Chau Doc, Vietnam. This is where you pick up the boat that takes you into the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Having arrived at the bus station, we hopped in a Xe Om which wasn’t more than a relatively flat cart attached to the back of a bicycle and made our way the 4 km to the hotel. There isn’t much in this town and it’s fairly cheap in comparison to every where else we’ve been, but they do have a few markets and we were able to take in some of the local cuisine, namely what Vietnam is known for, Pho. Just to give you an idea, 2 7-ups and 2 bowls of Pho cost us $2.12 USD…..(got ya beat Maia!!!) And let me tell ya….it was filling….and delicious! Being the town that is on the river, most of the activity that is based down there is based around the water. Any stroll down the pier you might see people fishing with nets, a house boat or two……and a house boat that redefines house boats!
The journey up the river wasn’t too bad, lasting around 5 hours or so which included the boarder crossing. All of this went fairly smoothly as the boat we were on had a guy that took all of the passports, filled in all of the relevant forms, and expedited the entire process…..including the haggling over Visa fees….and of course the obligatory bribe fees…..just because they can.
We decided that we would only stay in Phnom Penh for roughly 24 hours before catching a bus to Siem Reap, i.e. Angkor Wat. So we planned and packed in the major sights before hopping on a bus for 6 hours, which cost btw 6 USD. We chose the Paragon Hotel which while having nice, clean rooms and a friendly staff charging the going rate and happy to help arrange transport or help out in anyway possible…..also turned out to be the popular spot with the local prostitutes…..we witnessed 4 different local girls bringing their much older, gray haired white men inside. Rumor has it with Thailand really cracking down now….Cambodia is an easy hop skip and jump away for the sex tourists, and because of the corruption….with a little extra money, you can fairly easily buy yourself a year long Visa at the boarder.
After all of the death that loomed in the air from the worst high school I think we could find in Cambodia…..we made our way over to the Royal Palace which was a nice change from all of the gloom. Surrounded by Lotus flowers and about a dozen temples…it’s a great place to spend a few hours and do some sight seeing.
The next day we woke early and made our way out to what has become known as the Killing Fields. This is where the Rouge would kill and bury the thousands that they murdered over the years in mass graves in a remote part of the country side about a half hour out of town. It is hard to imagine that such atrocities could have occurred in a place that is so beautiful.
One thing to note about Cambodia is that it is very, very corrupt. There is an additional fee for just about everything. Speaking with one of the guest house owners he was saying it’s not too bad on the day to day level, but the corruption does have a trickle down effect, for instance his 256 kb internet connection costs him 220 USD per month. Ouch….if you are not technical, to give you and idea, if you are viewing this page from home over your cable modem, you have roughly a 7,000 kb connection for probably around 45 USD a month.
You might be curious why I’m quoting everything in USD. Well…..if you go to an ATM and pull out money….you can ONLY get United States Dollars. You can’t even pull Cambodian money out of a machine, which has an exchange around 1 USD to 4000 of the local currency. Which works out, because small change is always handed back in Cambodian, and places happily take both, but only quote prices in USD. Several places I’ve traveled to over the past year take both their local currency as well as USD, but I’ve never been to a place where their economy is based completely on that of another country, an odd thing to say the least.
Angkor Wat and all of the temples were amazing to wander around in. It’s easy to see how the vegetation has taken and is still taking a toll on the structures there. While seeing a tree grow out of and in between a pile of rocks….you realize that the pile used to be part of a building and the roots, over time, just grew and grew until the stones shifted enough to turn the building into a pile of rubble. After spending a few days there and seeing site after site, it’s easy to see how people can spend a week here running from temple to temple. The area is filled with them and some are a few hours ride from town. If you are planning on coming to the area be sure to save at least 3 or 4 days to see the temples before you become ‘Wated’ out.
Siem Reap has embraced tourism in a big way. The Old Town area is teeming with restaurants and shops where you can get just about any type of food and about anything else that you need. From the Blue Pumpkin bakery which has some of the best half priced croissants (after 7 pm) you can find in Cambodia, to Viva’s Mexican joint which had the best Enchiladas that I’ve ever had….so good we went there twice ?. We also enjoyed the Dead Fish Tower restaurant. This place was the definition of eclectic and a must see if you come to see the temples of Angkor. While all of the seating is on different, very randomly arranged levels, the center is open so that you can see the stage where on some nights they have a solo performer, in our case a guitar player signing away to some of the more popular tunes. Don’t lean too far back though as you might fall 20 to 30 feet since there are no railings to hold you back. There were also, by my count, 7 crocodiles, 1 duck, 2 ducklings, 1 rat, 1 frog, 4 or 5 fish….all inside the restaurant.