Siem Reap & Angkor Wat
We spent two nights in Kampong Chang at a reasonable hotel close to the Mekong river – there is no real reason to stay in Kampong Champ. It is just a big, noisy, dirty Cambodian town but neither of us were very keen to get straight back on another bus so we spent a couple of nights there doing not very much.
When we booked our onward bus journey to Siem Reap we were told it was a public bus so we were expecting another ancient, hot, slow bus so we were very happy when we arrived at the bus station to discover our bus was a shiny new air conditioned bus, ok it did have a big TV screen with bad Cambodian Karaoke playing but it was a small price to pay for air con! It even stopped along the way for food and toilet – total luxury! Once again we were the only non Cambodians on the bus and it left me wandering where all the other travellers are.
The road from Kampong Champ to Siem Reap is one of the main east – west roads in the country however despite this about 50% of the road was unmade gravel, although at least it was graded (sort of). We did not travel on one road in Cambodia that was fully sealed – condition of the roads is just one example of just how poor this country is.
Siem Reap – we have found the tourists!
We were met at the bus stop in Siem Reap by a Tuk Tuk driver from our hotel which was so nice. We stayed at the fabulous Villa Medamrei which is a short walk to Pub Street and the restaurants and a delightful small boutique hotel – I would say it was the best hotel we stayed in on the trip.
Siem Reap is a nice town but a total tourist town and not at all representative of the ‘real’ Cambodia. Suddenly we had gone from not seeing a westerner for days and days in a row to being surrounded by them… Most people travelling to Cambodia follow the well worn tourist route of Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh – Siem Reap – fly in fly out and tick a box….
I must say though after weeks of rice and curry I really did enjoy the taco I had at i-viva in pub street. It was while we were at this restaurant we met Dout. Dout had lost both arms above the elbows in a landmine explosion when he was seven, now as an adult he sells books to try and support himself. Dout is articulate, well read and spoke beautiful English – an interesting fellow, over the course of the next few days we bought 2 books from Dout, we neither wanted them or needed them but we wanted to help this guy just a little. What fascinated me was the behaviour of the other people in the restaurant, they would not look at Dout or acknowledge him when he spoke to them, they put their heads down, their blinkers on and ignored him. The cost of one meal in this restaurant would have fed him and his family for a week yet people seem to think if they don’t look its not real. Appalling!
We found out later from the concierge at our hotel that Dout is very unwell and trying to support a family of 4 ….
We did a fabulous private tour of the Angkor Wat temples with a local guide called Robin. Robin is a school teacher who supplements his income by being a tour guide (as a school teacher he earns US$60 per month) he is incredibly knowledgeable not just about the temples but also about Cambodia, its history, its politics etc. Robin moved from Kampong Champ to Siem Reap for a couple for a couple of reasons; 1, he felt there was better opportunity in SR and 2, he could not live in a town where everyday he had to see the man who was responsible for the deaths of members of his family during the Pol Pot regime. During that day Robin spoke frequently about that time and each time there was a look of absolute horror in his eyes.
We visited the main temple of Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider Temple) which were both amazing and we planned to do a second day with Robin however his little boy was very sick and he had to pull out.
After four days in Siem Reap we decide we had seen enough of Cambodia so we hoped on a cheap flight to Bangkok.
My Thoughts on Cambodia
Cambodia today is still desperately trying to recover from the horror of the Pol Pot years, I guess when you wipe out 25% of the country population and lose pretty much all your intellects and educated its going to have devastating effects. I found it interesting to compare Laos to Cambodia, both incredibly poor countries. In Laos people may be poor but they all have somewhere to live, enough food, clean water and live on the whole happy lives, there is low crime and a healthy social awareness through the monks, temples and local communities. Cambodia has lost that social awareness and care and it is obvious everywhere you go, very sad.