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Monday, December 30, 2013

Cambodia – They Smile – A LOT!!

Angkor Wat Temple
If we had drafted a plan to visit Asia before Shannon and Jim moved here, Cambodia likely would not have been on it.

Now, we’d say YOU MUST COME HERE! In a similar fashion to our discovery of Romania, Cambodia is a country first off of beautiful people. They smile a lot. And why?
Us at sunset

Not so long ago, during our lifetime you will remember Po Pot, a Khmer Rouge dictator, who ruled the country and was responsible for the ‘killing fields’, eliminating anyone who appeared to resist his dictatorship. Now today the country is an emerging democracy, still in infancy, but with promise. And as we’ve witnessed here is where the UN has done some good work along with the EU, devoting time, energy and money to helping this country develop.

Cambodia is a country that shares coastline with Thailand to its west, Vietnam to its east and Laos to its north. The Mekong river runs south out of Laos across Cambodia and into Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea. It’s importance to Siem Reap where we have flown into is such that while it does not flow directly by Siem Reap, the Tonle Sap river does, it flows through Phonm Penh. But during rainy season, June through October, the rains back up the Mekong River to where it overflows its normal banks, backs up and reverses flow into Tonle Sap lake some 11 kms from Siem Reap, and creates the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia.
Phnom Bakheng

Siem Reap has another treasure too. It’s Angkor Wat which is compromised of the Angkor Wat temple and several other temples. Angkor Wat has the status of the largest religious structure in the world, first being a Hindu, then Buddhist temple. It is a national treasure for Cambodia and the image of the temple is emblazoned on the national flag.

Our arrival in Siem Reap was the result of catching a very early morning flight from Phuket through Bangkok and then to Siem Reap. True to their word, our hotel the Central Boutique Angkor Hotel had a driver waiting
Yep they are steep
 just outside passport control and there is nothing more reassuring than seeing your name waved by a Tuk Tuk driver, there to pick you up. Mr. Moeun, (Moon) immediately went into sales mode since it appears his picking us up is an introduction to us by the hotel and he has to sell other tuk tuk services to us to make money. No worry, after getting to know us a bit he learned quickly what we were prepared for him to help us with, and what we’d do on our own.

That first evening he took us out to get our Angkor Wat passes, (here is the youtube link )and we got our sunset pictures of the main temple. However we booked our 30 km. bicycle tour of the temples with Green Bicycles for the next day. And as good fortune would have it a pleasant Brit called Paul showed up the next morning to accompany us as well and our tour guide, Mr. Puthy, was excellent, spoke very good English, had a masters in sociology and loved being an authorized temple guide. We were off to a great start.
Paul Brian and Sandra

The day went very well with us stopping at Phonm Bakheng, then the south gates to Angkor Thom, the Temple of Bayon,
Temple of Bayon
then to Ta Prohm better known in Indiana Jones movies as the "Tomb Raider" temple.
3 Smiling Faces Bayon
and finally returning to Angkor Wat for the afternoon finale.
Ta Prohm
The day ended full of excitement when we delayed leaving until late sunset, and Sandra had only her sunglasses meaning that when it got dark riding back into Siem Reap she was blind one way or the other. She was nothing short of courageous riding in insane traffic that never obeys a traffic signal converging on every intersection as we weaved through Siem Reap back to the bike shop. She is one gutsy and fearless lady.
Brian at Ta Prohm

Our next day’s adventure was to hire Mr. Moeun to take us via tuk tuk to the floating villages on Tonle Sap lake, but not before adding the destination of the Silk Worm Farms where they have a national training program on how to raise silk worms, then spin the silk into weaves and finally create fabric with it. This was a very interesting side trip and allowed Mr. Moeun to earn more money. At each of these stops we would have our tour then return to the Tuk tuk and carry on. He took us quite a few places over a period of time for very little money, and the tuk tuk was much more intimate, almost motorcycle like, in interacting with others. Many Cambodians would drive by 2-4 on a small motorbike and the mother on back would have the baby wave at us as they drove past. It was so much fun.
Silk Worm farm trainees

Kids, no more than 5 or 6 yrs of age travelling in the lake

Finally our last destination was the floating villages and we were unsure what to expect. Here as the lake swells to 4-5 times its dry season size, Vietnamese boat people live tied up in the trees that are submerged at this time.
Us on the Lake
Their purpose is fishing, but it seems the lake is producing less and less each year now, so they have turned to a lot of begging. We have shot video footage associated to this segment and will post it when we get a better wi-fi connection.

 Youtube links 
 out to Tonle sap and on tonle sap lake .
Suffice it to say it is shocking to see the squalor these people live in.

Riding the Tuk Tuk
Mr Moeun

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