The trip to Cambodia was so eventful and has triggered so many thoughts my brain has gone into word overload. It went from palaces to prisons, from long island ice teas to literal long islands, from tuk tuks to tree houses, from hot showers to washing with a bucket of rainwater. Plus a bit of snorkelling, jungle trekking and boating thrown in for good measure. On top of this there’s also the horrific history of the khmer rouge that I don’t want to write about in the same place I’ll be shallowly bragging about my tan.
To combat hitting you with an excited yet probably eventually boring stream of consciousness I am going to do a few separate posts. This first one will just be about the first two days of our holiday in Pnomh Penh, Cambodia’s capital city.
We were supposed to get a bus on Friday morning at 06.00 and it’s a 20 minute walk from our house. So naturally we woke up at 5.30am, left late and ended up running with all our backpacks to the bus stop fearing we’d miss it. Of course we forgot the bus company would be running on Vietnamese time, so when they said the bus left at 06.00, they really meant more like 07.00. Futhermore, when they said the journey took 6 hours, they really meant 8. I’d luckily discovered that ages ago my dad had put some comedy audiotapes on my itunes that had transferred to my ipod, so I listened to them for hours and became the weird white girl in the corner laughing out loud to herself.
We drove threw the country side, past shanty towns and wooden sheds on stilts to protect families from flooding. The strangest image was in a small village we drove through; it was like most of the villages we’d driven past, it looked very basic and poor, there were a dozen cows and buffalo roaming around, this didn’t surprise me as you see it often in Vietnam too, what surprised me was the nearly empty field with a corrugated iron shack in the middle sporting a hastily painted sign stating ‘Tax Office’!
When we got to Phnom Penh we were all amazed at what seem the most trivial things; the lack of tall buildings, the fact that the streets were wide, there were few motorbikes, you could stretch your arms out without hitting anything or anyone, you could see the sky and breathe smogless air. I know that sounds stupid but we’d got so used to chaotic, crazy, hectic Saigon and forgotten that not every city is like our new home. In addition to this stark contrast, I thought the city was just beautiful in itself, so many beautiful stupas and Buddhist architecture, even though it was visibly poorer than Ho Chi Minh City. After picking our jaws off the ground we bundled into a tuk tuk and found a guesthouse. We then organised a two day tour with a tuk-tuk driver who claimed he was called ‘Tiger Woods’, I wonder if his mum ever envisioned when she named little baby tiger that an adulterous golfer would tarnish such a lovely name. That afternoon we visited the infamous Killing Fields, which I’m going to write about in another post. After this we grabbed some traditional khmer ‘Amok’ which is like a coconut curry and had a few drinks by the river. Then we all headed to bed pretty early after such an early start.
The next day we got up bright and early and visited the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. I already thought the city was beautiful but these places blew me away. Especially because I’m really interested in eastern religion and this place had the most incredible stupas, ornate Buddha shrines and mini pagodas. My housemate has all the photos so I shall wait for them because words just won’t do the place justice. Those who know me will now I’m a bit of an anti-monarchist so seeing all this gold and pomp in a country so poor did make me feel a bit odd but I was too taken in by the colours, patterns and the monkey on top of one of the buildings. After the palace we headed to the infamous S21 prison, which is an old high school used in the 1970s by the Khmer rouge to torture their victims. Again, I’m going to discuss this later because I really think it deserves more than a few sentences. Once we emerged from here, feeling sombre and reflective, we headed to the Russian market (no idea why it’s called that, I saw no Russians, fluffy hats or men who looked like the baddies in spy films) and bought more things that wouldn’t fit in our already overpacked bags. From here it was straight to the bus station again,
These two days were jam packed with very typical touristy things, but we only had two days there before we wanted to vacate the city and head for the sea. In the next few days I’ll carry on from here and upload some photos, which are a lot more captivating than all this writing! For now I have to work out how I’m going to plan a whole weekend’s worth of teaching in one afternoon tomorrow. Back to the real word!