Cambodia – Temples, Rain, and Crabs!

26 10 2010

After Thailand and Laos, I took the train to Cambodia and spent 9 lovely days there: exploring the Angkor temples at Siem Reap, getting soaked with rain in Phnom Penh, and feasting on crab in Cambodia’s “Riviera”, Kep. While a short visit, and one spent mainly on “the trail”, I nevertheless managed some authentic Cambodian experiences, and wished I could have stayed longer (but the stupid idea I had to get my Chinese visa way back in the Philippines means I can’t dawdle, as it expires at the start of November).

I didn’t really know what to anticipate as I entered Cambodia, as the guidebooks and some travellers I met before depicted it as some sort of ruined ‘danger area’, while others spoke highly of it and said how they fell in love with it. I erred on the side of optimism and, sure enough, was not unsurprised to discover a country with friendly people and a level of infrastructure not unlike Laos or Vietnam. Admittedly, I didn’t explore the ‘rougher’ Northern and Western parts of the country, but, nevertheless, with the world developing at an exponentially higher rate each year, the situation in these areas is improving faster than the guidebooks and traveller tales can spread about them (e.g. My guidebook claimed that the road from the Thai border to Siem Reap was “like crossing the craters of the moon”, yet was perfectly smooth pavement!). In short, I’m sure 5-10 years ago, Cambodia was a much rougher place to visit, as it was still recovering from the Khmer Rouge mess, but now, in my experience, it really wasn’t any less safe or scary than anywhere else I’ve been. That said, the Khmer people themselves were a bit on the ‘rougher’ side, I guess you could say, in that I got hassled more by motorcycle taxis and other touts than anywhere else I’ve been, and received a bit less curiosity/friendliness from the city folk, though its understandable, given the past that most of the older folks have endured. And the country folk more than made up for it, who were generally super friendly and welcoming, as I have found country folk to be all over SE Asia.

Happily, Cambodia was also a place where my language-learning efforts paid off handsomely. Most people were very surprised that I bothered to learn even a single word of the language (which is quite difficult, admittedly), and my attempts got me rewarded with some nice discounts (e.g. on the drive in from the border, I got a beer for a buck at one of the roadside taxi stops {which sell notoriously over-priced stuff}, while some other clueless dudes paid TEN bucks for the same beer! {it also, obviously, helps to know the exchange rate between the local currency and US dollars!}) and some nice friendships, including that of a Cambodian family in Kep that I met who didn’t speak a word of English between all 4 of them, but who nevertheless invited me to spend the night at their home and communicated decently with me through my limited Khmer and creative charades! It’s experiences like that that one remembers most from a trip – not the museums or the other canned tourist culture that one can be so easily drawn into – so I was very grateful for the opportunity!

In Cambodia, I spent 2 hardcore days touring the Angkor temples (most take 3, some take a week – its a big area), during which time I caught a great sunset and sunrise over the temples, and rented a bicycle to explore the area. This also resulted in a great “for the grandkids”-type of story: On the 2nd day, I took the bicycle out to the far-flung Angkor temples – about 60km out into the Siem Reap countryside (i.e. a 120km+ round trip! A new record for me in distance, though it should be noted that it was completely flat). The ride out there was great – warm and sunny and with lots of roadside villagers greeting me with warm surprise (most other tourists take taxis), and took a leisurely 4ish hours (with stops). However, pretty much as soon as I started heading back, the heavens opened and it poured on me, monsoon-style – and with strong winds in my face (making the biking difficult and slow) for pretty much the whole rest of the way back. To make matters worse, I had chosen to return on a different route, a route that was basically devoid of any homes and was just empty fields as far as the eye could see, meaning I had nowhere to take refuge and no friendly faces to give me encouragement! And to make matters even worse, the last 2.5 hours of the ride occurred after the sunset, and with no light on my bike or on the streets (or from the nonexistent homes), I was basically riding blind, except for the occasional lights of passing cars. While I made it back in one piece, it certainly wasn’t particularly pleasant!!

After Angkor, I spent a couple similarly wet days in Phnom Penh. During my time there, it was raining almost continuously, with large parts of the city experiencing minor flooding. Needless to say, this made sightseeing difficult, due to my stubborn refusal to take taxis anywhere, but I still managed to get in visits to the important Khmer Rouge sites of S21 and Choueng Ek, as well as the Royal Palace, Central Market, and other downtown areas. PP is a decent city with what seems to be a large – and very separated and non-integrated – expat community (i.e. Lexus-driving, villa-living, fancy restaurant-eating dicks), though next time I’d like to see it in the sunshine!

After PP, I took a 1-night trip to the former “Riviera” of Cambodia (pre-Khmer Rouge), where many French colonialists had built seaside villas (now crumbling ruins) for themselves, of Kep – a town now known for its crab – and Kampot – a town world famous for its peppercorns. I rented a motorcycle in Kep and putted around the countryside, meeting that aforementioned Cambodian family in the process at their market shop and proceeding to eat one of the best meals of my life of fresh pepper crab, eaten in a hammock by the beach. The weather was better here too, so I had a generally glorious time!

In short, I was pleased with Cambodia and would happily return at any time, as I’d love to explore the North of the country, where there are apparently some nice parks, and meet more friendly villagers! Here are some pics! Next up, Vietnam!

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4 responses

29 10 2010
Andrew

Those temples are pretty wicked.

Remind me, when will you be returning to us?

29 10 2010
Julian

Yo,

Not for awhile! Maybe in March? Unless I get myself killed or run out of money before then! (I was in a nasty motorcycle accident recently – I’ll blog about it next time)

Peace,

8 11 2010
Dennis Weber

Fabulous! Plain and simple. I am enjoying your trip of a life time with you via this great material. I know it takes you a while to compose enter and to do it all, but I want you to know I appreciate it very much. It is fresh, current, and where you currently are at. It would be impossible to sit together in Vancouver and get to see and hear the depth of experiences you are going through, to the same degree. Thanks Julian! keep it up. Be safe and travel well!

11 11 2010
filipinojulian

Glad you like it Dennis! As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing! Hehe.
Best wishes,
Julian

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