Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rumbling of the earth...

I left Laos and the 4 thousand islands via bus, crossing the Cambodia border with some new American friends I just met on the bus. We all held the pink tickets to Siem Reap. Upon crossing the border (my first via land for this trip!) an immigration officer stuck a small looking hair dryer up to my neck. She was taking my temperature. I giggled. Seriously? Yes, this is not a joke ma'am. You must be healthy to cross into Cambodia!

The roads were paved with lots of gravel and bumps along the way, making the journey long and, well, interesting when having to use the bathroom on the bus. Halfway to Siem Reap, we switched buses. We pulled up to the new bus, already full of passengers, and we (mostly backpackers, 16 deep) joked that we might have to camp out and sing kumbayah together, as it was 8pm by now. One girl from Israel was at her wits end and started questioning the bus driver with a raised voice. What is going on? We paid for a bus and now this one is full? Give us some direction on what we should be doing! The bus driver (as they always do when someone complains), said nothing and got on his phone, then handed it to her. Someone on the phone said that a bus would be coming in 30 minutes if she could trust him and wait. A few other backpackers have been on the infamous sardine-packed overnight bus from Vientiane to Hanoi, so decided that this would be a piece of cake in comparison, so lets just pack onto this bus. And that we did! I lost my earring on this bus...a stud from when I first pierced my ears. A part of me thinks it's symbolic. I've lost it a few memorable times in the past few years on some great adventures (upon moving to CO, on my 30th birthday, but always finding it after). This time I looked for it but decided to let it go. Like a fresh start.

I got to the hotel at midnight, three hours late, but awaiting me was my friend Jess! Back for more travels! The next morning we headed out early to bike 10km up to the Angkor temples. We were too late for sunrise, but made it before the crowds. What beauty! I especially enjoyed the trees that were growing out of, and taking over the temples.

On our ride back to town, I saw one of the guys from the bus and he said he had just donated blood, to help the kids here with some disease. It sounded like a great cause to me, but I hesitated at the sound of a needle from this foreign country. As sanitary as it might be, I will go back to the states and look into options for donating from there...maybe try to twist your arms too :)

The town of Siem Reap seemed fairly small. We stayed in the downtown near restaurants and bars and the markets which were all an easy walk. The ATMs dispense US dollars, as this is the main currency for big bills, and vendors would give change in riels. An easy conversion!

The next day we took a 6 hour bus to Phnom Penh. After flying for most if my first city connections then taking buses now for my later connections, I do prefer buses. No matter how long and how dirty and how rough, they still have a lot more stories and lot more personality than sterile plane rides! And they are easy to book last minute for this non-planner :) there's a lot more time to soak in the atmosphere of the country, making the drive a part of the full experience. Glad I enjoy airplanes now...but nothing beats a road trip :)

We arrived in Phnom Penh, a super friendly tuk-tuk driver excitedly came up and asked where we were from. He even knew about Denver and the mountains there! After first refusing his $2 offer for a ride, we made a u-e and decided he (David) could save us a mile and some time and strength. And he connected his iPod to speakers and played country...what's not to love?! We wanted to visit the killing fields the next day, so he offered to drive us there as well.

For those who don't know the killing fields, it's basically like what happened in Nazi Germany, with the killing of millions of innocent Cambodians, purely at the discretion of the regime in the late 1970s. Religious, educated, military, foreign, no one was safe. Even innocent children were killed as they said, if you will to remove grass you must remove the roots as well. They did not want children to grow up and seek revenge later. The regime was attempting to make the 'revised' nation self sufficient. So those who were safe were forced to farm or labor, though they had no previous experience.

This was a very sobering experience. Bones and clothes from the mass graves were still being unearthed due to rain. Very touching to hear that the people consider perfect strangers as brothers and sisters through this tragedy and even today. Besides our driver, each person we met was full of friendliness and not anger towards us or anyone. They are true examples of forgiveness...most importantly remembering the past only to help move forward and be optimistic about their future. I was truly touched. And hello first tears of the trip!

With Jess going on to Laos for a few days while I head to Koh Phangan for my last week, David drove me solo to the airport this morning. He even gave me a hug goodbye! I appreciated how he was the first and last person I'd see in that city. As excited as I am for the next place, it's hard to say goodbye to these places that have become my home for a few days!

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