Cambodia – the Asian Beauty

22.03.17 – 05.04.17

We cannot believe that we are on the way to our last country we are gonna visit during our world trip! It’s been almost 9 months that we have been travelling, through big cities and tiny villages, the most remote beaches and waters in the world, high mountains and low valleys…how are we ever gonna process what we have seen?

We’ll think about that after our trip. 🙂 For now, we need a VISA for Cambodia, which is supposed to be super easy. First, they take our passport, 30$ AND: a photo. Guess how often we needed a photo for a VISA since we travel? Right, never. Which is why my pictures are in my backpack. And not here. Damn it. Luckily, sweet Jakub carries a pic of his girlfriend in his wallet and saves her VISA. 😉 Getting a taxi outside, we drive to our first hostel in Siem Reap, where we are about to meet Lissi! My friend who planned on visiting us for months and finally had the time to stop by, I am so happy. 🙂 We arrive at the hostel and there she is!! Joy and smiles, we hug each other and start talking and laughing like we only met a week ago. Friendship. ❤

We take a walk on the night market while Jakub gets a haircut and get ready for dinner with our friends from Australia, Marie & Frank. We have a nice evening, but need to go home soon because we’ll be seeing Angkor Wat tomorrow for the sunrise – means getting up at 4am, wuuaaa…

Our TukTuk driver is waiting patiently outside when we slowly crawl out of bed at 4am. We head to the ticket office of Angkor Wat to pay 37$ fee and get a mug shot kind of ticket for the whole day. It is still dark when we finally arrive at Angkor Wat and enter the beautiful dark walls over the bridge. We find a comfortable spot to watch the sunrise – the atmosphere is breathtaking!

To fully understand the buildings architecture and the history behind it, we get a guide who explains us a lot about the Hinduism, the Khmer,..After a quick breakfast break we head to the next spot, the Bayon temple. The whole area is huge, some people hired bikes for the day and make their way on their own. We are glad to have a guide pointing out the most famous temples, driving us around motorized in this heat. 🙂 Indeed, the temperature in this ares is incredibly high, it is sticky and we sweat with every step we take. Back to Bayon temple: it is a big stone formation, made of many faces.

We ended our day at Ta Phrom temple, which was magnificent. Trees have overgrown the area and nature worked its way through the building. Simply stunning to see.

Read more about it here:

Angkor Wat is an ancient city in Cambodia that was the center of the Khmer empire that once ruled most of Southeast Asia. This civilization went extinct, but not before building amazing temples and buildings that were reclaimed by the jungle for hundreds of years.

  • Angkor Wat – This temple was built by Suryavarman and is considered the biggest Asian pyramid. It is over 200 feet high and divided into several layers. The central part has four towers in the shape of a lotus flower. This temple is the largest in the whole complex and is where the historic site gets its name. The central temple complex has 2,600 feet of bas-reliefs, including famous battles and Buddhist scenes like the Battle of Kurukshetra, the Army of Suryavarman II, Heaven and Hell, Churning of the Ocean of Milk, Elephant Gate, Vishnu Conquers the Demons, Khrisna and the demon King, Battle of the Gods and the Demons, and the Battle of Lanka.
  • The Bayon – Built by Jayavarman VII, the temple stands in the center of Angkor Thom. With its 54 towers and 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara, this temple looks best in the morning just after sunrise or at the end of the afternoon when the sun shines on the faces. The temple was built on 3 levels: the first 2 are rectangular, while the 3rd is circular. This was my favorite—I really got a kick out of exploring all the little halls, rooms, and photographing the many faces.
  • Ta Prohm – Still covered by the jungle, this place is exactly as they found it. Ta Prohm makes it easy to imagine how the whole complex looked when it was re-discovered in the 19th-century. If you come early, you can avoid the crowds who arrive mid-day. It’s the second best complex behind Bayon in my opinion. (This temple was also made famous by the Tomb Raider movie.)

[Source: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-guides/cambodia-travel-tips/angkor-wat/]

A spectacular day!

The next day we book a bus and head to Battambang. Pick up time: 8:30h, at 9:15h our driver arrives… 😀 We drive through the Cambodian countryside for the next 4 hours. When we arrive we get out of the bus and surpisingly note that there is one TukTuk driver holding a sign up with my name on…how did he know we’d arrive since I didn’t advice the hostel?! Turns out that this nice man has been driving around all morning to every bus stops to catch us, awww. 🙂 Of course, he doesn’t ask for any money but invites us to pay him for a daytrip around Battambang in the afternoon. Sounds fair and he is super nice. 🙂 We start at 1:30pm in a local restaurant to have lunch and then chug through the countryside of Battambang.

The first stop is the bamboo train in the middle of nowhere. It’s basically a flexible wooden construction with 4 tires and a tiny engine. 🙂 We start speeding up and laugh a lot about this hilarious transportation manner, particularly because on the way we have to get up, dissassemble the whole thing to let other bamboo trains pass. 😀 The end of the rail is a small village with friendly local people & kids selling souvenirs.

When we return, our TukTuk driver waits patiently to bring us to the next destination, a temple high up on a hill overlooking the whole area! Close to it is our last stop for the day, the bat caves…when dusk is falling, thousands of bats fly out of their cave to hunt. We see clouds of black bats flying over the area and the stream just doesn’t stop, it’s crazy!

