Should eight people fit in a taxi?

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
Trip End Jun 14, 2003

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Arriving in style on a small speed boat, Phnom Penh seemed a million miles away from Saigon. For starters, only the main roads are tarmaced, and most of those are covered in pot holes. The roads in Cambodia, as we were to find out, are some of the worst in South East Asia. The driving is also some of the worst as well. The central city is quite worn and some buildings are in a state of disrepair, a result of a civil war which has only recently ended. However, the warmth and friendliness of the Cambodians is immediately apparent and more than made up for this.

Cambodia is a dual currency country - most transactions are in dollars, with small change given in Riel. Strangely the banks did not want to change our outstanding Vietnamese or Chinese notes, so instead the jewellery stalls of the local market do a roaring trade. Looks dodgy but good rates are given all the same.

There are two main places of interest to visit in PP. The first are the beautiful Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. The Pagoda contains over 5000 silver tiles (hence the name) as well as a life size gold buddha statue decorated with 9585 diamonds. There are plenty of orange-robed monks there for ideal picture opportunities.

Secondly, there are several sites relating to the Civil War and the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. It is impossible not to be affected by the stories of the brutality and killings during this time. Our guide at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (a former Khmer Rouge Prison) had lost most of her family during this time. The recent nature of the events also makes it all the more harrowing. We decided not to visit the mass graves of the Killing Fields - there were enough skulls on display in the museum.

The nightlife in PP is vibrant due to the large number of ex-pats and NGOs in Cambodia. The riverside restaurants and bars are full each night. We also got a chance to meet up with a friend from home, Emma, who is currently teaching in an International School in PP.

From the city we headed on the best road in Cambodia to the coast and the town of Sihanoukville. This is Cambodia's main beach resort and is packed at weekends with locals. We stayed in the backpacker area called Victory Beach, which showed Premier League footie and served curry and roast dinners. You must remember we have been on a diet of rice and noodles for a while! Dan and Simon ended up playing football with the locals using a strange shuttlecock-like thing which proved once and for all that we are both horribly one-footed. Simon also managed to badly damage a young child's wrist although credit to him, he did manage to save the ball from the goal. Whilst burning under the sun again, we enjoyed more fresh fruit than we could manage.

Cambodian taxis obviously are not under the same strict rules as in the UK - however we were shocked on our journey to Kampot when we managed to get eight people inside the car, with someone sharing the drivers seat. Not sure exactly how he changed gear or whether they shared peddles. There was absolutely nothing to do in Kampot so we did nothing. The reason we were there was as a base to visit Bokor National Park, which contains the ghost town-like ruins of Bokor Hill Station. Founded by the French in 1922, the place contains a church, large hotel, casino and hospital, although now they are looking that sorry for themselves. On route, Simon did a jungle trek and ended up wading through a foot deep of leech infested mud and water - nice.

The highlight of Cambodia has to be the temples at Angkor, the old capital of the Khmer civilisation between the 9th and 14th centuries (before they left for Phnom Penh). There are hundreds of temples including the amazing Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (the old fortified city containing Bayon, a temple with 200 smiling faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) and Ta Prohm (a temple which has been left to be swallowed by the jungle - it was this temple that featured in Tomb Raider). The scale and beauty of the place is awesome, we took far too many pictures, enjoyed a number of great sunsets and rode round in our own tuk-tuk. Fantastic. To make it all the more impressive, Jose Carreras was performing a one-off charity concert at Angkor Wat the night we arrived. The place was amazingly lit up both from the hundreds of lights they had put in place and the fantastic lightening storm nearby. Unfortunately we did not attend - the 1500 dollar tickets were slightly out of our price range.

Our final destination in Cambodia, Battambang, was reached via a 12 minute flight in which the enthusiastic air conditioning created the 'Stars in Their Eyes' entrance to the cockpit. Battambang is the quiet second city in Cambodia and an ideal place to relax before our final road trip into Thailand.
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