RTW Day 65 – Siem Reap
21st April 2018
We have a lunchtime flight to Cambodia so no need to rush this morning; a leisurely breakfast and one last fight through the Vietnamese traffic to reach the airport. Getting through security takes a while. Carrying epipens means I’m used to my luggage being pulled aside for a visual search. But now my ever increasing fridge magnet collection creates a large black shadow on the x ray screen which also requires further inspection.
The flight to Siem Reap is on time and only takes 70 minutes; just enough time to fill out my life history in triplicate for immigration/ customs.
Upon arrival we are picked up and taken to our hotel; Sokkhak Boutique Resort. Child no 1, who arrived in Cambodia a couple of days ago, and is staying at a backpackers’ hostel in town, is already there, chilling by our pool and drinking wine she has put on our tab.
We have lunch at the hotel, then take a Tuk Tuk into town to Pub Street for some 40p a pint draft beer.
Then it’s on to the night market for souvenir shopping. I have no clean clothes left – my choices are do laundry or buy some ‘gap year’ trousers. I opt for a snazzy pair with an elephant print motif.
Then we take a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel. It’s not a bad way to ride; the breeze is very welcome in the tropical heat. But getting stuck behind a durian seller at traffic lights isn’t much fun.
RTW Day 66 – Siem Reap
22nd April 2018
I have an upset stomach, so opt out of this morning’s activity and chill by the pool instead, which is blissful (notwithstanding the necessity for regular bathroom trips). Meanwhile, the others head to a floating market, which isn’t floating because it’s the dry season.
In the afternoon we take a Tuk Tuk to the ticket booth to buy our temple passes. You can buy a day pass from 5 pm the night before and temples don’t close until 5.30, so we manage to squeeze in a quick peak at Angkor Wat.
We only manage to cross the moat and pass the gatehouse before they start to close up. However, it is still a sight to behold, just as the sun begins to set.
Then we return to Pub Street for dinner and for the old man to get squiffy on $1.50 margaritas. We abort a trip to the night market to buy fake Havaianas, as he is struggling with walking and return to the hotel for an early night. We are being picked up at 5 am tomorrow so we can watch the sunrise.
RTW Day 67 – Siem Reap
23rd April 2018
Today is temples day, and involves a very early start, with a 5 am departure to reach Angkor Wat before sunrise. Our driver is early so we are the first people to arrive at the temple. We cross the weird squishy squashy bridge over the moat by torch light and wait for the sun to rise over a lake full of water lilies, so you can see the temple reflected in the lake. It certainly is a spectacular sight.
After sunrise, we explore the site of Angkor Wat, including climbing to the top of the Bakan (inner sanctuary).
This involves negotiating a flight of around 60 very steep wooden steps. The final step is particularly deep, and as I climb, I hear an almighty tear. There is a large rip in my gap year trousers and I’m at the top of a temple which requires modest dress, flashing my arse to the long queue below.
By this stage, we have been at the temple for over two hours and it’s 34 degrees. We need to cool down. Luckily our lovely Tuk Tuk driver is waiting under a tree with a cool box full of water. Fluids replenished, we return to the hotel for breakfast and a change of trousers.
Once we have regrouped, we set forth again, this time for Angkor Thom. It’s a huge complex, several times larger than its neighbour. You start by crossing a bridge over a moat lined with carved warriors. I climb out of the Tuk Tuk without checking for traffic, and almost get run over by an elephant.
Over the bridge are the Baphuan and Bayon Temples, decorated with 216 huge stone heads.
Then come the Terrace of the Leper King and Terrace of Elephants, viewing platforms decorated with thousands of carved animals and statues. Angkor Thom is probably even more impressive that Angkor Wat.
After another 2 hours sightseeing with the temperature soaring to a brutal 36 degrees, it’s time to return to the hotel again. I’m not feeling well so decide to call it a day. The old man and child no 1 have lunch and set forth to visit two more temples.
The evening takes its familiar pattern; drinks and dinner on Pub Street. The old man orders a barbecue, which basically means you get a bowl of raw food (including 6 types of meat) a gas stove and some boiling water to cook your own dinner. I’m running a temperature and could do without fire and steam belching forth from the table adding to the heat and 80 per cent humidity! Dinner complete, we return to pack ready for our morning bus to Phnom Penh.
RTW Day 68 – Phnom Penh
24th April 2018
It seemed like a good idea at the time; a 6 hour bus trip to the capital, Phnom Penh. It’s only 199 miles, so that’s an average of 33 mph. The old man and I reach the bus terminal. It’s rather chaotic, child no 1 has booked the complimentary pick up service and is nowhere to be seen, finally arriving a couple of minutes before the bus is due to depart.
