He Says: At the Laos/Cambodia border we unloaded from our bus and went through the “standard” red-tape of land-border crossings in SE Asia. We paid a Laos stamping fee to leave Laos and then walked about 100 yards to Cambodia. On the other side we paid a fee to have a laser-gun-looking device pointed at our foreheads that apparently read our temperatures. Our temperatures were fine so we moved to the next booth where we paid for our Cambodian visas. We got our visas without any issues so we made our way to another booth where we paid again to have our passports stamped. Those were the only fees they could think to charge us so we boarded our bus and were back on our way to Siem Reap.
Unfortunately, because of our hang-up in Vientiane we had less time in SR so we only planned enough time to see the Angkor Wat temples. That didn’t leave a lot of time to explore the city but we at least had 3 days to hit the touristy spots: we had a few drinks on the main bar strip and watched street walkers try to find dates for the night; we had Mexican food for the first time since we left the US; we walked through the crowded night markets but didn’t buy anything except a few pirated DVDs; and, we had our feet “massaged” by dozens of tiny fish in an aquarium – you sit on the side of the aquarium, stick your feet in and let the fish suck/bite away. It doesn’t hurt but it’s definitely not advised for the ticklish. It takes a few minutes to adjust to them nibbling, and even then it’s hard to keep your feet in the water when they hit the soft spots under your toes.
Our second day in SR we hired a tuk-tuk to take us on a tour of Angkor Wat and the other temple cities. Angkor Wat is almost 1000 years old, the most visited temple in Cambodia and one of the largest religious buildings in the world, definitely a lot bigger than we expected. We crossed a moat almost 200 yards wide surrounding the entire complex then walked several hundred yards more before actually making it to the main building. The temple takes up something like 1 square kilometer and took almost 3 hours to explore. We walked up hundreds of steps to the top that seemed too steep to be safe and got disoriented a few times walking through dozens of different passages. It felt more like a mountain than a building.
Our main reason for going to SR was to see Angkor Wat, but TB and I both agreed the other temple cities were much more interesting. The other temples aren’t as well kept but for us that added to their allure. The second one we visited had dozens of stone spires with huge Buddha faces carved on all four sides. The serene Buddha smiles almost made us forget our feet and calves were killing us from all the hiking up and down hundreds of steps. The next temple was even taller than the last so by this point we were getting slightly worn out. We had enough gas left in us to climb to the top and there, in place of huge stone spires and Buddha faces, we found dozens of doors all seeming to go nowhere but the sky. We didn’t hire a guide so we never found out the significance of the doors, but I can imagine what they were for. Being up at the top looking at the sky made me feel like I was in a dream. I like to think they used it for meditation, but it probably had more to do with ritual human sacrifice or something like that.
I’m not sure that going to temples will ever be the same after going to these huge ancient temple cities. At this point we were starting to get a little weary of visiting places of worship so visiting Angkor Wat and the others was a good way to cap it off.
She Says: I wanted the title of Cambodia to read; “Cambodia, land of a million smiles.” But J started this blog first so I did not get the opportunity to name it 😦 , but this is how I saw Cambodia. It wasn’t as scenic as it’s hilly, green, picturesque neighbor Laos, however the smiles on the people’s faces make up for it’s lack of natural beauty. The people here love to smile! Everywhere you turn someone is looking at you and smiling. There is no awkward moment when you catch someone looking at you and you quickly turn your eyes the opposite direction. If I caught someone staring at me they would just keep looking and give you a huge smile. I actually enjoyed this a lot. It’s true that a smile is contagious.
Siam Reap and Angkor Wat were definitely the highlight of our Cambodian trip. There were so many more temples and ruins that I had imagined. J and I saw the most popular ones I believe, but it would probably take close to a week to see them all. The food in Siam Reap was actually really good and I was kind of sad we didn’t have time to try more of it out. Not to mention they had $.50 draught beer all day!
Phnom Phen was like any big SE Asian city. It was loud, chaotic, dirty and big. There wasn’t much to do in the city for Christmas so J and I decided to go ahead and visit the Killing Fields on Christmas day. I am not sure what the proper word would be to describe the experience. We really enjoyed the tour in the sense that it was an audio tour that led you around the fields explaining all the evil disgusting atrocities that occurred here. So the tour was very informative and set up well, however, what you learn is very disturbing. Pol Pot killed 1/4 of the entire Cambodian population in his 4 years of power. This equates to approximately 2-3 million people (exact numbers are not known due to inability to account for all the bodies). Regardless- he was a very evil individual. The stories we heard were awful and unimaginable. These people that worked for Pol Pot killed not only men but women and children by beating them to death. There was a tree at the Killing Fields labeled “The Killing Tree” in which the guards would swing the babies and young children by the legs and bash their heads into the trunk of the tree until they died. It is very difficult for us to understand how anyone could do such a thing.
After the Killing Fields we visited S-21 which was a prison where 14,000 + people were tortured to death by the Pol Pot regime. There were only 7 survivors and J I were able to meet one of them. It was an honor to meet someone who survived hell on Earth. They killed his wife in the prison and the only reason he was allowed to live was because he was an artist and was asked to draw portraits of Pol Pot. Needless to say it wasn’t the average Christmas day but it definitely made us feel grateful for everything we have and the life we are able to live.
From Cambodia it was off to Vietnam via another bus 🙂