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Cambodia

Siem Reap, Amazing Angkor & Brief Battambang

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So we arrived in Siem Reap last Friday night, with little in the way of expectations after our slightly underwhelming start in Phnom Penh. Arriving at the hotel we were really impressed - it was fab! Free fresh fruit, tea & coffee, and a fantastic outdoor pool and jacuzzi ready for us to jump in to! The next day, we decided to indulge in a little R&R by just chilling poolside and making the most of the gorgeous weather. In the evening we ventured into town (courtesy of the hotel's complimentary tuk tuks) where we were pleasantly surprised - you still get the incessant sales pitches from tuk tuk drivers and massage parlours, but the town itself is lots cleaner than Phnom Penh, and no street beggers. They have a great night market, which we enjoyed walking around, haggling for bargains. And some excellent restaurant choices. We settled for one down 'Pub Street', where we both had amazing traditional Khmer curries.

Our second full day in Siem Reap, we decided to tackle the temples! By bicycle I might like to add!
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Angkor is around a 15km cycle from the hotel, so we set off fairly early with the expectation to see them all in the one day... Mistake! We managed to see about seven (around a quarter!) Some were really impressive, whilst others not so much.
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This one, called Ta Prohm, was the backdrop to the Lara Croft 'Tomb Raider' film. This was my favourite visit of the day - it's really cool how the tree trunks have interwoven between the temple's stones.
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This one, as you can tell, was very underwhelming. It was well off the beaten track - we'd ditched the bikes for the time being, meaning we had to trek a kilometre on foot through a village and farmland to find it. We weren't best pleased when we found it undergoing conservation and covered in scaffolding!! At least we got to spend some time amongst this beautiful scenery though (minus the fact I was constantly on the look-out for tarantulas and snakes!)
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The 40 kilometre round cycle the first day meant we were more than willing to take a tuk tuk for our second day at The Temples. And I am so glad we did - we definitely saw lots more than we would have had we not, and it also meant we didn't need to do a third day! As impressive as they are, there's only so many you can see without them starting to look "samey" (please don't judge me for saying this!) As we were paying for the tuk tuk, we thought we may as well get up for sunrise at the most famous of the temples - Angkor Wat.
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Early awaiting! We look surprisingly fresh for 5:30am.
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The time just before sunrise does make for a lovely photograph (if you can manage to wade through all the other lunatic tourists, who're also mad enough to get there at 5:30!)
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Ben patiently awaiting the sunrise, which by this point had sort of come up without us noticing! Spot the mass of tourists also waiting in the background!
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Here it is!! Worth the hour and a half wait?... Debatable. It definitely doesn't compete with sunrise on The Great Wall!

The rest of the day was very pleasantly spent walking around the enormous structures, taking in the immense craftmanship that went in to their construction. It's amazing that they have withstood the tests of time - most are over 1000 years old! Most amazing are the engravings and carvings that still remain, and how detailed they still are. To think each of the thousands of stones, making up each temple, was hand carved - how many people must it have took just to build one of the huge temples, and how long?! The dedication to the construction of these temples is mind blowing.
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Just some of the fantastic stone carvings.

My favourite temple overall was The Bayon, set within the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom. It's easily the most aesthetically pleasing.
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The temple's construction is focused on the huge warrior-like faces carved into the outer-facing stone walls. It must have been an important structure in its day, as to me the warriors seem to symbolise protection over whoever was inside.
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Toward the end of the afternoon my attention span began to wane, but the beautiful forested scenery the temples are set within made for a welcome distraction. A landscape photographer at heart, I loved wondering around snapping away.
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The only real downer on our Angkor experience was the annoying sales merchants, stationed outside every temple trying to flog you anything and everything. When you've been walking around in the heat all day, feet and back aching, the last thing you need or want is someone trying to sell you a flipping scarf! Someone even tried to sell Ben an exact copy of the t-shirt he was wearing!
In the below photo, the poor people couldn't even escape a sales pitch whilst in their tuk tuk!
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We left Siem Reap behind yesterday, catching a four hour bus to Battambang. We've only been here the one night but are already eager to leave - despite the beautiful surrounding countryside, the town itself has little to offer. If you do venture here, make sure you visit Sunrise Coffee House for their amazing warm brownies - so far, the only saving grace here! Tonight we're off to the infamous circus, lets hope it's the towns redeeming feature.

