Another long day by bus. Interesting views along the way. One thing we learned today is that recycled glass soft drink bottles are used to hold gasoline for selling to motorbike owners. We had wondered what that yellow fluid in the bottles was. There are official service stations with pumps but the majority of the bike owners fillup at the small roadside stands. Also passed spirit house manufacturing central 🙂
The Thai border went relaitvely smoothly. Some tips if you go. An extra $15 “tax” will get you through the border without waiting in line. Our crossing went well, despite me getting into the wrong line at the final check point. Apparently there is a ladies line and a men’s line. I went into the mens line – chaos ensured with officials waving at me and shouting – I froze and did my blond deer in the headlights routine – worked well – a line of people was building behind me and I got waved through along with all of my group 🙂 without the final check.
The scenary changed dramatically once we were in Thailand. It seemed like one long strip mall until we reached Bangkok – which is huge. Very western and very boring after the colour and acitivity in the Cambodian countryside. Bangkok did greet us with a spectacular sunset.
We fly home tomorrow. It has been an intense trip and a life changing one. Thanks to you all for following along and see you next time!
This place is immense. 100,00’s of thousands of steps and a couple thousand photos later here we 🙂 temples visited included Angkor Wat., Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Ta Prohm and East Mehon. I have included a schematic of the complex below.
They ranged from 1900 to 600 years old. The speed at which the jungle takes over the temples is amazing – most are under restoration by foreign agencies working with the Cambodian governemnt. We managed to cover a great deal of ground today.
Tonight we visit the night market in Siem Reap.
It seemed like the entire population of Cambodia was headed in the same direction at 5 am – to Angkor Wat to see the dawn over the main temple. The dawn didn’t disappoint as faint pinks intensified the sky and reflections in the pool in front of the palace. The appearance of the sun a few minues later completed a magical morning.
Angkor Wat park is a UNESCO world heritage site that covers about 400 square kms and contains temples constructed from the 9th to 15 centuries during the rule of the Khmer empire. The temples started out as Hindu and are now Buddhist. The area was heavily mind by the Khmer Rouge and wasn’t safe until the last 20 years. We focused today on Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom with the wonderful Banyon temple. Stairs are steep and high in Angkor watt in particular.Wooden stairs had to built in many areas as most dignitaries and religious figures arrived by elephant in the past. As they dismounted 20 feet off the ground, stairs were not required.
A visit to Ta Prohm – the overgrown temple where the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie was shot – rounded out the day . This temple is similar to most of the Angkor Wat complex before restoration was started by the French in the 1860’s . The entire Angkor complex had been overgrown by the jungle following its abandonment by the Khmer in the 15th century . A bad drought at that time forced the relocation of the court to Phnom Penh.
A slow bus took us to Siem Reap over a period of about 7 hours. The bus meandered through the countryside and small towns and exposed us to a fascinating cross section of Cambodian life. Most of the houses in rural areas are built on stilts. This provides a room under the house which is shaded and used for activities during the heat of the day, the stilts also protect the house and inhabitants from flooding caused by monsoons and provides a shelter for livestock at night. People fish with hand thrown nets in most reasonably sized bodies of water
Transportation styles can be varied 🙂
Our first stop was at a country market. The long history of war and strife in this country has resulted in an interesting diet. One vendor sold deep fried insects – the cockroaches were 3 inches at least and the tarantulas even bigger. There were also a lot of bugs I couldn’t identify – must admit that I didn’t try very hard 🙂 .
We rolled into Siem Reap about 4 pm, had a quick rest and then caught Tuk Tuks and went out to a dinner at a local house in a village bordering the town. What a magical evening. Our hostess was a young woman who after learning english and getting a good paying job, returned to her village and is now sponsoring and educating 20 children in the village. Our group went for a village walk, met the children and their parents. We were then served a wonderful home cooked meal. We headed back to our hotel under a lovely orange moon and a cool breeze.
