Cambodia – A journey begins

Hi and welcome to what will be my first blog on my new personal website.

Why Cambodia? What is so fascinating about this country? Like most people my first experience of Cambodia was through films such as The Killing Fields, Tomb Raider and Indian Jones.  These films show the best and worst of a country that has suffered more that most.

Tomb Raider and The Temple of Doom displayed images of massive trees growing from temples, these trees have always fascinated me with their power to evoke a sense ancient history and culture. The Killing Fields is a film that struck a deep emotional cord with me as I am sure it did with many others, the image of fields dotted with blue plastic bags is one that has never left me, as is the need to try and gain some insight into the suffering caused when the country’s people, time and culture was set “Year Zero”.

To visit Cambodia is to visit the vast Angkor empire which is seen as the pinnacle of Cambodia power and success, the decline of this empire and the gradual loss of territory to its neighbours and the invasion of colonial powers culminated in the dark days of the Khmer Rouge. This is a country still recovering from the wounds inflicted by the Khmer Rouge, and is one of the poorest in the region. The Pol Pot era resulted in Cambodia being a time capsule of a way of life that has been lost in many Asian countries. This trip was definitely going to be a mix of emotions and would certainly tick a number of must dos off my list.

First stop was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which was our base for the 3 1/2 week trip. My wife Corine and I are staying with my wife’s mother the renowned Brazilian upcycling artist Jurema Baker. You can find more details on her work here.

Being a fair skinned lad with celtic heritage the move from temperate UK to the heat of tropical Malaysia required a few days rest to acclimatise and recover from jet lag. After this rest period I left Corine and her mum to catch up and do mum daughter stuff, and headed off to Siem Reap for whirlwind 4 day tour of the temples, then a taxi drive down to Phenom Phen for a 24 hour stay before heading back to KL.

A 4.30 am start on Tuesday would ensure an 8.30am arrival at Siem Reap airport. The journey started fine with the ariving taxi on time, but the problems started when I tried to change some money at the airport using my debt card. The bureau de-change would not accept cards and I was directed to an ATM, this did not work with my cards.

This was not good, what if my cards would not work in Cambodia? Luckily I had enough Malaysian money to exchange for $120 which are accepted in Cambodia and which would tide me over till I got to Siem Reap and hopefully a ATM that would work with my cards.

A word of warning if travelling to  Malaysia, your card transactions maybe blocked by banks as it has bad reputation, in this case it was the ATM at the air port that was deemed high risk. Also the currency exchanges at airport only took cash.

With limited cash I headed for checkin only to find a massive que, not fancying a long wait in the que I asked a member of staff if this was the correct que. She asked if it was just the two bags I had, after confirming this she directed me to a checkin desk with no que.  Always worth asking.

The Air Asia flight was uneventful, though i did manage to get a few nice images of some very interesting cloud formations that were being lit by the rising sun. If traveling via Air Asia I highly recommend the on-board meal of Nasi Lemak.

Arriving at Siem Reap airport there is a requirement to fill in a number of entry forms, I also needed to get my visa. You can get an e-vise online, but I had left it too late. You also need two photos for the visa, which I had also failed to get, luckily they will scan your passport photo to create the required photos. This was all quickly processed, though ensure you have cash to pay for these services.

A short taxi ride and I arrived at my budget hotel, a mere £15 per night, where I had requested an early checkin. At checkin I was informed that up front payment wasrequired, I did not have my credit card and they did not take debt so had to persuade them to let me checkin and then find an ATM. Directions to the ATM were not good and I ended up walking around for an hour trying to locate one, when I finally did it was less than 10 min walk from hotel. By the time I found the ATM  it was about midday and the heat was getting to me, so had to take a my first tuc tuc ride  back to hotel.

Once at hotel I ask the helpful and friendly staff to arrange a tuc tuc to take me to Anchor Watt later that after post 4pm so I could get 4 day ticket, which also gave me free entry for rest of day. A photo ID is required which of course results in a que at the ticket office. The drive from the ticket office is not short and requires a couple of ticket checks before you enter the temple complex, which was teeming with people. The tuc tuc recommended a temple for a good sunset. Although it was only a short walk up a hill the stream of people heading up there should have been a warning of what was to come.

Arriving at base of temple I was surprised just how many people there were, this was most definitely a tourist hot spot. As I reached the steps I was told I could not use my tripod, not that I could see how I would be able to. After a steep climb I reached the top, I had a quick look around and heading straight for the exit on other side of temple. Not my cup of tea, just too many people.

Reaching the bottom and with limited amount of time to find a location and make the most of the sunset I decided to head off on foot further into temple complex, after a ten minute walk I found myself at a bridge which crossed large lake. At the end of the bridge was an imposing gate which is the entrance to …..

Once on the bridge which about 100 yards long, I could see the sun setting to the left and in center of the lake. This was were I decided to capture the sunset.

As the suns finally rays slipped from the sky, the deep darkness only found when away from the light pollution of big cities creep from the shadows to cover everything it touched. I captured a few images, but nothing that great. After packing up I headed back down the road which was now only lit by the headlights from cars and tuc tucs in the hope if finding my driver, luckily he found me in the dark. A short ride back to hotel for a shower, quick review of photos and out to find something to eat.

My hotel seemed to be surrounded by bars, clubs and street food vendors. I was not ready to risk any street food yet, but had not eaten since breakfast and I was famished. I left the hotel and turned right, as I passed a few bars, non of which took my fancy, I saw a number of young women, or should I say girls sitting outside preening themselves. Eventually hunger got the best of me and choose a bar that had couples and some western women at tables. I found a vacant table and sat down, a waitress and a woman who I assumed to a sort of maitre d came to the table. I indicated I wished to eat and have a beer, the table was laid with bowl eating implements, a beer and some snacks quickly arrived. A few minutes later the woman who was the one that seemed to be a maitre d arrived and started setting another place at the table, I turned around and saw one of the young girls waiting to site down!

I quickly indicated that this was not something I wanted, there was some chat between them and they left. About five minutes later the waitress asked if I wanted a girl, a showed her my wedding ring and told her I did not, this finally stopped them trying sit a girl at my table.

My waitress did not speak english, and so after a few attempts I gave up trying to order food and made the most of the continually replenished beer bucket. At one point a guy who was seated  at table near by with other locals and girls from the bar, gave me a plate of complimentary snacks. Still no real food.

After downing copious amounts of local beer, I staggered the short distance back to hotel and hopefully a good nights sleep.


end of day one



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