Incredible Cambodia - Nathan Winder

Incredible Cambodia


I arrived in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on Saturday afternoon. My time there was limited and so I decided to start seeing the sights right away. I took a trip out to the infamous Killing Fields, where the Khmer Rouge murdered thousands of their own people in the 1970's (nearly one in four Cambodians at the time in total nationwide.)

It was a peaceful place but very sad. You can see the pits from some of the mass graves where men, women, and children were killed and thrown together in heap. Very sobering.

Cambodia is still working to get out of the devastation of the 70's and 80's. Thus it is still the poorest country in the region. This boy waits around the far end of the Killing Fields and asks for handouts. 

Despite these sad things, there is still a lot to be hopeful about. Downtown Phnom Penh is bustling and filled with people trying to make life better for themselves and their family.

On Sunday I went to one of the local Latter-Day-Saint branches (there are something like seven in the city). It was all in Khmer and so I didn't understand much, but I had some good translators and it was fun talking to some of the missionaries and members.

Later in the afternoon I visited the Royal Palace and its peaceful garden grounds.

There I met a couple of Buddhist monks and had a good chat with them. I'm not sure how the random Chinese girl fits in. She just showed up for the photo.

Next stop was Angkor Wat, though, unfortunately it was being attacked by a giant flying gecko!

Just kidding, it was fine. I had a long dusty bus ride out to Siem Reap, the lifeblood town of Angkor Wat, watching Jackie Chan films dubbed in Cambodian. 

I got there just in time to rent a bicycle and ride the 8km or so to get a sneak peak of the ruins at sunset.

The park is massive and so I made a three-day plan, waking up each morning at 5am in order to get ahead of the crowds. 

Sunrise throughout the park is a special time: few tourists, and a lot of the locals riding their bikes to school or work.

It's great fun to explore these old ruins, climbing over the fallen stones and tree trunks. This is Prah Tom, the  "Tomb Raider Temple" because it was used in the movie.

There are temple complexes scattered across the area, any one of which would be a destination in its own right. Most of them were built between 900 and 1100 AD, which makes them about as old as cathedrals like Notre Dame in Paris.

And who doesn't love a scene like this?

I met some more friendly monks and had a chat in the shade.

For me, riding a bike was the perfect way to see the park. I loved having the freedom to go where I wanted even though I had a sore bum.

Water buffalo? Yes, please.

Temple running can be exhausting work, so it helps to have a fresh coconut every now and then.

For these local kids, one of the temples was their playground.

Of course the carving in the stone work was exquisite everywhere.

One morning I went out to Angkor Wat herself for sunrise photos. That's when I found Angkor Frog.

And to celebrate, that night I had frog and mushrooms for dinner, a Cambodian specialty.

Now, I don't want to give you any false ideas. There were a lot of tourists here, more than half of them Chinese because it is Chinese New Year and they have holidays. It was a bit like Disneyland. In fact, imagine waiting in line for the Indiana Jones ride for three days straight. 

No, I'm just kidding, it wasn't that bad. I just had to plan my day carefully to avoid the crowds. I found many wonderfully peaceful moments around the park.

But it was always nice to come back to Siem Reap at the end of the day and relax with a chocolate milkshake or, like today, with a fish massage.

Yes, I had a very nice shave today from the barber's.

And those fish really tickle. I just sat there and giggled for 15 minutes straight.

So now it's time to leave Cambodia. I have a bus to Bangkok tomorrow. It's been wonderful here and I will miss the sunrise and sunsets over the ruins.

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