Although I had the chance to visit quite a few countries within South–East Asia, the Kingdom of Cambodia was still an unfamiliar place to me that I had not explored yet and which further seemed to be promising in terms of adventure, nightlife, its cultural identity and sad truth about its traumatic past.
Since the Royal Thai Embassy in The Hague did not have the permission to provide me with an education visa including multiple entries, I decided to choose Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia as a place to renew my travel authorization in order to re-enter Thailand legally. My remaining holidays further allowed me to take the initiative to delve into the unknown country and its dark tourism for more than only a few days.
My belief that bus tours through developing countries, such as in South East Asia are more exciting and enriching than plane rides, encouraged me to book a one way ticket to the city of Four Faces, Phnom Penh.
This excitement proved right, however, in a very negative way. Instead of crossing the border smoothly, I got confronted with a bunch of men before entering the immigration office, who tried to convince me that the visa fee will be around THB 2000 (€ 53) instead of THB 1000 (€ 26) as documented online. The men’s intrusive behavior distracted me and the other remaining tourist enormously and complicated the confusing situation at the border. Eventually, we saw no chance in crossing it without paying the requested extra fee. Also THB 800 was additionally wanted for the final passport stamp. Since the bus driver, who most likely knew about the scams, couldn’t speak English and further didn’t seem to be interested in either helping us or telling where he parked the bus on the other side of the border, I started to appreciate the relatively small level of corruption and scams that we have in our Western world.
Nevertheless, my anger faded away once I was surrounded by the adventurous landscape of Cambodia. Unlike Thailand, I experienced an environment, which clearly deviated from the one I knew before in terms of industrial development and infrastructure. Poverty was clearly visible here and also the unimaginable amounts of rubbish on the road sides surprised me.
In Phnom Penh itself, I checked into a relatively central located hostel and immediately felt amazed by the kind – and helpfulness of the Cambodian staff, which made me feel very welcome and comfortable despite traveling alone. After celebrating into the first night and applying for my visa at an embassy, whose representatives clearly didn’t enjoy their job, I had the chance to visit the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields — one of the most terrible and horrific places I have ever seen. While listening to an audio guide, who extensively described his experiences of suffering and survival during the Communist Khmer Rouge Regime, which was responsible for the barbaric execution of around 1.4 million people including women and children, I felt deeply disgusted by the techniques and practices used by the regime to kill their own people. Especially the so-called Killing Tree, a tree against which children and infants were smashed next to their mothers, helped me to understand why the country still has not fully recovered from its past.
The following offer by a Tuk Tuk driver to visit a shooting range to kill chicken underlined the country’s desperate need for an individual financial well-being, which often doesn’t seem to know any limits including morality.
Also the S21 security prison museum including its ancient remains, which is known as a place of unthinkable torture and human abuse explained the still recognizable depressed mood among the Cambodian people that I sometimes had to encounter.
After gaining valuable insights into Cambodia’s cultural identity and past including its dark tourist sites, I decided to move on to Siem Reap, the county’s top nightlife destination for backpackers and a gateway to the Temples of Angkor, which I perceived to be the most beautiful ruins I have ever seen despite my extensive travels through Asia. Not only did one of the temples serve as a showplace for the well-known movie Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie, but also the massive roots of trees covering the ancient temple remains, turned this place into one of the most attractive spots in whole Asia that I can think of.
The evening was spent well at Siem Reap’s popular Pub Street with utopian beer prices (€ 0.50) and allowed us to also enjoy the last evening in a way, which makes me want to come back to the Kingdom of Cambodia as soon as possible.
On my way home, I had the great pleasure to meet the same officer again, who ripped me off at the border before I entered the country. Not wanting to cause any trouble, I simply asked him how much German people have to pay for a Cambodian visa. While clearly stating that it is not more than THB 1000, he suddenly realized what he had done to me earlier, panicked and disappeared quickly. I couldn’t stop laughing, returned to the bus and continued my trip back to Bangkok