Phnom Penh was a bit of a whirlwind. I arrived at about 5pm and headed to a cheap guesthouse near the river. I spent the rest of the evening vegetating in the lounge watching movies with everyone else. The only problem was the staff of the guesthouse constantly taking it in turns to come over and find out what I was doing the next day. This is how they make their money - motorbike tours of the city. Even the guy that had brought me from the bus station to the guesthouse had chatted me up about it. Phnom Penh is a tiny place and considering that most families get by on $20 USD, I thought their prices were a bit of a stretch. I resolved to walk around the sites and try to get a motorbike to the Killing Fields for $3 as it was 15km out. Geez, I still can't get over how everything here is quoted in US dollars.
I got up somewhat early-ish and headed out to the Toul Sleng Museum which is housed in the same high school that was taken oven by Pol Pot's security forces and turned into S21, the infamous prison known for it's gruesome tortures of political prisoners. It was eerie walking around the grounds. Once you're past the 7 foot barbed wire gate you really feel you could be in a high school courtyard but then you realize what it became and see the faces of all the people that were detained here before being carted off to the extermination camp in nearby Choeung Ek. I found a bike to head over to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where almost 10 000 people are buried but it place didn't have the emotional pull of S21. It is now just a field, another memorial for the horrors of the past.
After such an intense morning I was glad that my afternoon was to be much more sedate. I spent a little time at the national museum which what a little too cluttered to enjoy although the building itself was gorgeous and the garden within, a joy. My last stop was the royal palace which was a stunning. It covered a large area and had many beautiful buildings to explore. It was a great ending to a long hot day. I arrived at the guesthouse to find the lounge full of motorcycle drivers watching a medium-core French porn film. They were giggling at the screen like 10 year old boys. I ate my lunch near the back with a few of the other guests.
My Canada t-shirts are gold to me. Canadians flock to me because of them and it's how I met Tessa, also a Canadian and 2 English girls Beth and Anna. We all decided to head out to check out the party scene in Phnom Penh. A guy who worked at the guesthouse also came. I can't remember his name but it rhymed with vodka, his drink of choice. We checked out a lounge but there was no one there so we capitulated and went to the Martini Pub where our guesthouse guy wanted to go. Hmm, wonder why he wanted to go, it was filled to the brim with hookers and old men. We spent the night laughing at various couplings and dissecting the problems with women's rights in South East Asian countries. At the end we took to the dance floor and laughed ourselves silly. We left 3 hours before my morning boat to Siam Reap departed.
The boat was awesome. It was $22 which is hella expensive here but was amazing. Our boat was called Rambo 7. It was long, thin and fast. The inside was a little like being in an airplane (with less leg room, if you can believe that) but the best was that you could climb up and sit on the roof. We watched as the Mekong river widened from a thin narrow strip of water until the land on either side disappears and you feel like you're in the middle of a very calm ocean. There were little patches of vegetation drifting, a bit like the ones described in Life of Pi but smaller. They looked a lot like lily leaves with no flowers, if they ever did flower it would make a heck of a sight. An expensive trip but well worth it. We arrived in Siem Reap at 1pm where we walked off the boat into a zoo. There looked to be at least a hundred motorcycle guys yelling and screaming for us to go with them for transport to a hotel. I was looking for a piece of cardboard with my name displayed as my hotel had promised me but no luck. I had no idea what to do and the motorcycle guys guys smelled weakness and went in for the kill. I was completely surrounded with people tugging on me every which way. I wasn't scared exactly but I sure felt better when I saw 2 security people pushing people to the side to make a hole out of the madness for me. I found a nice quiet cabbie a few meters down and sped off into town where I spent spent an hour looking for my hotel as I was supposed to meet Tessa there. But it started to rain heavily so I gave up and settled in to a place about 1km from the center of town.
I settled in to my hotel and opted for a quiet night. I woke up late the next day and took a long walk around the town. It is quickly being fixed up to become long lines of yuppie bar/restaurants around the central market mainstay. I bought some black pants to replace mine that don't look like they were going to stand up to another harsh hand washing. I made it back to guesthouse by 4pm to meet up with my driver to see the sunset near on a large hill near the temples. It's great because you buy your $20 ticket to see the temples for the following day but use it to see the sunset that day. All the tourists go to this one spot at this one time of day so I shouldn't have been so surprised to run into Tessa. She had a similar experience coming off the bus and didn't make it to the correct hotel either. As we parted, we agreed to meet up the next day for dinner.
The next morning I was up and ready for my driver at 5am in order to make it to Angkor Wat to sunrise with the rest of the tourists. While the sky was beautiful, my pictures of Angkor Wat all came of out as a series of silhouettes against different color skies. I gave up and resolved to ask the driver to bring me back later in the afternoon to get a few more shots. The temple itself was huge and while ancient, they don't seem to mind us tourists climbing up all the crumbling, time-worn, narrow temple steps. It was fun exploring all the outer carvings and small inside shrines that are all remarkably well preserved. On to the next temple, Bayon, where there are 54 heads constantly starting down on you. Pretty cool stuff! Nearby I visited the Terrace of Elephants and a large pyramid like structure called Baphuon. We stopped for a quick breakfast at the roadside before heading out to see which looks like a brochure shot for a posh Bali resort and then which is like stepping into an Indiana Jones movie. These temples were lost for so long that there are huge trees growing on their roofs. 9 hours and about 8 and a half temples later we headed back to the hotel.
I was planning on taking the nightmare bus journey from Siem Reap to Bangkok the next day but I couldn't get a seat either because the bus was full or because the crappy roads have now become impassable. Every traveler that has come through that route talks about what a horrible horrible experience it was. The potholes are apparently so deep and wide and the bridges in such bad condition that in place they get you off the bus and pile everyone and their bags into pickup truck and carry on from there. So I'm taking the higher ground, Air Asia has a cheap flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok with service starting on Nov 1. I had wanted to be in Bangkok for Halloween but alas it is not meant to be. Back to Phnom Penh for me.