Ascend to the realm of the gods: Angkor, Cambodia

Cambodia, a country of great contrasts where the rich are super rich and the poor hardly have anything. But it feels like there is one thing that is not missing in anybody’s life… the joy of living. Despite having the 8th world wonder in its backyard, Cambodia’s real treasure is its people. Everybody gifted us with a smile and treated us with great hospitality.

Our short journey through Cambodia started in Phnom Penh (pronounced as pnom pen as we had to learn). We arrived by bus from Ho Chi Minh City late in the afternoon. We quickly put our luggage in our dorm and went out for an Amok for dinner – a traditional Khmer dish similar to curry. After dinner we went to the crowded night market where live karaoke was playing and the variety of food left nothing to be desired. All exhausted from our trip on the bus, we went back to the hostel to get enough sleep for the following day, which was packed with sights to see.  Even though Phnom Penh is a city full of live, it has a brutal past. We started early at our first sight – the genocide museum S-21. It shows where the Khmer Rouge locked up and tortured their prisoners. To learn more about it we got ourselves a guide who showed us around the prison which was formerly a school. Ironically the head of this prison was a former teacher who first had to kill all of his students because the Khmer Rouge didn’t tolerate academics. We had a hard time believing what was going on in this prison. There are only a handful of survivors, all the other prisoners eventually died, either while being tortured or being brought to the killing fields where they were brutally killed and buried. To save money the prisoners weren’t shot but killed by iron bars, shovels, axes or similar. Babies were smashed against a tree while sometimes their mothers had to watch. These killing field were our next stop that day.

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The sight looked so innocent and harmless but there were over 15’000 people killed only on this killing field and there are over 300 of those killing fields throughout Cambodia. At certain times there were more prisoners brought to the killing fields than were killed. They were temporarily put into “waiting rooms”. One is still able to see bones sticking out of the ground. The Khmer Rouge overall killed more than 3 Mio. people during the time of 1975 to 1979. The leader of the Khmer Rouge Pol Pot was never captured and died 1989 as a free man. The rest of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge were or are still being processed.

After those two shocking sights we went to some more friendly temples and pagodas. At that night we went to a fantastic restaurant where we had the best Amok ever. We both thought that nothing in this world could top that until we had a smoothie for dessert. Each sip felt like angels flying down our throat. It was a great ending to a quite depressing day.

The next day we had to leave Phnom Penh for Siem Reap at noon. But before we had to say goodbye we went to see the Kings Palace. It was very shiny…

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The bus ride to Siem Reap was interesting. The potholes were about as big as the tires of the bus itself because of which the bus was swerving from left to right trying to evade the potholes. It got more and more fun as soon as on coming traffic got a little busier. Overtaking another car on the road was always an adventure that lasted for at least three to four minutes. When ever we weren’t praying for our lives, we were able to get a glance at the scenery.

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We learned that the people living in this almost deserted area are very poor and it seemed that the road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was the essential artery of this region. Once we arrived at our hostel late at night we planned the following day. Like pretty much every tourist visiting Cambodia we were about to visit Angkor and all the other incomparably beautiful temples in the region. We got up at four o’clock in the morning to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. We were blown away. The colours, Angkor Wat as a silhouette, and the almost cloudless sky made it well worth it to get up that early. But we weren’t the only ones with that idea, so it got a little crowded at the spot. People were starting to carting out their elbows in order to defend their spot they just fought for. But we got our pictures and moved on to all the other temples.

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We beard the heat and stayed there until sun down. We knew that the sun went down somewhere in the west but weren’t able to see it  since it was cloudy. We figured it wasn’t the last beautiful sundown we will see on our journey and moved on. We enjoyed the day so much that we decided to go back the next day. We started with the temples we skipped the first day. One of them was Ta Prohm, better known as the Tomb Raider temple. We dodged the crowds and had the temple almost to ourselves. It was quiet and peaceful.

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After only three days in Siem Reap we flew out of Cambodia to Bangkok. We booked our flight through Cambodia Angkor Air and got the ticket for half the price. We weren’t quiet sure what to expect. It turned out that only four other people decided to fly with Cambodia Angkor Air that day to Bangkok. We had a private jet so to speak. The flight was not at all what you would expect from a company that flies only six people to Bangkok. It was a very pleasant flight. The chairs were comfortable, the service great, and we even got a little snack. We were ready for our next destination Bangkok.

But until then, so long…
Chris’n Toby

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