“The Killing Field (1984)”, a movie i watched when i was a teen was the first time i heard about this country and i recommend to watch it when you’re about to go there or if you havnt heard about the Khmer rouge yet. If you re travelling from Vietnam take one day off this horrible party mile in HCM, get yourself a hotel with good WiFi connection and watch The Killing Field and if you havent seen Heaven&Earth (1993, Oliver Stone) yet, by the way, just do it, but get yourself enough tussues though.
We took a sleeping bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. A two days history tour began. First we took an audio tour through the actual killing fields, make sure you dress yourself proper with long pants and at least a tshirt.I cant describe how you feel by passing the mass grave and hearing the history and be aware of the meaning of a killing tree.No expression for it. I guess my travelmates were pretty shoked (they were not prepared by watching the movie) and there was such a silence through the whole place. Reflecting the killing fields we visited the genocide museum, a former shool which turned into a torture prison during the Khmer rouge regime. Not many handle to enter the former prison cells as they remained untouched. There are also tours offered to tunnels and shooting range compared to Cu Chi in Vietnam. But i really cant understand why people would make funny pictures with weapons in theier hands and shooting selfies while coming out of a tunnel with a smile close to a mass grave? Maybe there is something wrong about me…
To remember is the only thing we can do about the past.So we left Phnom Phen behind a headed to the South. Kep, a small village by the sea with a sweet National Park. We ended up staying there for three days. And it was worth it! Yasmin and i managed to organize a DIY tour to Kompong Trach caves. We took a local bus to Kompong, the bus driver stopped at the market where we asked for a driver to go to the caves. Of course we did it the cambodian way. Yasmin, me and the driver on one scooter 🙂 He did not speak english but apparently he knew where we wanted to go. 4$ and 10 minutes later we arrived at the caves which were completly flooded due the rain last night. But our 8 year old tour guide Rita showed us as much as she could untill she had to go to her school classes. We decided to take a walk around the limestones and climbed up a hill for some selfies. Always in mind not to leave the path because of the landmines. On the way back a friendly farmer passed with his selfmade carriage filled with grave and gave as a ride back where our driver was waiting. That was a lovely experience which a travelagency cant offer!
Next day we did a mountain bike tour without mountain bikes though. How is that possible? Well we rented some kind of “bicycles”, tiny little wheels, no gears and no proper breaks. Its a miracle that this bikes didnt fall apart on the tour. However we managed, again, to start at an unfavorable time such as noon. Too hot to cycle uphill on a rocky road. But as you see we also survived that. On the way a sign made us stop: cold drinks and monkeys, Gibbon valley.We left the bikes at the street unlooked, would be a surprise if anyone would have stolen it by this heat. We walked the short trail to the Gibbon Valley which turned out to be a kind of a small hotel with a few bungalows in the middle of the jungle. Nikki an australian women runs it since a few years, she also helds some rescued monkeys which are addicted to everykind of jewellery or sunglasses as i can tell you by experience. We liked it so much that we decided to overnight at this place. We got a spacious cottage in the middle of the jungle for 15$, a crazy night with some crazy people from all over the world and a beautiful sunrise uphill in the morning.
A contrast to Kep was Otres Beach close to Sihanoukville.We stayed at Everythung hostel, 10 metres from the beach for only 3$ a night in a very simple dorm. If you want to party for a few days and get drunk or change however your mental condition, thats the place to be. The beach is nice, not the best i ve seen so far but ok to relax a few days. Melanie and Yasmin liked it a lot, especially Melanie, so on the last day i had to pick her up after a party at 8 am in the morning to catch the bus/boat to Koh Rong Samloen.
At Koh Rong Sanloem we found cheap huts in front of the beach for 20$ a night ( Homestay resort, to the right of the harbour). This Island was super expensive compared to the mainland. If i would known that before i would have brought some wine and cigarettes with me :). Also taking a boat to beaches you cant reach by foot, was so high that we decided to walk only the few trails on the island. Lazy beach was very quite, you feel like robinson crusoe for a moment. There is only one hotel with some bungalows. There is also a two hour hike to a light house which is pretty nice, make sure you carry enough water with you as the are no restaurants or anything else and at least one dollar to pay the entrance fee for the lighthouse.
One of my highlights was a glowing plankton tour for 8$ with the owner of the homestay resort (actually it has nothing to do witha resort, there are just a few simple huts!). He took the three of us for a private tour at night to swim with the plankton. It is like you swim in the sky and above you is a second sky. I tried to capture this moment with all my high technology photographic equipment, but apart grabing darkness and some voices screaming:” holy *** something touched my feet” there is nothing left than indulging in memories.
Last stop: Angkor Wat, in Seam Reap, 40$ for a three days pass, holy water! But if you realize how huge this terrain is, 40$ is nothing to keep all the temples for eternity. So the first day we arrived, full of energy, desperate to see Angkor Wat, we decided to rent bicycles and “do the small loop” DIY. Great but very painful idea. We ve been driving for 7 hours this day. By Sunset we’ve passed just the half of the temples we wanted to see on this day. Luckily we met a local who was working at the temple. He was amused by the idea us cycling all day long. He offered us a tour for the next day starting with sunrise at Angkor Wat, ” doing the big loop”, the kings wife temple of Banteay Srei and waterfalls for 10$ each. Great deal and a long 12 hours day. There are many rumors how to avoid the crowds, apart from Ta Prohm, which is apparently crowdy all the time, we kinda manage to stay away from the crowds. Of course there is no way to be alone by the lake in front of Angkor Wat at sunrise or sunset. So after sharing the sunrise with millions of people we decided not to go inside, we drove straight to the Bayon temple which was very empty as it opens at 7 am. We visited Angkor Wat on the third day by noon, compared to the days before it was empty.
Apart from Angkor Wat we visited the Angkor Hospital for Children, which offers free treatment to the cambodian children. There is a small visitor center which takes donation.
The last day in cambodia was sad in many ways: i ate a one kilo dragon fruit, which was apparently to much for my stomach, we had to leave this beautiful country and also say goodbye to our travelbuddy Yasmin. We spend 6 weeks together, day and night. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. Last evening we spend drinking expired red wine and we enjoyed our first khmer massage in kind of a pyjama 🙂
Crossing the border to Laos was very easy.Early in the morning there are a few minivans driving to the border (no nightbuses as the border closes at 5pm). In total in took us 11hours to get to 4000 islands in Laos, after changing the minivan for a bus and a public transporter. We paid around 42$ for the visa on arrival.