I had the pleasure of visiting Cambodia in 2008 as part of my whirlwind travels across South East Asia. After traveling through Singapore, Malaysia (Malacca, Penang and Kuala Lumpur), I ended up in Thailand (Bangkok, Ko Phi Phi and Chiang Mai) where, under the Full Moon of Ko Pha Ngan, I met my husband to be. Having fallen head over heels for this German on walkabout, my travel plans took an unexpected turn. Not wanting to part ways, we both re-directed our existing travel plans to Cambodia. As I watched my pre-paid flight to Vietnam take off before my eyes, I had no idea what to expect! Cambodia? I wasn’t prepared for this! As it turns out, sometimes the most spontaneous travel plans are the best! Read on…
Here I find myself, in Cambodia, having explored Phnom Panh with the German I met on Ko Pha Ngan and enjoyed a lovely dinner on a promenade that rivals the Champs-Élysées, well maybe a mini-Champs-Élysées, fully equipped with Parisian architecture, open air cafes and beautiful green boulevards lining the walkways. Cambodia is beautiful and by far my favourite destination visited thus far. Today, we visited Wat Phnom, the Grand Palace, the Central Market and the Independance Monument - the city is stunning and is in no way comparable to the hustle bustle that is Bangkok. The people are lovely and the architecture breathes radiance, speaking loudly of the french influence remaining from years gone by.
Following our first day spent strolling the streets of Phnom Penh, we decided to rent a
motorcycle and visit The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. I have to say that in the course of all my travels, I have never come accross a monument, scene, or memorial that shook me as did these places of atrocity, despair and anguish. The horrors reflected in the bone monument that houses remnants of genocide victims force you to reflect without escape on the pain suffered by the millions killed under the hand of the Khmer Rouge. I have never felt such an intense sense of sympathy for an entire people – and lack of empathy, for there was no way I could imagine and/or try to understand. All I could do was hold back the tears and wonder in amazement how the Cambodian people remain good spirited and welcoming despite their tumultuous past.
The Killing Fields were literally the place where victims of the Khmer Rouge were brought to die and were comprised of ditches that were filled with the bodies of innocent women, men, and children. Tuol Sleng Museum was a school, transformed into a prison that housed thousands of people awaiting an inevitable death sentence. The stories of those fortunate enough to survive the prison, line the walls of the former classrooms. Other rooms however still house the original wooden cells where prisoners could watch the guards beat, kill, and torture the less fortunate. It is overwhelming to see such a place of beauty turned into a black spot on the nation’s history.
On a lighter note…. I drove a motorcycle! My partner in crime drove to the fields and insisted I take a turn. I warned him that I was a bad driver but after he twisted my arm, I gave in and drove us all the way back into the city! Of course, then it started raining, so we returned home and enjoyed another meal down by the river before heading to bed early before catching an early a bus the next morning to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
We arrived in Angkor Wat late in the afternoon after stopping a few times for snacks en route. While we perused the selection of cooked cockroaches, grasshoppers and spiders (shudder), we decided against trying our luck at edible bugs and stuck to our water and mangosteen (a delicious purple flower-like fruit that is sweeter than anything you’ll try outside of Asia). We arrived in Siem Reap (a city about 6km outside Angkor Wat) and after hours of looking for affordable and acceptable shelter, settled into a beautiful little guesthouse near the river. It was lovely (unfortunately the name escapes me – apologies readers!) We walked into town to enjoy a fabulous meal of Khmer Spice and Curries, in an area that quickly became our favourite spot to eat. According to my counterpart, Angkor Beer is fabulous, but since I’m not much of a beer drinker, I enjoyed my first good glass of white wine since leaving Pearson Airport back in Toronto. Delicious!
The next day, we called up our Tuk Tuk driver, Sovan (we’d bonded quickly the day before) and asked him to take us on the grand tour of Angkor Wat, to the temples that were too far to reach by foot or by bike. The temples themselves are amazing! We, of course, got stuck in the rain but relished the visit regardless, soaking up the grandeur of the old empire. The many faces of buddha that decorate the walls of most temples were definitly my favourite architectural feature of the wats themselves. After enjoying another wonderful evening near the river, we set out the next day for day 2 of the ancient wonder… on bicycle! It was so much fun! The roads towards Angkor Wat and Angkor Tom were lined with trees and I swear the sky had never been bluer. We had a wonderful day touring around the largest Angkors and headed back late afternoon for our last meal on pub st.
The next day, we headed back to Phnom Penh (a 6 hour bus ride) where I had to sort out some airline complexities after having re-routed from Vietnam to Cambodia. We returned to our beloved hostel by the river and enjoyed a last meal together in an exquisite hotel next to the water – the perfect end to an incredible experience.
The next day we parted ways (destined to meet again) and the adventure continued. Next stop? Shanghai. Stay tuned!