Great once you get there...
02.05.2008 - 07.05.2008 -17 °C
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At 8 am, when no one had shown up for our 7 am bus departure, we began to think we had been scammed. Why did we buy tickets from a random lady in a shop under construction to save 20 Baht!! (50 cents) Around 7:45 we met another girl with similar looking tickets who had also booked through the same lady, and her bus too was late. She was lucky, as within 5 minutes, someone came to get her, and told us to still wait, our bus was coming. So we waited (something traveling on the cheap will make you good at) We were very relieved, when around 8:05 a little Thai man came and told us to walk to the end of the street to get the bus. Apparently a family of four was an hour late, delaying our departure. Seriously? Come on; let’s get this show on the road.
Holding umbrellas for money
Once on the bus, the actual ride turned out to be not so bad. It was a bit hot, but the bus was mostly empty, so we were able to spread out a lot. Getting through to Cambodia turned out to be another story however. Getting out of Thailand was no problem, but the bus we came on wouldn't let Brooke and I go ahead of the group and forced us to go with them, turning out to be the beginning of the scam. Once we reached the Cambodian border, the scamming officials would only accept 1000 Thai Baht instead of the listed 20 USD fee. Determined to not pay 30 USD to get into Cambodia when it is listed at 20 USD we tried, (in vain) to argue with the officials. It turns out the Cambodian mob (who knows who they are really, but I will call them the mob...) wouldn't let any white person through with using USD and would only take 100 Baht. After trying other ways for about 45 min we broke down, paid the 1000 Baht charge, vowed to hate the Cambodian mob, and entered, hot and slightly irritated into Cambodia.
Mafia run Cambodian border
Being smart (er, crazy) travelers, Brooke and I had only booked the bus to the border, with the plan to find 2 people to share a cab to Siem Reap once across the border. As luck would have it, we met 2 American girls from Seattle while in the Cambodia Visa line and we shared a taxi for the rest of the trip through Cambodia to Siem Reap for 48 USD (8 USD over the actual fare; again corrupt Govt mob). The taxi was definitely worth it, as a govt mob bus (read in, probably a scam, and would get you into Siem Reap super late...) would have been awful, as the roads were absolutely horrendous: words do not adequately describe the bumps, detours, and general disarray. This area would definitely be an off-roading boys dream, personally, the 7 hour bumpy ride was less than enjoyable... but that's just me...
I wish you could see all of the pot holes in this picture
Another bonus with the cab was that we did not have to stop at random, unscheduled stops and could go much faster, we actually passed the bus we would have been on had we booked tickets straight from Bangkok to Siem Reap, which made us dislike Cambodia a little less, though our backs were getting a beating from the roads so it may have been a toss up. When we finally arrived in Siem Reap, we easily got a hostel and a driver and friend to join us for an early morning exploration of the temples.
5 am Sunrise on Angkor Wat
Angor Wat... with no tourists... some kind of miracle truly
Gate at Angkor Thom
All of the stairs we climbed all day long
Ta Prom: the temple from Tomb Raider with Jolie
More trees growing out of temples
A monk looking on at Pre Rup
Looking down from one of the smaller temples in the 'grand tour'
Our tour ended with watching the sunset at Baphun and then returning to Siem Reap, exhausted, around 7:30 pm. Starving, we found cheap street food for dinner, then returned to our hostel, took cold showers (no hot water in our budget accommodation) and collapsed into bed.
Because the previous day had been so exhausting, we chose to start around 9 am the second day, to give us a bit of a sleep in hopes it would rejuvenate us and make us excited once again to see the temples.
Day 2 had us begin with the smaller temples of the Rolous group, and then finished with the far out temple of Bataray Sarie. It started raining when we were at the last temple of the day, but because I had already seen loads of temples, it was more of a welcome relief to the beating heat than anything else.
After another long day of temples, we finished evening with dinner and some shopping at the night market.
Conclusion: Siem Reap is a must see for trips to SE Asia. Even with the crappy roads and corrupt officials, it was amazing. As far as time lines, it is doable to see all the major temples of Angor in one day (from 5 am to 6:30 pm). It is however not advisable as we were absolutely exhausted and worn out of temples by the time the day was through... My recommendation? Buy a 3 day pass; see the Rolous group and the Batary Sarie temple on the first day. Day 2 do the grand tour with sunset at Bayon. Day 3 finish with Sunrise at Angor Wat and finish the rest of the small loop. You will definitely appreciate it all more, and you won't be to tired to take it all in.
A Cambodian woman patching my cheapo Bangkok bag.
From Siem Reap we booked bus tickets to Phnom Penh. While the roads were much better, the bus ride was awful: our 2nd to last row gems of seats yielded a 7 hour, smelly, hot, overcrowded (a few people on the bus actually stood the whole time), and extremely loud bad Cambodian bubble gum pop karaoke ride... What irritated me the most was the girl in the next row up opened her window, killing what little amount of A/C was trickling out of the vents and making the back of the bus even hotter... not so fun. We will definitely be sure to book near the front of the bus in the future. As a side note, on our ride into Phnom Pehn we stopped for the usual food and WC break, what found us here however was not the usual foods for sale. Crickets, spiders and frogs were just a few of the delicacies to be had at our rest stop. Of course, people were also sporting pineapples and mangos, but after seeing all of the fried bugs, I couldn't get myself to eat a thing.
