Cambodia: Temples and Bars

Crossing the Thai-Laos border was easy, a nice 30 second boat ride the Mekong under the midday sun. Crossing the Thai-Cambodian border is like going to prison for a day. Before you even get to the border the bus stops at a shabby restaurant where some ‘nice’ people ‘sort out’ your visa for you. We were there a good 2 hours, paid $30 to get our visa and then headed onto the border. It turns out it should have been$20. Burn. Anyway going through the border took 2 hours. We must have signed our names 107 times. They studied our passports for an eternity. We honestly felt as if we were hiding bombs and heroin. We got on a new bus after the border and reached Siem Reap at 8. This 11hour journey would take about 6 hours if the Cambodian and Thai peoples formed one harmonious nation. We find out later that there is no way that will happen.

After a day which drained the life from us, the one shining light was the brilliant city of Siem Reap. When we got there i met the girls and checked into the best $8 hotel on earth and the lads checked into their place. The next day we all needed a break but when darkness set in, we hit the town and found a serious nightlife. The main area is called Pub St. – what better name for a street full of pubs? And the atmosphere was electric. Great food, cheap beers, banging tunes. The girls had introduced a French guy called Jordan to the group and that was great, the more the merrier. Or as it turned out – the more the messier. I do not quite remember what time we got home that night but the following day we were going to the famous Angkor Wat. The best time to see the magnificent temple is at sunrise so we were up at 4.30 to catch a tuk-tuk there. We were in a bad way. I rang Diarmo on the way to get up but he didn’t wake up. Lucky feck. So we reached the temple while the sky was still pitch black, half the population of Japan were there too. The crowd sat by the small lake in front of the temple in quiet expectation of the rising sun.

It was the most brilliant sunrise I have ever seen (although probably only the 3rd or 4th I have actually seen). As the sun rose above the temple, the lake alit with the temple’s reflection which looked as real as the building itself. After the sun rose we went exploring the temple. The morning sun made it more impressive as rays shone through its corridors and windows, our knowledge of the history of Angkor Wat was limited but we still admired the architecture and its importance to the Khmer people. But I have to say in my own mind, I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps it was spoiled by the amount of tourists; maybe this fact takes from the atmosphere, shame but true. By 9 am we were finished exploring and we had to go back to bed!

That night we returned to the awesome Pub Street. There was an energy and buzz to the place that we had scarcely seen to this extent in South East Asia. The Europeans were high as kites drinking Irish amounts of alcohol and we danced til someone said.. ‘Shit we have to go to more fecken temples tomorrow’. So we got up not so early the next morning and did 3 more temples. One of them was really impressive, Tomb Raider was filmed there. Unfortunately Angelina Jolie wasn’t there to welcome us, what a letdown. So at one point in the tomb raider temple, I lost Ela, Camille and Jordan. None of us had phones and so I tried to retrace my steps. But the place was a fecken maze. I frantically paced around through the ruins not knowing where I was. The one hope I had was they were not Japanese so they should stand out. They eventually found me. This is what happens when Diarmo and me separate! My GPS system is as good as a goldfishes. So our final temple was the place to be for sunsets and we along with 7 million other people climbed like 100 treacherous steps to the top of the massive structure and waited an eternity for the sun to descend. When it did, everyone applauded. The 4 of us looked at one another with disgust, ‘oh wow the sun has set, it hasn’t done that 20 billion times before…’ What did we do that night? Why hit the bars of course.

On our final day in Siem Reap Diarmo got a tuk-tuk by himself to temples 40 km from Siem Reap, the rest of us were all templed out. Diarmo was too after that journey. So we left Siem Reap the following day, a night bus to the seaside town of Sihanoukville. Jordan and Camille were heading on to quieter parts of the country but we had heard great reviews of the Sihanoukville. The people who recommended it are idiots or on some sort of hard drugs – it was crap. There was very little accommodation; the one we settled on was similar to a $5dollar motel you would see in American movies. Except we paid $10. At least we had the beach. Only the beach was shit too. Now Cambodia is a very poor country, you have kids constantly coming up to you asking for money and food. It is sad to see, but when you are relaxing on the beach and rude kids are begging for money and even stealing food off your plate – it is not relaxing at all. The nightlife was pretty good there and we had 3 serious nights there. Unfortunately we found the best club on our last night.

