I apologize for having been neglectful in my blogging duties. So, the fast book from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh was fully booked for that day by a group of grumpy german tourists, so my only other option was the slow boat. And, boy, it was slow. After leaving Chau Doc around 9 am on a big barge-like ship, we finally arrived at the border around noon. The boat captain took us to a restaurant where we got ripped off and I paid $3 for some broth with some beans in it. Even as I was waiting for the boat at 8:30 that morning, all I could think about was how much I wanted to get some beer and just lounge on the boat drinking a beer, because that’s what you do when you ride boats. So finally at the border I had the opportunity to buy some beer, and after going through the border check, crossing into Cambodia, and then we all boarded a new, smaller boat, and continued on our way up the Mekong towards Phnom Phen. I enjoyed my beer, while the riveside went slowly past my eyes and I considered how Cambodia really didn’t look much different from Vietnam, or Laos, for that matter.
At around 6 pm we finally disboarded the boat, where we then got into a mini-van, which took us for another hour into Phnom Penh. As we approached the city we noticed fireworks, and general drunken revelry. It turns out it was the Cambodian National Holiday. Finally a little after 7 it dropped us off at a hotel. The streets were full of people, the whole city was complete chaos. I was bewildered. The hotel was fulled booked so I had to seek lodging elsewhere. I ended up in the shadiest part of Phnom Penh where the drug dealers and crack whores spend most of their time, in a guesthouse where I paid $4 a night for a room with a fan and no hot water. But it was fine. I ended up spending 3 nights there, during which time I explored the Tuol Sleng Museum:
This was a former school that was turned into a political prison during the Khmer Rouge/Pulpot era. It was definately a very interesting if quite grim, place to visit. The museum also works with the Documentation Center and Archives of Cambodia, on preserving important records of this period in Cambodia history. It’s all quite interesting and I would have liked to be able to visit the Documentation center, however it was closed during the time I was in PP for the national Holiday, and Water Festival.
Speaking of the Water Festival… well. That was intense.
PP is normally 2 million people ( I think?), but during this festival it doubles in size. And there are people everywhere. They have boat racing, and at night, a kind of light-up boat parade similar to Venetian Night in Chicago, but with about a million more people packed along the river. During my stay in Phnom Penh I also visited some wats, and the National Museum, and had dinner with the librarian from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Some pictures from the water festival in Phnom Penh:
If you visit Cambodia, I really recommend eating the national dish – Amok, with fish. It’s cooked in a coconut soup, and really really lovely.
After the intense crowds of PP, I was looking forward to getting out of the city, seeing Siem Reap and Angkor, and relaxing a little. I booked a very early morning bus to Siem Reap, and when I arrived at the bus station, mind you a good 1/2 hour early, it wasn’t until just as the bus was leaving I discovered I was at the wrong bus station. I ran over to the place where I had booked my ticket, but I was too late, the bus had already left. i ran back to the other station, and nded up having to buy a 2nd ticket for the bus. Both buststaions were called “Angkor Express”, however one had (Cambodia) in parenthesis after the name. I think they do that on purpose to confuse people. Of course, no refun was offered by the other bus company. They did offer to let me wait and take the next bus, at 9 am. I didn’t feel like waiting around another 2 hours, and in the end, the extra $8 I had to pay for a second ticket was probably worth it.
So, travellers, beware, make sure you are at the right bus station if you buy your ticket from a travel agent, and ask as soon as you arrive at the station.
I arrived in Siem Reap about 6 hours later, found a guesthouse, and rented a bicycle. I stopped to buy some film for my camera, and was off for the 8km ride to Angkor Wat to see the sunset.
Here is another handy travel tip – tickets to visit Angkor are $20 a day, or you can get a 3-day pass for $40. If you only can afford a 1-day pass, you can go to the ticket booth the afternoon before you plan to visit, and buy your ticket, and then you can go to visit Angkor Wat for free that evening.
The evening I arrived at Angkor it was the height of the water festival, and even Siem Reap, a dusty backwater, was jammed with people. It was the full moon, and buddhist ceremonies were taking place everywhere.