Getting Drunk and Lost Part 2 : Cambodia

Visiting Siem Reap, Kratie and Phnom Penh

Carla had read on various travel blogs that crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia was fraught with scammers and an inept border control. Sure enough our bus tried to rip us off claiming we had to pay Baht for a Cambodian visa (which we did not) then while walking through what I can only describe as a war zone / building site / market town to get back on the bus we got ripped off by what looked like an official. Stressful, very unsafe, dirty, corrupt. Things were not going well. Carla although stressed as well saw the lighter side by exclaiming her love for spending 30 minutes in the country illegally. I did not share this feeling.

We finally got to Siem Reap late afternoon, still a little shaken and on edge, there was only one thing for it. Beer!
So we headed into town and to an area that held much promise… Pub street!
Very touristy and full of visitors who had spent the day exploring ruins.
$0.50 for a beer. Cambodia was suddenly forgiven.

The next morning (groan) we headed to the Angkor temples for the first of our 3 day tour.
The 3 day pass which I commented was like Disney land did not land the laugh I had hoped from Carla, who would have to remind me on several occasions to be more respectful.
We had planned to maybe seek cheap alternatives to view some of the temples, like walking or bike but opted to book a Tuk Tuk for the first day to assess.
Angkor is classed as an ancient national park and is huge!! We started on the outer ring of temples and it took at least 10/15 minutes ride to each one. So walking was a firm “I’m out” from me.
I could try and describe how amazing these structures are but I would never do them justice. I captured a few half decent pictures but just believe me when I say they are mind blowing.
We headed back utterly exhausted but feeling both privileged and overwhelmed.
That night was something a little different and not my usual over indulgence.
Carla had read (of course she had) about a talk on the political, social and medical situation in Cambodia. This was located in a hospital training center just down the road from our hotel.
So we set off early in the hopes to find a street vendor, then an evening of entertainment.
What followed was a fall out over food, an attack by a cricket and some suspiciously disgusting sausages. I’ll leave that there and we can explain in person.
The talk however, was surprisingly good.
Held by Dr Beat Ritcher, a man who was working in the Red Cross during the 70’s (before the Khmer Rouge) and returned in the the 90’s to spear head the development of 5 hospitals in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. 80% of which are child patients mostly suffering tuberculosis.
He provides free care in a country that the world health organization says its patients should pay for, even though these people earn $1 per day. He works tirelessly to raise the money himself. He is a legend! And the situation is tragic.

Day 2 – 5:30 get up (grrrroooaaann)
Sleepily and in pitch black we headed to the main temple Angkor Wat for sunrise.
My grumpy morning self was in full control at this point and enraged even more when I soaked myself in a puddle of water and mud (Carla found this hilarious, I did not). This and the crowd of people, which looked like they were attending the 18th hole of the Masters. Almost spoiled the whole morning.
The sun rose and with it so did my spirit.
Again in total awe of these ancient structures. Amazing.
By 1pm we were shattered with 2 to go.
Ta Prohm famous for its extreme examples of nature taking over was sadly too much as the heavens opened up and stopped play. Rained off, soaking wet, we’ll come back tomorrow.
A Few beers were in order!

Day 3
1pm start – woohoo!!!
Sunrise was beautiful but overcrowded, how would sunset fare?
So back to Ta Prohm and it didn’t disappoint. Huge trees had completely ignored the ancient Cambodian architecture by growing twisted entangled in the massive stones. Very eerie but also beautiful.
So sunset. Although it was gorgeous it sadly got cut short but a covering of clouds. We rode it out but you can’t do anything about the weather – our fault for choosing rainy season to visit.
Ultimate verdict for Siem Reap and the temples – absolutely outstanding!

The following day we said goodbye by getting another bus heading to Kratie.
The bus station was little more that a street cart with plastic chairs, the service station an extended version of the above and an unexpected bus change to a mini van proved a little stressful. We were heading for rural Cambodia, what more did I expect?

