We arrived in Siem Reap at 12.45am and even though we were three hours late the man who was coming to pick us up from the bus station was still there too meet us. This was the start of the excellent customer service at our guest house where you got bedtime stories in the guise of Cambodian folk tales on your pillow every night and a glass of water and a cold flannel every time you came in from sightseeing.
We had a well deserved sleep and then the next day (David´s birthday) we commenced the temple onslaught that is Angkor. The very nice tuk tuk man, John, who had collected us from the bus stop became our transport for the three days we were in Siem Reap. We started with Angkor Wat which is one of the oldest and most well preserved of the temples, dedicated to Vishnu. It was very impressive and there were some beautiful carvings which told Hindu stories such as The Churning of the Milk. It was incredibly hot however, which took the edge off a little. Then we went to several smaller temples which, to be honest, I can´t remember the names of, there are so many of them. Most of them are Buddhist. There were some great ones with trees growing all over them and ladies giving (selling) incense to offer to statues of Buddha. We got sucked into an impromptu tour by a guy who was loitering in the ruins because we were too polite to walk off when he was talking to us. But it only cost one dollar. Everything is one dollar and there are loads of children selling bracelets and postcards which you have to out-manoeuvre. They are very sweet and it is incredibly hard to say no sometimes, but there are only so many bits of tat one person needs. Having said that we did get broken down once by a very persistent little girl who totally did us over but was very charming with it. In the evening we went out for dinner on Bar Street. It was David´s birthday and he couldn´t resist going to a street with bar in the title. We opted for Cambodian curry for dinner which was very disappointing and not at all spicy which is what we had come to expect. David looked quite depressed about this so we cheered him up with lots of beer.
The day after it was yet more temples and ruins, starting with the ancient city of Angkor Thom which is actually the largest sight in the area. Here we saw a reclining Buddha that was being reconstructed and a big wall with lots of Elephants carved into it called The Terrace of the Elephants. We got a bit templed out in the afternoon so decided to visit the museum instead which was very interesting and made more sense of what we had seen so far. The day after we went to see a river for a change of scene. The tuk tuk ride out there took about an hour and a half and it was very interesting to see the local area along the way. Then we walked up a big hill to look at the carvings which had been made in the river bed. There were also some great views on the way up.
Unfortunately we had to leave the wonderful guest house and travel on to Phnom Penh, the interesting Cambodian capital. On our first day there we went to see the very moving Killing Fields where the Khmer Rouge executed thousands of prisoners during their three and a bit year reign including babies and small children (the Khmer rouge murdered entire families to avoid reprisals and revenge at a later stage). There you can see some of the mass graves which have been excavated and a Stupa which contains the bones and clothes of the victims. Then we went to Tuol Sleng (S-21) which is the prison where the majority of the victims were held. Again it was a very moving place and the exhibits were emotional to observe. There were some very disturbing photographs of the torture some of the inmates were forced to endure and 1000s of mugshots taken of the prisoners. There were also stories from some of the victims families and stories from some of the people who worked at S-21 which raised some intriguing questions. Very, very sad and difficult to comprehend and maybe a slightly macabre tourist activity but important to not forget and to tell people about what happened there.
So, we decided that a drink might be nice that evening. Earlier in the day David had seen a place with pub in the title which was just off the main street so we decided to go there. I am fairly convinced that it was a brothel complete with sound proofed ceilings. The scantly clad ladies at the front door should have been a give away but the heat was really turned up when a young girl dressed all in tight white clothes and, David reliably informs me, bra-less came and sat next to me as though she was expecting me to make some kind of move which was rather uncomfortable. I think that she got the message when I went red and wouldn´t make eye contact. We drank our drinks very quickly!
That was about it for Cambodia, a very fleeting visit and I don´t feel like we got to know the country very well. There are a lot of people out to rip you off but there is clearly a lot of poverty. It is obvious poverty unlike some of the other poor countries that we have been to and it is very difficult sometimes to be confronted with it. There are lots of amputees begging on the streets and naked children sleeping on blankets on the pavements it really makes you realise how lucky you are.
Lots of love Sian (and David) xxx