Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.
This week has been a hectic one; full of highlights but also a bad week for me health wise.
Last Friday Jeni and I found ourselves in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Our main reason for a three-day stopover was to explore part of Cambodia’s recent and tragic past, the Khmer Rouge genocide by visiting both Tuol Sleng (S21) Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Despite having researched the war and read several books detailing first-hand experiences, neither prepared me for the horrifying torture cells of S21 or the mass graves at the Killing Fields. Seeing the faces of those imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, and artist drawings of the abuse endured was heartbreaking. If you go, the audio guides are a must – extremely descriptive and necessary to make sense of the displays.
Afterwards we headed off to Battambang, a riverside city with beautiful French-colonial buildings and a creaky bamboo train (a norry) – the only one in Cambodia. Travelling up to an exhilarating 30km per hour (!), our ride consisted of a bamboo raft placed on top of what looked like two sets of dumbbells. As a single track railway system, when another norry is met travelling the opposite direction, one of the trains must disembark and allow the other to pass – genius. That evening we travelled out of town to Sampeou Mountain to witness the dusk exodus of tiny bats flying out of a cave in a constant stream. This daily ‘show’ went on for at least 30 minutes, so we sat down with cold drinks and watched as they flew straight over us.
The following morning Jeni and I explored the early 20th century colonial buildings and a Buddhist temple that caught my eye, by bicycle, before boarding our next bus to Siem Reap.
Recently voted by Lonely Planet as the number one travel sight in the world, and the main reason to visit Siem Reap, is Angkor Wat. Purchasing a three-day pass we spent the rest of our week exploring many of the temples and temple ruins contained within the archaeological Park. We still have one day on our ticket, and have left the largest complex – Angkor Thom – for tomorrow. Here are five things that surprised me about Angkor Wat:
- The temples are all very different. They vary in size, design (some are just towers, some are enormous multi-chamber complexes), and were built during the time of over 15 different rulers.
- The areas surrounding the temples are beautiful. I think I’d imagined a flat, dusty surround to the temples, and was surprised to find instead largely forested areas, water buffaloes working rice paddies, bodies of lotus flower-covered water and green, grassy fields.
- People live there. Surrounding the temples are small villages (we passed through at least three or four on our way to Banteay Srei), and many of the local homes are open to tourists as cafes or market stalls.
- The roads are dusty and polluted. Obviously I expected Angkor Wat to be busy, but the roads are extremely dusty, and big lorries travel through regularly. Add to that the tourist traffic (tuk-tuks, scooters, tour buses and cars) and local traffic (farm carts, scooters, trucks) and we ended both days coughing and feeling filthy.
- My favourite temples were the ones I hadn’t heard of. Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm (the ‘Tomb-Raider’ temple) definitely didn’t disappoint, but I preferred the gorgeous scenery at Neak Pean and the architecture of Prah Khan.
The low point of my week is that I spent a good amount of it in various hospitals after catching bronchitis. The medications given to me in Phnom Penh made me feel even worse, so another day was spent in Siem Reap seeing new doctors. Getting sick abroad is always so time consuming and costly, but with a new (and huge) dose of meds I’m finally recovering.
On a brighter note, here are my favourite five shots from this week: