Friday, January 18, 2008

Adventures in Cambodia

In the past 5 days, we've felt many emotions; frustration to sorrow to awe. Our flights to Cambodia were certainly frustrating. We had two scheduled Air Asia flights to get from Chiang Mai to Bangkok then Bangkok to Phnom Penh, but they were two separate flights with no connecting baggage. Our first flight was delayed by about an hour and a half. Therefore, on arrival in Bangkok, we had less than an hour to catch our next flight. We waited for our baggage for 20 minutes but it seemed it wasn't coming. We ran to check in to our next flight and told them our situation. They told us our baggage would have to be flown to Phnom Penh on Air Asia's next flight the following morning. We were able to jump the line at immigration then we ran across half the airport to our departure gate only to discover that our flight was now delayed! We plead with the airline staff to attempt getting our bags onto the delayed flight but they didn't think that there was enough time. After a half hour of waiting at the gate, we were all put on to shuttle buses and then we proceeded to wait another half our on the tarmac! We finally boarded our flight, which turned out to be an hour and a half late also. VERY frustrating. On arrival in Phnom Penh, Jason's name was announced over the PA and they informed us that our bags had actually made it aboard! Yay! So it all worked out, but with much frustration. In our opinions, don't fly Air Asia unless you have lots of time to spare.

To add to it, we knowingly had to pay $20US for a Cambodian visa and we assumed we could pay in Thai, but they charged 1000 Baht which is more like $33US!! Grrrr... Brutal. As evening fell, we taxied into the city to the Okay Guesthouse (recommended by Hester) and were very lucky to get 2 of their last dorm beds. Everything balanced out. We walked up the river to a touristy bar area where we went on the internet then had a drink. The weather continues to be great for us.

Unfortunately, Cambodia is still very poor and is residually recovering from the genocide by the Khmer Rouge back in the late 70's. In the morning, we walked to the Tong Sleng Museum. The museum is itself the site of the largest security detention facility of the Khmer Rouge. Before the Khmer Rouge took it over, it was a high school. Some classrooms were used for torture. They built brick walls in others to separate the rooms into numerous individual cells. The museum is fairly well done, showing many photos and paintings of the torture that took place as well as individual photos of most of the detainees. Almost everyone that was sent to this facility was killed. By the time the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge, around 2 million people, a quarter of Cambodia's population, had been killed. Horrible. Cambodia has been the first place that we have visited that we have felt a big urge to give. The people here are so friendly yet they suffer from such terrible poverty. Some sleep in hammocks held up by street lamps along the road and most are self educated, yet they are proud of their ancient past and everyone looks to the future.

We took a tuk-tuk back to the riverside and ate lunch before spending a couple of hours on the grounds of the Royal Palace. The grounds were filled with beautiful buildings, gateways and spires. We moved to an air conditioned room and spent the evening relaxing.

We got up at 6:15am to catch a 6-hour 7:45 bus to Siem Reap, only to be told at 7 that the bus was here to take us to the bus station! Nobody had told us that we had to leave the hostel at 7, so we didn't have time for breakfast... grrr... We were able to get something at the bus station and the bus left shortly after 8. Almost half way there, the bus got a flight tire! It's a good job that the bus had a spare.

Then about an hour away from Siem Reap, the bus accidentally hit a scooter with a mother and three kids on it! The mother was mortified, her daughters were badly scraped up and her son looked to have a nasty gash on his head. We are not sure how bad it was, but he definitely needed a hospital. They all got taken away on other scooters. Very sad and many of the foreign tourists on board with us were well shaken up. The bus driver took off and ran away, we assume to avoid harassment from the villagers. Someone else drove the bus to the local police station and we waited there for over an hour for another bus to take us the rest of the way.

When we finally arrived in Siem Reap, our pre-arranged tuk-tuk to the Yellow Guesthouse was still waiting for us. We had only bought chips for the bus ride, assuming we'd be in Siem Reap for a late lunch, so we were very hungry. :) We watched a documentary about Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom (the reason for our visit to Siem Reap) and then watched a movie called The Killing Fields, a story of a reporter and a local Cambodian at the time of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Both were quite informative.

