Our first, albeit brief, stop was to the capital Phnom Penh. While we awaited our onward bus towards the coastline, we relaxed for a few hours amid cheeky monkeys in the park and, well, everywhere! They climb down the telephone and electrical posts and tuck into lotus seed pods while watching the traffic pass. We decided that we would be back as this seemed the first capital city that actually interested us.
We made our way south to Sihanoukville (or Snookerville/S-ville, depending on how tired we were) which was a little different to how we pictured it to be. Turns out it is a pretty touristed area for westerners to get drunk, party all night and get lucky with the local ladies (for a fee..). Not our cup of tea and the beach was not worth the stay, so we made a plan B. We met up with our good friend (read: bromance) Eckel, who came over from cold Denmark to see us, which was nice. Poor guy had been waiting for arrival for 3 or 4 days in the town! We headed off to a good sized island called Koh Rong, about a 2hour boat journey from Sihanoukville. For an island of 70 sq.miles, there wasnt a lot of things going one there.... just how we like it! I believe the entire island has no more that 50 or so people on it at anyone time and its all about staying in wooden bungalows and treehouses. A spotless island with truly postcard views of beaches and jungles. In fact, Eckel and James got a bit carried away with the thought of all the jungle that they dragged Yana on some wild goose chase in trying to cross back across the island to the bungalow, only to get lost and resort to enlisting the help of some local lumberjacks (who in turn guided us on their own goose chase, all these geese!) to navigate our way back. 2.5 hours later, we got there in the black of night and smiles all round (minus Yana, who didnt see the funny side of it, James and Eckel were positively beaming at the adventure). It's unbelievable that the island is so deserted, but we are so thankful for it too.
From the beauty of nature to the beauty of man... We took an overnight bus up to Siam Reap, home of the infamous Angkor temples. An early wake up at 5am got us to Angkor Wat in time to see the sunrise over the worlds largest religious building and what a beautiful sight it was! Moving on to Angkor Thom, the now defunct city next to the temple, which used to have a population of over a million while London was struggling on 50,000! Many temples where visited in the area, including Ta Phrom, the ruins that were over grown with vegetation and trees, making it feel like you were indeed the wild adventurer. On the whole it was an awesome day out, not as crowded as we believed it would be and a great look at the marvels of man's creations on an awe inspiring scale.
The city of Siam Reap itself turned out to be a delight aswell. Normally we have found the local city to a famous attraction to be nothing more that a souless feeder town, but not in this case. A lovely night market, a pleasant vibe in the air and more sorbets than we could eat! Lots of relaxing and wandering as the Cambodians rang in the New Year with a 3 day celebration that had everyone in jovial spirits.
Heading back to Phonm Penh, we sadly said goodbye to Eckel as he returned home and we embarked on a few days of learning about the genocide through the Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge regime.
Our first stop was Tuol Sleng, aka S-21. A former school turned prison camp for torture of anyone deemed to appose or threaten the Khmer regime's ideals of a rural population, banning any education or ownership and sending millions to the countryside to farm and die of starvation and disease. S-21 is an eery place, it has been left untouched since the day it was liberated, still with torture devices laying in the rooms and a real sense that it was only months ago, not 30 years. All 17,000 prisoners here were photographed and logged, with around 5000 of the 'mugshots' being recovered in the liberation and displayed on the walls for historical purpose. Seeing into all those lost faces and reading the testimonies of the 6 survivors (6 out of 17,000 over 3 years. They survived by using their artistic or creative skills to the aid of the Khmer Rouge in the prison) is very haunting and moving.
We then headed on to the killing fields, where those who did not die in the tortures of S-21, were taken to be executed. Mass graves consumed men, women and children (without the use of bullets to save money). Although overgrown, bones still protrude out of the soil and clothing bonds with earth and teeth lay scattered around. Again, moving. Most of the bones and skulls were collected and are now housed in a huge monument which you can walk around and view all the remains of what truly is a dark era for these utterly delightful people.
Now, with our spirits in deep thought for the history of Cambodia, we leave the country for Malaysia and say goodbye to some of the most genuinely nice people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting!