We caught our bus bright and early out of Bangkok at 8 am, with hopes of arriving in Siem Reap by 5 pm. Already we’re pretty sure that everyone is trying to get an extra dollar out of you at all times. We were unable to get our Cambodian visa ahead of time, but the man that picked us up insisted if we gave him the money (which ended up being double of what we were told to spend) he would take care of everything for us. If I give myself more that a month to plan my trips in the future I will always be sure to check visa requirements. So much easier to send them off to the embassy ahead of time. We decide we’re going to trust the guy because we really have no other choice. We hand him the dough and be disappears from sight. Great. Screwed again. But within five minutes the tiny Thai tour guide was back hearding us to get into the vans to go across the boarder. By far the bumpiest car ride of my life. Why can I not have any tolerance for motion sickness? Thankfully I know myself well enough to bring the proper dosage for every possible ailment. I drugged myself and tried to sleep, only waking when we made pit stops for petrol. Every stop had a different set of snacks for purchase. Meat on a stick (apparently you can get anything on a stick), fruit, and of course cooked bugs. We had to be traded off to another set of tour guides since only Cambodian guides can take you into their country. It’s hard to not feel uneasy when you begin to get passed around too much. Thankfully they were super friendly and the did indeed take care of our visas. Yes! We hopped back on the bus and made the transition over to Poipet, Cambodia.
Not the best first impression. Poipet has casinos, and street children. It was such a difficult place for our arrival. Nothing about that place seemed beautiful to me. No color, no plant life, no beauty. We had to wait almost two hours to be admitted to the country. After the long wait, they separated our group and had us wait for a second bus to catch our ride to Siem Reap. Thirty minutes later we finally arrive at the bus station and we’re told that the bus is full, and our options are: wait anywhere from one to three hours for a bus and then make the five hour drive, or pay extra for a taxi. I was livid. I couldn’t believe it only took Cambodia thirty minutes to screw me. You win this time. On one agreement, we get in the cab if you drop us off at our hotel. Fine, we have an agreement. Not even two minutes down the road, we pick up ANOTHER passenger. This time however it’s a tiny Cambodian man that rides in the front seat WITH our driver. This looks safe. A long two hours later we finally arrived in Siem Reap. A city that is obviously geared towards tourism. Big hotels everywhere you look. Our taxi driver turns down some dark road and tells us to get out. This is how they get you to take a tuk tuk. While yes, they were finding a way to get money out of us, it’s hard to have hard feelings when they were being harmless while trying to make a few bucks.
On a brighter note, Siem Reap Hostel ended up being a wonderful place to stay. Because Alix had some pretty gnarly cuts on her feet from kayaking in Krabi, we decided to take things easy. We met up with a kid named Garret from Utah and hung around the city. Tiffanay and I made it over to the children’s hospital to inquire about giving blood. It’s hard to believe the level of health care that people receive outside of the states. A nurse led us in to speak with an English speaking doctor and right there we saw a very young boy about to go into surgery. After much consideration, we decided for our own health it could be better to donate blood back home.
The next couple of days we spent riding bikes out to Angkor where all the temples are located. In two days we managed to bike over fifty miles. In the heat. And humidity. It was the absolute best way to see them. We hit the all the major temples: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, And Bayon. Along the way we saw a lot of the smaller temples as well. It was absolutely amazing how many of these intricate places of worship were in one concentrated area. It would be amazing to see the cities that once flourished there.
Out side of the temples, Siem Reap has a handful of bars and restaurants that are willing to cater to your western wallet. Most of everyone in the area can speak English and they are generally very friendly. Especially the children. Almost everywhere you go you are bombarded by children trying to sell you something. Bracelets, postcards, knickknacks you’ll never need. And they’re generally out very late after a full day of school with another busy day following it. So heart breaking to see. The kids were generally very friendly and wanted to get to know you. We were able to buy dinner for a couple of them even. I do not give money to beggars. Even the kids that ask for something as simple as milk- it’s a scam. Another traveler informed us that the kids work with the convenience store and have you buy them milk that is marked way up, just to return it to make a few bucks. So scandalous.
Another thing that you couldn’t help but notice- the whole population is so young. After the Khmer Rouge and the reign of Pol Pot, it’s hard to imagine what the Cambodian people have been through. I tried to get a better grasp on on the situation by reading First They Killed My Father. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest of the genocide of over two million Cambodians.
After a few days we made moves. Phnom Pen We made it our priority to see the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. To say the least, Cambodia was a very humbling experience for me. For dinner we did my favorite activity in the world: food tour. We walked from our hostel towards the river ready for what ever street vendor we could find. Of course there was meat on a stick, but also tons of corn, sugar cane, and coconut sweets. We found a park in the middle of the city and hung around to people watch. It was so neat to see how many people hang out there. They had some dance lessons or something going on in so many spots. It was almost like line dancing to lame pop music. We finally made our way to the river and watched the most amazing lighting storm next to the river.
Our time together was coming to an end since Tiffanay decided to head to the southern part of Cambodia with Garret, while Alix and I got our visas in order to go to Vietnam. We spent the day wandering Phnom Pen at the central market where they sell everything you can think of: bracelets, suits, fake designer everything, plants, meats, fruit, maybe live animals.. They had it all. We made our way back down to Mekong river. We got to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, but I wouldn’t say that Phnom Pen is a great place to spend a lot of your time. So we found every happy hour we could. Somehow we found our way back to the hostel, took down a pitcher of margaritas, almost missed our bus, almost forgot our passports, but somehow we figured it all out. What a crazy night. Off to Ho Chi Minh city we go!