anything like the child poverty like in Cambodia. There are children begging and working on the streets everywhere… they are at every street corner, every tourist attraction. There is about 20,000 children living and working on the streets in the capital alone. They beg or sell books, water, souvenirs or just hand made trinkets some of them only babies and often with no parents at every hour of the day and night. It is so sad and impossible to escape. There are many charities working with street children in Cambodia and we decided to donate some money to them.

We booked a bus to Bangkok and headed for the boarder. After a marathon journey which lasted 25 hours and involved 4 buses, a tuk tuk, a car, two taxies and a boat we finally arrived on the Thai Island of Koh Samui.

Tags: angkor temples, cambodia, killing fields

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