Cambodia has a difficult and painful history of genocide in the not-so-distant past. Between 1975-1979 almost 3 million out of 8 million Cambodians died of starvation or were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Note of caution: I was prepared for what was to come since I had read up about the genocide but it was still very depressing and emotionally taxing. At the gates of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or S-21 prison we paid 6 $ each and got audio head sets, players and a map each. To see this building from the outside nobody would dream of the nightmarish atrocities that happened inside it. The audio tour is a good investment as it takes visitors through numbered points in the school-turned-prison building. Our minds numb with the horrors of history we had just witnessed, we set off for the next destination: The Killing Fields. This is the mass grave-site where prisoners from S-21 were taken and killed. The main structure here is a memorial built in traditional Khmer style housing hundreds of human skulls and bones that were found there. There is an audio tour here too which explains what happened here and there is a short video that is played for 10 minutes every half hour for visitors.
We booked our tickets on the Mekong Express bus for 13$. I highly recommend this bus service about which there are glowing reviews everywhere online too. They provide a minivan pick-up from the hotel to the bus station and the buses themselves are super comfortable with plush seating, toilets, air-conditioning and most importantly, curtains to keep out the harsh sun. The Cambodian countryside is soothing to the eyes and after a while most people on the bus dozed off for a bit. We arrived at Siem Reap at 1:30 p.m. having left Phnom Penh at 8:30 a.m. and there were tuk-tuk drivers jostling for customers at the bus-station to take us to our hotel. Another Air BnB find, our hotel was very strategically located...just walking distance away from the hustle and bustle of Pub street but tucked away into a quiet lane right beside one of the exits to the Arts Market. At 4500 INR for three nights, we thought it was a steal.Our hotel reception, as I am guessing will be the case with all hotels, was a treasure trove of useful information about day tours to Angkor sites and other interesting sights around Siem Reap. It was from here that we booked tickets to the Angkor National Museum for 12$ each it saved us the expense of hiring a private tour guide to be with us on the two days that we planned to devote to Angkor temple sites. It was a smart move as it not only saved us nearly 60$. The hotel also helped us with hiring a tuk-tuk, who at 12$ a day was going to take us on a half day tour of all the major and minor sites.
The impressive Banteay Srei stands 30Km from Siem Reap and its modern name means the ‘citadel of beauty’ and correctly so. It is the most intricately carved structure of the time made of red sandstone. The best time to visit the temple is late afternoon when the sun’s rays fall at a slant giving this structure a pinkish-golden hue.
Our next stop was 124 kms away. It is a small town in northeastern Cambodia. It is relatively remote and you won’t usually find tourists here. Our sole purpose to come here was to ride through the countryside and discover the many remote roads. We spent the entire day cycling around remote villages along the sides of Mekong River. You can ask for directions from the locals to catch up on some musical performance. It is a very quiet town and I surely enjoy a day travelling across this tiny town.
The former capital of Cambodia from 1618 to 1866, Oudong is situated around 40km or so from the now capital city Phnom Penh. Stupas and shrines still stand tall from the ancient kings. Oudong also called Udong is a beautiful place to go especially if you are interested in discovering Cambodia’s history.