Our first Cambodia experience

Its hard not to fall in love with Cambodia. From its warm and wonderful people to the fascinating history dating back over a thousand years, the nation is transitioning quickly but retains so much of its culture and hospitality, it’s every bit as great as you’ve heard and then some. Apologizing for not writing during our trip, we shortened this excursion to ten days so unlike our jaunts to Myanmar, Australia and Thailand, I found myself occupied almost every minute. With no easy way to get there from Penang, we’re hanging out in Starbucks in KL Sentral, the main transportation hub in Kuala Lumpur after a two-hour flight from Phnom Penh for a three-hour layover. We’ll then hop on the new high-speed express train to Butterworth and four hours later we’ll be back in Penang.

imageAlthough mighty inconvenient for Penang dwellers trying to get to Cambodia , the new high-speed train from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur is very reliable. Seating is a bit cramped but the trains are new and the bathrooms are cleaner than almost anywhere in Malaysia. (The sore spot of Malaysia, toilets are  disgustingly dirty, never have toilet paper or soap and we’ve now visited yet another developing nation further down the development scale whose cleanliness puts Malaysia to shame). The trains leave on time, they’re well staffed and best of all, the air conditioning is a bit warmer than the sixteen degree Celsius madness we experienced our first train trip last year. Taking the opportunity to write a quick post, here’s some pictures from each area we visited. I’ll write much more detail of each experience once we get home. Writing on my IPad sucks and OS10 is proving to be a piece of shit filled with flukes for my old pad so please bear with me.

The floating villages of the Tonle Sap

The floating villages of the Tonle Sap

Starting with a day trip that included a trip through a floating village, we also visited a beautiful bird sanctuary. The villages literally pick up and move to another part of the river during different times of the year. As Southeast Asia’s largest lake, The Tonle Sap is seasonally inundated which means it floods to seventeen meters during rainy season and then drops down to about three meters during the dry period. Influenced by the tides of the Mekong River, its unique ecosystem offers countless opportunities for wildlife, cultural and native tours.

Peek Toal bird sanctuary

Peek Toal bird sanctuary

Of course Siem Reap is all about temples and Angkor Wat is only one of the many architectural wonders of the area. Often considered the most spectacular temple by most guides although the name is less known, Bayon Temple is spectacular.

The Bayon Temple

The Bayon Temple

Climbing to the top of Bayon Temple

Climbing to the top of Bayon Temple

Angkor Wat; Cambodia's most well known Temple

Angkor Wat; Cambodia’s most well known Temple

The Landmine Museum is a fascinating attraction founded by a Cambodian that dedicated his life to removing land mines and was honored on CNN’s Top 10 Heroes show in 2010. Giving an amazingly detailed insight into this deadly problem that’s plagued Cambodia for years, the museum offers well laid out displays and a great audio tour for only five dollars. Thankfully the nation is almost free of these deadly killers left by a five-year American bombing campaign.

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Making a perfect day trip, we spent one day hiking to a river bed where you see religious carvings on the side of the river. Made in the ninth century, the king used to hike a thousand feet up to this place with his high priests and they didn’t permit anyone elseto swim in the river. After that, we saw one of my favorite temples. Built entirely by women while the men in the kingdom were off fighting the Cham, descendants of the Vietnamese, it’s referred to as the Pink Temple due to its pink sandstone composition.

Although it’s hard to take, everyone visiting Cambodia needs to visit the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Musuem. Telling a horrifying story that westerners are not taught, the monuments detail the horrifying reign of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s and learning the story helps you root for the future of this beautiful nation as well as gaining a powerful understanding of why demagogues should never ever be allowed to rule anyone.

The Killing fields

The Killing fields

Central Market is as clean as any Thailand market we’ve visited and is well worth a few hours. Khmer street food can be a bit dicey but unlike Myanmar, you can eat relatively safe street food if you visit the larger markets that use filtered water. Just stay away from the fresh ice which is literally wheeled down a conveyor belt to the floor, picked up by shirtless kids and broken up for use by the vendors.

Central Market

Central Market

As animal lovers, no trip is complete without some sort of animal experience and Phnom Tamo Wildlife Resource Center is one of the best. As Southeast Asia’s largest rehabilitation Center, the Wildlife Alliance organization offers day tours that offer up close personal experiences with dozens of rescued critters. While not inexpensive, every penny goes back into the Center and the highlight is climbing into the cage where socialization skills and taught to young monkeys. Well worth the money, it ranks up there with Galapagos, Borneo and other great trips we’ve taken that involve animals.

Seeing it’s almost time to board the train I’ll cut it off here and look forward to sharing longer posts of each adventure later this week. Happy November and let’s all pray that sanity prevails on November 8th or some of the phenomenal things you’ve seen here in this post will surely be threatened.

Cheers from KL Sentral.

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