We passed through Cambodia quite quickly on our big gap year, and I’d love to go back and spend a bit of time there. We were trying to fit too much into a couple of month in SE Asia, so only managed to get to Phnom Penh and Siam Reap.
We stayed in the Sky Park Hotel, which was super cheap, and located a bit of walk back from the waterfront. It was recommended to us by some people that we met in Thailand, and we were so glad that we took their recommendation. The temptation would be to head straight to the touristy waterfront, but it’s pretty full on down there, and you’d get harassed by hawkers every time you left your hotel.
The best way to explore Phom Penh is by just hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day. Our guy took us out to the killing fields as our first stop. We weren’t sure how we would cope with seeing this place, but it was surprisingly tranquil. It was a big open green field, with lots of trees, a small museum in one corner, and in the centre was a tower, which was filled with the 8000 skulls that they excavated from the mass graves. On the bottom shelf of the structure was a heap of clothes, which had been washed out of the graves during the rainy seasons. We paid a donation and lit some incense to leave in pots out the front for respect to the dead. Then we wandered around reading all of the signs and looking at the excavated mass graves. It’s impossible to understand the number of people that were murdered there.
After leaving the killing fields, we headed to Russian Markets back in town for a wander around and some food, and then to the S-21 prison; a former primary school where the Khymer Rouge held and tortured their prisoners before sending them to the killing fields to be executed. This was, as expected, a pretty horrible place. On the bottom floor of the first building, there were large cells, where they held the more important of their prisoners; government officials, policemen etc. The higher levels were larger rooms, which they used to hold prisoners on mass. In the other two buildings, the rooms had all been divided up into much smaller cells; in the first building they were built with wood, in the next with bricks. These cells were less than a metre wide, and maybe a metre and a half long. Throughout they had large “classroom” filled with photos of the dead (at least 7 rooms to put it in perspective). This was the worst part of the prison as it made it feel a lot more real. The prisoners were forced into a straight back chair and their heads were held still with a clamp for the photos. They ranged from toddlers, to very old men and women.
After leaving here we spent the rest of the day touring the grand palace and silver pagoda, before getting dropped off at the central market.
From Phnom Penh, we headed, by bus, to Siam Reap. Straight away we liked Siam Reap. After the hugeness of Phnom Penh, it was relaxing to be back in a chilled little town. After checking in to our little guesthouse, we made a deal with a tuk tuk driver and headed out towards Angkor Wat for sunset. Although the temples were amazing, it was a little bit ruined by the huge number of people there. We were very surprised to see that instead of wandering around the outside of the temples, everyone is allowed to climb up and on to them too.
The following morning we hired another tuk tuk driver, this time for the whole day, and we headed back out to Angkor Wat for what turned out to be an amazing day of climbing around, through, up and over, all of the temples of Angkor Wat. We took millions of pictures – it’s hard to describe the scale and detail of the place!