Well we finally made it to Siem Reap.
As you may recall from our last blog, we had some trouble getting out of Bangkok, but it was definitely worth the effort.
The minute we arrived in Siem Reap, we knew we had to make our way to the Angkor Archeological Park, and more specifically Angkor Wat.
Many people had told us it was magical and a definite must-do, but to be honest we were not expecting what we found. It was spectacular and so vast, and certainly one of the wonders of the world.
For our first day at the park we hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us around - just to get our feet wet. This way we got an overview from someone who knew where to go and what to see. It was a day filled with stairs, stairs, and more stairs – climbing, exploring, and great moments of awe. We just loved it.
At the end of our first day at Angkor we went to get some well-deserved foot massages, and rest our knees. Other than Vince’s masseuse hitting on him (and trying to make someone jealous…grrr) it was fabulous day.
The next day we returned to Angkor by bicycle!
This was much better for our knees, but really tough on our
bottoms. But it was certainly a great
way to see Angkor, up close, since there are so many different temples, gates,
walls, ruins and other sights to see. A
bicycle strikes a good compromise between speed and ‘closeness’. Check it out: www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6wNb54F9nQ
After three days in Siem Reap, one Khmer meal (we do not recommend the Cambodian cuisine) and a bunch of "Anchor" beers, we had gotten our fill and it was time to venture to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and biggest city, which we had heard so much about from other travellers.
To get there we booked some “first class” bus tickets for $12 USD (yes, for both of them). Now, we must warn you that first class in Cambodia is not what one might expect. Yes there was “air con”, and yes there was a bathroom, but the air con was very “light” and the bathroom door was held closed by a cinder block. Yes, on a bus.
Our bus ride also included an after-dark stop on a country road for emergency maintenance. Scary, yes, but it could have been worse. Even though we were in the middle of a rice field on a dirt road somewhere far outside of Phnom Penh, with nothing but the stars above and bugs hitting us like hailstones, our phone still had better service than it gets in downtown Toronto. After 30 minutes and the help of Vince’s head lamp, the bus was fixed and we made it safe and sound.
The next day we found Phnom Penh to be a very cute riverside city, albeit with crazy motorbike traffic and tons of energy (both in the bars and on the patios of the many restaurants). This time we decided to stay in a hip youth hostel in order to get a bit of a different experience and see what it was like to be in our 20s again. Well, it was fabulous, with amazing drinks and hip hop playing all day - a total contrast to the mayhem outside, and a needed oasis in the city (Eighty8 Backpackers – thank you!).
Of course, we visited both the Killing Fields and S-21. This made for a very heavy day for us, that stirred a lot of questions and talk. It is definitely an experience neither of us will easily forget. After such a recent tragedy, it was amazing to see the resilience and be touched by the warmth of the people of Cambodia. Their smiles are contagious and Phnom Penh is beautiful.
On our last day in Phnom Penh, we had heard that Jackie Kennedy Onassis actually stayed at the famous Le Royal Hotel on her way to fulfill her dream of seeing Angkor Wat in 1967. In fact, they named a drink after her and still serve it (the “Femme Fatale”). And during “happy hour” it was actually affordable on a backpacker budget! So of course we put on our best clothes and went for a tipple.
We thoroughly enjoyed Cambodia, much more than we thought we would. We will keep it in our hearts for years to come.
To leave Phnom Penh we took a speedboat down the Mekong, across the Cambodia-Vietnam border and down to Chao Doc, Vietnam -- we’ll talk more about that next week, but for now check this out: while we were waiting for our visa papers to be processed after we crossed into Vietnam, the draft of this week’s blog got blown into the water! Or so we thought! By fluke, the paper got caught on its way down, and with the help of a very chivalrous fisherman … well … you can see the video for the rest. www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmTYYy_wmAw