Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Sweating like a cow in Cambodia!
At the last minute, Troy and I decided to do a weekend trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. It's funny to think that not too long ago we would spend weeks, even months, talking about a trip that was one state away. Discussing things such as airfare, where to stay, what to pack, how much money to bring. Now we're like "Hey, day after tomorrow, do you want to go to a country that we know absolutely nothing about? Should we check to see if we need Malaria pills? Nah! Should we tell anyone where we're going? Nah!"
Ok, so we did a little research to see what Cambodia was all about. (Although we did forget to check to see if we needed Malaria pills. Whoops!) Here is a brief history lesson of what we learned from our own research and also from our tour guide in Siem Reap.
I personally had always associated Cambodia with the Vietnam War but never knew why. Now I do. In 1969, American B-52's carpet bombed the country killing anywhere from 150,000-500,000 civilians. Nixon said it was targeted toward the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge (bad people). It also dragged the country into the Vietnam War.
Cambodia is also where the Killing Fields took place. During Pol Pots reign from 1975-79 he killed 3 million people - about 30% of Cambodia's population!!!! Most of the people that were killed were educated because Pol Pot wanted to have a classless society.
Because of civil wars and the country dealing with all the land mines planted by the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia did not open to tourism until 1998. You would think that having only 7 years to learn about tourism that the country would be a mess when it came to tourists. Not so. They have a pretty good handle on it. Everything from their phenomenal hotels to the little boys trying to get you to bargain with him to buy his bracelets.
Siem Reap is known as the home of Angkor Wat which is the largest religious monument in the world. It is a temple that was built out of stone in the mid 12th century and stands 65 meters tall. It has been cleared from the jungle and been restored and showcases the amazing talent and hard work that went in to creating these temples. Pictures don't do the temple justice when it comes to all the intricate carvings and details that are on every wall.
Some of the other temples we saw were Angkor Thom and Beng Melea. Beng Melea is still in the heart of the jungle and has not been restored at all. At places there are mounds of stone blocks that have fallen from the jungle overtaking it. Vines and roots are wrapped tightly around columns. This temple has only been open to tourists since 2002 because there were 1000's of land mines in the area. You can see small red signs that designate an area has been cleared of mines. We saw many people through out the town that had missing legs. You can only guess it's because of the mines.
One morning our guide took us to Tonle Sap lake. It is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world when it is full during the rainy season. The lake itself was nothing special. Just a whole lot of chocolate milk surrounded by rice fields. And yes, the water looked just like chocolate milk! Diving anyone???
What was interesting about Tonle Sap was getting there. To get to the lake you drive through an area called Chougn Kneach which means "end of the area" of Siem Reap. This is where some of the poorest people live. They live in these tiny, tiny shacks that house a family of 4 or 5. They cook in the middle of the living room or outside in the road. The small kids have t-shirts on but no pants because they don't have diapers. The children don't go to school because there are not enough schools for them.
Every year, according to the rainy season, the families would move their houses to stay above the rising lake level. Then as the water recedes, they move their houses back. At the lake, the shacks were the same except that they were floating. The houses rise and fall with the lake level.
The craziest thing we saw at the lake were these kids in big kitchen pots floating in the water paddling around with an old oar. They would have a cup tied to the side of the bowl that they would use to viciously scoop out the water. I have no idea how they kept from getting hit by boats. At any given time, there are 4 or 5 motor boats passing through between the floating houses. The boats would miss the kids by mere feet. The kids didn't care, they just kept paddling away like it was the best thing! We also saw one kid floating amongst this chaos on a empty water jug!
We really enjoyed this small city although we were not too impressed with their local food. Word of advice, if you ever see a Cambodian restaurant, go somewhere else. Very bland, blah, dull food (at least what we got at the "tourist restaurants").
We had a four hour layover in Ho Chi Minh City and didn't think anything of it. Not until the guy at the international transfer counter took our boarding passes for HK, threw them away, took our plane tickets for HK and told us to come back in 1 1/2 hours. What??? We're in this crowded area with immigration, with no where to sit, no restrooms and no food. Troy notices a sign for the departure lounge and we head that way. Before we were allowed to enter, the guard took our passports from us and kept them! What???? We decided to go with it and crossed our fingers that we would get our stuff back ok. Troy was "beside himself" for a while after that because of them taking our stuff
It was a fascinating trip and we would love to go back again...maybe when the weather is a little more dry and we're not sweating like cows from the humidity!