Because we had so much fun with our driver, we decide to do a half day trip with him the next day on which he drives us around local villages. It was so great to see how Cambodians there live. One family produces the rice wraps for Sushi, handmade with fire and wooden frames, others dry bananas from their plantains to sell them on markets or to stores…others produce rice wine which we get to try, strong rice wine! 🙂 We try sweet rice in a bamboo stick and visit the fish market. All in all our days in Battambang were educating, especially the last stop where we got to see a memorial sight for the thousands of dead people who were tortured and killes during the Khmer Rouge regimen in the 70s.

Sadly, we have to say good bye to Lissi who flies back to Germany in the evening from Siem Reap…Jakub and I however continue our trip through Cambodia and eventually land in Koh Kong! Our plan is to hike the jungle in the Cardamom Mountains – lucky us, because for tomorrow they have 2 spots along with another couple for a 2-day trip into the wild. 🙂 Sounds venturesome, we’re in.

We start at 9am when our guide Dina picks us up. Accidentally, the couple who will hike with us stays in the same guesthouse as we do! Germans, younger than we are, travel through Cambodia. Before our group makes the way in the jungle, we get some water and food from his families restaurant, very nice and friendly people! And then we start trekking deep into the jungle…oh no, wait. Most important before we set one foot in the forest: we put on our long pants, stuff our pants in the socks and then we can start. You’ll learn why… 🙂

Already after the first 30 minutes we are pretty exhausted all together – it’s challenging to walk through this jungle, mainly because you have obstcales to overcome everywhere. There’s barely any path, sometimes our second guide needs to cut away branches and leaves with his machete. Moreover, from right, left and above us plants grow into the way, so you keep ducking, dodging and balancing. 🙂 AND: there are many many leeches!! That’s the reason why we wear pants stuffed in the socks. 😀 Their reaction works like this: since we all walk behind one another, the first person in the line wakes the leeches up. They bob up, smell the sweat and blood and the next person passing them is their victim. Fortunately, Dina showed us quickly how to remove them (DO NOT touch them, otherwise they start sucking your finger – flick them away) and after a couple of hours we were higher and saw no more leeches.

Our lunch break in the middle of the woods was super delicious and again we saw: you can pack food without plastic bags which pollute the forest. The rice was wrapped in banana leaves and still warm, chicken and veggies in 2 boxes. So good!

We continue and finally see our base camp for the night – 6 hammocks, covered makeshift by a plastic roof, next to a huge beautiful river and a fire place close by. Wonderfully simple. 🙂 We are happy to have a roof covering us, because 30 min after our arrival and after we took a refreshing swim in the river it starts to rain. Another group of hikers appears at the camp – a family with a small child of 3 years…I admire these parents, being in the jungle for 2 nights with such a small child.

Our guides start the fire and soon some very delicious looking meat/veggie-skewers grill on the open fire, mmmhh. All together we sit unter the roof, eat from banana leaves, pass along Cambodian whiskey and have lots of fun. 🙂 The night we spend surprisingly comfortable in our hammocks, covered with mosquito nets and only the forest around us…

Together with the sun we wake up and have a rests-from-yesterday breakfast. 😉 The next 4 hours we hike another way out of the jungle and end up on a dust road. From there, a van picks us up and we spend the last hour at the Tatai waterfall. What a cool adventure! We were all sweaty, it was very humid in the forest, but a great get away.

After these 2 busy days we long for some relaxing, which is why we decide to stop at the coast of Cambodia in Sihanoukville. Our bungalow is close to Otres beach, a tiny village with only little things to do but a maximum factor of relaxation. 🙂 Other than reading books, snorkelling or enjoying our pool we don’t do a lot and it feels great.

The last stop in Cambodia for us is Phnom Penh. We booked a bus and within 7 hours we’re in the buzzing capital. Since we haven’t bought many sounvenirs  for family & friends so far, the first thing we need to do the next day is to see the Central & Russian Market to get some stuff! 🙂 Besides the keychains, bags and elephant pants which are typical for souvenir markets, we find a lot of sports clothes on the Russian market – brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour! Shopping time. 😀

2 hours later we leave the market, exhausted but satisified – we found something for everyone! To treat ourselves, Jakub desides to go all local this evening and have self-prepared dinner. That means that we order 10 different small dishes (almost like Tapas! :)), mushrooms, veggies, prawns, meat balls,…along with a small stove and a big pot with boiling broth. We throw veggies and salad in, boil mushrooms, shrimps and stuff we don’t even know what it is – the result was amazingly good!

Before we leave Cambodia, we wanted to learn more about the Khmer regime and visit the S-21 Prison, known as the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide:

Tuol Svay Pray High School sits on a dusty road on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the high school S-21 and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center. Of the 14,000 people known to have entered, only seven survived. Not only did the Khmer Rouge carefully transcribe the prisoners’ interrogations; they also carefully photographed the vast majority of the inmates and created an astonishing photographic archive. Each of the almost 6,000 S-21 portraits that have been recovered tells a story shock, resignation, confusion, defiance and horror. Although the most gruesome images to come out of Cambodia were those of the mass graves, the most haunting were the portraits taken by the Khmer Rouge at S-21. [source: http://www.killingfieldsmuseum.com/s21-victims.html]

It was horrifying and terrible to be in the actual building were so many innocent people died, to hear the audio guides voice narrating stories of prisoners and what has happened, to comprehend that people died randomly…we both had goosebumps, but were glad to learn more about the history of Cambodia.

The 3 weeks here passed so fast! We enjoyed travelling Cambodia a lot and definitely wanna return for more Asian countries – most likely on another trip. 😉

អរគុណ, Cambodia!

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