Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sunday October 8, 2017 – Tuesday October 10, 2017
&
Thursday October 12, 2017 – Sunday October 15, 2017

Part 1: Sunday October 8, 2017 – Tuesday October 10, 2017

Welcome to Cambodia! We arrived in Siem Reap early afternoon on October 8th and grabbed a Cambodian tuk-tuk (a “remorque”) from the airport to our hostel in downtown Siem Reap. Dolla, our friendly driver, (we’d learn that friendliness is basically synonymous with Cambodian – seriously they’re the best) offered to tour us around Angkor the following day (a typical tuk-tuk side business) and we decided to take him up on the offer. We took his info then relaxed at our hostel for a few hours.

DSC04103
Dolla’s first drive with us!

When night fell we decided to explore. Our hostel mentioned the nearby pub street and night markets, so we went to check them out and WOW were they full of energy! Really the whole city comes alive at night time with numerous bars, pubs, and street vendors opening shop or increasing operations. We went back to the hostel fairly early though, as Maddie – Kylie’s cousin – was getting in late that night for the start of our adventures together in Cambodia and Vietnam!

The next day was a very early wake up call, as we had to leave the hostel at 4:45am to head to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy, so not much of a sunrise… but it was still great to explore the temple before it got too hot out.

 

After spending a couple hours touring, we then hopped back on the tuk-tuk and made for Angkor Thom. We stopped of course to admire the amazing gateway to the complex…

A short ride later took us to the Bayon, a Buddhist temple covered in 216 faces, probably of the King who commissioned the temple. Unlike Angkor Wat, which began as a Hindu temple and later became a Buddhist temple, the Bayon in Angkor Tom was built to be a place of worship for the Khmer Buddhist kings.

 

Our final stop on our tour, and the one we were most excited for, was Ta Prohm, the temple complex that still remains very overgrown to this day. Unlike most other temples, it has been left in the same form as it was when the complex was rediscovered – ie. not cleared of all jungle and/or restored. It was also one of the locations used in the movie Tomb Raider! And after having been there we could understand easily why Angelina Jolie loves Cambodia. It made quite the impression.

All in all it was a very busy first 24hrs that left us exhausted and ready for a day of R&R by about noon! Thankfully we had the next day to relax locally before heading to Phnom Penh for a couple days (see that in our next post!) – before Jesse and Kylie returned to Siem Reap for a couple more days to keep on exploring.

Part 2: Thursday October 12, 2017 – Sunday October 15, 2017

During our second stint in Siem Reap, we made the 20km trek out to Siem Reap’s landmine museum. It was founded by a former Khmer Rouge soldier who was pressed into service we he was only 5 years old.* [*Sidenote: We can’t recommend enough Angelina Jolie’s movie on Netflix called “First They Killed My Father”. It’s all about the Cambodian Genocide and the Khmer Rouge – something we found horrifying, fascinating and really worth knowing more about.]

After years of service, he ended up defecting to the Vietnamese Army during their invasion of Cambodia. Due to the amount of landmines he placed and the horrors of war he experienced while a child soldier – such as recognizing he was firing at his own uncle across the battlefield at one point – after the war he decided to commit himself to clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance from Cambodia. It is thought that to this day Cambodia still has at least 3,000,000 of these explosives remaining hidden across the country (some estimates place the number nearer 8,000,000). Originally he worked only with his hands and a wooden pole to detect and subsequently diffuse 50,000 explosives(!), 5,000 of which are on display at the museum. The process has a lot more rigor to it now, but he is still an active participant in clearing what is left across the country.

The museum also serves as housing for children (originally landmine victims, but now primarily orphans, poor or disadvantaged children) from local villages, who really benefit from the support of this amazing community. It’s noteworthy that Cambodia only has about 150 landmine victims per year now, compared with hundreds and even thousands in years past.
Though it’s a tiny museum, it is an incredible story of the country’s modern history, and the lasting effects of decades of war – and how much of an impact one man can make on his country. It really brought some of the history we had learned throughout the past few days in Phnom Penh to reality, and we felt it was one of the most important spots we had visited along our entire trip.

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