There are no wrong turning. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.
Day 52: After a quick layover in Bangkok where Luke kissed his Mary goodbye, we set foot on already the sixth country of our whirlwind trip through Southeast Asia, Cambodia. Our stay in Phnom Penh is short-lived as we decide to hop on the night bus with direction to Siem Reap, which entails a 6-hour ride up north.
Day 54: Another brutal early morning but we have a great reason for this. Today we have one of the World Wonders on our travel menu. My alarm wakes me at 4 am. I try to be as quiet as possible in our 30-bed dorm and notice other shadows moving around in the room who are getting ready for the same adventure, visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park. The best time to visit is very early in the morning for several reasons. It is less crowded, it is less hot and you can see the sunrise over Angkor Wat.
We arranged a tuk-tuk driver for the day together with a few other backpackers. Our driver picks us up at the hostel and drives us to our first of many stops today, the ticket office. Here you need to show your passport, pay your entrance fee (option between 1, 3, or 7 days), and have your picture taken that is printed on your ticket that you need to keep close with you for the entire time you are in the park. Once you are through this process you return to the driver who brings you to the entrance of the first part of the park; Angkor Wat, which means City of Temples. If you ever fantasized about having this sunrise picture perfect with just you and the ancient gods at 5 am in front of the main temple, think again! You will probably share that shattered dream with hundreds of others, even this early in the morning. It is an amazing experience, nonetheless. Once the sun has risen people start to scatter around the park and you have a bit more breathing room to explore the site. A little later we return to our tuk-tuk driver who brings us to our next stop, Angkor Thom. This site is like a big adult playground. You can walk around the many different temples and even climb to the roof to get a better view of the enormous historic domain. The most iconic part of this place is most likely the Bayon. This Buddhist temple looks very average from afar but it is when you get up close and personal, you discover a new world of enchantment and recognize the infamous faces.
We continue our archeological journey to Ta Prohm, which is most known from Tomb Raider. Nature and culture have been playing an ancient game of tag here where nature is currently winning while it consuming the temples with numerous tree branches growing through the temple complex. This park is a phenomenally beautiful place to see and if time would permit, we could easily spend a few more hours here to check out some other sites. But the high temperatures, our travel schedule, and our tuk-tuk driver decide differently, and not much later we are on our way back to the hostel. By now it is already quite late in the afternoon and we cool off by the pool until the sun sets and temperatures start to drop again. With a few hours to go before we travel back to Phnom Penh, we explore the city of Siem Reap for an evening meal. The evening market and the touristy streets here are very lively and everyone is trying to sell something to you. We respectfully decline for a happy ending and go for a sleepless one instead on board the night bus back to the capital.
Day 56: We already learned a bit about the Khmer Rouge and the terrible things Pol Pot and his regime has done to this country but today we get to see two of the most depressing places on our entire trip; the Visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. We start with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which used to be a school before the Khmer Rouge started to transform this place into a security prison (S21) where they tortured, interrogated, and executed thousands of people between 1975 and 1978. Only 7 of them made it out alive.
Upon arrival, all prisoners were photographed and documented before they were tortured in one of the many places in this house of hell. If they weren’t nearly drowned in the courtyard or tortured on their rusted beds, they most likely encountered another grueling torture experience during their captivity here. If they survived the horrors at S21, they were told they were being transferred to another place. The officers picked up the prisoners in a large truck in the evening to be brought to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where they were killed. This place looks peaceful today but please don’t be fooled, this place harbors some of the most horrific events in history where prisoners were demanded to kneel down were clubbed to death with various sorts of weapons. No bullets, because those were too expensive… They were then thrown in the many mass graves here at the Killing Fields.
After our visit to these two sites, we were feeling empty and overwhelmed by this eye-opening experience. It is an absolute must-see when you are visiting Cambodia as we need to have a better understanding of what horrors happened here not even half a century ago. Both places offer audio tours that help you to get an idea of this dark past.
Day 59: We are traveling through Cambodia during the monsoon season and ever since we arrived here in Sihanoukville it has been pouring rain. We are stranded in this coastal city that is known as a cruise port to more exotic islands. Due to the bad weather, we decided to not go to Koh Rong and just return to Phnom Penh tomorrow. The two-night stay here was far from exciting but at least it gave us the chance to recharge our batteries for tomorrow when we are returning to Phnom Penh once more, saying goodbye to our friend Luke who suddenly decided to return to Germany. Seba and I will hop on another bus towards our next country on our list, Vietnam.