19th October 2009

Cambodia

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Border crossing to Cambodia went very smoothly, without any problems and bag checkings. But if Vietnam wasn’t exactly a rich place when it came to countryside, Cambodia’s poverty could be witnessed shortly after the border in a more striking way, especially since the very first building was a rich casino, and the surroundings were made of tiny wooden stalls selling anything from rice to nails and soap. Transport means are more chaotic and one can see people sitting on the roof of cars and trucks very often, and in big numbers. The temples along the roads are nice and some seem to have been renovated, but the houses, typically very simple wooden cottages on pillars (to avoid being flooded) are the standard, outside the big cities. The beautiful flooded plains are quite a contrast.
   
Photos
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We had taken a bus trip from Saigon directly to Phnom Penh (with just a stop at the frontier). In Phnom Penh we were wondering what’s the story with loads of brand new, big and shiny Jeeps, and then dirty little kids begging next to them. We saw more fancy and expensive Humvees in one day than we had seen in Finland in 3 years. The kids don’t even bother asking them money or food anymore it seems, and come to you as soon as they spot you. A positive note is the apparent politeness of the locals, who salute with hands joined. It’s already that much more than the previous country. On the other hand, the now familiar “Hello, moto ?” has been replaced with “Tuk-tuk sir ? where are you going ?” …
We also found funny that most of the ATMs give you only US dollars (the exception being Canadia Bank), that these dollars are accepted basically everywhere, with the change (meaning anything under a dollar) being given back in riel (with an rate of 4000 riels for a dollar, of course, at your disadvantage). So it is a good idea to keep enough riels in the pocket for small transactions, and try to get rid of big denomination dollar notes asap, since no one has the change (might sound obvious to some but it is still annoying when you just got that stuff from the ATM).
We didn’t stay long in the capital city, but visited the Royal Palace (splendid), Wat Phnom and the streets in between these and our hostel. We couldn’t take much more. At the Wat Phnom (temple), some monkey hang around and you can buy food from locals to feed the monkeys. Those animals definitely had enough to eat and some were so fat they could barely move to grab more. But it’s interesting to see that once the monkey has left his 2 bananas for a bigger and always more attractive pack 20m further, many local kids race to eat the 2 abandoned bananas. Same with peanuts and lotus roots.
We skipped the Khmer Rouge heritage (Tuol Sleng prison and various killing fields) and the local garbage dump where locals and their kids search for valuables (and one can easily imagine what they walk on).
   
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Slideshow

We were not anymore so happy for the bus trip bought from Sinh Cafe between Phnom Penh and Seam Reap as we had been for the journeys bought from the same company earlier in Vietnam. This was because the driver was making his own extra business aside and took all the locals (and their motorbike) he could into our minibus. Don’t get us wrong, we like to take local buses when they are available and cheaper. But paying more, we don’t want the driver to put our lives in danger for driving faster to catch up the time lost in the extra stops. Plus this journey wasn’t very pleasant as many of the locals were sick, coughing and throwing up. During the trip we also had a flat tyre, but didn’t mind much about that as we got to take pictures around in the meanwhile and got to wonder how many people can the locals actually fit in one car.

In Seam Reap we rented bicycles for three days and biked around the huge, beautiful area of Angkor Wat. Apart from the main building featured on all brochures, there are many other temples of all sizes and shapes, depending if they had been built by the Khmer, the Thai or the Cham people. The different styles can be seen at the kind of rock used, the gods whom the temples are dedicated to, and the period. Furthermore, nature has decided to to take over and improve some sites, by covering some tops with soft moss or tall grass, growing huge trees over the walls, surrounding and consolidating some gates with thick roots, without forgetting the various birds’ songs to remind you how much you’re in the jungle. We loved it !
Now, I cannot forget that all over the place, people try to sell you stuff inside the temple, sometimes pretending to give you access to a special area for a discount price, just for you. Monkeys would hang around some places too, and locals would be selling food, reproducing the same scenes we had in Phnom Penh. And 50% of the people trying to sell you stuff are kids. “Shouldn’t you be at school ?”, we’d ask. “School holiday !” or “School? morning only !” would they answer. And while they try to sell (and we would never buy from kids), we could see the parents, doing nothing, sitting in the shadow of some tall tree, watching if their kids work hard enough.
   
Photos: day 1, day 2, day 3
Slideshow: day 1, day 2, day 3

We’ve experienced a few things in the country, be it in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampong Cham or Stung Treng. We’ve tried “Dr Fish”, where you put your feet in some small pool and dozens of little fishes come to eat your old skin and various bacterias. So tickly ! The food was very interesting too, with a lot of influence from India. It tastes really good most of the time (got only one bad lunch in 10 days), it’s usually very cheap (about US$1.5 for a green curry and coconut milk bowl with chicken or beef) and the shakes are sooooo good ! About half a dollar for fresh mango, papaya, pineapple or coconut shake.
Among other things, we got lucky enough in Siem Reap to arrive at a special time and to be woken up at 3am by the chants of monks celebrating whatever Buddhist day (I’m sorry, I love monk chants, but at 3am, I hate everybody :p ). We then changed to a more quiet place but there we got kicked out because we argued with them since they wouldn’t give us the breakfast that was supposed to be included in the price. And of course, like in Vietnam or China, everywhere the concert of cars honking starts early, like 6am, the hostel staff will start chatting loudly about same time anyway, and asking for peace only makes things worse. We have dozens of stories but that will be for the long winter evenings by the fireplace :)
   
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It is now time for us to take a bus and try our luck through the Lao border.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 19th, 2009 at 12:00 and is filed under in English please !, news, voyages, worldtrip'09. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. 1 On October 19th, 2009, Päivi said:

    Ciao!!! Ihana oli taas lukea teidän seikkailuista. Kyllä on teillä muisteltavaa, miten meinaatte arkistonne järjestää?!! Jossain mainitsitte olemattomista jalkakäytävistä. Sitten kun haluatte uudestaan kokea sellaista tervetuloa tänne Italiaan ja Baronissiin. Löytyy sitä olemattomuutta vain muutaman tunnin lentomatkan takaa….
    Terveiset täältä viileämmästä Italiasta, ihan on jo takkia tarvittu t. Päivi

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