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Kingdom of Cambodia

Siemreab, Cambodia

It's actually Siam Reap, but the option won't let me type it in...


permalink written by  joscans on June 7, 2007 from Siemreab, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Kingdom of Cambodia
tagged Cambodia

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Welcome to Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We high tailed it out of Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia where we planned to see Angkor Wat. Cambodia was breath of fresh air. The people where happy to see us and the dollar really had legs - 75 cent beer and 4 hand massages for $10. That's right, 4 hand massages. The only thing better than a thai massage is a thai massage from two masseuses at the same time, one for arms and one for the legs.

Our $15/night hotel included airport transport. There was a man at arrivals holding a sign with our name on it. We followed him to this contraption:

... the Cambodian version of the tuk tuk, where he produced two complimentary bottles of water for us as a welcome refreshment - serious class. The sun was setting as we bounced down the dusty road towards town and our driver pulled over to let us take a picture of the sunset. We were not in vietnam anymore :)

The hotel delivered as well. At $15/night the rooms where a we bit on the dumpy side, but the hotel grounds where great and the place had a good flashpacker vibe. After settling in we had what turned out to be a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant for $3 a piece. Then we retired to the hammocks and enjoyed $0.75 beer from the hotel bar.

hammok area at the hotel:

6 arm budha in front on the hotel grounds:

The next day we booked the same driver/tuk tuk to run us around angkor watt for the day($10). Most guide books say you need 2 or 3 days to do Angkor Watt, but Michelle was done by mid day and by sunset I felt that we had seen it all. This worked out great because it meant we got to sleep in and spend the next day in Siem Reap, which was a pleasure. My only regret is that we didn't book more time in Cambodia, but at this point our flight out to Phuket was already booked.

Causeway to Angkor Wat:

Cheesy tourist photo:

Posing next to aspara:

This place is crawling with Buddhists who will try to put incense in your hand and direct you to place it at a shrine for "good luck", thus compelling you to leave a financial "donation". Here Michelle gets caught before she realizes what's happening:

Many of the structures are crumbling apart:

Various pics at and around Angkor watt:

Various pics around the town of Siem Reap:

At a bar/restaurant near pub street:

Most of the roads are unpaved:

permalink written by  soloshell3 on January 17, 2009 from Siem Reap, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
tagged Cambodia, SiemReap and AngkorWat

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Small Town Takeo Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

On the road in Cambodia and I have no idea what to expect. Other than learning something about genocide and seeing a photo here and there of Angkor Wat, this land contains no prenotions for me to draw upon. I somehow guess that the people here will be unfriendly and hardened due to genocide. Boy was I wrong.

As our two vans pull into our homestay in Takeo, Siphen and her entire family receive us with big smiles and warmth. We wold stay the next three nights on mattresses in large rooms in her family complex. Cambodians are a very family oriented people, and tend to all live together in close groupings of buildings or a large house with the rest of their sisters, husband, parents, etc. Upon marrying, men are expected to move into their wives house. The women do much work around the house and taking care of their parents that it would be very hard for it to be done any other way. Another interesting thing about the family is that they have a big pond (pictured left) that is actually the result of a B52 bomb crater that destroyed their old house 30 years ago. And reluctantly for us their were no hard feelings.

We visited the local Takeo county high school the next morning and helped the kids practice English and to give them something out of the ordinary. It was alot of fun, we made the kids really nervous and many of them were shy to begin with, but many genuinely wanted to learn English, it is seen as the way up in these Asian societies. Another parallel is that in all the countries we have visited, the elementary, and high school systems are set up the same way as the US; a child goes to middle school with the same kids, then goes to a larger general high school with kids from further away, then college. From conversations with various Europeans, I guess it isn't that way in their countries, after 16 they transfer to a more specialized school then gap years, mentorships or attend college.

The one other person staying at our homestay was a very friendly American named Derek who worked for the Peace Corps in Takeo. Among other duties, he had taken a side-project in his spare time to train and coach a girls basketball team at the high school we were visiting. Basketball is just catching on in Cambodia so having an American coach gave the team a great edge. We got to watch one of their games and MAN, are these girls aggressive! The refs dont really call fouls and in 3 instances a girl fight almost broke out after an elbow or a trip. Derek's team ended up winning 48-2 so no wonder the girls were getting a little mad.

