We go Cambodia now!

Saturday, August 31, 2002
We were in Bangkok for a few days and decided instead of heading north right away we would detour to Cambodia to check out Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. It's a huge ancient worshipping site and the jungle temple, Ta Prohm, was used in the movie "Lara Croft" with Angelina Jolie. Of course, they were playing it on DVD at the guesthouse.

Our bus left Bangkok at the crack of dawn and was supposed to take 12 hours to get there. Twenty hours and only 400 kilometers later, at 2:30 in the morning, we arrived. It was so bad, it was funny! The double decker "VIP" bus pulled over to the side of the road many times as it continued to break down, then the air conditioner broke and turned it into a SAUNA. Saunas are great in Finland, but leave little to be desired here in Thailand! We finally arrived at the Cambodian border ten minutes before it closed - since when does a border have banker's hours?? Anyway, we sqeaked by and fortunately did not have to spend the night at the border... we got to spend it on the "road" to Siem Reap. I call it a road because motor vehicles actually do travel down it, but the similarities stop there! Picture a brick road, but the bricks were not laid, they were thrown! It's a considered a road basically because it is not a rice paddy. By the time we arrived we (and our bags) were entirely covered in red dust. The comments made throughout the journey were hilarious! I heard some guy in front of me exclaim, "I fell asleep for a minute there somehow I dreamt I was a basketball!" It made for an interesting adventure. Did I mention it cost $3? The ride back down this road today was not too bad. No major problems except that one of the many bridges had somehow caved in. Apparently this is very common, so when we arrived on the scene they were already fixing it. After just a mere 1 and half hour delay we were back on the road again!

The temples were amazing! Angkor Wat is a UNESCO world heritage site, and was built at about the same time as Notre Dame Cathedral. Some claim it is one of the wonders of the modern world. In corrupt Cambodian fashion though, the government sold the access roads to the temples (which they do still own) to some petrol company. They charge Disneyland prices to get in! Apparently some Japanese company is negotiating a deal to buy these roads and lower the entry prices. Bizarre. Anyway, we hired a tuk-tuk for 3 days to take us around the sites. A tuk-tuk is a taxi cab, but looks kind of like a golf cart, only with 3 wheels, one in front. Some are bikes but most have little mopeds steering them from the front. They say the sound they make is tuk-tuk-tuk...

Some interesting things about Cambodia:
  1. Squat toilets are the norm, as opposed to sit toilets like in the US. It's so uncommon to find "sit toilets" that in one place I went to that actually did have them there was a sign with pictures on it explaining NOT to squat on the toilet!
  2. In Siem Riep there are no gas stations. You fill up your moto or tuk-tuk at little road side "lemonade stands". There's usually a woman running the booth, and it's right in front of her home/treehouse. It might contain up to 10 bottles all on display. For $1 you get a liter of petrol in a coke or sprite bottle... she keeps the bottle for refill.
  3. The currency in Cambodia is the reil. It is hardly used at all due to it's instability. Dollars are used! All prices are quoted in dollars... and if you insist they will take Thai currency. The only reil that is used is for change, so instead of getting back 50 cents, they'll just give you 2000 reil. I never even had to change money.
  4. Little kids touting postcards are very resourceful. They learn lots of English and bits of information from tourists. One little boy came up to Carla and said, "Where you from?". "You from the US? I know your country! It between Canada and Mexico and it have 50 states!"  They also pull this little trick where if you don't buy their postcards they say ok, but if I see you again, you buy postcards and they ask your name. Twenty minutes later, out of nowhere, you hear your name being called! They say, "You promised!!". It's very convincing since they are so cute, but you can only buy so many postcards.
  5. Buddhist monks aren't monks for life, like priests are. It's common for someone to be a monk for just a few years when they are a teenager, like our tuk-tuk driver who still lives with the monks. When I was in the main temple, a young buddhist monk sat down to chat. I think he wanted to practice his English, and he was so curious. When I told him that I was Catholic, he wanted to know how Catholics celebrate the Full Moon. It was diffcult to explain that it doesn't represent ANYTHING for us. He also wanted to know would Americans consider marrying Cambodians.
  6. Staying in a treehouse for 2 days was a novelty. Cambodians who live outside the city live in homes similar to the ones I stayed in, in Turkey. Cambodian homes are high upon stilts for the rainy season, which we experienced last night. When it rains, it pours!
  7. Landmines surround Angkor Wat, and much of the Cambodian countryside. There are many organizations who remove them, but the threat is still there. It is always recommended that you not stray off paths no matter where you are.Went to Khoulen National Park. Hiked up to the riverbed to see the waterfall with carvings underneath the water. They were carved there to bless the water at the mouth of the river.
I'm back in Bangkok for tonight and tomorrow... hopefully we will finally make it up north tomorrow night!


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