Get it? Cuz that's a song and we went to Cambodia on Christmas!
At dinner the night before, the hotel lady had told us that we’d have some sudden companions on our 5 hour boat trip to Cambodia. They were late, for the boat, but we waited and, for whatever reason, Dad didn’t freak out. The cruise was beautiful. I had expected this calm skinny river of thatched house on stilts and periodic village-people waving to the mysterious travellers from abroad. What I found was a bustling thoroughfare of out-dated ships carrying cargo and dredging sand. There were thatched houses on stilts but I’d expected a much quainter river. Mekong ain’t nuttin’a fuck wit.
About 2 hours in we made it to Cambodia. This meant getting off of the vote so they could search it; ensure that we were carrying enough heroin; and put visas in our passports. Much of the boat journey was spent ashore waiting for them to go through that red tape while we stared at sleeping stray dogs.
Around noon, the palace emblematic of Phnom Penh poked it’s head up, and we sped our way to a tiny dock. On the dock was a welcome committee of a million taxi and tuk-tuk drivers vying for our business. We got in one lucky cab; headed to the hotel; and planned our day over lunch. We decided to “do Phnom Penh” that day, and make excursions outside of the city the next day. So we saw a palace, some stupas, and a large tin house that had been given to the king by Napoleon’s wife. Phnom Penh isn’t great. There’s a reason Angkor Wat is on every Cambodia TV commercial or tour brochure. Angkor Wat remains the single most awe-inspiring place I’ve ever been. Phnom Penh is a place sketchy guys go when the prostitutes in Bangkok are too expensive. Yeah.
The next day we went to the Killing Fields. Nobody wants to go to the Killing Fields, but you can’t go to Phnom Penh and not go. It’s like watching Holocaust movies – they make you feel awful, but there’ s almost a moral imperative to watch them.
There’s a solitary, large structure in the middle of the killing fields. As you approach it, you realize it’s full of thousands of skulls. They let you walk in through the tall maze of skulls. It shocks you, but like the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, it didn’t feel enough like a memorial. I get that you can promote the “Never Again!” mentality with shocking exhibits, but it doesn’t need to be a skyscaper of skulls. What ought to be a condemnation of Pol Pot looks a bit like a monument to his power. We spent about 20 minutes at the Killing Fields, and headed for an Angkor Wat-era temple a few kilometers away. Like Angkor Wat, it didn’t disappoint. There were no tourists, but we were suddenly ambushed by beggars. There are a lot of beggars in Cambodia, some legitimate and others working for criminals. You can’t give them all money, so walking around tourist sites usually means the pervasive feeling of guilt that you have enough money to visit Cambodia, and they don’t have enough to eat.
We went back to the hotel for lunch and then set off for Udong, the former capital of Cambodia and the site of a massive Buddhist temple on a mountain. There one kid became our tour guide and another younger one fanned my Dad. The staircase up to the temple had 650 steps. Not easy. But the various temples at the top were all different and cool and worth it. At the end of our journey on the mountain, we saw a massive temple being constructed. A while later we were back at the hotel to sleep. We’d be going to Indonesia the next day.