Tomorrow is day 1 at Angkor Wat
I am not sure how to approach this blog post – so will just put my shoulder into it and get it down the best I can. Choeung Ek is one of the many Khmer Rouge killing fields in operation from 1975 to the end of 1979. Many others are found across Cambodia. Our route to Choeung Ek included a stop at the infamous S-21 prison and torture centre that housed over 20,000 prisoners from 1975 until 1979 when the Khmer Rouge was driven from power. Our local guide lost two younger siblings and many other family members in the genocide. The best I can do in describing S-21 is to direct you to Internet sources for photos and more information. What you will see and read is not exaggerated.
Choeung Ek itself was an orchard that proved the final resting place for 9,000 people executed by the Khmer Rouge. Mass graves are everywhere. Although most have been excavated, remnants of human bone are plentiful even though most of the remains have been removed from the graves. Babies, women, children and men were executed at Choeung Ek. The wooden shed, which housed hundreds of skulls and which was featured in the infamous photos which made the world aware of the extent of what had happened, has been replaced by a Buddhist Stupa. The Stupa houses 5,000 skulls as well as other bones.
I have visited Belsen in Germany and the genocide memorial in Rwanda. Both were powerful reminders of mans inhumanity to man. S-21 and Choeung Ek were like a punch in the gut.
Saigon bid us farewell with still more noise 🙂 about 10 minutes after we boarded public transport for the Cambodian border, the bus’s horn got stuck in the on position. A long 10 mins later we changed buses and got back on the road. it was just over 2 hours to the Cambodian border. The bus was set up with a huge TV screen so we passed the time watching a movie and the countryside passing by.
The Cambodian border was interesting. If you go – here is the drill. The first thing you have to do is line up to exit Vietnam. If you don’t have a broker (for want of a better word) and pay the extra “tax” you will wait a long time to exit Vietnam and a long time to enter Cambodia. The two borders are separated by about 100 meters which you will need to walk. Our company has it down pat and we moved quickly through border formalities and got back on the road.
The decrease in traffic on the road is marked as soon as you are in Cambodia. The country lost 1/4 of its population during the rule of the Khmer Rouge and population levels are much lower than in Vietnam. Our route to Phnom Penh took us to the Mekong River again which we crossed by ferry and finally wound our way on dusty roads into the city.
Phnom Penh is a mix of old and new. Opulent houses of the governing elite line some beautiful blvds, just a street away are slum like streets. We were introduced to the city via a cylco tour on a beautiful early evening. The cyclos took us to the Mekong River promenade that is the home of countless restaurants, bars and the Kings Palace. It is high season here now and the people watching is first class 🙂 A tuk tuk trip after dark revealed a seamier side of the city with the local ladies of the night plying a brisk trade.
Our gateway to the Mekong Delta was via the city of My Tho about 2 hrs from Saigon. The Delta covers about 15,000 sq miles and is an incredibly rich ecosystem. We took a boat from My Tho out to the first of two large islands we visited in the Delta. 6,000 people live on the island which supports a wide range of cottage industries including bee keeping, orchid growing, large market gardens and active fisheries.
The second island we visited has a small restaurant where we had the best meal so far on the trip. Local elephant fish was steamed in coconut milk, lemon grass and green onion. it was then rolled in rice papers with basil, lettuce, rice noodles and drizzled with tamarind sauce. The islands are completely off the grid, the fish was cooked over wood and finished at the table using paraffin burners. A server was dedicated to each table to make the rolls for us. The lack of refrigeration makes for interesting restaurants. It hit home today when our guide ordered chicken. A number of small cages at the side of the restaurant housed individual chickens which I was photographing after we ordered. As I was snapping away a young man grabbed one rooster out of a cage and walked around to the back of the restaurant where the bird made its demise and reappeared as a saute about 20 mins later.
The Delta is a world in itself. House boats, fishermen, a huge highway leading to the sea and deeper into the continent and Cambodia – where we head tomorrow as we travel to Phnom Penh.