Our Journey to Cambodia also starts from Bangkok’s HuaLamphong Station. Third Class seats are the only cars available on this route. The approx 6 hour journey costs a whopping 48 Baht ($1.85 CAD) This is a true Thai train experience, there are not too many foreigners on this route, mostly locals. The only downside is most of the seats were broken, and uncomfortable, but that is all part of the experience.
Our accommodations on the train were far from comfortable and that really affected our desire to snap lots of photos. So here we are 6 hours later at the Border Crossing to Cambodia. This is chaos. You need to stamp out of Thailand, walk thru a large area packed with Casinos, obtain a Visa for Cambodia and then cross into Cambodia. The area in the middle with the Casinos I guess is part of Cambodia, but technically you have not been thru Cambodia Immigration yet??
This border is unique to only a handful of land crossings in the World. Why? Thailand drives on the left side and Cambodia drives on the right side. So any vehicles need to somehow switch to the other side.
Visa’s are issued, we walk thru the border, and get on a free shuttle bus that takes you to the Bus station. From here you need to travel another 4 hours by car to Siem Reap. Your options are a taxi, minibus or full size bus. We met an Italian / Thai couple on the way and split the cost of the taxi.
Decades of War have left Cambodia in a terrible financial state. The country is essentially broke. Cambodia is about 5 Billion in Debt and the country does not have a very strong economy to repay this debt. Vietnam is apparently on the receiving end of most of these loans. The point of this information, is this beautiful paved road is fairly new. Before it was dirt/ potholed pavement. Cambodia has been unable to rebuilt its railway system since the wars, unlike Vietnam which has a thriving railway system.
Our Taxi dropped us off in Siem Reap at a sort of transit station. The first Tuk Tuk driver that zeroed in on us at the Transit station turned out to be a real scammer. Tyler had to physically push him out of the way to get away from him. We then found this driver above, who took us to the hotel with no issues.
Cambodia uses a slightly different style of Tuk Tuk than Bangkok. (better photo further in this post). In Siem Reap you usually hire the Tuk Tuk for the entire day ($15 USD). Due to instability in Cambodia due to decades of Wars and Governments changing, the currency has changed many times, therefor the US Dollar is the main currency. Everything is negotiated in US Dollars.
Aya found a good looking hotel online with excellent reviews. (Angkor Twinkle Villa) The reviews said the hotel is excellent, brand new, but off the beaten path. It is still only a 3 minute Tuk Tuk ride from downtown, but it seems to be a new area for hotel development. The hotel turned out to be spectacular. The nicest on our entire trip, and one of he cheapest ($24USD per night, with free breakfast)
This place was unreal, if you are going to Siem Reap, this has to be the best value.
Our original plan was to travel by land to Saigon in Vietnam and travel by Train to Hanoi, due to Tet Holiday in Vietnam, all of the train tickets were sold out. We had to pick up a last minute flight, and therefor only had two nights / three days in Cambodia. We didn’t waste any time and booked a guide and Tuk Tuk the next day to see Angkor Wat.
So Cambodian Tuk Tuk are different from Thailand. They strap a trailer to a scooter and that’s it. These are actually much more comfortable and quieter than the Thai Tuk Tuk’s, and they can carry four passengers.
Our day tour will bring us to the three most famous Temples. Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm.
Finally out of that Thailand pollution and we can see the sun, hence the sunglasses.
Some facts about Angkor Thom: established in the late twelve century, the area is surrounded by an 8 meter wall and moat. The walls are 3km each, with the interior space being 9 square kms. According to our guide 1 Million people lived within these walls during its heyday.
Angkor Thom has 200 faces like this one above, they are all identical except for one.
Ta Prohm was made famous by being featured in the Hollywood Movie Tomb Raider, our tour guide actually calls the temple Tomb Raider instead of Ta Prohm. This place was spectacular!! Built around 1300, (one km from Angkor Thom) it was abandoned and forgotten about in 1700. This place was given back to the surrounding jungle and nature took over, it is simply stunning to see the trees growing out of the stone.
covering two temples really works up an appetite, so its lunch time.
Having never tasted Milkfruit before, it is good, but not too much flavour. (they taste the same, just different colors)
Finally, the one and only Angkor Wat. One thing I have not mentioned yet that is quite interesting- All of these temples were built as Hindu Temples and were changed to Buddhist temples. As the Religion of Cambodia changed over the centuries, the temples had to adapt. Pictures of Hindu Gods, Ganesha and Vishnu dominate many of the murals, Buddhist aspects were added later on. Sadly, like anywhere you look in Cambodia, war has left its mark on Angkor Wat. Every head on every statue, Buddha and Hindu god was stolen during the many wars. Some have been found around the world and have been returned, but many are still missing and likely will never be found. The size of Angkor was is its biggest feature in my opinion, it is massive.
That’s all we had time for in one day, so back to the Hotel for a shower (it was a hot day)
The next morning was out last day in Cambodia as we were forced to book a last minute flight to get to Hanoi. As stated before Tet Holiday means everything is booked. So we made the most of our last day, renting another Tuk Tuk for the day. The deal, take us to the Landmine Museum, Lunch, The downtown market, Dinner and drop us off at the airport at 8pm (all for $15USD)
Our Tuk Tuk was running low on petrol- so we had to make a stop at the gas station. (Gas is in the old water bottles on the right)
Cambodia you are amazing, Anyone contemplating a visit, it is so worth it.
“It is always sad to leave a place to which one knows one will never return. Such are the melancolies du voyage: perhaps they are one of the most rewarding things about traveling.” – Gustave Flaubert
So here is the skinny on Landmines: they are terrible. During War they may be somewhat acceptable if a Soldier steps on them, but you always run the risk of a child finding one. Mines are still used today- but they are switch activated, instead of Victim activated. No one is going to hid out for 50 years waiting to push the switch, whereas actual land mines are still out there waiting for a target to step on them. During our 3 days in Cambodia we saw 15+ people missing legs, feet and arms walking around. Most of them were carrying signs stating they were landmine victims, out of respect for them, we did not take any photos. There are still an estimated 4-6 Million unexploded mines in Cambodia. Cambodia is home to an estimated 40,000 amputees. At the Museum, we heard a staff member explaining a child had been killed a few weeks prior to our visit by a land mine.
This is a very serious issue- in comes Mr. Aki Ra, he was a soldier fighting at various times for the army of the day in Vietnam / Cambodia. He planted thousands of mines during his time as a soldier and since 1992 he has personally removed approx. 50,000 landmines. He know also runs the Museum.
These things are dynamite! much better than the deep fried version. wait for it….. this is how tasty they are (below)
We walked around for another few hours, and then off to the airport. Check out the size of this trailer being pulled by a scooter.
Old School Tarmac stairs, so long Cambodia.