After 100 meters of walking through the gate, a couple of kilometers away from Aranyaprathet –a border town of Thailand-, we enter Cambodia.
In several minutes, we get our visa for 30 days after paying 30$ and start waiting for the bus to go to Siem Reap.
Currency of Cambodia is US Dollars ($). Riel is also in use, but especially in big settlements and touristic areas, prices are in $. While paying, dollars and riels are used together and make us calculate regularly as 4000 Riels = 1 $.
We take a minibus to Siem Reap for 9 $ per person. Siem Reap is the tourism capital of Cambodia, because there areTemples of Angkor.
We find a double room for 7 $, a bit out of the center. Cambodia is not as cheap as we expected from the articles we read before. Or our expectation is too low due to our low budget after one year on the road.
You can rent a bicycle, motorcycle or a tuk tuk to go to Angkor from Siem Reap. A good stamina and a couple of days are needed to visit the place by bicycle both because of the distance and the heat. We visit Angkor by renting a tuk tuk for 10 $ for a day. Also 20 $/per person is paid as an entrance fee for one day.
Angkor is a temple complex in a large area surrounded by a forest. Angkor Wat, Angor Thom and Ta Phrom are some of the most important temples. You can find information about Angkor everywhere; if you hear about it for the first time, we suggest you to watch Baraka. It also takes place in a Tomb Raider movie, a mediocre example. The picture on the flag of Cambodia also represents Angkor Wat. For us, the most impressive temple is Ta Phrom; we witness and admire the power of the nature.
There is not much to do in Siem Reap, but the night life which we are not interested in and sex tourism including child abuse like in many places of Cambodia. In most of the hotels there are warnings against child abuse, but like in Thailand, this disgusting type of “tourism” still takes place.
We stay only for two days in Siem Reap and go to Kratie with 3 different vehicles in 12 hours. Kratie is a settlement next to Mekong River, at the north of the country, close to border of Laos. There is no special reason to go there if it is not on your way. It is possible to rent a boat to see dolphins in the river or you can do canoeing in Mekong (35 $!). But we don’t do any of them and visit Kaoh Trong Island in the middle of mighty Mekong.
We go to the island by a boat (not scheduled) and go around by bicycles we rent. A dirt road (9 km) circles the island, on which there is nothing but a couple of motorcycles and traditional houses. Fields in the middle of the island are used collectively by locals and the residents established a union called “Self-Sustainable Agricultural Community. Two houses are used as guesthouses for tourists visiting the island and the income is shared in the community. Life is calm, flowing with the rhythm of Mekong both in the island and in the floating Vietnam village in the south.
Mekong River is really impressive. It looks like bringing the soul of Tibet, where it is born, to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. We dream about leaving ourselves to the flow of the river from Kratie to the capital Phnom Penh but when we realize that our budget is not enough to buy a boat or a canoe, we take a minibus again. Two most expensive things in Cambodia are food and transportation; we get on the minibus to Phnom for a price more than accommodation (9 $). There are comfortable but slow buses, and uncomfortable but fast minibuses to travel among the cities. But anyway, it is just a dream to start a journey on time, arrive on time and travel comfortably. So, travel however you like it.
When we reach Phnom Penh it gets dark and we find a cheap and available guesthouse after walking for several hours.
Phnom is less joyful and even depressive compared to other touristic places; not only because it is the capital, but also because of witnessing dark and bloody days.
S21 and Death Fields; the dark memorials of Pol Pot regime, caused the death of 2 million people in 70s, are the places we visited without willing to witness the terror created by human that is not possible to describe and make any logical explanation.
S21, a school building in the city before the regime, used as a prison and a place of torture and slaughter by Khmer Rouge, ruled by Pol Pot. Photographs of the kids inside are not from the school, but from the torturing prison.
Death Fields, a few kilometers away from the city, is another monument of mass graves and countless crimes of Pol Pot regime. Agricultural implements, used to kill people, a tree, used to crash the heads of kids, and another tree, used to hang speakers to suppress screams of the victims with anthems. A monument at the entrance; with hundreds of skulls found just in this small area.
