STOP 4 | Day 11 to 13 |
To get to our next stop we took a 6 hour bus ride (from HCM to Phnom Penh) on a VIP bus ($21USD/person), with Giant Ibis, versus the local bus ($15USD/person). We figured it was prudent given the border crossing and needing to get visas on arrival, to use an experienced bus guide through the process. Entering Cambodia from Vietnam at the Bavet border crossing had limited guidance / instructions and we watched as locals walked up to the one guard in a booth, added their passports to a stack in front of the guard and stood there. No names were called out but people just seemed to know when to grab their passports back and proceed. Travel Tip – for our Cambodian visas we did not need a passport picture and it cost $35USD (the actual cost is $30USD, but you pay $5USD for the bus guide to facilitate the process). You can get an E-Visa online but it is only accepted at certain crossings and it costs $30USD + $6USD transaction fee. Overall, the process was a relatively seamless affair.
Our hotel was a quick 6 minute walk from the drop off point in Phnom Penh, thankfully as we were quickly being hustled by the numerous tuk tuk drivers once we stepped off the bus. We had dinner at David’s Restaurant Homemade Noodles, where you could actually see them making the noodles to order in the front of the store! After dinner we wandered around the main city area and noticed that the crowd was very interesting with many foreign male tourists. It then became pretty obvious a significant number of the bars in the main city area are known for their “girly bars” aka the red light district (this reminded us of our trip to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, we had gone to dive however quickly realized it was the country’s sex-tourism capital).
The next day we booked a driver through CTT Travel & Tours to spend the day with us taking us to Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was only $5USD more for us to hire the private driver and car than to book a ticket with a group tour bus, which ended up working out well as you could spend as much time as you wanted at each site (we spent just over 2 hours at each location versus the bus only drops you off for 1 hour). Both locations offer excellent audio tours, which we found very informative. It was heartbreaking to learn about the Communist Khmer Rouge regime under the totalitarian dictator Pol Pot during 1975 to 1979 and the resulting genocide. It is estimated 1 in 4 Cambodians died from the Khmer Rouge policies (that is 2 million of the 8 million population) and today approximately 70% of the country were born past 1979. Choeung Ek is the site of the mass graves, mostly from the political prisoners held at Tuol Sleng, an estimated 8,895 bodies have been found here. As a memorial Choeung Ek has a Buddhist stupa that is filled with more than 5,000 human skulls. Tuol Sleng was a former high school turned into Security Prison 21 (S-21) during the Khmer Rouge regime. It is estimated that 20,000 prisoners were held here during 1975 to 1979, with only seven known survivors.
The following day we spent exploring the city and a gym visit. We found a restaurant which served banh mi, Banh Mi & Bros , hardly as good as in Vietnam but a good cheap eat! We haven’t been blown away with Khmer food (hard to beat after Vietnam), but a few of the popular dishes were “Amok” (a coconut curry – often served with fish) or “Beef Lok Lak”.