Angkor Wat at sunrise.
Entering via perhaps the most makeshift border crossing ever, consisting of hardly more than three or four shacks in a row, inbetween which people sold water and ciggarettes, I knew I was in Cambodia. The dusty red road full of more pot holes than actual road surface only added to the general feeling that I had arrived at a very poor country. Yet 4 hours later I arrived in Sihanoukville, a name I still can't correctly pronounce, and I was back on the luxurious backpacker trail. Might as well have been titled Westernville. Lots of white people and lots of children combing the beaches trying to sell illegally copied books and handmade bracelets.
Shoe shopping at the market.
But ok, I was at another beach and decided to relax. I secured myself a rather lumpy cushioned beach chair and set in to read. 20 minutes later, after numerous women offered to shave my legs, "how hairy they are!" - ok lady, you try being on the road in terrible showers and keep your legs shaved all the time! - but I digress, or give me a back massage, a girl around 11 approaches and forces me into receiving a "free" bracelet (aka one for free, then you buy one). After refusing and not having that work she proceeded to make me one anyways when she suddenly asked me, nonchalantly, what a blow-job was. I gasphed/laughed not expecting that at all. I asked her where she heard that from (a bunch of Western guys of course) and I told her she was too young to know.
A guy jumped through a ring of knives to techno music, just for 1000 riel tip from us.
She persisted and I kept saying no, someday she'll learn. She then looked at me, smiled, and goes "oooh, I know!" End of awkward discussion.
I met a Swedish girl who was nice, but otherwise my time in Sihanoukville progressed rather uneventfully. I bumped into the New Zealand couple again, for the last time unbeknownst to me, and hung out with them. I then signed up for a snorkeling tour which turned out to be an experience. It was myself and 7 guys - for some reason I'm always surrounded by guys on this trip - and the snorkeling itself was awful, it was raining at the beach we went to, and on the ride back the wind and rain were so intense, and painful!, that one of the guys put back on a snorkeling mask to protect his eyes.
My first elephant sighting of the trip!
That was actually pretty funny. I left the next day.
Phnom Penh was a blur at first, just a whirl of a grungy looking street and even grungier looking guesthouse rooms. I headed for the lake, the central backpacker area, and was accosted by a hundred guesthouse owners. I finally chose one and immediately met Billy Bailey from Arkansas in the computer area. We grabbed some dinner and drinks, heading to a shady nightclub called MGM club that was mostly empty besides a handful of prostitutes and the employees. It was 8:30 though. Heading back to the safety of backpacker lane we ended up at the BK bar and spent the night talking to the nicest older barkeeper ever. Such a nice guy. He even remembered my name the next night! Billy proclaimed "I'm American, I'm no good at beer" aka math, when we were totaling the bill.
Climbing up the steep steps to watch the sunset at Angkor.
He's apparently not very good at vocabulary either haha. At some point there was a whole bunch of commotion outside the bar and we found out there was a fire at one of the guesthouses. Luckily it wasn't one of ours, but it was kinda fun to watch people running around panicking. I think I'm a horrible person. Enjoying the excitement of a fire.
ANYWAYS the next day I went on a trial tour, for free! yesss, with a couple couchsurfers, Niall and Elma. It was sooo much fun. We took a boat across the Mekong River and biked around the countryside where every child came running up to the road to wave and shout "hello!" as many times as possible before we drifted out of sight. We then ate lunch on a stitled platform over the river and visited an orphanage where we brought some books and handed out sweets.
Holding up the structure singlehandedly.
It was so sad to hear some of their stories. One of the girls was found as a baby tied up in a box behing a dumpster. She was saved and is now 10 years old, but you can tell she has some developmental problems. What a horrible story, it's so great that she was found and is safe now. I then talked to this one girl who was so cute and talkative, a typical 12 year old. We had a connection. I wonder if she's on facebook... The following day was filled with palaces (where I had to rent a cloth - who knows when the last time it was washed - to make a skirt out of due to my shorts being "too short"), pagodas, and so-so Mexican food.
But the NEXT day (I need a better intro into my sentences) I visited the haunting S-21 prison and the Killing Fields.
Hard to tell from this picture, but we were quite high up. Therefore the pose makes sense.. I'm not a complete idiot.
A little background, the Khmer Rouge was a revolutionary group who took control from 1975-1979 and in that time brutally tortured and slaughtered almost 3 million of their own people. Many were held at S-21, a school-turned-prison, where even today you can see pools of blood on the floor and skattered on the walls. It was a horrible, horrible experience. They documented all the prisoners detained and tortured there, including numerous women and children. It was unbeliveably touching and I literally cried after seeing the blood. The Killing Fields, where they made the prisoners march to their graves, was not as bad somehow. The holes were still there, the "Killing Tree" where they swung and smashed babies against to kill them, was still there, and a stupa was erected as a memorial to house the bones found there.
Dinner with guys from the hostel.
Sobering experience to say the least. My friendly bartender friend told me his uncle and grandmother were killed. It's unreal to think how recently this occured and it's even more incredible to see the Cambodian people moving on with their lives. It's truly inspiring.
Afterwards I headed up to Siem Reap. The 6 hour bus ride included a rest stop in a place, Lord knows the name, where tarantulas are a specialty. There were buckets of live ones in which the local women casually scooped the out and fried them to sell to all the disgusted looking Western travelers. Yuck. Siem Reap though had an awesome hostel, complete with AC and a pool.
Hot air balloon over the ruins.
I met a few people there and we hit up the local market and basically just hung around enjoying the scene. That night Renato, a Brazilian guy in my room, and I headed to Angkor Wat to catch the sunset. It was pretty cloudy though so it was anticlimatic. Still awesome to see the ruins at dusk though. The following morning we woke up at 4am to get there for sunrise. We somehow missed the cool orange-red stage, but got there in time to see the sun come up. We then wandered around the main temple, amazed by how intact, large, and intricately carved it was. Incredible how they were able to build these massive structures a thousand years ago.. must be like the Egyptian Pyramids. The aliens did it. However it was done, it was breathtaking and so much fun to explore the ruins, some with trees growing in and all around.
Me and some topless ladies.
I felt like Lara Croft. Angor Wat was full of surprises. Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. T, even sported a Christmas stocking hat on his head. Very festive for a Buddhist.
Renato and I ended up meeting a cool group of travellers and hit up Pub Street with them on my last night. We headed to Viva for some awesome (by SE Asian standards) Mexican food - it's about time! - and lots of drinking at Angor What? Bar, where I got a free t-shirt for buying two buckets. Score! Awkward pictures and drunkeness insued, more on my companions part than on my own as I decided I couldn't handle one more hungover long bumpy bus ride. I left early, via a Playboy tuk-tuk no less, and no I'm not joking. I don't think the driver thought it was as funny as I did though. But, good good times. And I was mostly ok the next day. Proud of myself.