A journey of two halves

June 2017

Siem Reip

 

Oh Hello There

Just entering the country was an experience. Catching a bus from Vietnam we got to the Vietnam/Cambodian border, where I experienced poverty, little children running after you begging, clothed in rags and dirt. It was upsetting to see. Other border crossings I had done weren’t a problem, this one however seemed to take ages and I never fully understood what was going on. The scariest part came when I had to hand my passport over to get stamped, not receiving it back straight away and being told to get back on the bus, which took us to a dodgy eatery to wait for our passports. I’m just pleased I was with the other people from the bus and not alone. Panic coursed through my body. Where was my passport? Thankfully all was well and the co-driver from the bus arrived on a moped carrying all the passports, like it was the most normal thing in the world...!

Cambodia so far had filled me with fear, not the most positive start, it didn’t get much better either. Arriving in Phon Phenh along with the rain. It just felt like a very sad city, especially when I walked past a pet shop where the animals were either dead or dying. The sadness was intensified with a trip to S-21 and The Killing Fields, learning the history of the Khmer Rouge regime and Cambodia's terrible past. Witnessing clothing being pushed up and rejected by the mass graves in the earth and seeing a building of remembrance that’s lined with skulls, is harrowingly sad. It was a history I wanted to learn about but one that left me in quiet contemplation for the rest of the day.

Meeting fellow travellers in the hostel, sharing stories over cheap beer and competitive games of pool volleyball certainly helped to lift spirits. We even ventured to a street food vender where a few of us sat on tiny plastic stools and ate some of the local food. Some of which was described to us as fish arms... your guess is as good as mine. I was pretty brave and tried quite a lot but I couldn't bring myself to eat the chicken feet. I'm sure they are delicious to some people (the Asian couple that devoured them on the seats next to us) but not for me. 

Going for a walk one afternoon I just wandered and observed life, passing memorial statues and children playing football, learning that not every moment of travel must be amazing. Sometimes you have to stop and observe what is right in front of you and by doing this you learn to appreciate the simple things a little bit more.  

Leaving Phon Phenh I caught a bus to Siem Reip and found the sun.

Getting off the bus as it was turning dark I needed a way to get to the hostel, a group of tuk tuks were waiting. Normally they are so pushy, but one driver stood out, he looked around the same age as me and was polite. On the drive to the hostel he told me he did the tour around Ankor Wat, the huge temple complex and the reason so many people make the journey to Siem Reip, so we agreed that he would meet me and a friend at 4am two days later. In an age of phones an technology we are messaging/phoning to constantly check that people haven't forgotten or changed their minds on plans. It was refreshing to just have to trust that he would be there and true to his word he was there to pick us up and he made the trip around Ankor Wat informative and fun. What saddened me though was that he had an injury to his leg and not just a small cut but a large gash that had been badly bandaged. He told us he was in a traffic incident. Not having the money to get it treated it would probably get worse. It made me realise how privileged we are in the UK.

Ankor Wat, well I can see why so many people go and visit, it’s incredible. Temple ruins wrapped in vines and greenery, home to monkeys and Buddha statues. Even though there were many tourists I still felt a sense of peace as I walked around marvelling at the different sights around each corner. Leaving the peace of the temples behind, the town of Siem Reip provided a lively night, where I found, myself playing table football with two guys from Singapore and an American at 2am. Not bad to say I’d been up since 4am. 

After getting off to a bad start in Cambodia, it had improved massively, another highlight been a cycle tour through the countryside around Siem Riep, visiting markets, farming villages and trying lots of different fruit as the locals ate snake. I’ll pass on that one! Seeing the school children in their bright yellow uniforms boarding the bus home was memorable, their intrigue in us mirroring our intrigue in them.

Cambodia you came into your own and wowed me.