Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

I have just realised how long it has been since my last post and I must finish the ‘Journey to Ankor Wat blog, before I forget what happened. My last post ended with the info that I was bitten by a bug of sorts in my eye, yes sounds bloody stupid but that is what happened – promise! After checking in to the hotel in PP (that’s what us locals call it y’know!) and decided to go to the ATM. As I came out of the booth, I spied this bug coming straight towards me and tried to move but no, it flew straight into my eye and I reflexively shut my eyes and rubbed…… Fellow travelers very kindly tried to help by trying to flush the blighter out with saline but the damage had been done.

After trying to sleep, the next day (NYE) was a full on sightseeing tour of the city which I was determined not to miss, I had been waiting to come to Cambodia for years and I was going to see it all!!

The first stop was the Royal Palace, right in the centre of town on the Riverside, a beautiful traditional building constructed from 1866 – 1870 where the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers cross. The complex houses The Throne Room, The Silver Pagoda and the main palace residence of the King. Only parts are open to the public but I did get a chance to walk through the beautifully manicured gardens with colourful Bougainvillea and shaped hedges.

The Throne Hall is painted yellow to represent Buddhism, and white for Hinduism which was the dominant religion in Angkorian times. The Silver Pagoda is one of the only ones to have survived under the Khmer Rouge, the floor is covered with five tonnes of silver spread across more than 5,000 tiles. The staircase leading to the pagoda is made of Italian marble, with the temple home to a life-sized gold Buddha dripping with 2,086 diamonds. There are beautiful murals and sculptures all along the walls, making it a very impressive site.

The King even gives you a bottle of water as you leave, not personally mind!

As you can see from this very unflattering picture, the left eye seems to be rather sore……!!

The afternoon brought what I was dreading/looking forward to most Toul Sleng Prison and Cheung Ek Genocidal Centre, more commonly known as The Killing Fields.

Toul Sleng aka S-21 was an old school that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were turned into cells, larger ones for ‘VIP’ prisoners who were tortured whilst chained to metal beds. There were pictures on the walls of the bodies on the beds which remained in the room. I have not added any of those pictures, I didn’t take any. Other rooms were separated into cubicles where captives were chained into and some had rows and rows of pictures of those who were then taken on to the Killing Fields and killed.

There were very few survivors. those who were valuable to the regime were saved. They have written books to educate and raise awareness, which I bought. Two such survivors were at the sight and we were able to speak with them.

Fourteen children were saved at the end, one of them was also there.

The Genocidal Centre has been preserved in respect for the thousands of victims who were killed there in very barbaric ways, and then just dumped into mass graves. As you walk around, you can see some of the pits but a lot have been left in respect. In the pagoda, all the bones of those that were dug up have been placed. You can go in and lay flowers and say prayers. It was a really terrible place and the history of it is just terrible.

What kept going on in my mind was how was this allowed to happen? It was in such recent times yet did the world ignore it? Did the regime hide it well and presented a happy community to the outside world? It is just terrifying to think that these events happened in my lifetime, just shocking.

The evening brought some much needed alcohol, it was NYE! Unfortunately I flaked out early as my eye was really sore but not before some celebrations!

Next morning was our flight to Siem Reap, people kept reminding me that my eye was red which did not help! As soon as we landed, we were off to see Angkor Wat, one of the main reasons for my whole trip!

Angkor Wat is among the world’s largest religious monuments and is a popular spot to see the sun rise. It is a UNESCO heritage site measuring 400km sq,the largest religious monument in the world. It was built in the 12th century as a Hindu temple, but later transformed into a place of worship for Buddhists. Construction was started in the mid 12th century and was dedicated to Vishnu. King Suryavarman built it as the state temple and the capital city. Later, towards the end of the 12th century, it transformed from being a Hindu temple to Buddhist one.

It was built in the Khmer style out of sandstone and historians have speculated for years what it was supposed to be, why it is orientated to the west and how the symmetry was so perfect.

It is a main building surrounded by long galleries lined with bas relief patterns that tell the stories of ancient Kings in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the ancient Hindu scriptures. Virtually all of its surfaces, columns, lintels and even roofs are carved. There are miles of reliefs illustrating scenes from Indian literature including unicorns, griffins, winged dragons pulling chariots as well as warriors following an elephant-mounted leader and celestial dancing girls with elaborate hair styles, it is said that there are over 135 different hairstyles carved in.

It was all just wonderful as I watched the sun go down and the shimmering reflections in the water. Unfortunately that was the only temple in the complex that I made it to as from then on, I was stuck in my sick bed for the next 2 days and if I had known then about the Coronavirus, I would have been worried!!

The amazing journey ended on 4th January, I felt tired, overwhelmed, in a whirlwind and exhausted! I can only now, 7 weeks later, appreciate what I saw and did. I knew that I was coming back to Cambodia so although I was disappointed not to have seen the other temples, I didn’t feel too bad as I was going to make sure I came back to Siem Reap.

Looking back, it was far too much for a 2 week trip, you can’t really get a feel for a place in short snippets of time, being on a bus a lot of the time or living out of a bag. It is a good way of getting the flavour of a country, knowing what to see more or do different on a trip back, or even if you want to go back! Jet lag has a real effect and it takes time to get my head around things if I have traveled a long way and so yes, I do want to visit Vietnam again to give it another go. I am in Cambodia at the moment, that episode is the next page of the blog site!!

Met some really cool people on the trip, Cambodians, Vietnamese and fellow travelers and it was a right old adventure………..

5 thoughts on “Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

  1. Oh Nisha – the Killing Fields! How ghastly; it’s makes me feel sick to even read your blog. As you say, why did no one stop it? So sorry that you had a bug-attacked eye and then had to take to your sick bed. Hope all is now well and are you sure it wasn’t coronavirus?!!! Lovely to read all you’re up to – it’s a vicarious pleasure. Happy travelling!

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    1. Hello Wendy, yes was a gruesome sight and site! I am so glad you like reading what I have written, maybe you can join in somewhere rather than be a vicarious watcher?! I am so sorry I didn’t come and see you after our lovely trip, I do think of you often, especially when I sit next to someone on a plane 😉😘

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  2. Great blog Nisha and lots of detail. Took me right back to Dec 2018 when I went to all the places you are writing about. Very jealous of your sunset at Anghor Wat! We went during the day.. Yes definitely go back to some of the other temples before you leave Cambodia – the jungle ones are fascinating. and its a bit less crowded and less humid! Hope the volunteering going well and no more bites/illnesses! Do take care out there.. xxx

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