The next days were spend lazing around the homestay, helping build a house (kindof) and visiting a Cambodian non-profit elementary school. After this sweet homestay in the Cambodian country, we headed west to Phnom Penh, the economic and social capital of Cambodia.

permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on March 12, 2009 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Cambodia, Takeo, Siphenmeas and HighSchool

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Genocides, Non-Profit Radio Drama and Dumps, Oh My!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

What do these three things have in common? Our Pacific Discovery group experienced them all in Phnom Penh! Phnom Penh is a city separated by a large gap with riches, development, and corporate jobs in one corner, and with entrenched, dump-diving, amputated poverty in the other. But in the space between exists a vast amount of wonderful, inspiring, and driven non-profit NGO's that are committed to helping solve to complex hurdle of poverty that so many in this country are subjected to. During our stay in Phnom Penh, we visited quite a few NGO's (Non-Governmental Organisations which basically means non-profit orgs). Non-profits have been a staple of our trip in Cambodia, as it is the poorest country that we will have visited on the trip. We would visit the Toul Sleng Prison to learn about the genocide that went on during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, Equal Access to learn about marketing messages and educating young Cambodians, and to KDFO a school for impoverished children who live in a dump (literally).

The Toul Sleng Prison used to be the main prison of the Khmer Rouge in their genocide of the educated and the weak back in the 70's. By the bloodstains, scratches and inhumane conditions unmodified from that time, it shows. Its still on the walls!!! The prison really goes for the shock factor and pictures (such as to the left) of skulls and cases of human bones make their point. After seeing all the nitty gritty of Toul Sleng, I (and many others) decided that we didn't even need to go see the actual 'killing fields' because it was just more of the same, only they actually made full sculptures and stuff out of the human skulls there. Point made, alot of people died. What wasn't as clear though was who, when, why, how concerning all the killing. From what I gathered, Communist Khmer Rouge initially focused on killing all the city-dwellers (the emptied Phnom Penh) and the educated, but sort of moved on to killing anyone, even people in their own faction. 15% of their entire population to be exact. So it was chaos. Yet most people in Cambodia don't even know much about it. This is because they were born after 79 when the communist Khmer were overthrown. It has created a big generational gap in their society.

Creating awareness and helping educate kids is were Equal Access, the NGO we visited the next day, comes in. Non-profit radio drama for sure, we got to go into the studio they use to create their radio educational programs and do our own radio drama! The messages the skits carried were...use government recognized programs if your going out of the country for work (directed towards women so thy dont get trafficked into the sex industry), and use a condom so you don't get AIDS(directed at young guys who like to party or think they're too cool). This was the most organized NGO (I thought) we had visited thus far; the difficulties of getting modern messages out to most of the (mostly rural) Cambodians is not an easy task. They explained how they managed to do that to us, the politics of working with radio stations, government censorship, the impact of their programs, and the various other ways they seek to inform Cambodians about the Khmer Rouge, sex, safety, etc. They presented their material as in a very professional yet hands-on manner, as if we were potential investors, and as a future businessman myself, this approach worked. Their website is EqualAccess.org.

The last thing our group did in Cambodia was visit a dump and take kids who went to the dump-school out for a nice day. The conditions at the dump were appalling, and the fact that people live/work there is even crazier. It looked like a scene out of Mad Max in this dump, all the bedraggled people sifting through garbage, clamoring after each new garbage truck that enters to pick-up the most aluminum cans, plastic bottles or cardboard. The people that make the most money pickuing up trash are the guys who have the most kids not in school. Very low life-spans at these dump camps too. After a walk through the dump, we went to a school at the edge of the dump called KDFO Children (I have no idea what it stands for) and took some of the kids out for some real culture, not their trash.
We went to a very nice play complete with backlit cutouts, a ladyboy actors, a small Cambodian music ensemble, and some wonderful actors. The play was of some famous Cambodian mythology and, although performed in Cambodian, its plot consisted of some fued between the king of the monkeys (a man) and the king of the Tigers, complete with a romance subplot. The kids enjoyed this, and the subsequent play workshop immensely, and it feels wonderful to have helped these children have a unique experience and expose them to some 1st-worlders despite their awful circumstances.

All in all, experiencing the 3rd-world in such a full on way has been a complete culture shock, and I am still trying to fully grasp my head around questions and answers of extreme poverty. Through our Pacific Discovery groups visits to various NGO's including Equal Access, Friends Restaurant (+vocational education, job training), and KDFO Children, I am happy to see that there are many motivated individuals out there figuring out solutions, and managing to make an impact despite the wide gaps of culture and communication that lie between us. Hope everyone is well!

