Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cambodia Reflections

I flew into Phenom Penh on the 8th of August with absolutely no expectations. As with most of my travels this one wasn't planned with much precision. My hotel happened to be one of the seediest shady places in the city. Change you say? It's holidays and I couldn't be arsed. I thought that if I drank enough I probably wouldn't notice my room anyway. Putting my hotel woes behind me I busied myself with a walking schedule for the full day ahead including the National Museum, The Royal Palace and the Markets.
I was approached by very amiable tuk tuk drivers during my walks who after the standard introduction started hassling you about rides to the Killing Fields. It was something in the way they approached you that put me off, therefore I did not venture out to the killing fields or the Tuol Sleng museums. Previous travel advice and experience had steered me away from using tuk tuks.

It wasn't done deliberately, it's just the way it turned out that my tour of Cambodia was relatively Khmer Rouge free. Ironic perhaps that it was one of the only things I knew about this country.

Morning came and surprisingly I managed to make the morning bus to Sinoukville. Piece of Advice no #1: When travelling by bus in Cambodia choose Mekong Express wherever possible. I know this because my Sinoukville bus WASN'T Mekong Express. Thankfully some future travel companions would send me in the right direction.

Sinoukville was great fun, a town built by the sea specifically for good times. Being the off season in August there was plenty of places to choose from, some places even offering free accommodation, I ended up at Monkey Republic near Serendipity Beach. It was blowing a force 10 gale when I arrived and raining buckets, most of the bars along the beach had copped a hammering. Over the next few days the sun came out, the beach cleared up and the real Sinoukville came out to play. I teamed up with a couple of girls from the USA who provided some memorable company. If we weren't drinking from Vodka buckets we were lying in the sun somewhere getting toasted because of Malaria medication.

Since our schedules matched perfectly Team USA and myself continued our trek together up to Siem Reap after a overnight in Phenom Penh. I was impressed with the markets in Siem Reap as well as Pub Street where you could go for dinner and watch the local Apsara dancing. A early rise the next morning saw us rushing off to Angkor Wat to witness the sun rise. We befriended a local Tuk Tuk driver who's character went straight to our hearts. He was to be our transportation for the rest of the stay. Angkor Wat I believe lived up to it's reputation my only regret being that I wish I had a better camera. The truly staggering question was how many hours had been put in to making this place. I imagine the ancient Khmer civilization was a grand one.

Hoping that Angelina Jolie was around the next corner we continued on to a series of Temples built around the ancient city. Walking around here it sinks in, the fact that at one time the Cambodian people might have been the center of the civilized world, their country in the near past plagued by decades of civil war and bought to it's knees by the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Does that have anything to do with mesmerizing smile of the Cambodian people? More questions to be asked and I really hope to be able to get back there to have them answered one day.


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