We arranged for an all-day tuk-tuk and driver to see the Temples of Angkor. At 5am, we hopped aboard and got there for sunrise. Angkor Wat is the world's largest religious building. The sunrise wasn't particularly spectacular, but the clouds still lit up fairly nicely for a brief time. We saved exploration for later and carried on to Angkor Thom and the other sites. It felt very similar to when we were exploring Chichen Itza in Mexico. Incredible ruins all over the place, all beautifully sculpted. Many of the sites were built over 700 years ago and had since been covered by jungle until Europeans "discovered" them in the early 20th century. The history of the restoration process is almost as interesting as the history of the initial creation. Cambodia's recent history has made the restoration process quite difficult. For instance, back in the 70s archeologists carefully labeled and documented pieces of buildings that they had disassembled for complete restoration. However, the Khmer Rouge destroyed all documentation and for the past 30 years the restoration has been like putting together a huge three dimensional puzzle. Crazy! Many of the sites have been purposefully half restored to allow the jungle to remain entangled around many of the walls and structures. It makes for some pretty awesome photos :)
By the time we were done exploring all of Angkor our driver was relieved to head home and so were we. We spent the evening relaxing after an early dinner and enjoyed reviewing our 402 pictures. Don't worry, we didn't post them all!

We flew back to Bangkok this afternoon and found a hotel in the touristy Khao San Road area. There's more tourists here than Thai but we're strangely happy to be back in a familiar city. Tomorrow we plan to tour some areas we didn't have a chance to see the first time we were here and we already have our train tickets in hand for our overnight train tomorrow to Surat Thani in the South.

We hope everyone's doing well and we'd really like to hear from you :)

Phnom Penh Pics | Siem Reap & Angkor Pics


At January 18, 2008 at 12:10 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

It sounds like your trip is fantastic, even thought it has a few downs. Sarah, Julie, Katie, and I were in Hong Kong at the same time as you guys, but we were just passing through on our way to Vietnam. Julie, who did the planning, had us going every minute for the 11 days we were there. Enjoy Bangkok. I did when I was there, but that was almost 40 years ago, and I am sure it had changed a lot. I talked to your Dad Wed Jason, and they are enjoying themselves (who would have thought that). Enjoy the rest of your adventure and hope to still be at the Island when you get back and you make it up. Steve

At January 18, 2008 at 11:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey guys!
Glad to see that your having a good time. I have been checking your website regularly and always look forward to new blogs. I will be turning 16 in only 6 days! wish you were here to celebrate with me!
love katherine

At January 25, 2008 at 5:37 PM , Blogger Kasza said...

well, unlike katherine, I don't follow your blog regularly ('cause i'm a bad friend); however, i did check it out today.
that whole hitting the scooter story is crazy; it's like something out of a movie (or book for the literary types).
i'm glad you guys are having a very interesting time gallivanting around continents.
i'm looking forward to the mind numbing slide show when you get back.

At January 28, 2008 at 11:08 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Ummm, if four comments mysteriously appear from me, it's because I apparently can't operate computers. Cool. Well it sounds like Cambodia is totally awesome; I'm bumping it up on my to-go-to list based on your stories (which are cuh-razy). I'll be sure to randomly check in again. Happy 2008!!! Peace, katie

At January 28, 2008 at 11:10 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

p.s. you guys didn't eat a big hairy spider?? I'm sooooo disappointed :p

At February 2, 2008 at 7:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey guys,

I'm so glad you made it to Cambodia. My birth place :) It is extremely overwhelming to be there. I know how mortified it must have been to be in that accident involving the family. When we were in Cuba, my tour guide ran over a dog and killed it. But that aside, being in Cambodia makes you realize how fortunate you are to be in Canada. I'm really glad you guys got to experience it and are able to share it with everyone else.

Take care and stay safe,



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