Where do I even begin with this country of experiences, and I don't say that lightly, as one does not "vacation" in Cambodia but rather experience it for all it is and has to offer.
Before setting foot on land a high sense of respect and understanding needs to be created for the people within, as there is no better way to explain it than 'the country is healing.' In 1975 Cambodia experienced a 3-year "cleansing" under the terrifying hands of the Khmer Rouge resulting in a gruesome and devastating genocide of over 25% of the population. By slaughtering the 'academics' (doctors, teachers, anyone who threatened their rule) first, meant that when peace prevailed in 1979, they had little to no guidance with advances such a medicine, education, politics etc. and had to begin from the farmlands up.
Starting off our travels in Phnom Phen, the country's capital, we visited the infamous Toul Sleng Genocide Museum as well as Choeung Ek Killing Fields, which gave us a deep understanding of the country's mending state.
Though with a dark past, Cambodia has risen from the ashes full of beauty and life.
Phnom Phen is a city of juxtaposition, the old and new all smooshed along sidewalks, lulled by the constant preys and chants echoing from every temple and place of worship. We left the city with a buzz, excited to see what else this 'phoenix of a country' had to offer.
Sihanoukville, and if you have to read that a few times over, feel no shame, as I still cannot get the pronunciation right. With a deep desire for the beach, we opted to head to one of the towns quieter sections, only to be greeted with "mushroom mania" and not the type you put in your alfredo.
This dirt roaded strip town was one of strange delight. Though sadly it rained for two of our three days, we still managed to lull on the beach bean bags, sipping on local Angkor beer and swishing our feet through the sand, making friends with every local kitten in town.
After getting some much-needed rest we were off again, a deep desire for a new adventure, which was slightly dulled by six hours in a cramped minibus, though in the end, we made it out alive (barely).
Battambang, to no ones surprise, is the city of bats and, well, they are magnificent. Sitting outside the cave mouth, the suns last rays splashing the sky with an array of orange, red and purple, the swelling screeches of bats reaches a falsetto and out they come. There is no better way to explain them but as a river of perfect harmony, twitching and swishing as one. The bats (mostly blind) fly out of the cave, to feed in the local fields, eating all pests that destroy the crops, thus praised by the locals.
Complimentary to the rush of the bat cave, Battambang bamboo train is just that. On a rickety bamboo platform, you hurtle down abandoned train tracks through the countryside. Contrary to logistical thoughts this track is not a circuit but rather trains run both north and south.
"But won't they crash?"
My thoughts exactly as I spotted an approaching cart. This catastrophe is avoided by the conductors stopping the trains and lifting the train with fewer people OFF THE TRACKS. Yes, you read correctly, they pick the train up and take it off the rail so one can pass.
After this slightly terrifying, but mostly invigorating, experience every day ended with an ice cold beer on a rooftop where the city sounds where just far enough away to create a relaxing hum.
"THEE BIGGEST RELIGIOUS DESTINATION IN THE WORLD!"
With that title, Angkor Wat can be nothing more but magnificent and we could not help but marvel in its glory. Being the fit (stubborn) people we are, Matthew and I concluded that we could easily CYCLE the complex of temples, this decision was reflected upon after 38km of cycling in 34°C.
Four am in the morning our experience began, a rather hilarious cycle through the dark got us to the temple for the famous sunrise - and we were not alone. After wrestling with some grumpy tourists we got our spot of glory, and, well, was it a sight to see. I feel that words do no justice for the serine perfection that we witnessed, it is one we will never forget. And wider and wider our eyes grew, every temple more jaw-dropping, my favourite being the temple of many faces, one cannot comprehend how they manoeuvred these massive carvings.
After seeing 9 temples by bike, all far between, we headed home, only to be surprised by the lively city nightlife. Siem Reap has taken Angkor Wat's "tourist influx" in its stride. Not only are the roads bustling with food carts selling anything from fried ice-cream to grilled scorpions, but the local people have kept to their culture and traditions offering handmade items, local musicians and a quick cooking lesson if wanted, we could have stayed for hours marvelling at all its greatness.
Our last day in Cambodia came racing up and we decided to end it off at the top-rated Fruit Bar, this fun and quirky cafe sell crushed ice in heaps, doused in flavoured syrup and topped off with fresh fruit of your choice. Not only this, but the walls of the cafe are littered with messages for fellow travellers, what better way than to end our trip than drooling over crushed ice and reading about other backpacker's amazing adventures.
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Cambodia in 2 Weeks:
Presented by The Stand-Up Lillies
Video | Music: Matthew Ellis
Video | Edit : Nicita Amy Botha
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