Michael & Hannah’s Grand Adventure kicked off with five days in Cambodia, a country that has suffered immense tragedy in the last 50 years.
Cambodia is still recovering from the devastation caused by U.S. bombs during the Vietnam War, as well as the acts of genocide committed by Pol Pot in the 1970s. Under his regime, the Khmer Rouge sought to transform Cambodia into a rural, classless society, and targeted any intellectuals (i.e. doctors, lawyers, scientists, artists, etc.) who might stand in the way. People were expelled from the cities and forced to take up agricultural work in the fields, slaving away under unbearable conditions. The “intellectuals,” as well as minority groups, city residents and foreigners, were interrogated, tortured and killed in prisons across the country.
Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated 2 million people died from diseases, lack of medical supplies, starvation, execution and exhaustion. Today, many survivors and family members of those who perished still suffer from mental health problems and extreme poverty. However, in 1993, Cambodia held its first Democratic election and is trying hard to get back on its feet.
- Naga Angkor Guesthouse
- Angkor Archaeological Park 1-day tour
- Dinner & drinks at Funky Flashpackers
- Buffet dinner & traditional Khmer dance show at Koulen II Restaurant
- Mad Monkey
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
- Choeung Ek Killing Fields
- Russian Market
- Lunch at Sugar and Spice Café, run by Daughters of Cambodia, an organization that helps victims of sex trafficking escape and start a new life
- Drinks on the rooftop at Foreign Correspondents Club
- “Happy” pizza & shakes at Happy Herb Pizza
Stretching over 400 square kilometers, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the ruins of numerous capitals of the Khmer Empire, which dominated Cambodia from the 9th to the 15th century. We got to visit three of the most famous sites—Angkor Wat, as well as Ta Phrom and the Bayon Temple within Angkor Thom. Being the efficient people we are (and wanting more than anything to get out of the heat) we even managed to do it all before lunch!
Mr. Sna (a.k.a. “Mr. Corruption”)
After checking into our hostel in Phnom Penh, we wandered around the corning, looking for a place to exchange money. As fate would have it, we stumbled upon the office of Mr. Sna, the most honest and down-to-earth little Cambodian man there’s ever been. We chatted with him for almost an hour while he praised America and told us about the history of his people. He explained to us the corruption that fuels Cambodian government and businesses, and how he doesn’t dare tarnish his company by accepting “dirty money.” He ended up helping us exchange money, get our visas for Vietnam, book our next bus, and hooked us up with a tuk tuk driver to give us a tour of the city. I hope to meet more people like Mr. Sna on this trip.
The worst thing about Cambodia, by far, is the dirt, dust and trash that line the streets. All that, combined with the lack of plumbing technology, creates a horrible stench that seems to follow you around everywhere you go.
Aggressive Street Vendors
Don’t you just hate when a store clerk in America is hovering and following you around the shop? I do. But here, it’s inescapable. No matter where you go, whether it’s the market, the ancient temples, or just down the street, there are street vendors getting in your face and literally begging you to buy something from them. At Angkor Wat, a little girl (maybe 5 or 6 years old) came up to me and showed me the postcards she was selling for $1. I politely told her “No, thank you,” but she continued to follow me around for what felt like 10 minutes, just whining and repeating the words, “one dollar, one dollar…”
- US Dollars are the main currency in Cambodia, in addition to Cambodian Riels
- The Khmer knew the Earth was round when they built Angkor Wat and thus placed a statue of Vishnu sitting on the axis of the world
Next stop, Vietnam!