Hallo Cambodia

I crossed the border from Aranyaparthet to Cambodia by foot. I’m never gonna do that again hahah. It was horrible, they charged me twice as much for the visa and told me that there was no bus to Battambang, where I wanted to go to first in Cambodia, and then charged me 80$ for the taxi. I didn’t know where else to go or what to do and that border was not a nice place to walk alone, there were thieves everywhere and mostly just men. So I had no choice but to go and I felt very uncomfortable and frieghtend. So yeah my first impression of Cambodia was very negative! Finally I arrived at my hostel. A very nice place called Ganesha Family Guesthouse. They had refil tanks for water although one had to pay 50 cent for a 1. 5 Liter bottle but that’s definitely worth it. They also sell strwas made out of steal or bamboo and backage boxes out of paper. It’s really nice to see that they do something about the plastic pollution in Cambodia!

The first day I met a girl from France with whom I spend the two full days I had in Battambang. We took a Tuk Tuk to a nearby mountain where we visited a temple and the killing caves from the Khemer Rouge regime where they now built a monument and buddah statues to replaces this horrible past with good energy. But let me tell you something about the history of this country because it is very important to me and before I came here I actually knew very little about it.

Cambodian history starts already more then 2000 BC. They were early farmers and the pupulation grew fast. 150 AC they already formed a first civilization but didn’t live united under one ruler. Jayavarman II united all the states under his reign in the 9th century. This was the start of the highly developed agricultural Era of the first Khemer Cambodia also known as the Era of Angkor. Nevertheless this Era declined in the 13th century and from that onwards Cambodia lost their power and was captured from Thailand and Vietnam who fought over it until in the 1860s it became a French colony. Under the French reign some economic development took place. Later during the Second World War Cambodia was captured by the jepanese and then a few years later taken back by the French and was made semi-independent. In 1953 they were declared independent under the reign of king Sihanouk. In 1955 first elections were held and Sihanouk with his ‚Buddhist socialist party‘ dominated politics until the 70s. During that time Cambodia tried to stay neutral between the competing countries UdSSR, USA and China which was not an easy task! After he was removed by the National Assembly an official who had good connections with the USA replaced him! During the Vietnam War the Vietcong had many war bases in the jungle of Cambodia which remained even after the war. As a consequence to that the USA started to bomb the country to stop the rise of communism in the country side of Cambodia (the Khemer Rouge for example). This actually only strengthened the Khemer Rouge so that they had enough soldiers to take over the country. The Khemer Rouge regime terrorised Cambodia mainly from 1975 to 1979 although they were formed much earlyer known as a branch of the communist party in Cambodia and were not dissolved until 1999! They closed and stopped all connection to the outside world, moved the people from the city’s to working camps and mainly killed all interlectuals. Religion was abandoned, the monks were either killed or had to work for the Khemer Rouge and the temples and monasterys were even used as prisons. They were reckless and didn’t just killed their own people but mainly turtured them to death. I can’t describe what they did and how cruel they were but there are carved stones on the memorials today where one can see how the people were treated. The main problem was that no one from the outside world knew what was going on because they shut themselves off completely! Luckely Vietnam freed the country from this regime but then the USA and Thailand started to support the Khemer Rouge in refugees camps in Thailand so they could fight the Vietnamese (they believed the Khemer Rouge were a liberation front). Again only the hate against communism was the focus and no one listen to the stories the people from Cambodia had to tell! This went on another couple of years until countrys like Australia finally started to put the leaders of the Khemer Rouge to trail and started to recognized the Genozid! The supporting countries never stood up for their second hand crimes! Now this country is very poor. A third of this population was killed during this time and one can still see the scars and trauma of these people…. Corruption in government and authorities is still very current but the people are moving on and trying to be positiv. Tourism has actually helped many families, it is the main economy they have and although the Cambodian are more shy then the Thai, when you get to know them a little they are very friendly and nice. (my history knowledge could be wrong in some details but that’s what I was told by a Cambodian guide in Angkor)

So yeah when Casse and I visited the killing fields and killing caves in Battambang it was a very sad experience for me… The cave is actually not that big. It’s kind of half opened and one can still se some turtured equipment.

Statues in front of the killing caves should illustrate how they turtured

After the killing caves we went down to a hole in the mountain where we watched batts flying out of the cave for 40 min! This was so nice and beautiful to see.

