Angkor Whaaat?

November 19, 2018 Off By resignatedsurvivors

Hello there loyal followers and welcome to week nine of the RSBA, brought to you from Cambodia. There have been ups, there have been downs, and so many, many things in between, and we can’t wait to share all of these with you. So make yourself a cuppa and get comfortable because this is going to be a good one…


Our flight from Thailand to the city of Siem Reap took us just over an hour, so we weren’t expecting there to be too much of a culture shock when we got there – we were wrong (and maybe being slightly racist?!). Our hotel had arranged for a “driver” to greet us at the airport, so we were expecting the usual standard taxi to come and collect us. To our surprise and bemusement, the driver loaded our bags on to a traditional Khmer tuk tuk, essentially a wooden carriage drawn along by a scooter, and we hopped on and enjoyed viewing the sights around us on the way into the city. First impressions were that is a lot more “rustic” than Thailand, which we loved, with far fewer neon signs and high-rise buildings. The people were warm and always smiling, and so keen to get to know us better (with no alterior motive, which was refreshing).

Angkor Wat, the symbol of Cambodia

Siem Reap is most commonly known for its ancient stone carved temples, the most famous being Angkor Wat, the symbol of Cambodia. We set off at 4.30 a.m. and made our way to the site, eager to get there as early as possible (to witness the famous sunrise dahhhling, of course!). We were one of the first to make it to the entrance, and we smugly waited for the next five minutes until the gates opened, whilst visitors piled up behind us. As soon as five o’clock hit, we dashed across the bridge leading to the entrance to the temple grounds and up the stone staircase (knowing exactly where we were going because we’d done a reconnaissance mission the day before) only to see everyone behind us going through another entrance. Oops! We dashed back the other way and eventually squeezed ourselves into the crowd to our chosen spot (Mr RS is very serious when it comes to his photographs!). All those romantic Insta-worthy shots of Angkor Wat at sunrise come at a price, with people scrambling to get the best spot, staking their territory with tripods, elbows and claws at the ready – what fun! 

Angkor Wat at Dawn, and no that is not a UFO. It's a star trail from a very very long exposure.

Anyway, for all our efforts and just as the sun was rising, a massive cloud appeared and ruined the golden glow we were waiting for – brilliant. The temple itself was definitely worth the visit though, and several of the other temples in the Angkor complex (we actually visited around 13 temples in two days) were used in the Tomb Raider movies, so I definitely pretended to be Lara Croft as we navigated the many uneven stone staircases, side-stepped our way through narrow corridors and leapt over crumbling walls (OK this last one is a slight exaggeration but you get the point). All in all, well worth a couple of days in Siem Reap.

Although weren't blessed with the golden glow we were hoping for, we were blessed with an incredible scene nonetheless.
Monks at prayer time in Angkor Wat
Bayon Temple
Ta Prohm Temple (famous for Tomb Raider) where the trees spread their gigantic roots over stones and walls as their branches and leaves intertwine to form a roof over the structures.

Our next stop was the town of Battembang (pronounced “Battembong”, and misleadingly known as Cambodia’s “second city” because about five people were seen on the streets at any one time). This is a sleepy but artsy town filled art galleries and hundreds of hipster cafes run by the many social enterprise schemes run from Battembang, which basically means they can charge double for a coffee. As has become the norm for us now, we hired a moped and headed out of the city to explore the surrounds. One of the most exciting things was seeing the bat caves, where everyday at five p.m., a stream of bats migrate out of the cave in search for food. Apparently this phenomenon is very rare, with only seven places in the world known to have this. We must have seen a few million bats, as the tiny things uniformly snaked out of the cave in a constant stream which lasted around half an hour. To put it very basically, this was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Ever. 

Bats leaving the cave for the night. This is a snapshot in time, it was a continuous stream for 30 minutes.

Our last stop this was to the city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. It’s a fairly unremarkable city but it has a very bleak history, which we learnt about during our visits to the Killing Fields and the S21 prison. I have been battling with whether to go into the horrific details of what we saw there and how it made us feel, as to put it mildly, it made my stomach turn. I don’t think the details will be done justice in this post but the photos should do a better job in giving an insight into the awful Khmer Rouge regime that this beautiful country was subjected to only a matter of 40 years ago.

Killing tree against which executioners beat children to death.
S21 Prison Block B. Each cell is no bigger than a wardrobe. Here you can still see incriptions on the walls from inmates and blood stained floors.
Human remains at the Killing Caves in Battambang.
The Stupa. A memorial building installed in the Killing Fields which houses all the human remains uncovered. These are colour coded by how each person was likely to have been killed, and sorted by age and gender.
A lake in the middle of the killing fields. Proof that amongst all this darkness you can still find beauty.

See, we told you there would be ups and downs. Anyway, next week we’re heading south to see what the rest of Cambodia has to offer up to us eager explorers.

Much love,

The Resignated Survivors


Highlight of the week: One of the most unique things we’ve done on the RSBA so far was ride the Bamboo Train through the beautiful rice fields of Battambang. There are no working train networks currently running in Cambodia, but the Bamboo Train was a simple contraption used by famers to transport goods around the countryside. It is essentially a flat wooden bamboo panel that is laid across two sets of wheels, which travels at around 50mph on a single railway track. If you encounter one coming the other way, you simply get off, dismantle the train to let the other one pass, before putting it back together and setting off on your way. Genius!

Bamboo Train Dismantling Step 1: Lift the flat panel (requires 2 people)
Bamboo Train Dismantling Step 2: Carefully place the platform far enough way to make room for oncoming train.
Bamboo Train Dismantling Step 3: Remove the wheels, each set weighing approx 40kg.

Other notable things: In an effort to encourage Cambodian youths into employment, specifically the arts, several organisations have set up circuses, which perform regularly for tourists (think Cirque du Soleil rather than Krusty the Clown, but with a bit (a lot) less finesse). These kids were pretty impressive though and their backflips were much more competent than mine. 

Cambodian Circus

Lessons Learnt: Firstly, there is a large crocodile farming industry in Cambodia, and we visited a small crocodile farm that was breeding them to be shipped off to Vietnam and China to become a local person’s dinner and next season’s Prada handbag (and an ironic pair of Crocs for someone with far too much money, perhaps?). Secondly, Cambodian women wear pyjamas as a legitimate form of daywear. Quite a practical idea if you ask me, they are comfortable, cooling in hot weather and come in lots of pretty patterns and colours. Ladies, let’s start a revolution – who’s with me? 

Baby crocodiles, which we even got to hold!
An adult crocodile in all its glory
Adult crocodiles in formation!