Flying into Cambodia we had heard there was not much to see/do there aside from their big hitter, Ankor Wat, in Siem Reap. However we flew into Phnom Penh and having done my research there was one point of interest there that I wanted to see and was able to talk my comrades into visiting before departing for Siem Reap. This was the Cheong Ek Killing Fields from the Khmer Rouge days. The Khmer Rouge was the communist ruling party of Cambodia's not so distant past, and Cheong Ek was their Auschwitz. Here countless prisoners were executed if they did not seem suitable for the agrarian society the Khmer Rouge was attempting to establish (some were killed for having too soft of hands, a sign you are not cut out for the rough farm work). I found it extremely interesting from its historical perspective, but also extremely heavy and depressing being exposed to the incredible lack of humanity that went on at this place. None more indicative of this than the "Killing Tree", a tree that the Khmer Rouge smashed babies against claiming, "if you want to kill the plant, you have to kill it's roots". The center of the memorial has a 6 story tower that inside contains many of the skulls that have been excavated from the victims, and they are arranged based on their injuries.
Skulls of the victims
Bracelets left behind for the children killed
Collection bin for bones that continue to wash up with the rains
"Magic Tree": Loudspeakers played music from this tree to drown out the cries of the victims
A bone still in the ground
After our moods had been slightly dampened we booked a taxi to take us 5 hours to Siem Reap. The only reason anyone goes to Siem Reap is to see the world famous ancient temples of Ankor Wat. I had always thought that Ankor Wat was just one temple and would just take a few hours to see, but I was way wrong. Ankor Wat just refers to one of the temples and being the most famous has given its name to the entire complex, but there are in actuality over 50 temples and each one is different from the next. Every book we had read told us that we could not do it in one day that you need at least two days, but two day passes were the same price as the three day pass so we bought the three day pass. It was an incredible feeling to just be walking through the jungle and just come up on these magnificent 12th century temples. Felt like a scene straight out of jungle book. My favorite temples were probably Ankor Thom, where the narcissistic king had his face carved all over the temple, and Ta Prohm, where nature has run rampant and trees are growing through the temple walls. One of the coolest, and most surprising, aspects of Ankor Wat was the relatively unrestrained access to everything. Unless it has just been determined unsafe or if they are working on reconstruction, you as the tourist pretty much have free reign to climb, touch, and see every aspect of the temples.
Sunset at Pre Rup
Which one is not like the other?
We rode bikes 10km to Ankor Wat one day
Ankor Wat was the highlight of our trip, and now that we had seen as much of it as we could pack in, and had become pretty templed-out by the end of the three days, it was time to take off for our next destination: Vietnam. Unfortunately, Jason had to leave us for this part of the trip as he had a ticket back to America for the summer.