Posted by AmyRossiter26 01:49 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

A Sobering Start In Cambodia...

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View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

After a seven hour bus journey from Ho Chi Minh crossing the Cambodian border, we arrived at our first stop - Phnom Penh. First impressions of Cambodia; It looks much the same as Vietnam, with extremes ranging from vast expansions of tropical forestry to the dirty, litter-lined streets of the villages and towns.
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View of the Cambodian countryside from our bus.

It's evident there's a greater level of poverty here than in Vietnam though, as lots of people beg for money, and walking the streets at night there's a surprising number of homeless families. It's quite heartbreaking seeing little babies lying on dirty scraps of blanket. More heartbreaking though are the parents who use their children to beg for money; from ladies who carry their babies around the tourist sights using them as a sympathy tool, to the children who are sent to beg by their families. Despite these drawbacks, Cambodia as a country has a fascinating yet brutal history which the sights around Phnom Penh helped us learn more about. In prep, I'd read a book on the atrocities of Pol Pot's and The Khmer Rouge's three year reign over Cambodia before we came, but even so it was still really shocking to see the evidence firsthand.

We firstly visited the sight of former prison camp S-21. Before the genocide, the prison was a school, but visiting it you can't imagine it ever was. The classrooms were turned in to interrogation rooms and tiny prison cells.
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An interrogation/ torture room where the body as shown in the photograph on the wall was found.

In total, around 20,000 people were detained at the prison during the period (17th April 1975-7th January 1979) and of those, only 7 surviving people were found at the prison after the country's liberation. Since it has become a museum (Tuol Sleng Genocide Centre), some of the rooms throughout the four buildings have become home to large photographic displays, which combined, show each person that was ever detained at the prison. Their hollow faces seem to stare at you through the pane of glass that separates them from you. In some you can read their plea for help, in others it looks like they're already resigned to their doomed fate.
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Barbed wire was put up to stop prisoners committing suicide by jumping from the higher floors.

Following the visit to S-21 we took a tuk tuk to The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The tuk tuk was a new experience, especially as in Cambodia the roads are so dirty and dusty - the driver stopped at this ominious roadside shack and handed us what looked like surgeon's masks, but were actually face masks to stop the dirt choking us!
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The Killing Fields are where many people, including the prisoners from S-21 (or bodies of) were taken. It was very harrowing, yet surprisingly peaceful too. With the shining sun, grassy fields and beautiful lake it could be easy to forget why all us tourists walking around with our audio tapes are there.
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The plaques signalling the various torture sites and sites of mass graves are a sobering reminder. The below photograph, as the plaque next to it reads, housed loud speakers which blared music with the intention of drowning out the cries of those whose time it had come to meet the slaughter fields. As even when there, most people didn't know what fate awaited them.
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The tree which babies and children were beaten against. Today visitors leave bracelets in memory.

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In 1989, the above 'Stupa' memorial was built to house the bodies of the victims. In all, 9000 remains are now kept here to honour the lost lives. Included in these remains are 450 bodies found in one mass grave site, along with 166 headless corpses found at another.

Sadly, these weren't the only Killing Fields discovered - throughout Cambodia there are over 300 Killing Fields similar to that which we visited, but as this is the largest it's now thought of as the honour place of all lives lost during the genocide. In total, around 4 million Cambodians perished during this period, whether it be at the direct hands of The Khmer Rouge, or indirectly through famine or disease.

It's hard to believe when back in Phnom Penh city that the awful genocidal period happened. The place is abuzz with markets and shopping centres, and has lots of schools - education and commerce were two things completely prohibited during Pol Pot's reign. Some parts of the city are quite pleasant too, especially the area around The Royal Palace.
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Today we have moved North West, to Siem Reap, where we are hoping to instead celebrate some of Cambodia's rich history by visiting what some have labelled the eighth wonder of the world - The Temples of Angkor!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 08:06 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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