Travel Memories – Cambodia (Part One)

Hi all! Cambodia has been in my thoughts lately since I outlined my travel itinerary from 2000 when I visited the country. It was a significant country on my travelling journeys, after 14 months at home following my first backpacking adventure in 1999, I could scarcely believe I was off again November 2000 for another two months of exploration.

I must have worked a lot in 2000. I say that because I was able to afford 2 months of travel on the back of making and delivering pizzas. And so I cooked up a bizarre plan to travel to the UK via South East Asia and back through India, all on the one Qantas ticket.

Why did I choose Cambodia? I don’t really know why to be honest, a place with a bit of adventure, off the beaten track a bit (but steadily growing in backpacker popularity at the time). I did a lot of my research via the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree in those days. I still check from time to time but it doesn’t seem as active as it used to be.

Country road near Battambang

The Thorn Tree is an internet forum if you haven’t heard of it. I guess I looked at where different people were going and started to do a bit of research into Cambodia. It was there also you could find travel companions, and I joined a group – as the only male! – who all wanted to visit Cambodia. None of us knew each other beforehand.

We met up in Bangkok. Flights to Europe don’t fly through Cambodia. And so we had a dinner the night before leaving. The next morning it was an early morning train – 630am or possibly earlier – to Poipet at the border (or somewhere close to Poipet).

Poipet

This dusty border town with hole-ridden roads was our introduction to Cambodia. In 2000 there were no sealed roads in this part of Cambodia, and the roads that did exist had spent years neglected and affected annually by floods. Vehicles had to choose what part of the road to use and be very careful. Bridges were a rarity and so river crossings had to be made.

So we found ourselves on a pick up to our first destination – Battambang. A journey of around 100 kilometres or slightly more was in those days 8 to 10 hours. And we got in after the sun had set.

Battambang street
On the bikes in Battambang

Battambang I remember as having a grid-like centre, and being somewhat pleasant. I was due to start study at RMIT University in Melbourne in early 2001, and there was a campus in Battambang. But the real adventure was in the surrounding hills and jungles.

Moving bikes on the tracks
Train travel near Battambang

We took a trolley affair on the railroad, powered I think by a small petrol motor. It was enormous fun! We’d met some young guys and they waited on visitors to Battambang and showed them around on the back of motorbikes. We explored the local area and heard stories of the times when Pol Pot was in power. Pretty powerful stuff. We had two days I think of this. On the second day I had a go at riding the motorbike. I’d ridden one many times when I was younger and was doing fine but at one point I lost control and ended up in the jungle! Luckily no damage to myself or the bike!

River between Battambang and Siem Repp

From there it was a boat ride to Siem Repp. I don’t remember much about Siem Repp the town except that we all got a massage there. This was an initiative where all the people giving the massages were blind. Our guesthouse was rather large and had lots of open areas and we spent the evenings outside. Oh and there was a ‘Happy Pizza’ shop we went to one night – and two of us (not myself) chose a ‘happy pizza’ and were high as a kite. And they didn’t seem to think they were affected. And we wondered if the place might be haunted.

An Angkor temple
As you cross a bridge in Angkor, these friendly guys greet you

For three days whilst there we visited the temples of Angkor including the main Angkor Wat. It was the second of the three days when we got up at 4am or some silly time to see the sunrise over Angkor. I remember climbing the thing – was steep and high and frankly didn’t conform to any Occupational Health and Safety Standards you might expect today. But it’s a pretty special place to see the sunrise.

The temples are amazing and there’s not much I do here with words. Ta Phrom is known as the ‘Jungle Temple’ and is pretty much most people’s favourites. There are literally hundreds of temples I think and some are a long way from the main lot, on the third day we went miles away to see one. If I still had my diary I might be able to say which.

This is one site I do hope to return to some day and recapture the place with a better camera. I think a decent camera is needed in a place so epic and brilliant. From Siem Repp and Angkor, it was a boat journey to the capital Phnom Penh. But for that and the rest, I will return next week to complete the travel memories of Cambodia.

Thankyou for reading as always, and May the Journey Never End!

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