Our evening was still not done because we decided to go to a circus show near by which is created for a school fundraiser. It is a bit expensive but for a good cause so I guess it’s okay. The show was really good! During the show they told a story of a Cambodian market and connected their artistic skills with acting. The acrobatics were incredible and even dangerous and the whole crowd was cheering! So yeah this was very nice and we completed our adventures day successfully and with a lot of joy.

The next day we were not sure what to do in the morning but after breakfast we talked to Marcus a German who lives in Battambang and volunteers in a school. He organized us a tuk tuk driver, his name is Vireak kong. He is a very interesting person. He is not only a driver but also founded a school in his backyard for the poor children who can’t afford to go to school. So at first he drove us to the Tempel which was used as a prison during the Khemer Rouge reign and right beside are the killing fields. Today there is a big memorial on it with reliefs showing the cruel events that took place and a big stone wall where the history of this place is carved. On top was something like a Chappell with thousands of bones in it, representing the victims… I didn’t make a picture there, it was just too depressing. But on the other hand I think it is important for everyone who lives or visits this country to get to know the history and to visit these sad places.

Vireak kong then showed us the real Cambodian fish market, although I didn’t go in because I can’t bare the smell, I could see it from the outside and it is so different from our fish market. They have huge pots with fish just standing outside, cooling them with some ice cubes and selling them to restaurants, private costumers or street food sellers. We continued our trip and went to a rise paper farm where we could see how they make the rise paper for the spring rolls. It’s incredibly how fast they work and the spring rolls we tried were probably the best I’ve ever had.

Near this place was a place where they made banana chips (I love banan chips so much, everywhere where I can, I have to buy them haha) so this was very interesting for me to see! They cut them all by hand, Casse and I tried it as well but it was very hard and took so long. The woman working there told us that first they cut them and dry them in the sun on bamboo boards and later either leave them like that or fry them in a pan. Of course I had to buy a lot of chips and they were delicious!

This was our last tour stop and now Vireak kong had to go back to his school because from 4pm to 7pm he has classes to teach and he kindly took us with him. We were very excited to see the school and maybe teach some French and German. The school is actually just a backyard, there were even two cows standing biside the ‚classroom‘. The classroom has a roof, three whiteboards and some wooden benches and tables for the children. In the back were some chickens and the stable was to the left although during the classes the cows were moved to a different place. This school is a language school, the children here learn English, German and French. Vireak kong can speak a little bit of all three but he welcomes volunteers who are native speakers sincerely. The children were a bit shy at first but when Casse started to ask their names they started to warm up and were very curious. A lot of these children walk for an hour or more to come to the school to learn. It showed us a lot how privliged we are and that we probably should start appreciating it more! It was a lot of fun for both of us to teach the children and see how ambitious they are. It was such a beautiful experience and I’m so thankful it. The school is for free and they don’t have to pay for any uniforms or school books, unlike the state schools. That’s why Vireak kong is dependent on donations. I would now love to encourage you all to send some donations so they can build a proper classroom with a library. It doesn’t have to be much, $5 is not a lot for us but it already helpes this school so much.

Here is the official school page: https://beehiveschoolcambodia.com/

They don’t have an international donation account so the donations are going to Marcus account and he then gives it to the school (he is a teacher there as well and helps with the development a lot)

Marcus Wöll

DE69701100883067731474

Thank you so much ❤️

My stay in battambang was very nice, I enjoyed it a lot and was even a bit sad to move on. My next stop was Siem Reap. I arrived in the evening because my bus had complications and we had to wait for another so yeah traveling with busses in Cambodia requires patience. But when I arrived my Spanish friend, whom I met on Koh Chang, was already waiting there for me. It was nice to see him again and in the evening we went out in the city. It is very touristic here due to Angkor Wat which is just a couple km away from the town. There is a big pub street where you can find bars and restaurants in European Stil with European prices. A lot of souvenir shops or clothing street shops are there as well. Around this area are street food cars, where we always ate, it’s local food and very cheap compared to the restaurants. In general I think that Cambodia is not that cheap for travelers.