But everything is not about a dark history in Cambodia. Just at the opposite side of Killing Fields, Ayn soup-kitchen stands. It is founded and sustained by a young woman from Turkey. Every day, meals are prepared for the village nearby and a building is under construction, which will become a classroom and a workshop for kids. Also there is a butterfly park project in the same area; “Living Fields” at the opposite side of Killing Fields. You can visit aynsoupkitchen.com to support the project sustained by donations, and to buy a meal for the village.
Another place to visit in Phnom Penh is the palace of the King, next to the river dividing the city in two, the most luxurious place in Cambodia. But we are not interested.
We go to the south of Cambodia after Phnom Penh. Kep is a small coastal settlement close to the border of Vietnam. The center is not a good place to swim, but you can go to Rabbit Island or visit the national park nearby. The national park was enough not to regret visiting Kep, with well-maintained trekking routes providing a jungle experience.
We go to Sihanoukville, at the southwest of Cambodia, by hitchhiking after Kep. It is easy to hitchhike in Cambodia, but not much as in Thailand. But it is not very comfortable to travel behind a pick-up in monsoon season.
Sihanoukville is the most touristic area of Cambodia after Siem Reap; especially for those looking for a “sea and sand holiday”. There is nothing attractive but the ocean, and it is better to swim in Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem islands nearby. Thus, the only feature of the place is its dock used to go to the islands. It is possible to buy a return ticket for 5 or 10 $ depending on the season.
An important part of residents in Sihanoukville and the islands are Turkish business manager. We spend our only day here in a shop close to the dock, called “Happy Boat”, by drinking ayran and speaking Turkish.
Koh Tong is larger than Samloem, and cheaper because of more facility, but of course more crowded. We plan to stay in Koh Rong for a couple of days and then jump to Samloem for camping, but we stay there for 15 days when we meet the beautiful people of “A Village Project”.
It’s gonna be A Village Project, is party place with several bungalows, managed by some sweet young people from Turkey. This place hosts parties three times in a week (Monday, Wednesday and Saturday), but it is also one of the best chilling places of the island in the rest of the week. We couldn’t see the end of any party as we always fell asleep, but we didn’t leave there using monsoon as an excuse. But the reason behind staying there is the people we felt like friends of years since the second day. We felt home, rather than like in a tropic island in the middle of the ocean in Cambodia.
While we are coming to the end of 30 days in Cambodia, we make a radical decision for our journey and decide to make our way back to Turkey through Mongolia and Russia, rather than spending our last money in Indonesia. We hitchhike to Bangkok and take one of the comfortable trains to Malaysia to catch our flight from Kuala Lumpur.
We have one week in Malaysia. We want to spend our days by camping, knowing that Malaysia is more expensive compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. When we learn that it is free to camp in the national park in Penang, an island close to Butterworth, the last stop of the train, we go there also to explore the historical island. Even it is a bit expensive (the cheapest room is around 15 dollars), we stay in Georgetown and walk in the streets famous for its street art.
The following day, while walking to the beach in the national park, where sea turtles lay their eggs, Sezgin injures his foot. As there is no way on land but the trekking route, we have no chance to go to hospital until the next day, when the boats arrive. But we don’t let our heart sink and camp under the amazing full moon shining above us.
Then we go back to the city with the first boat and go to Kuala Lumpur, to the house of our Malaysian friend Adida, whom we met in Turkey. She gives her room to us; even she is not at home, travelling in Europe. We don’t leave home for two days to heal Sezgin’s foot, so we cannot see much in Kuala Lumpur. We only observe that, traditional life is going on among sky scrapers and shopping malls. Kuala Lumpur looks like Istanbul in the future and Malaysia really looks like Turkey.
In our last day here, we buy a new camera to replace the one we lost in Thailand and Adida’s home mate takes us to the airport, from where our plane to Seoul will take off.
We have two days in Seoul before going to Siberia. And thanks to Couchsurfing, many beautiful friends even in the countries we visit for the first time.