Fried frogs, can you see their eyes and legs?
This woman was picking through her wares and would occasionally grab one and eat it. She was selling crickets, roaches and spiders. Praise veg.
Having arrived in Phnom Penh around 2 pm, we had already scoped out a hotel in my guide book that was close enough to walk from the bus station. A quick orientation and we were able to avoid the moto touts and head off in the right direction on foot and made it to the Royale Guesthouse within 10 minutes. Because they didn't have any budget rooms available (sometimes I wonder if they are lying, just to fill up the expensive ones first... most likely), we took a grand room with 2 double beds, A/C, TV, fridge, private bath and it was only up ONE flight of stairs. After a much needed shower, we set off to see some of the city before it got dark. We walked up to Wat Phnom, the highest point in the city, don't get to excited though, it's only up like 50 steps or something, not all that impressive as it is the highest point. The ride there was more impressive, as we experienced our first motor bike ride, with me riding side saddle in a skirt. The visit to Wat Phnom wasn't a complete bust however though, as walking up the steps however, I did see my first monkey up close. It was just chilling on the steps, eating a cucumber, minding its own business.
One unfortunate thing about SE Asia is everywhere you go you are constantly hounded by people begging for money, or trying to sell you some photo copied book or ripped off sunglasses. It gets quite annoying when people won't leave you alone. The kids are cute, but eventually it all gets old.
This guy wasn't begging, just enjoying his cucumber at Wat Phnom
After Wat Phnom, we head out on foot to find the post office. A confusing twisting journey had us eventually to the post office, but not before it had started to rain. Since we were traveling light, neither of us had packed rain jackets and we opted for the cheap 50 cent ponchos instead. Dashing fashion aside, they were a cheap alternative to getting soaked.
A less than appetizing meal of spring rolls later, which involved mystery innards (hopefully it was veg, but after the bus stops with all of the fried bugs and frogs for sale to eat, you can never really know), along with seeing a rat in the restaurant that was as big as a cat (no lie, seriously, I wanted to see a rat like that the whole time I was in NYC, but instead, got it at a meal in Cambodia... be careful what you wish for) finished my first day in PP. So far, not my favorite city, but ok...
Day 2 in PP started with a trip to the Nat'l Museum to see the Silver Pagoda, which we passed on, because we didn't want to pay the 6+ USD entrance fee. Instead, we made our way to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21). During the Khmer Rouge, the school was converted into a prison. The school/prison consisted of 4 buildings, used for cells and to torture more than 14,000 people before taking them to the Killing Fields south of Phnom Penh, where they were killed.
The museum was very disturbing, with pictures of many of the tortured people. What was most interesting t me about the whole thing was the amount of young people in the KR. Over 50% of the members were 15 years or younger. They would take small children and indoctrinate them with the KR mind set, raising monsters with no remorse or common decency towards other people.
They were planning to empty all of the cities and create an agrarian society. They worked to completely empty the cities and forced everyone to work in the rice fields all day in hopes to triple the countries rice production. They focused most on killing people with education, anyone with skills. They only wanted citizens who would not think, but would be willing to work and not complain. Obviously, the plan did not work, but in the 10 years or so that they were in power, 1/3 of the countries population was killed.
The most disturbing part of the museum was the skulls stacked in cabinets, showing how the KR killed many of their victims by beating them with the blunt end of the gun, to save 'precious bullets'. It is awful how war can make you so evil. Even freakier is that if over 50% of the KR was under 15 while they were in power, which would put the surviving members at around 50 years old... just old enough to start coming in power again... something to think about anyway.
We had planned to see the Killing Fields following the museum, however, we were both so disturbed with the museum that we felt we had seen enough and instead opted for the Russian Market. Window shopping and a delicious and very cheap meal later found us on another moto, this time headed for the main shopping mall of PP. Brooke had to get her nails filled, and I planned to get a pedicure. Our hostel had said this would be the best bet for finding a decent nail place so we tried it out. 3 hours later, we each had a mani/pedi (Brooke with a fill as well) and for 2 USD (Brooke paid more...) I was quite satisfied. For dinner, we ate at a restaurant on top of the mall. The circular shaped restaurant looked out over PP and was a neat atmosphere (I unfortunately could eat nothing on the menu and instead had rice... ah well, the life). During dinner, the rain had returned, this time being more of a downpour however. When we got down to the street, we found that it had been raining for a long time and the streets were beginning to flood. Not to be outdone, we donned our rain jackets and set out to trudge through the nearly knee deep water.
Do not misunderstand, this was possibly the grossest thing I have done so far in SE Asia. As we were walking through the nasty water, all I could think of was all of the garbage and putrid mud that had lined the streets that morning. All of it was now washing away, and all around my legs. I finally broke down and paid for a Tuk Tuk, only to find that within 1/2 a block the water had mostly cleared and that we were only 4 blocks from our place. All the same, the shower I took that evening scrubbing my legs was much needed.
As for pictures, I have still yet to post since Turkey... because I haven't been able to upload the pics. Maybe soon? But definitely not until I can find a decent internet connection, as uploading over dial-up is crazy slow.