Angkor Whaaaaat?

4 Jan

After a late night in Bangkok we had to be up early to leave by 7am in an attempt to make the Cambodian border before the hoardes of tourists. The bus trip there was incredibly uninspiring with a few, what seemed like close calls with oncoming traffic. Reaching the border it was quite evident that my theory about border towns being incredibly depressing seemed to ring true here. I’ve never heard good things about the Poipet border and while it wasn’t as bad as I expected it was a lot of standing in line in the hot midday sun until we were finally in Cambodia and free to go. Poipet on the Cambodian side featured a number of huge casinos catering for Thais and not much else. From here we got into a very comfortable bus and tore our way down a decent road to Siem Reap arriving at 4pm after 9 hours of driving and waiting around.

Siem Reap is a lovely town and very tourist orientated thanks to Angkor Wat. After a quick stroll around town we were picked up by tuk-tuk (a cross between a motorbike and a ute) to go to the New Hope Foundation. We spent a good half hour driving through the slums with children chasing after us to say hello until we arrived at the organisation’s old school and were greeted by a really nice young Cambodian guy to show us around the women’s refuge. The kids there were incredible. They were the poorest of the poor but so happy and wanting to play or hug us or use our cameras so it was a great afternoon followed by a 5 course Cambodian dinner at their restaurant and new school (we also had a look around their medical clinic).IMG_5246 We were surprised to learn our guide was only 20 and had been at the organisation completing his high school diploma for a few years after he was sent by his parents at 13 to the capital to work as a cement worker earning on $15 USD a month. After dinner we headed back into town to explore the night markets. I bought a really interesting abstract painting and we all squirmed and laughed through a fish spa before heading home because the next day we had to get up at 430am!

After the early start we gathered in the lobby and were happy when the same young guy and his friends turned up to guide us to Angkor Wat. Driving in the pitch black in the tuk-tuks we didn’t really know what to expect but we bought our tickets (which they put your photo on) and followed the masses towards the viewing area where a Cambodian man helped us find the perfect spot to shoot photos from. The sun came up and the view was spectacular. IMG_5295 The temple reflected on the pond below and it was truly an amazing site. After countless photos including a few fun poses we went and explored Angkor Wat before heading back for breakfast and then back out again to see some of the other temples.

We first went to Bayon with all of its stone faces of Buddha looking in all directions and had a few tough climbs to score some good photos. Unfortunately I don’t remember most of the other names of the temples at Angkor Thom but the next one was huge and we had to climb some terrifying steep staircases to make it to the top. My favourite temple however was Ta Prohm or the Tomb Raider temple thanks to the film being set there.IMG_5418 It was proper ruins with trees growing all over it and lots of corners to be explored. It was here we encountered so very loud, rude Australian tourists which made us a little annoyed. Following lunch we went to another temple which is when temple fatigue set in. It was 3pm and we were over temples so the whole group found a nice spot in the shade inside the temple and hung out there. It seems a bit surreal that you are actually allowed to do this inside a 900 year old temple but it was quite relaxing.

One thing that is kind of entertaining while terribly sad in Cambodia is the kids selling things. They come up and say Where you from? and after you respond they list a whole heap of facts about the place you named. We tried to throw them off by naming more obscure countries but generally speaking they were hard to trick. So we now are “friends” with a lot of Cambodian kids.

Back to the temples we climbed a higher than expected hill to watch the sunset before heading back down and playing hacky sack with our guide and drivers. Then it was back into town for a shower before hitting Pub Street. Pub Street basically describes itself. We had dinner there and had a massage before trying a few bars. IMG_5373 It was a very fun night with favourites being Temple Bar and Angkor What? where we got to write on the walls. We also managed to score a few free t-shirts which they gave out with any purchase of a bucket (about $8). We also had a hens party from Australia and the UK next to us so we were helping the bride to be out with her dares and having a fun time all round.

The next morning was another early start (630am) after not very many hours sleep as we had arranged for one of the drivers to take us out to the landmine museum. I was so glad we did this as although it sounds corny it really was inspiring. It was set up by a man called Aki Ra who was originally a child soldier laying mines for the Khmer Rouge and then the Vietnamese Army. He has now spent the past couple of decades defusing mines at first just using a knife and stick until the UN made him go get proper training. He and his wife (who sadly passed away recently) have defused tens of thousands of mines and UXO.

The figures truly are scary. In the Second Indochina War the US alone flew 60 000 bombing raids with each bomber able to carry 100 bombs which were taller than me (there were some on display at the museum) this doesn’t include the mines from the Khmer Rouge regime or the Cambodia-Vietnam conflict so the number of munitions out there is quite scary. The museum was interesting as we got to touch and see the mines up close and also on site there was an orphanage for kids injured or orphaned by mines although we weren’t allowed to go near it as no tourists were allowed. We spent a bit of money at the gift shop and left a donation as all the purchases went to the amazing work that Aki Ra and his group are doing before heading back to Siem Reap to leave for Phnom Penh.

Courts xx

More information about Aki Ra’s organisation can be found here-


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