Friday March 22nd, 2019: Bus ride to Phnom Penh Cambodia
As we waited in the lobby of the hotel for someone to pick us up, we weren’t sure what this bus ride was going to be like, public or private. When a lady walked into the lobby with our names on a place card the roller coaster began.
After exiting the hotel we realized she arrived on a moped… She asked us to stay at the curb and started running down the middle of the street through traffic, leaving us looking at each other wondering what was going on. After a few minutes we figured out that she had to flag down a taxi that was supposed to take us the bus station. I followed our route on Google Maps the entire way…
When the Taxi stopped we got out, not at a bus station or a bus, but in front of a Burger King. The lady who grabbed us from the hotel was gone, and a new person helped us get our stuff out of the taxi. We looked around for anyone we knew, but didn’t see anyone from our group. There was another group of people, but they were not part of our travel company’s group.
Shortly after we arrived, other cars started arriving with people who were familiar to us, and a huge relief. By the time we started feeling better about the situation a bus had pulled up to the curb a little further down the sidewalk. From the exterior we really hoped that it wasn’t the bus we were going to take, but it turned out it was.
With no seat assignments, and the ticket in the name of another person from our group, we made our way onto the bus. The bus itself wasn’t too old, but the interior was out of the 60’s, and very musty.
The bus pulled away from the curb shortly after the scheduled departure time, which we were happy about. Not too long after we departed the bus attendant came back and handed out Cambodian Visa Forms. This is very normal when entering a new country as a tourist, so I spent the next 15 minutes filling out all of our forms for the entire family.
After handing the forms over to the attendant I learned that we would need $30 USD per person to get through the border…which we didn’t have. The travel company made it very clear and reminded us several times about having USD to pay for the Vietnamese Visa, but said nothing of the Cambodia requirements.
The next hour is honestly a blur. I think I spent it on the phone with our travel agent, having discussions with the bus attendant, and listening to other disgruntle passengers. Luckily, we weren’t the only ones who didn’t have USD on us to cover the cost, and between us all we figured out that they took credit cards. But that was too easy. After talking with the bus attendant she said we had to go through as a group and anyone who went through as an individual would be left at the border. More arguments ensued…
We offered to get cash on the way to the border, but the bus attendant insisted that she wasn’t allowed to stop the bus before getting to the border. More arguments ensued…
In the end the bus attendant covered our visa costs for the family, but how she had enough USD on her to cover 8 people is beyond me. This must happen way more frequently than she let on. Bottom line this lady was in the wrong business…not a happy or customer friendly person.
After we crossed the border we worked out an arrangement with the travel company to have someone waiting for us in Phnom Penh with the money to re-pay the attendant. But that was too easy. Turns out this was not acceptable because apparently she is a very busy person and wouldn’t have time. More arguments ensued….
She insisted that we would stop by an ATM, which I guess was allowed now that we were through the border, and get money. We stopped for lunch and she told me to walk 100 meters down the road to find a money transfer business. So I did. I walked down the road in the middle of nowhere Cambodia while your mom used the cash we did have to get you three lunch, Pringles and Slushies.
When I got to the money transfer booth it was empty. Luckily there was a man who spoke English sitting outside, and he told me that it was a religious holiday and the company was closed. When I returned to the lunch location and told the guide this she insisted that I was trying to not pay her and that it was open. More arguments insued…
At this point she stopped the entire bus at the next ATM and had me withdraw money, which worked out, although I wasn’t thrilled about holding up a bus load of people for only us when we had another solution that wouldn’t require a stop. This 4 hour experience was the most exhausting interaction I’ve had, and you three were under 8 years old.
Oh, and after we did get to Phnom Penh our bus driver got into an accident so it took us an hour to get to the hotel instead of 20 minutes…
Saturday March 23rd, 2019: Phnom Penh Killing Fields & Russian Market
I didn’t do much research about the stops we had on our trip after booking through the travel company, but the tours of the Killing Fields were just humbling. I had been led to believe that the world learned a lesson from the Holocaust, but we didn’t. Another such incident took place in the 1970’s in Phnom Penh.
Our first stop was the prison where people were kept before being sent to the actual killing fields outside of town. People who didn’t leave town were tortured to extract information, or for no reason at all. They even told many of them that they were going to be let go before sending them to their deaths.
This visit was way too much for you three so we spent the time in the courtyard running around and playing while the rest of the group toured the prison cells which had beds, torture devices, and picture of those who spent their last days in that location.
The actual Killing Fields were outside of town and after arriving there people were dead within days. In the beginning it was immediate, but when the volume increased they took longer.
A path was created around several mass grave sites with a display of discovered bones in a monument at the entrance.
After lunch on the Hanoi river we went for a nice boat ride to see the sites and opted to not visit the Russian Markets.
Sunday March 24th, 2019: Bus ride to Siem Reap
The bus ride to Siem Reap was operated by the same company, but this time the attendant actually liked her job. We were picked up from the hotel by a van and taken to the bus station where we waited a little while before boarding the bus and heading out.
After arriving in Siem Reap we easily found our driver who was supposed to take us to the hotel. We loaded the van and headed out….to the wrong hotel. He didn’t speak much English so we had to call the travel agency to call their contact in Siem Reap so they could redirect him. Honestly we’ve been in this situation in India so it felt normal.
We made it to the hotel, and were ecstatic with the facilities. We had a two bedroom suite, happy hour, and a great pool.
Monday March 25th, 2019: Angkor Temples
During our afternoon in the hotel we met some great people who were on their second day of visiting the temples. We were all getting tired from all the travel, and they helped us decide to focus our time on Ankor Wat, Ta-Prom, and Angkor Thom Temples.
This experience was amazing, and we recommend it for anyone who gets the opportunity to visit this side of the world. The first temple was Ankor Wat, which had a main temple and smaller city grounds surrounding it inside an outer wall.
The morning was hot, humid, and it rained most of the time we spent at Ankor Wat.
In the center of the city the tallest temple was limited to a certain number of people so there was a line. The line wrapped around the temple, and the steps where really steep. Several other people from the group wanted to see the top so I went with them while Mom stayed with you guys.
Our next stop was Ta-Prom, which happened to be the location that Lara Croft Tomb Raider was filmed. The first triangle piece was in a Cambodian temple, and although the inside was not from this location the doorway that the butterfly appeared was.
Naturally we had to watch Tomb Raider when we returned home, and it was actually cool to be able to see that they incorporated so much of the history behind Ta-Prom into the parts that weren’t at the temple. These experiences are just mind blowing.
For lunch we stopped at a local restaurant and had a traditional Cambodian lunch, which also included spring rolls.
Our last stop was Angkor Thom Temple. The temple was much smaller than the previous sites, but spectacular none the less. Every wall and column in these ruins had a face on it, which you can see in the below photo.
After walking from one side of the temple to the other we boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel for some rest, pool time, and preparation for our trip home the following day.
Tuesday March 26th, 2019: Travel Home
Our flight left at 11am so we had time to get up and grab breakfast before boarding a van to the airport. Transportation was setup through the travel agency and after waiting for 15 minutes we learned that the van broke down and he wouldn’t be coming. Luckily the hotel staff jumped at the chance to help us out and provided airport transportation. Highly recomended hotel.
Overall this was a great vacation and a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us. As I write this I can’t say that we’ll go back to Vietnam or Cambodia, but if we did it would be less moving around. Out of our 12 day tour we were traveling for 5 days.
Mom & Dad