Cambodia

Siam Reap - Phnom Penh - World Map

On 2nd November 2005 we leave Bangkok and fly to Cambodia. We arrive in Siam Reap in the early evening. No problems with visas at the airport and we head to the Winter guesthouse which is in town. En route we pass a long row of very expensive looking hotels. These are for the wealthy tourists who come to see Angkor Wat. We arrive at the guesthouse and settle in to our room. There are a number (10+) of young lads hanging around. They all ride scooter taxis but generally have little work so just hang around the guesthouse playing chess and watching TV.

Listening to Harry Potter in our room

The street outside the Winter guesthouse

Me playing chess in the restaurant

Watching TV in the restaurant

Mummy and Daddy have to buy three day passes for Angkor Wat but it is free for children. The pass is a photo pass and costs $40. We have arranged for a car and guide because it is a huge area - and also very hot. On the 3rd November  we head off early, 08:30, with our guide Richard and driver Danny. They will be showing us around Angkor Wat and the other temples of the area.

 

 

Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, Hindu and Buddhist temple complexes at Angkor, old capital of the Khmer kingdoms of Cambodia. The first building phase, in the 10th and 11th centuries, was Hindu in character: the Khmer kings had adopted the southern Indian concept of the god-king. They therefore constructed their temples as microcosms, imitating Mount Meru, the Hindu cosmic mountain, with the king as microcosmic deity, and each king built his own temple. This tradition culminated in Angkor Wat, built under King Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150), who intended it to present him as the incarnation of Vishnu.

Some 850 by 1,000 m ( 2,800 by 3,300 ft) and facing west, Angkor Wat is a rectilinear stone construction of three concentric walled enclosures surrounded by moats symbolizing the ocean round the world-mountain, centred on a temple building with five lotus-shaped towers imitating the five peaks of Mount Meru (four others have since fallen). Rich relief sculptures, many once painted and gilded, decorate its surfaces, depicting the exploits of Vishnu and celestial nymphs. The tremendous effort of building Angkor Wat may have contributed to the collapse of the Khmer, faced with invasion by the kingdom of Champa, which in turn sapped faith in the protecting Hindu gods.

King Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1219), who toppled the Champa, was a Mahayana Buddhist, and his vast monument at Angkor Thom was intended to surpass Angkor Wat. Built to the north of Angkor Wat, and following its plan as Buddhist cosmology had followed Hindu belief, its square moated enclosure, some 4 km (2 ? miles) on a side with moats 90 m (98 yd) wide, was centred on a vast stepped temple complex, the Bayon, with five towers. The enormous face effigies on the Bayon represent both the omnipresent Buddha and the king himself. The cosmological scheme of Angkor Thom is generally more admired than the detailed execution, and subsequent rulers defaced the monuments both by adding their own effigies and erasing existing ones in Hindu-inspired iconoclasm. The Khmer custom of aligning vertical joints in masonry for decorative effect also contributed to the monuments' present poor condition. After the sack of Angkor in the Thai invasion of 1431, Angkor Wat survived principally as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre. The French colonial regime established in the 1860s began extensive research and reclamation round the entire area, but looting and the continuing political instability in modern Cambodia have accelerated the monuments' rapid deterioration. In 1992, the temples were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and were also inscribed on the list of World Heritage in Danger; since then, an intensive multi-national restoration and preservation programme has been implemented in the area.
 

It is very hot and humid so we take our time. The temples are magnificent and tourists are free to clamber all over the buildings and other archaeological bits. I can’t imagine that this can go on for ever because there will be too much damage done by the huge numbers of people passing through.

We climbed up to some of the higher areas of the sight, one of which was really high with very steep steps. Once we were up we were not sure whether we could get back down..!

The main temple is a huge square shape with a passage all around inside. The walls are intricately carved with the story of Mahabharata and the Ramayana among others. The relief's are really shiny where hundreds of visitors have rubbed their hands over them. I think this has been going on for hundreds of years but is probably at its worst now with so many tourists visiting. There was a little rope tied between wooden posts to try and stop people touching but it wasn't any use.

That evening we went in to town to a nice restaurant to watch a Cambodian culture show. The buffet was nice and the show pretty good. The dancers asked me up on stage for a photograph at the end. We returned home on the back of a couple of the motor rickshaw bikes that hang around the guesthouse. We were all very tired after a long day clambering over the ruins of Angkor Wat.

On the 4th November we visit Wat Ta Prom which is the only ancient temple that was left pretty much covered in jungle. It was left like this so that people can see how the jungle had taken over the temples and why they were lost for hundreds of years. It was really interesting to see the giant roots and trees growing out of the buildings. These are the type of pictures that are often shown about Angkor however, it is just one small temple in the vast complex. It was featured in the movie Tomb Raider.

While we were walking on the path back to the entrance of the temple a snake came out of the jungle and tried to bite me. Luckily it missed. Some of the local children that live in the jungle around the temple said it was very dangerous. They hit it and flicked it back in to the trees with a long stick.

On 6th November 2005 we are up at the crack of dawn to be collected and taken to the boat jetty for our journey to Phnom Penh. We were lead to believe that we started so early so that we could get a seat on the boat. Apparently, they fill the boats inside first – around 80 souls – then any extra passengers have to travel on the roof. We arrive at the boat around 07:00, just a half hour before departure. The trip costs $25 per head. I guess that the only consolation is that we are not the last people to arrive so we do get the pick of the roof. We are near the front of the boat. After our arrival there are about 30 more passengers that join us on the roof. Some are quite elderly and it is pretty difficult for them to manage.

