Discovering the moving history of Cambodia in Siem Reap

Posted on May 27, 2013

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DSCN0420Cambodia affected me in a way that I didn’t expect. Before I got there I did a little reading up, and it’s (recent history) is both scary and sad. It is estimated that 20-25% of the population died during the four-year Khymer Rouge rule in the late seventies. The full background explains a lot about the Cambodian population, particularly the sadness in so many older eyes and absolute kindness towards others. Over the three days I was there got through the book First they killed my father, a biography by Loung Ung, who is now in America. It’s an incredibly moving story and reading it in the shade of the Angkor Watt temples gave me goosebumps.
A little heavy to start a post, but so utterly important and it stuns me that so few people know about these atrocities in such a beautiful country.
DSCN0518If you are going to Siem Reap it’s likely to see one of the wonders of the world, Angkor Wat. I can only compare this to the temples on the Nile, but with a jungle experience. Allow at least two full days, if not three to get around. There are a few options for getting around but when I was there it was far too hot to cycle so I hired a Tuktuk. Reliable, easy and cheap at $13/day (rates are fixed). Get a guy that has a beige jacket with a number, showing he is a licensed driver.
I decided not to do sunrise at the temple so I beat the crowds and highly recommend doing the same. The first two temples I visited at 6am I had all to myself: Ta Prohm (which is known for Tomb Raider, and Banteay Kdei. Angkor Wat is amazing, absolutely stunning and almost incomprehensible. But there are a ton of tourists there which for me took away from the awesomeness of the building. I paid for a guide, $12, just for Angkor Wat and was pleased I did. A guide all day may provide a bit too much information to take in on an already long day (I was out 10-12 hours each day).
DSCN0443There are two well-known loops, the small tour (as above), taking you to the main sites within the grounds, and the big tour which includes the pretty Banteay Srey 40kms out-of-town. Again I got up early to miss the crowds but was 100% worth it. A Tuktuk for the big tour is $24 for the day. I asked my driver to stop at the Landmine museum which was recommended in Lonely Planet. It sounds a strange thing to do and I expected just to spend 20mins, giving a few dollar entrance for a good cause. I stayed two hours. It is effectively a few buildings showing what one man has done to help the still current issues of clearing landmines (they estimate that there are still a few million in Cambodia). As a child soldier he fought for the Khymer Rouge and laid mines, not fully understanding what was happening. As he got older he wanted to help the damage done and has been clearing them ever since. That’s just the tip of the iceberg but really, if you have time, stop and make a donation or bring some things for the orphanage there.
On your day tours you can get everything you need including water and food stops, even within the temple complex. Try bamboo rice, it’s a sweetish snack.
DSCN0604If you like horse riding also check out the Happy Ranch. expensive by Cambodia standards but horses are beautifully kept and I thought the 3hr sunrise ride was well worth it – riding through paddy fields to a temple…just beautiful!
I stayed at Mother Hone guest house which was around $20/night and just loved it. Every time you walk in the front door they give you a cold lemongrass scented towel…divine!
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Posted in: Asia