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Cambodia, July 18 through 26, 2002.

Entering Cambodia involved a walk across a no mans land from Vietnam, then filling in some paperwork to get "stamped" into Cambodia. I thought I did see one guy handing 10,000VND (<1$) over with his passport, but they never asked for anything from me. Then it was on to wait about 1.5 hours for the bus to Phnom Penh. A word here about bus travel in Cambodia. Rough begins to describe it. Sometimes the roads were paved. Sometimes pavement was only a distant memory for the strip of mud and dirt. We travelled about 20 to 50 KPH depending on the conditions. At worst it was a continuous shaking and bouncing. At best it was newly paved roads. As in the rest of Asia there was an "invisible" third lane that could be used for passing (when it wasn’t a second lane) Things got more interesting the worse the road got, as the drivers swerved about to avoid the worst of the potholes. Nothing like an oncoming truck to make things interesting. The drivers used the horns a lot, but not nearly as much as they seemed to in Vietnam.

dirty Phnom Penh street
Pic of Phnom Penh street
Phnom Penh was a city of contrast. There might be a busy modern looking street one block away from a truly third world looking mud pit of a street with piles of trash everywhere. There weren’t any really big high rise buildings at all. I had heard plenty of stories about street crime here, but I didn’t have any experiences worse than rather persistent moto drivers and guides trying to get me to hire them. However I didn’t opt for a lot of walking around after dark either. I stayed at a rather ratty (but cheap) guesthouse which featured a leaky roof, a leaky sink in my room (the hose busted off sending water all over the floor), and interesting graffiti in the bathroom which included the prices for bananas, whores, and transportation. (1000 riels (.25 US) a bunch – less in the country, 10$ for all night with a "nice Vietnamese girl", I can’t remember the train and bus prices and the moto prices were scratched out).

I did a lot of walking around Phnom Penh, but didn’t go to a bunch of the normal tourist sites such as the royal palace. I did go to a bunch of markets selling heaps of stuff. In general the prices seemed the same or higher than Vietnam, especially for food. There were some interesting old coins and other antiques for sale. One interesting thing was the Tonle Sap River which at the time was flowing "upstream" from the Mekong to Tonle Sap (the great lake). At other times of the year it flows the other way as the lake shrinks.

I did go to Tuol Sleng, the notorious S-22 torture site. A former school that became a torture and processing center for thousands of Cambodians. A rather eerie place contrasting the present peacefullness with the barbed wire and metal bedframes and shackles and the thousands of pictures of the people detained there. In terms of "bad" things humans have managed to do to each other, what happened in Cambodia seemed particularly pointless to me (not that the others had points, but at least you could sort of see what they were getting at or trying to do). Another trip was out to the Killing Fields, the site where many people were sent to be killed and buried. Once again a peaceful setting with the sounds of children playing at a nearby school contrasting with the monument full of skulls, the pits that were mass graves, and the bits of bones and clothing placed at the base of the trees or poking out of the ground. Definitely a powerful place.


Siem Riep

Angkor Thom Gate
Pic of a gate the Angkor Thom
Ta Prohm
Pic of Ta Prohm
I took the bus to Siem Riep. About half of the distance was covered fairly quickly on recently paved roads, detouring around the bridges which were under construction. The rest of the trip was on the potholed dirt stretches that passed for roads in these parts. Every time we hit a bump some of the dirt that had sifted through the window would drop down onto me. Siem Riep appeared to be primarily devoted to collecting money from the people coming to see Ankor Wat. The monopoly in charge of ticket sales had a pretty good deal. This was also the first time in a while I was nearly rubbing elbows with well healed tourists. There were still plenty of dirtbags and backpackers, but there were also people who looked like they never carried their own stuff.