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The trip takes us through Lake Sap and the inland waterways of Cambodia but is very long at almost 8 hours. We start off into a huge thunderstorm and get very wet and cold during the first hour or so. There is however, a certain camaraderie amongst us all and we manage to huddle under some tarpaulin to keep the worst of the rain off. There isn’t much to see because we are crossing a large lake during the first half of the journey. Following the storm the sun comes out and we are then burnt to a crisp. On the way I learn a new party trick - folding my ears.! We are all looking a bit bedraggled by the time we arrive in Phnom Penh.

The guesthouse is nice and is situated on the bank of the Mekong river - the same one we saw in Thailand. The promenade is really busy in the late afternoon and evening so we stroll along to see the many stalls selling all sorts of things. There are a great many Europeans around, mainly French, which is strange to see.

We meet a local guide through the guesthouse and make arrangements to tour the city during the next couple of days.


Khmer Rouge, Cambodian revolutionary movement, notorious for its policies of genocide. In 1963 Pol Pot, then a Communist teacher named Saloth Sar, founded the movement to oppose Cambodia's Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The prince at first attacked the Khmer Rouge, then allied with them with United Nations support after the coup d'état led by Lon Nol in 1970. American bombers decimated both the Khmer Rouge and the populace after the former refused to observe the 1973 ceasefire that ended United States involvement in the Vietnam War. The Khmer Rouge finally toppled Lon Nol in 1975, then forcibly evacuated all Cambodian cities within a week, dragooning citizens for peasant labour. Money and property were abolished; travel and education ceased. Pol Pot became prime minister in 1976 and, following dogmatic Maoism, collectivized Cambodian agriculture in a disastrous bid for increased rice yields. Between one and four million people died in what became known as the “killing fields”, at least 15 per cent of the population, the death toll increased by Khmer Rouge paranoia.

Escalating clashes led to a Vietnamese invasion in 1978-1979: the Khmer Rouge retreated to the border with Thailand. By 1989 Vietnam had withdrawn, but the Khmer Rouge went on fighting other Cambodian factions, specializing in mine warfare against civilians. UN peacekeeping efforts to co-opt them into the 1993 elections failed, not least because popular hatred for their leaders made it impossible to guarantee their safety. The Khmer Rouge continued fighting the elected government, retaining about 10 per cent of Cambodian territory. In December 1998 the last active Khmer Rouge unit surrendered to the Cambodian government, ending Khmer Rouge insurgency and effectively terminating the movement.

On the 7th November we start the day with our guide Sohkar taking us to the killing fields and the memorial to the 8000 or more people buried in the mass graves in that area. It is an extremely moving place and there are bones and old clothes scattered about all over the place. The memorial itself has within it hundreds of skulls. The graves lay in rows like open pits in the ground some of which are waterlogged. They are labelled with details of the number of corpses found – and in some cases it was just heads – and it is all quick shocking. It is a very sombre place.

If this isn’t enough we return to Phnom Penh – 14Klm away – and visit ‘S21’ which was once a secondary school. The Khmer Rouge turned it into a torture and death camp. The classrooms were made into cells, the various floors used for different torture or split into small 1m x 1m individual cells. As with the Nazi’s, everything was documented in detail and all those imprisoned and murdered photographed and theirs crimes – such as being ‘educated’ recorded. People were tortured in many dreadful ways and forced to denounce their friends and families as traitors to the regime.

We didn’t stay too long in this sad place. We return to the hotel for a quiet afternoon to dwell on our thoughts from the mornings trip. It is so amazing to see how cheerful the Cambodian people are when every single one must have been touched in some way by the crimes of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge. There are constant reminders wherever we go - people with limbs missing from the thousands of mines that litter the countryside.

We spend the rest of the day along the riverbank near our guesthouse. Incidentally, there have been numerous thunderstorms each day and night however they are usually short lived.

Its the 8th November 2005 and mummy's birthday. She has a lay in while me and daddy buy wrapping paper for her presents and make special birthday cards. Later in the morning we visit the ‘Russian Market’ for a bit of shopping. There are lots of lovely things to buy however, mummy managed to restrain herself – even though it is her birthday.

We wander around the city and visit Phnom Wat to feed some monkeys but they turn out to be rather aggressive and snatch the first bag of fruit out of my hands. I am much more careful with the second bag but the monkeys grab for it and pull at my trousers. We quickly use the food and wander on. We come across an exhibition in the temple grounds. It is a joint venture supported by many international groups to rid the world of small arms and mines. There are hundreds of thousands of weapons in Cambodia and artists are encouraged to use decommissioned guns in art.

We return to the guesthouse to get ready to go out for a birthday supper. We have decided to go along the road to the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) which is famous because it was an hotel / club where the correspondents came for a bit of R&R during the Vietnam war. It is typically French in architecture and still has a feeling of it’s historical past even though it is more an ‘in’ place to visit as a tourist these days. Amazingly we bump into a German guy that we met in the Winter guesthouse in Siam Reap. He had chosen to take the bus to Phnom Penh - $5 – and had a much more enjoyable journey. Apparently the road was good and the bus modern – oh well, the boat trip was fun in its own way….

After a lovely meal we return to the Sunshine guesthouse and pack for our return to Bangkok tomorrow.

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