On the first day we visited the national museum of Angkor to get some more information before visiting the actual temples. It was an interesting visit but nothing compared to seeing the real temples. The next day we went to get our Ticket for Angkor which is $62 for 3 days. Luckily Andreu, my Spanish friend, had a motorcycle so we didn’t have to pay a tuk tuk. We started our tour with the smaller temples where not many people visited so it was nice and quiet and we could enjoy these massive ancient monuments. It is so incredibly to see these temples and buildings and its unimaginable for me that they built it all without proper machines. It is an unexplainable experience to walk and touch those huge temples. But what was probably even more fascinating for me were the trees growing out or over the ruins. Kind of like nature taking back her property. This reminded me that no matter how much people take from nature, it will always outlast everything and eventually take it all back! This was so beautiful for me to see and feel. I enjoyed this trip to Angkor so much although it was tiring because the sun was so hot especially in the afternoon. I didn’t think that the area of this ancient city and civilization was so big! This city had a population of more than 1 million people in its peak and had over 1000 temples and buildings ! The Khmer Empire consist of Mayamar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Library in Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Apsara, dancers for the king

Andreu and I infront of the middle Tempel in Angkor Wat

The next day we stood up at 5am so that we could see the sunrise at Angkor Wat (the main temple). This temple is on a square formed island surrounded by 10 meter deep water which was all built by hand. To built Angkor Wat 300.000 slaves and 5000 Elefant were needed and it only took 37 years to be finished(that’s why the price for visiting one day is 37$). Andreu and I took a tour guide for this massive temple city because after watching the sunrise we realized we want to know more about this temple. There were already a lot of people there in the morning but in the afternoon this places was way too crowded! Around the temple area is a huge wall with one entry in the middle for the king and two entries on each side for elefants, servants and guests. Angkor Wat was built under the ruel of Jayavarman VII dedicated to the hindu God Vishnu. Nevertheless many believe that this most powerful king felt like a God himself and at the entrance is a statue of Vishnu with eight instead of 4 arms and it is a representation of the king as a God. This Tempel should be the heaven on earth and was actually not a Tempel but a holiday city for the king and his guests. Only in the 15/16 century it was changed to Angor Wat (Angor=City Wat = Tempel) by the Buddhist. The king himself actually practiced a lot of Buddhism himself and is today mostly known for his love for beautiful dancers, cigars, rice wine and meat. So the people still offer food, drinks and cigars under his statue at the entrance.

Inside, in front of the main building are various smaller buildings for example librarys and there used to be a lot of wooden houses for the guests. The main ‚castle‘ is again surrounded by a wall. Inside are other buildings and the main has three big towers, representing the three main gods Bhrama, Vishnu and Shiva. Angor Wat was designed by an astrolegist and is in perfekt harmony with the sun circle. (the people still use it as a clock for their agricultural circle. For example when the sun rises on the left over the Brahma tower its the rain season and when it rises at the right side over the Shiva tower it’s the dry season. When the sun rises exactly over the peak of the middle Vishnu tower it’s the equinox) It was also said that the middle is the center of the world and it is in exact relation with the cardinal points. This is so incredible how exact and progressive they’ve worked! It’s hard to discribe the massiveness and beauty of this place. All the other temples we visited after that were just as beautiful and interesting. Angkor Throm is like 3km away from Angkor Wat and this was the permanent residence of the king, again many massive buildings and temples with incredible stone carvings and statues on each wall! I especially enjoyed all the carved details which are perfectly synchron although our guided told us that if someone made a mistake his hands were chopped off and the stone had to be replaced, so yeah all this beauty had a high price to pay….

But I have to say after the second whole day in Angkor we were very exhausted and decided to relax the last day we had in Siem Reap.

I went to a fitness gym 30 min away from my hostel which was really nice! But on my way there I saw the other non touristic side of Siem Reap. It is very easy to forget the poor side of the country in the center but it’s still there and very much in need of approvement. Children taking baths in dirty dumps and poor living conditions. But its also nice to see how happy these children are and that they are still playing outside all day or helping their parants! Still, I can’t get ride of the guilty feeling inside of me for living so reckless and in luxery while they have so little… Every luxery has its price and we in the west defently live on the expenses of others….

So yeah my first week in Cambodia was very eventful and also emotional for me. Now I’m on my way to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. But I think I’ll go to the coast soon because I really miss the sea hahah

Have a great day and be thankful for everything you have ❤️

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