“Rounding out the end of our second month of travel we headed to Cambodia to experience a country and culture that I knew next to nothing about. Although we were close to the Cambodian border when visiting Da Lat, Vietnam, the itinerary is much more difficult than the 3 hour drive that you would predict when looking at a map. It takes a 7 hour bus ride back down to Saigon in order to catch a bus heading west. Definitely a hassle, but allowed for one final Vietnamese pub crawl (+ a free t-shirt) and running in to a few friends we had met in other locations. The next bus early in the morning was a quick 8 hour trip over roads that are more suitable for a 4-wheeler or dirt bike. This drive was broken up by a lovely stop at the border where we got stuck in limbo after a French girl on our bus decided to sit on the security guard’s table which spiraled into everyone’s passport being held hostage and having to wait while the bus guide pleaded and bargained with border patrol…. Piece of Cake?!
A few more hours on the bumpy bus and we arrived in the capital, Phnom Penh. One of the first things we realized was that Cambodia primarily uses the US Dollar. They have their own currency the Cambodian Riel, but they use it as change as it is a 4,000 to $1 conversion and the Dollar is more stable. Being somewhat familiar with the dollar and knowing what we normally pay for things in the States, it was refreshing to pay just a dollar for taxi rides and refreshing to not have to think about conversion math for awhile.
We got checked in to the “Lovely Jubbly” Hostel and got right to our Cambodian to-do list. Shooting ranges, Killing Fields, and not getting mugged were on the agenda for our 1 day visit in the city, so we headed to the outskirts of town to get started. I’ve been to gun ranges at home, and typically they do not have tanks parked outside, or the option to shoot an RPG at an old car on a mountainside (Live cows are also an optional target…). We ended up opting out of doing any shooting as the prices were excessive for low budget travelers, but it was crazy to see what is available to those who are slightly more trigger happy.
After a few quick hours of sleep we headed off to the Killing Fields before our afternoon bus. You arrive at this outdoor museum on just a few acres with a large tower located in the middle. Picking up the headset and audio player you start the walk through the path. Learning about the Khmer Rouge and their insane leader Pol Pot. I was horrified to learn the gruesome details of how this location was one of many where thousands of innocent people were slaughtered to fulfill the orders from Prime Minister Pot in his effort of purification and unrealistic societal structure. Seeing pits used as mass graves where bones still become unearthed during rain showers and the thousands of skulls cased in the tower with different descriptions of the ways tools were used to murder the victims without wasting any money on bullets or gas. It brings you to tears and puts into perspective just how scary the world can be. (Wikipedia page for more info)
Having quickly accomplished our city to-do list, including not getting mugged (although we did encounter several people who had their bag w/ passports and money/cards taken just that day), we headed to Siem Reap to uncover a much brighter side of Cambodia.
Getting to the next hostel at about 10pm we were instantly met by Tessa a solo Canadian traveler asking if she could join us for a day of touring the temples, she didn’t want to pay for a tuk-tuk driver on her own and groups are more fun anyways. It is funny the different friendships you make when traveling. There are the drinking buddies who you share crazy travel stories and tips with, because they always somehow just came from the place you are going next. There are the friendly locals who think you look funny, often don’t speak very fluent english and half the conversation is in hand gestures, hysterical laughter and the biggest smiles. And then there are the most random introductions that seem to come at exactly the right time and turn in to what feels like a friendship that has been building for a lifetime. Tessa was one of the acquaintances that came at precisely the right time and probably saved us from a very boring 3 days of touring the temples.
With the newest edition of our team we departed the next morning for our temple excursions. Angkor Wat is a collection of Buddhist and Hindu temples making up the largest Religious monument in the World and referred to as “Heaven on Earth”. That explanation sets a pretty high bar and I am pleased to say that it lives up to the hype. I will let pictures do most of the explanation for this monument, but for three days we climbed massive and extremely steep temples that for the most part were so entirely unique from one another. Breath taking sunrises and many of what we called “Door-ways to Heaven” that command your respect and admiration. 3 full days, many selfies and thousands of steps later we had conquered the majority of Angkor and felt both enriched and confused as to how these magnificent structures could possibly be located in the same country where we had learned about so much death and destruction. A very clear example of Yin and Yang I suppose.
Long days and that much walking lead to a few much needed nights out on the town. Siem Reap is a very wonderful town with endless markets, ‘Pub St.” a street very reminiscent of 6th St. in Austin, Texas, More Fish spas, and even a stage where a “Lady Boy” lip-synced Taylor Swift in a bright pink dress. We were able to find some good skewers and curry, a few places to sell us the local “Angkor Draught” beer, and become regulars at a smoothie and noodle stand.
We were only in Cambodia for 6 days but so much happened that it felt more like 6 weeks. We had already booked our flight to Indonesia so there was no extending this portion of the trip, but I think we all agreed that Cambodia could be easy to get stuck in for awhile, especially if you make it down to the islands in the south which everyone raved about… It will most likely make my next SE Asia Itinerary!
Saying goodbye to Cambodia and heading to the Islands of Indonesia we are embarking on the final leg of our trip. Volcanos, surfing, and more overall adventuring is in store as we reach the point of our trip that is referred to as the “Vacation of our Vacation”.
One Love and see you soon,”
-The Scarf Guys