(The city center Paragon)

permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on March 13, 2009 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Cambodia, Johncrestani, Pacificdiscovery, Phnompenh, Equalaccess and Ngo

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Mines and dust

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Recently (April 2009) there has been fighting on the Cambodian Thai border as a months old standoff between the countries over the 900AD Preah Vihear temple has boiled over. I decided to travel by moped, with a guide, to the temple to get the layman's view of what this is about.

We set off from Siem Reap at dawn. Two of us, one Cambodian, one British, on two mopeds with two small backpacks. We drove north out of Siem Reap past the awe inspiring Angkor temples and onto the dirt road that leads north up to Anlong Veng. I had checked a few of the real-time travel advice sites like Journeywatch.com, prior to our departure. Besides a mention of the possibility that shooting could start with little warning in the Preah Vihear area there was nothing to suggest that the situation was any worse than normal that day. We weren't going to reach Preah Vihear until the following day anyway so things could change.

We motored all day up the rutted and badly potholed dirt road until we reached Anglong Veng, just before sundown. We checked into a small, dirty guesthouse and, feeling saddle sore from so many hours on small bikes, we decided to go for a walk through the centre of the village. Many of the shops on what loosely fitted the description of a highstreet were open and selling food. We stopped at one of the shops and bought some local tortoise meat (sorry tortoise, they told me after I'd started eating..), rice and vegetables. The locals seemed friendly although I had been warned that the village had been Pol Pot's final stronghold - until fairly recently people from other parts of Cambodia hadn't dared to come here - so it was unwise to enter into any political discussions on the evils of the Khmer Rouge regime. Pol Pot was revered here as the Great Uncle.

After dinner, and politics carefully skirted, we returned to the guesthouse and to our basic rooms. Still, all the hours on the moped that day made the thought of a plank bed for the night seem appealing. After many hours of mosquito swatting and a fitful sleep I awoke the next morning to a glorious dawn. I walked outside the guesthouse as soon as I woke up and witnessed a huge orange sun ascending over the wild Cambodian bush, the Dangkrek ridge glowing with a red hue to the north.

After a breakfast of boiled eggs, sweet tea and some local sight-seeing to visit the house of the last Khmer Rouge leader, Ta Mok (he was in prison in Phnom Penh), we packed up, started up the mopeds and got back onto the dirt road going north. It wasn't long before we were cruising along with orangey brown plumes of dust swirling out in our wakes.

After a lunch stop at a crossed roads in the middle of nowhere, we continued on our way to the temple. By now the road had turned east and we were riding along the bottom edge of the impressive Dangkrek escarpment. Both sides of the road had minefield warning signs, so we didn't venture off the track, even when stopping to answer a call of nature.

After some hours we reached a junction in the track and turned northwest towards a small settlement at the foot of the ridge that led up to the temple. Having got to the settlement Sothy, my guide and interpreter, told me that we need to leave our mopeds here because we would have to ride up the escarpment on heavy chain motorcycles. The heavy chain was needed because the hill was very steep. We saw some Cambodian Army soldiers at this stage but they didn't seem too bothered about the presence of a tourist. So we got on the back of two heavy chain bikes and rode up to the top. It was then that we had our first glimpse of the magnificent Preah Vihear temple.

At first glance the temple is more ruined than many of the temples closer to Siem Reap, but there is no disguising its Angkorian style and design, though in keeping with the sheer creative genius of that era 1000 years ago, the temple is totally unique. The main temple sits on the top and edge of the Dangkrek ridge. From it there are spectacular views over the vast forests of northern Cambodia. Running north and down the ridge towards the Thai border, there are a series of lesser temples, processional staircases, terraces and ornamental ponds. One can see why such a treasure would cause a dispute though quite how it could be claimed not to belong to the descendants of the Khmer empire, the Cambodians, it is hard to understand.

There were soldiers at various places in among the ruins. They all carried AK47s, rocket propelled grenade launchers and other weapons. On a hill very close by and north of the temple, there flew a Thai flag. I assumed this was where the Thai soldiers were based. We eventually spent a night in the Preah Vihear area. Nothing happened, no gunfire, so it was sad to hear subsequently - a few weeks later - that violence had errupted and the settlement had been burnt down. The rest of the journey was just as interesting, back through the Koh Kae temple area, that if it wasn't for the mines, could almost match Angkor for its array of unique temples.

It had been a trip I will never forget.

permalink written by  Trout58 on April 9, 2009 from Siem Reap, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Flashpoint: It's only a Temple!!
tagged Cambodia, PolPot and PreahVihearTemple

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