I rented a bicycle for 2 days, and a motorbike for the 3rd day I visited the temples of Angkor Wat. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a non-consecutive pass. The temples are definitely hyped and the entrance fees are rediculous compared to everything else in the country, but they really are amazing. Possibly earning the "wonder of the world" status. I think the thing that most surprised me about the place was the shear size and scope of it all. The moat around Angkor Wat itself was at least a kilometer on each side. There were many different temples, some 40 or more sprinkled and clustered over many square miles of jungle and fields. There were many cool things about the temples. I liked where tree roots were snaked along and through the rocks, I liked the huge faces, and the bas reliefs. The Bayon had the greatest concentration of huge faces, most of its spires had a huge face on each of 4 sides, hundreds in all. Add to that lots of steep stairways and twisting passages and bas reliefs and you can’t go wrong. I also liked the massive gates to the fortified area of. These included guys holding up a massive snake to make up the railing along the bridge, 3 headed elephants, and of course the giant faces. Another impressive place ( Banteay Srei) had much finer carvings on pink sandstone, unfortunately there were barriers keeping me from getting right next to some of these for a really close look.

I saw more "wildlife" here than in most other places. A green and black snake, some frogs and toads, some monkeys, and most interesting a "flock" of fruit bats flapping across the sky in the twilight.

Downpour in Angkor Wat
Pic of rain at Angkor Wat
Every afternoon there was a rather precipitous downpour. Another unfortunate thing was getting sick the second day. I suspect something I ate as it felt gastrointestinal. That combined with dehydration to make me feel pretty lousy as I bicycled about. (whenever I drank water I felt like throwing up – this kept my water consumption a little too low).

In the evening as the rain came down I headed back to town only to miss an excellent rainbow when the sun snuck beneath the clouds. It would have been an excellent photo opportunity. Oh well.

The moto drivers here were particularly relentless, and I suppose my tolerance was finally starting to wear rather thin as they all seemed to say the same things over and over again.


Then the next would start, and there would be another 5 meters down the road, and 5 more on the next block…I was sick of it. They weren’t all selling all of this, but it seemed like a constant flood. It was possible to be completely rude and just ignore them, but that didn’t feel right. Time to get a "break" from my vacation and head "home" to Tonsai for more climbing and less hassling. I felt like I ought to do more in Cambodia, but I couldn’t think of anything that inspired me to put up with more of it.

The trip from Siem Riep exceeded expectations, and I expected it to be bad. For starters the bus ran late, so I was getting a little worried when it showed up about 45 minutes late. I jammed my stuff in and grabbed a window seat just behind the side door so that I would have foot room. Little did I know that there would be no foot room on this trip. From talking to some others I learned that they had told some people to be ready at 6:30, (like me) others 7:00. Then at 6:30 they went to pick up the 7:00 people who amazingly enough weren’t ready. Long after I thought we’d be done we kept circling around picking up more people. What I thought was the last was a woman, but it turns out her companion had headed back to the ticket place to figure out why the bus was 2 hours late. Luckily we managed to see him jogging along the road. Then the bus was full, but we went for one more, there was a busted fold down seat. They tried to get the poor guy to stick his pack under it to support it (and to have his pack chewed on every bump we hit). After he squeezed on I was expecting the 3 locals who had been riding in the doorways and packing people in to get off at the office. Nope, they were riding with us. One sat on the bar in front of me (practically in my lap) and the other 2 just stood there. So much for foot room. Then we were off rattling and bouncing down the dirt road. The window was open, which helped disperse smoke, but also meant that dust was streaming in. The right side of my shirt was reddish brown, the left still somewhat white. Then I got streaks in each hole between buttons. Finally everything was reddish brown. There were some rather tight passages across some bridges (when I say bridges, I mean beams spanning where bridges used to be). Finally we got to the border where we walked across. Of course I ended up in the slow line (about 1/4 the speed of the other line). By the time I had gone through the minibus had left with the first half of our bus. Eventually the second bus left packed with all of us. Wedged in tightly, but also with a/c on a smooth road. Not the greatest ride, but definitely better than Jason’s. He ended up having to walk across a bridge that wouldn’t pass the bus. Then there was only a pickup for 15 of them with their stuff -ouch.

A gate to Angkor Som
Pic of a gate to Angkor Som
The Bayon
Pic of the Bayon
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