Monday, August 25, 2008

Cambodia (Aug. 15 - Aug. 25)

Moving forward smoothly, we crossed the Vietnam-Cambodia border on August 15th. The direct bus connection from Ho-Chi-Minh City to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, was a fairly reasonable choice. But so as not to have it too easy (having already passed a great deal tougher borders), we were the only ones aboard who insisted on arranging the visa on our own - which put our guide in quite an unenviable situation as soon as some other passengers found out he actually ripped them off... he made 5 USD profit on each passport - a good deal, isn't it.

We arrived to Phnom Penh, satisfied that we didn't fall into a cheap tourist-greenhorn trap. Unexpectedly, Phnom Penh turned out to be quite an organized city with most of western facilities available (maybe with exception of all those huge Lexus cars parked right on the sidewalk that forced us to walk on the road). They even had a drainage system (not too common all over the Indochina), which unfortunately proved incapable of handling the monsoon downpour that stroke the city in the late afternoon. It was much more powerful than the one we experienced in Hanoi or Nha Trang in Vietnam as it literally flooded the whole city - there was up to 50 cm of water in the streets!

According to our expectations, the water was gone in couple of hours, and we spent the next day walking around the city without any problems. A place to be mentioned surely is the Tuol Sleng prison (high school converted into a prison and interrogation centre during the unstable period of civil war in 1970's), providing quite an impressive insight into the unsettled Cambodian history.

Originally we intended to visit the north-eastern part of the country (namely Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri province), however because of uncertain transportation options and limited time, we have set off to the south instead. Our journey to Kampot had taken twice as long as it should have, but luckily we had enough time to rent a motorbike and enjoy a wonderful sunset at the remote beaches near Kep, small seaside town 25 km far from Kampot.

The next two days were spent on a great trekking tour in the Bokor national park. Highlights of the tour would definitely be: approximately 10 km of relatively steep ascending through a rain forest, large abandoned building of the Bokor hill station, misty atmosphere of the ghost town, 3 hours in a real jungle (just enough time not to encounter any tiger), observing a live chameleon, river crab and few other extraordinary animals and plants. Last but not least, we met a couple of cool people from Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, with whom we also decided to share a taxi (6 people and a driver in one small car - quite an unforgettable ride) to Sihanoukville, our next destination.

Right after enjoying a nice sunrise at the Sihanoukville's beach, we moved on to Battambang, where we wanted to relax a little bit after the trekking - and so we did. We attended a half-day cooking class, so now we can prepare some of the Khmer specialities, e.g. a delicious fish amok cooked in coconut milk.

Last 3 days in Cambodia were dedicated to Siem Reap and mostly its surroundings, i.e. the Temples of Angkor. Honestly, our expectations had grown so big that we were a little bit afraid of disappointment. Luckily it did not happen, since the area was simply amazing. To be more precise, the temples of Angkor don't stand just for the Angkor Wat (which by the way isn't as interesting as the fact as it is the largest religious construction in the world), but for a vast complex of approximately 20 squared kms, comprising of tens of temples of all kinds and dimensions. We have spent all 3 days on bicycles, returning to Siem Reap always after sunset - demanding, but undoubtedly worth it.

On August 25th, we took a shared taxi to Poipet at the Cambodia-Thailand border and successfully entered Thailand again - just 10 hours before our visa would expire. Having done that, we actually ended our travels across the Indochina (meaning Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia) and are about to enjoy last 2 "fatal" weeks, mostly on the beaches of southern Thailand.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

Tuol Sleng prison, Phnom Penh

Sunset on the beach near Kep

Bokor national park

Food market in Battambang

Angkor Wat

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