(bit late posting I know!)
14.05.2006 35 °C
Well we headed off to Phnom Penh and I must admit I wasnt expecting too much after our recent trips as I thought it would just be a slightly poorer rubbisher version of Bangkok. Still I was pleasantly surprised, first thing to hit me was the heat, absolutely boiling and a very dry heat rather than the humid heat we'd expereinced elsewhere.
Not as polluted or as many people as Bagnkok and people seemed so much friendlier. The French colonial heritage was there with the buildings looking very French especially along the beautiful esplanade along the riverside. The palace and Silver Pagoda were well worth a look too!
Things were very cheap here although bizarrely you had to pay for everything in US dollars, even the cash machines spat out dollars rather than Riel. They do use Riel for small things like tuk tuks but anything costing anything substantial (well over a dollar) is paid in dollars. Guess because the exchange rate is huge and apparently the notes are easiely forged. you'd need a bucketload of notes to buy a beer so was handy carrying dollars rather than enormous wads of riel.
Bars and restaurants were cool, especially the famous Hearts of Darkness and Howies where there was free pool and Connect 4 (the game of choice in Cambodia!) although it cost us a few beers as we got our arses whooped at both by the locals!
Apparently there is a huge amount of street crime against foreigners in the evenings but we didnt see any issues, the hotel staff (Flamingos, highly recommended!) would take us out on the hotel owned tuk tuks and pick us up at the end of the night so afraid they were for our safety lol! But every single person we met was so friendly and helpful.
The most harrowing moment of the whole trip so far was the visit to Choueng Ek the site of one of the Killing Fields from Pol Pot's reign. The place is one huge field with lots of mass graves, still with bit of clothes and bone on the ground. The centre is a huge Stipa (temple) made out of the skulls of over 8000 bodies found here that they couldn't identify (Pol Pot destroyed all records). Women, children and men all piled up in a grisly display case over 50 feet high. It's amazing how awful this genocide was especially as it's so recent (Pol Pot didn't die until 1998) He had everyone forcibly evacuated from the cities to work on farms and destroyed all books and litereature and killed anyone who he considered intelligent enough to overthrow him. So every single teacher, lawyer, doctor etc and their families (even anyone who wore glasses). He would have them killed with clubs and machetes rather than shooting them as he was a bit short on bullets!
Something I'll never forget now!
From there we got the speedboat (more a torpedo than a boat) that went at ridiculous speeds up the Tonle Sap river. We all sat on the roof hanging onto rails for dear life watching to river gypsy huts and towns on stilts in the river go past at high speed!
We eventually arrived in Siem Reap at the floating village, quite cools seeing full size churches, bars, restaurants, all floating around and bumping into each other on big rafts.
Siem Reap is the town closest to Angkor Wat, the largest temple complexes in the world. Set in the middle of the jungle over 300 sq miles with about 50 major temples as well as another few hundred smaller and more dilapidated ones (some had huge trees growing in the middle if them) they looked staright off a set of Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones (not surprising as that's where they filmed those movies!)
Was bloody hard work in the 3 days we went around them, fisrt 2 days we got bicycles and that was a killer in the heat but worthwhile. The 3rd day we cheated and got a tuk tuk to drive around some more of the outlying ones.
The nightlife was great in Siem Reap including the most amazing bar I have ver seen in my life. The Dead Fish Tower is well worth a look if you're ever out there. The route to the toilet takes you over a small 2 ft wide wooden plank over a big pit. Looking down the pit as you walk over there are about 20 full size crocodiles staring up at you! I kid you not, real live big buggers with no rails, ropes or cages between you and them apart from this small plank you walk over. Also between the main bar and th tables is a sort of pool where all the tables are with stepping stones to get to them. In the water you have to walk over...... you guessed it piranhas!!! The staff just feed the fish and crocs all the left overs each night as well as any rats stupid enough to enter this place!
All in all as the guide book summed it up, the world class challenge in this place is to get drunk in and stagger around without losing any body parts!
The other bars were pretty good too and a huge amount of travellers, older mainly as it's very much a temple history place rather than a pure party town and it's bloody hard going getting round those temples but well worth it.
So Cambodia far exceeded my expectations and probably has been my favourite country so far.