Cambodia Crossing from Laos to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh
We were in Don Khone, Laos the morning we left for Cambodia. We had purchased our trip to Siem Reap from this little town and were anticipating a difficult journey based on our research. We needed to get back on the rickety boat from Don Khone to the mainland – at least this time we didn’t have to walk through the water to get on the boat. Once on land, we were to walk along a dirt road in the heat to the tourist bus station again and wait an hour for the bus. Next, we had to take this bus to another station, which was only 25 minutes away, and wait 2 hours for the next bus. We finally boarded this bus – it was crammed shoulder-to-shoulder full of people (and our collective luggage). The guy beside Meghan was a body shaver and it was 5 o’clock shadow time… she might still have the stubble scratches on her arm from this dude. At the border we needed to disembark, walk into the passport control office, wait for the stamp of approval, and walk 10 minutes to a random restaurant where we waited for yet another bus (we were now in Cambodia, yay!) While waiting, the restaurant owners little boy decided to whip off his shorts and pee right in the middle of the restaurant… nice.
Eventually the bus came and it drove us into Siem Reap. But, in true Southeast Asia style, it dropped us off jussssst enough away from the city centre for it to be too far to walk. Of course, conveniently, there were a bunch of tuk tuk drivers ready for our business. We negotiated our price and drove into the city. All in all, the journey was about 16 hours. But we were in Siem Reap, home of the enchanting and inspiring Angkor Wat! We arranged our transport for the next day; sunrise at Angkor Wat, and around the various sites and temples of the massive the complex.
We woke up at 3AM to meet our tuk tuk driver in front of our hotel and began our day. He drove us to the tourist centre, where we paid for our tickets (don’t forget your ID!) and were on our way. Despite the crowd of people watching the sunrise, it truly was a magical experience. It is said that Angkor Wat and the city of Siem Reap is situated significantly on a spiritually charged point in the world – a Ley Line. There’s something very unexplainable that occurs to you while you explore these ruins. We are still shocked that Angkor Wat is not one of the Seven Wonders of the World… although many claim it is an “honorary” wonder.
Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple, dedicated to Vishnu, in 1115 AD. It was later converted to a Buddhist temple and has been ever since.
After visiting the main temple of Angkor Wat we made our way around the complex by tuk tuk – it is too large and spread out to visit by foot. The Bayon Temple was Meghan’s favourite; a collection of stone towers with faces etched into them made for an incredible sight.
We also stopped at a few other notable temples like Preah Khan; which, was a temple constructed for the father of King Jayavarman VII. This particular temple is an eerie mixture of restored and untouched areas with large trees that have rooted themselves all over (literally) the stones over the years. After our excursion to the temples, in 42-degree weather, we relaxed in the shade for the rest of the day.
The next day we spent wandering around the markets and Pub Street. We came across a homeless looking woman with a baby and an empty baby bottle. She asked us if we could help her buy some formula for her baby. Meghan’s heart was open to this poor lady and her infant so of course we asked how we could help. She told us not to give her money or food because “they” will take if from her. It sounded too tragic to be true. We played along and she told us we could only help her if we came with her to a SPECIFIC pharmacy to buy the formula. We followed and were taken aback by the price tag for the formula. $26! USD! We apologized that we couldn’t help her – which is when she promptly turned to Meghan and yelled, “F&*$ING LIAR!” We were so surprised by the outburst that we couldn’t help but laugh; obviously there is something fishy going on here. Later that day we Googled “Cambodia scams” and sure enough, the baby formula one was there. If you fall for this scam, the woman will take the formula back to the pharmacy where she keeps half the money and the pharmacy keeps the other half. Tricked again in scambodia.
Our next destination, Phnom Penh, was in our sights. We hopped on yet another bus down to this capital city and treated ourselves to a stay at White Mansion Boutique Hotel. It had been a while since we experienced “nice” accommodation and this former US Embassy turned hotel was just the escape we needed.
Phnom Penh is home to some of the most heartbreaking genocide sites in Cambodia; our goal was to visit, reflect, and show respect to these sites. Our first visit was to “The Killing Fields” Choeung Ek. This is one of the many locations in which the Khmer Rouge brutally murdered thousands of their own people and tossed them into mass graves. The tour was incredibly sad – we walked through the dirt path and could see rising bone fragments and clothing emerging from the dirt. Many of the bodies are still being uncovered today. Whenever it rains more and more bones fragments are discovered.
The tour finished with a large memorial dedicated to all those lost in The Killing Fields. Inside the memorial building are hundreds of skulls of the victims encased in a tall glass tomb.
After Choeung Ek we visited the former Taol Sleng High School; which, was converted into the S-21 interrogation prison. This is where the Khmer Rouge held people of the press and individuals they felt committed treasonous acts. These were innocent people sentenced to tiny makeshift cells without proper food, water or exercise. Many of them became delirious and were finally sentenced to death. Throughout the prison, there are photographs of the prisoners and the real cells they were imprisoned within. This was another painful museum to walk through and witness the brutal conditions of the Pol Pot Regime.
Cambodia is still rebuilding their nation after these terrible hardships but, as difficult as all the events were, the people of Cambodia are so gracious and welcoming (minus the scam lady!) We wanted to explore Cambodia a little more but we hoped to squeeze Vietnam into our itinerary before we were off to meet Meghan’s Parents in Hong Kong. So we visited a few cute cafes and picked up our Visa’s from the Consulate before we jumped on our bus to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.