Big Cambodia

I started writing this on the train between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, our first and second stops in Vietnam, and then promptly left it in the Notes app for the next three weeks. I am terrible.

It originally started with my swearing to never again ride a night bus. I have since ridden two. They are not as heinous in Vietnam. Actually less uncomfortable than a seat on a night train, especially if said night train smells of durian.

Anyway, official Cambodia recap time. Maybe with less bulleted lists than Thailand depending on how lazy I get. Maybe. Not much blogging happened from Cambodia because 1) internet access was not awesome, 2) I took two weeks away from my freelance job because I was afraid my lack of internet would annoy all of my coworkers so wasn’t at the iPad as much, and 3) we spent most of it traveling with another couple, which left significantly less time sitting around in idleness in which to type.

We started by flying from Koh Samui to Siem Reap. Our original plan was to go back to Bangkok and take the night bus (ah, foolishness) but due to significant parental dismay about the idea of returning to Bangkok and crossing a somewhat dodgy border during a coup, we completely blew our budget on plane tickets instead. It stung. My wallet is very sad now. Assume I am sending significant looks in the direction of my parents as you read this.

The crossing was amazingly easy though other than my fear of small planes (least fun traveler). Siem Reap appears to have quite a transportation racket in place, as you get picked up by the taxi line basically as soon as you leave the terminal and the driver will then likely try to sell you a tuktuk for the remainder of your stay, since that is the main method of transportation around the city. Some are nicer than others. Some also are Batman-themed.

The tuktuks, that is. Not the drivers.

We caved to our taxi driver’s tuktuk sales pitch since he was very friendly and we needed one anyway, which turned out be a good decision when his nephew arrived promptly at our guesthouse every morning bearing a cooler of water bottles.

Spent a total of five days in the city because the Angkor temples are basically impossible to handle in only one day, so we got the three-day pass but had to take a break after two days to recover and play mini golf. I shamefully had no idea how many temples the area actually has and thought it was just one huge main building and the surrounding area. So wrong. One of my favorite temples is 37 kilometers from the Grand Circuit (where the main temples are). It’s sometimes known as the Lady Temple because they decided the carvings are too complex to have been done by men. Another favorite is apparently famous for guest-starring in Tomb Raider and everyone decided to take pictures at the same tree.

The temples are of course amazing and at some point I will upload photos since I can’t appropriately describe them in text. I have also never sweat so much in my life. Were I to do it again and with more time and money I would probably go for the seven-day pass, since even three days was not really enough time, especially on our last day when we decided to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat and then just kept going for 11 hours.

We loitered around an extra day to wait for the other couple we had been hanging out with to finish the temples so we could travel to Phnom Penh together, which we mostly spent sleeping in, loitering in a shopping mall, and then taking a Khmer cocktail class. (It’s at Asana bar if you’re interested, highly recommend.) David also ate a grasshopper purchased off a tray on a lady’s head.

Spent seven hours on a bus to Phnom Penh attempting to nap and teaching people to play Euchre in order to get our Vietnam visas and depress ourselves at the Killing Fields memorial. We arrived on Friday night so spent the weekend visiting the National Museum (less impressive after seeing the actual temples that they had taken the statues from), Palace (nice but a bit small), a “biodiversity park” that actually turned out to just be kind of a sad zoo, and the Tuol Sleng prison and Choeung Ek genocide memorial (there is more than one Killing Field, but this is the main one that has been turned into a memorial and visitor center with audio tour).

At one point I saw a human jawbone protruding from the path. They’ve excavated the mass graves and re-buried or otherwise memorialized most of the bodies, but bones and bits of clothing still work their way up to the surface when it rains. Workers go through every few weeks to clean them up.

After spending 10 whole days in cities we decided we needed to return to the beach, so we took a bus down to Sihanoukville where we stayed for long enough to sleep, eat delicious cheap barbecue, and then catch a morning ferry to Koh Rong, island of fat puppies, terrible weather, and the best tom yam soup we have had on this entire trip thanks to the Thai beach chef who we suspect may have been a political refugee. We hadn’t done laundry since Siem Reap so desperately handed it over our first day on the island and it still wasn’t dry when we left.

Returned to Sihanoukville with the intention of getting off the ferry and directly onto the night bus, but it was sold out that first night so we went and ate more cheap barbecue instead and booked a ticket for the next night. We also upgraded from our usual fan room to an AC room with the hope that our wet clothes would dry. They did not, we had to pay for laundry again in Vietnam, and that room will probably smell like mildew forever.

And then the night bus, symphony of human discomfort, about which enough has been said.


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