We’ve been a bit slack over the last few weeks so let me cast my mind back to Cambodia and Vietnam and catch upon what we did in October.
We had previously planned to go to the beach bum paradise of Sihanoukville but a combination of rainy weather and a desire to get out into the countryside found us heading east to a town called Kratie.
On the first day armed with some water and a handwritten map we hired some $1 bikes (and yes you can imagine the quality) and headed up the cycle trail towards a little town called Sandan. I’ll try and explain the scenario but honestly it was one of those times when I thought, shit, photos won’t do this justice and I hope I remember it. Because it was bizarre. We rode for about 6 hours in total through tiny little villages along a road that at times was more pothole than actual road and no two houses looked the same. We were continually mobbed by little kids running out to wave, shout hello and in one case get way too excited and grab Les’ leg in what must have been a dare to touch the funny looking man. Cute as the kids were and unbelievable as the countryside was it was undeniably impoverished. You’d be cycling alongside the Mekong river past gorgeous lush trees and fields and yet every mile or so they would be a massive pile of rubbish on fire, including plastic bottles, with little kids running around next to it. No need to pin the little bin collection notice up here. They also chuck a lot of it in the river, which sucks.

Anyway true to form after four hours of blazing sun, the heavens opened and stayed open for a solid 2 hours complete with thunder and lightening to send us on out way back to the hotel. We took shelter underneath a tree with some misguided notion it might calm down while these young kids all played in this “swimming pool”. After passing by the same place we saw what they had used as a little pool in the rain was now being filled in with cement. Cambodia, ladies and gentlemen. So we got back into Kratie just as the rain was subsiding (of course) looking forward to some happy hour beers and really just not being fucking wet. Just as we were cycling the final stretch to the hotel some old Cambodian dude decided to not look and pull straight out, ploughing into me in the process. Luckily I bounce – even off a bonnet – but not quick enough to stop a very furious Les giving the guy a piece of his mind. As usual alcohol made everything better and Cambodia is the cheapest place for booze so far 👍🏻

The next day we set off wanting to see some local Kratie celebrities: the Irrawaddy dolphins. We took a Tuk Tuk taxi as there was no way we were cycling again so soon. After dropping us off at this small shop we decided to follow this dirt track and down onto a tiny little platform with a few yellow boats. Without a single verbal exchange one of the guys started moving a boat and gestured for us to get in. We set off and after 30 minutes still hadn’t seen any dolphins. A bit concerned nevertheless the ride down the Mekong is spectacular. By no means the prettiest river I’ve seen it was simply enthralling. Little trees all over which looked like they were moving due to angles and the vastness combined with us being the only boat we could see was awesome. We then parked up for around 45 minutes and watched around 10-15 dolphins playing and swimming. Most of that time it was just us and the driver. It was magical and once we stopped trying to be the paparazzi (don’t it’s totally pointless they don’t jump like their black and white friends) and just enjoyed the scene it was even better.

The next day we caught a bus to Phnom Penh. Having spent a week in two of our favorite places with the nicest people PP was absolutely what we didn’t need. It was filthy, smelly and we got absolutely swarmed on the five minute walk from bus station to hotel. It’s safe to say at this point we’d realized cities weren’t really our thing. Luckily Trip Advisor to the rescue we found a yummy Thali place across the road called Besto and ate our feelings about being somewhere resembling Beirut but in a thunderstorm. Anyway I guess we weren’t exactly there to party. A good friend once told me she didn’t go anywhere depressing on holiday. I am inclined to agree. But 10 months can’t possibly count as a holiday and I was determined to visit the museums and sites dedicated to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. As we headed off in the Tuk Tuk trying not to breathe too much I glanced across at Les. I’ve studied the region a lot and I know a fair bit about Pol Pot and the regime and part of me was dreading the experience. But I knew he wasn’t in the know at all and I let him enjoy the last few minutes of carefree happiness for the day. The killing fields were first, named for the large open spaces where victims of the Pol Pot regime where taken to be executed. I haven’t time and it isn’t appropriate here but in the light of what’s going on in Syria look it up if you don’t know. The fields themselves are actually incredibly peaceful it’s a bit jarring when the audio is relaying the atrocities that occurred there. It was beautifully sunny and there were flowers everywhere. An incongruous setting when learning about the 100+ children that were bashed against the tree and thrown into a open mass grave. It’s a beautiful place and incredibly well done if it’s not too crass to say so. A very subdued Les and I got into the Tuk Tuk to go to S-21 which is a high school they turned into a prison. Now s-21 is not big on subtle and suffice to say it was brutal. The guards took Polaroids of everyone they took there and something about looking at walls filled with the faces of these innocent people who were murdered for no reason makes you despair for humanity. We got back to the city massively depressed but also I’m so glad I went. Cambodia has a devastating past but the people are amazing it really makes you humble and I’m not being trite and hippy traveler. It was a very fitting end to a truly amazing country.