Guy found out from fellow Israelis that there was a beautiful beach 6 km down the road called Otres beach. We decided to venture down and spend 3 days there. The road to Otres beach was the worse than anything we had seen, it even made the roads in Laos seem impressive. On the way, we passed very poor areas, little shacks stacked against each other, on arrival at Otres the Israelis had guided us to a haven of a place. It was literally a row of wooden structures lining the beach, half bars, half guest houses. Some of the guest houses were pretty expensive, we luckily found $10 a night rooms with the beach on our doorstep. Most places were actually booked out and we assumed the place would be buzzing at night time. It wasn’t. In fact that there were so few guest houses that it made sense that it was quiet, we did however appreciate how relaxed the place was. The bar beside our accommodation served the most amazing food in Cambodia, the beers were cheap and the beach was absolutely beautiful. We spent our days on the beach and our nights playing cards. One night, we had another cigarette chip game of poker. Elodie destroyed us all in 40 minutes. Embarrassed as I was, we all had to applaud her ability to play (what being a girl and all).

So before heading to Otres we had found a place to get 60day Thai visas for $10. Sweet deal – so we gave them our passports and they said they would be back in 3 days. We returned on the night before our bus to Phnom Penh and they said ‘oh Chinese new year -offices closed’. Oh shit. Cheers for telling us this 3 days ago you gimps. They didn’t even know where our passports were, sorry that’s not entirely true – they were somewhere between Sihanoukville and PhnomPenh.. So a 300 km radius. We were livid but they weren’t very apologetic. Guy shouted at them. He is great for that, one night in Sihanoukville he ordered the barracuda in a restaurant but tried to clarify with the waiter that he was getting ‘the whole baracuda’. The poor Cambodian waiter with very little English hesitantly answered ‘ah yes sir’. When a fillet of barracuda arrived, Guy looked like he had been stabbed in the back. ‘I want the whooooole fish!’. After a 5minute argument with the nervous waiter he gave in and ate the fillet. Israelis are brilliant entertainment. Anyway we really had to go to Phnom Penh the following day and the visa people eventually said we could get our passports in the capital. We didn’t trust them one bit, Diarmo was already preparing to return to Sihanoukville on the Monday to pick them up there.

So we reluctantly left our future travels in the hands of the dodgy visa people and left for Phnom Penh. The city does not have the charm of Siem Reap but it is nonetheless a very nice city. The riverside area has a great atmosphere and the restaurants are top notch. So on the Saturday we visited the killing fields and the s-21 prison. These places tell the story of the Khmer rouge regime of the 1970s, the brutality inflicted on thousands of Cambodians was horrific. What we found strange about the killing fields was that it just seemed like a quiet patch of Cambodian countryside. As Diarmuid put it, it was hard to imagine that so much suffer and pain occurred here. In the years following the regime, excavations were done and thousands upon thousands of bones were dug up from mass graves. The S-21 prison was in fact a school until the 70s when the regime turned it into a prison where captors were held for a short period of time before being moved to the killing fields to be beaten to death. The torture rooms were very eerie and it was extremely sad to see walls and walls of headshots of the prisoners housed there. Seeing the childrens faces and how scared they looked was haunting. We returned home and went out for a few beers to lighten the mood after learning just like in Vietnam, what pain the people of this country had been through.

We spent our final full day seeing the sites of Phnom Penh, such as the royal palace, the golden temple and the history museum. It was actually forbidden to take pictures in the museum, but thankfully French people don’t care for rules! That final night we headed to the pub to watch the Chelsea vs Liverpool match, this being a massive game because it was actually Torres vs Liverpool. It was hard for me because I had to watch it with Diarmo the united fan and Jordan who became a Chelsea fan due to over-indulgence of cocktails but I had converted Ela to the red religion and we did it, we beat those bastards, take that Fernando.

So the following day we had our passports back and a night bus booked to Bangkok for 11 pm. But Cambodia was to throw another spanner in the works. My dad had told me a few days earlier that there was conflict at the Thai-Cambodian border but he and I too assumed it wouldn’t affect our passage to Bangkok. The conflict had worsened on the Sunday night and a tourist had been caught in the crossfire. Our hotel informed us on Monday afternoon that the border was unsafe to cross and we would not be able to get across by bus.. Kylo was on a plane somewhere over Eastern Europe at this stage and we needed to get to Bangkok to meet him. So we rang the mammies and got them to sort us out with flights to Bangkok. We have become fairly independent but what would we do without them! I decided i would extend my stay and fly out from Siem Reap at the same time the girls were flying to Singapore 2 days later while Diarmo booked his flight to Bangkok the following morning to meet Kylo. And so that night we said goodbye to Guy, restaurants wouldn’t be the same without him.. He was a great friend of ours, we admired his go-with-the-flow attitude and it felt as if he would return to us randomly once more. So I got to return to the brilliant Siem Reap and spend one more day with Ela. The 4 of us stayed in our fantastic hotel and said goodbye to the bars of Pub Street.   We headed to the airport the next morning and reluctantly said goodbye as we jetted off to different cities. I arrived back in Bangkok an hour later and found the two lads absolutely out of it in their beds.

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