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Week 5 & 6 - Into Cambodia

Siem reap, Angkor, Battambang & Phnom Penh

After the 4000 Islands, we crossed the Laos border into Cambodia and took a hellish bus journey to Siem Reap where we had to sit on the floor on the isle of the bus for 8 hours straight, listening to asian music which sounded like a cat being strangled.... we then had to change buses at 2am for another 9 hour stint!
On arrival, Josh chanced his arm with the Cambodian cowboy dentists and after 5 injections and root canal treatment, his chronic toothache eased and it turned out ok.
For 4 dollars a night we stayed in a really nice hotel with a massive room and an awesome pool. We spent the first day chilling by the pool and exploring the town centre and the night market, you mums would have loved it, useless tat everywhere!
We went out for some really nice meals with in the town centre with the group we met in Laos, and had one or two lively nights out on the notorious 'Pub Street' which was tidy darts!
We visited the Siem Reap War museum which was really interesting, it was an open air museum with tanks, planes, helicopters and weaponry (mines, guns, bombs etc). We were guided round by an ex soldier who was forced to fight for the khmer rouge army at the age of 15, fighting for the army that brutally killed his entire family. As you can imagine, he had some chilling stories and war wounds to show (including a missing leg from a land mine) he brought us up to speed on the horrific Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot.
Our next visit was to the infamous Angkor Wat. We left at 5am to see the sunrise behind the temple that has been dubbed 'the eighth wonder of the world'. It was an impressive sight even for some glazed over, 5am eyes, and worth the early start! We spent the rest of the day wondering round Angkor Wats temples including the temple full of large bhuddist faces as well as the temple with tree roots intertwined into the structure that was used as a set in the first Tomb Raider movie!
We really enjoyed our time in Siem Reap and was one of the highlights of our trip so far.
After Siem Reap we moved our way down to Battambang. The town seemed like a ghostown as most shops and restaurants were closed as the country was in mourning after the Cambodian King died the day before.
Whilst in Battambang we hired a tuk tuk for the day, first taking us to the bamboo train. This was a small bamboo cart with a motor at the back that travelled along some ropey train tracks. The train ran on a single track so if there was another cart coming from the opposite direction, the lightest cart would be lifted off the track so other could pass, thankfully this didn't effect us too badly due to our western builds fuelled by a diet of fried rice and beers! Half way through our train ride, we stopped off at a small village where we were kitted out with wrist bands, rings and badges made from long leaves by the village children. We then travelled back dodging cows, chickens and fishermen walking down the track, stopping briefly when our driver jumped off a bridge into the river to check his fishing nets/ dinner!
Our next visit was to the killing caves in Battambang where innocent men, women and children were torturted and thrown into the deep caves left to die by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-79, which wasbrutal but worth seeing.
When leaving the caves, our driver told us to wait for a bit to see the bats from the cave make their daily trip to feed at the lakes. It was well worth the wait as hundreds of thousands of bats flew out a small gap in the side of the caves in a huge line which from a distance looked like a crowd of smoke moving aross the horizon.
Our next stop was the capital, Phnom Penh, which was filled with shirines and rememberance of the late king, the streets were ridiculously busy as many people from all over were in the capital to pay their respects, the funeral was was held there the day before we arrived.
We had one day of sight seeing in Phnom Penh, hiring a tuk tuk for the day to take us to the main attractions. Our first stop was the shooting range, this was bizarre but such good fun, no health and safety required, no signing consent, just pay money and shoot! You could shoot anything, tommy guns, bazukas, you name it! We shot Ak-47s, M-16s, a sub machine gun and a revolver! We fired at coconuts and targets after a 30 second introduction of how to use the weapons- Aim and fire! Our shot was pretty poor at first but we all managed to dessemate our coconuts eventually! Josh hit the sign down with the sub machine gun and claims he hit the target but after our video evidence was examined it was clear that he hit the bricks above it.... massive claimer!
Our next stop was a complete contrast, we visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal museum, also known as the killing fields. On entry you got given headsets which taked you through each section of the fields and gave some fist hand accounts of what went on from victims/survivors and convicted khmer rouge personnel. It firstly explained Pol Pot's extremist, communist regime where over 3 million people were killed between 74 and 79. He killed intellectuals and city workers, trying to create a pure working class society. You could even be killed for wearing glasses or having soft hands. His army (Khmer Rouge) forced everyone out the city to the countryside where they have to work slave labour 20hours a day with one bowl of rice, many died of starvation and disease. The most disturbing part was the babies that were swung by their legs and had their heads smashed against a tree until they died, this 'killing tree' still stands there today. The headsets also played the classical music that was played extremely loud throughout the camp to drown out the screams of the victims so the new blindfolded victims that arrived by the truckload would not yet know their fate.
We couldn't beleive how recently it all happened and that the rest of the world were virtually unaware of what was going on in Cambodia. Even more surprising was the fact that the Khmer Rouge was still recognised as the main political party in Cambodia in the 1990s and were even given a seat in the UN!
Later on that day we visited the famous S-21 prison in the centre of Phnom Penh. This was originally a school that had been transformed into a brutal prison where torture and killings were carried out daily. Out of 14,000 people that were sent there, only 7 survived. Out of those who died, 9 europeans were caught up in this madness and lost their lives here. Most of them were tortured so badly that they confessed to crimes they had never commited, one Australian man admitted to being in the CIA so they had a reason to kill him as he wanted the torturing to stop, you can read his and hundreds of other confessions in the museum. Lots of the torturing equipment was still there to be seen, including the gallows in the courtyard. It was chilling walking around the place knowing that thousands of people had died where you were standing and such brutal things went on.
On a lighter note, after a week or two of putting it off, we all found the courage to get a haircut in one of the dodgy Cambodian salons. We were right to be wary as our lids got Pat Butchered and came out like we'd been dragged through a hedge backwards!
We had a couple of nice meals by the waterfront, testing out the traditional Cambodian dishes of Amok and Lok Lak, both of which were amazing!

Were now heading to the south coast of Cambodia in search of some nice beaches!
Loving life,
The Boys xxx

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Posted by Ben-Rob-Josh 10:47 Archived in Cambodia

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