We are late leaving; some American kid has his ticket on his phone which he forgot to charge. Then we have to make an unscheduled stop after a few miles; some American kid needs to pee and can’t wait. It’s going to be a long day.
The road is less rural than I’d expected; it’s lined with townships for most of the route. And litter – lots and lots of litter. The verges are thick with plastic bags and bottles.
After six hours, three scheduled stops at service stations on stilts and two unscheduled stops (Mr ‘I need to pee’ demands to be dropped off when we pass a brewery) we reach our destination.
We take a Tuk Tuk to the hotel. We climb in, but the driver has parked over a tree root and can’t push the Tuk Tuk back onto the road, so we have to get out again. Still no success, so we have to help push. Then he asks me to stand in the middle of the busy road and stop the traffic so he can reverse.
We make it to the hotel; Plantation Urban Resort, but are greeted by guests making a run for the door, followed by staff. They are spraying insecticide round the pool and it stinks. After a brief wait outside, we are issued with paper masks and allowed to check in.
Child no 1 is staying at a hostel nearby with a 4th floor bar overlooking the Mekong River. It sells cocktails at £1.35 each, so we head for the river for drinks and dinner.
It’s a popular area, the river is full of boats and has a footpath lined with palm trees full of walkers and runners. As it gets dark, the boats light up and there are red and blue fairy lights on the palm trees which match the Cambodian flags along the street. It’s a magical sight. We have dinner in a Khmer restaurant opposite the river then head for bed.
RTW Day 69 – Phnom Penh
25th April 2018
We have planned a day sightseeing in Phnom Penh today. We start with a visit to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. In a site a few miles out of town, are the mass graves of up to 20,000 victims of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.
An audio tour takes you round the site of the graves. Some have been excavated, leaving huge dents in the ground, others left untouched, meaning bone fragments and teeth are randomly scattered around.
The tour finishes at a Memorial to the victims, which contains over 5000 skulls.
After this, we move on to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This former school became a prison (Prison S21) during Pol Pot’s regime. The 4 main buildings can be visited.
Building A was used for interrogation. Each former classroom contains a bed. Just before the regime was toppled, the final 14 prisoners were tortured to death and left in situ. There is a large photo in each room showing how its final victim was discovered, lying on the bed, covered in blood. You can still see traces of blood on the floor.
Building B contains thousands of mug shots of those who were detained here. There are photos taken when prisoners arrived (plus a gruesome set of photos taken post torture).
Building C houses the mass cells where inmates were shackled to the walls.
Building D displays many of the instruments and methods of torture utilised to make prisoners confess to crimes or give names of CIA/KGB agents. One survivor explains that he’d never even heard of the CIA yet managed to name over 60 agents under torture.
It’s a long and draining morning, both emotionally and physically; we have spent 4 hours walking round the sites with temperatures in the mid 30s, so we cool off with a swim.
Next, a visit to The Royal Palace – a huge complex containing many grand buildings, among them the Silver Pagoda which is named for its silver tiled floor. There are rooms full of treasures on display. It’s a strange feeling, viewing so much ostentatious wealth surrounded by so much poverty.
We round off our last evening in Phnom Penh with riverside drinks and dinner. Tomorrow child no 1 goes home and we set off by a rather long- winded route to Sri Lanka.
RTW Day 70 – Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
26th April 2018
Today is poorly planned. Our onward flights are from Siem Reap, which means a 6 hour coach journey this afternoon to catch a plane in the morning.
First, just enough time to visit the National Museum. It houses a collection of Khmer artefacts but isn’t really worth the $10 admission fee (plus a further $5 for an audio guide). Plus there’s no air conditioning, so we only manage an hour before heading for a Café by the river for cold drinks and a cooling breeze.
We say goodbye to child no 1 who is flying home, check out and begin the long journey back to Siem Reap. We make it, despite the kamikaze driving, the dodgy clutch, a torrential downpour and multiple stops to pick up and drop off passengers. It’s an intriguing combination of services; westerners pay in US dollars to be taken on a direct service from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. But Cambodians flag the bus down and get on and off at will without tickets. I’m not sure if this is an official policy of making foreigners subsidise Cambodian travel, or a little sideline run by the crew. Either way, the eight additional stops mean we are 20 minutes late arriving in Siem Reap. This means; 1) the final part of the journey is in the dark; a hair raising experience as there are no street lights and head lights are very much an optional extra and 2) we arrive after the laundry (where we left most of our clothes) has shut.
We check into our hotel and go into the village for surprisingly good pizza and beer. I’m not sure they actually sell beer; when we ask, they say yes, then send someone out to source a case. It takes a while, but beer does indeed appear. We get beer, they get dollars. As they would say in Cambodia: “Good for you. Good for me.”