"Interesting" is what everyone seems to say about Cambodia. Yes, very interesting, but by this morning all I was interestd in was leaving the place. Actually, that is quite harsh, we had a good time but we'd seen enough.
As we flew in, the whole country seemed to be underwater, to the left and to the right, as far as we could see. It seems this is normal in the wet season. We were fined on arrival by the unfriendly immigration people for not bringing passport photos for our visas (though no one subsequently took our photo). But at least I'd pre-booked our hotel and arranged for someone to collect us from the airport.
Nobody turned up to collect us. We hired a taxi to the hotel and found it was closed til October. Not a great start but our friendly taxi driver soon had us checked into a really nice place. Walking around the town was hard work, you get besieged by people (adults and children) trying to get you onto their motorbike, into their tuk tuk, sell you postcards, sell you books or just plain begging for money, all with an edge of desperation. In total contrast there were loads of lovely restaurants and the food was fabulous but I did feel more than a bit guilty tucking in in such lovely surroundings when everyone outside seemed to have nothing.
We were in the town of Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, which did not disappoint. 1000 years ago, the city of Angkor was the biggest metropolis in the world (I'm sure I read that somewhere). The ruins are incredible for the scale and the sheer quality and amount of stone carvings on all the buildings, as well as for the way the jungle has been growing over them. Tomb Raider was filmed there and I can see how Angelina Jolie came back with a Cambodian baby..the kids there are heart-breaking, their parents send them to sell to you or beg from you. They're really cute and charming but there are so many of them that you just can't give to them all and saying no is horrible.
To get to the capital Phnom Penh, we had to undertake a six hour journey in a sweaty bus with mould growing on the curtains and half-hearted air con. Our driver didn't like to lose momentum by using the brake so used the horn as a substitute..all the way. We never got up enough speed for it to be a particularly scary journey. We were the biggest vehicle on the road and, just as our driver expected, everyone else got out of the way. Everyone else being bikes, horse drawn carts, cars, cattle, whatever. I felt like a celebrity when we finally arrived in Phnom Penh because we were literally mobbed by people trying to get us into thir tuk tuks and off to their guest houses.
In both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, road rules are not what I'm used to. As a general rule, people drive on the right, the exceptions being when you are turning into another road (in which case you use the left, right or centre of the road as you please) or when you just feel like driving against all the other traffic on the wrong side of the road. Indicating is frowned on, lights are totally unnecessary at night. There are pavements but their primary purpose is for parking / selling your wares/ fixing cars / dismantling elecetrical equipement / setting up barber stalls. Crossing the road is a battle of nerves (and my nerves can't take it!).
The city itself is very dirty, chaotic and pretty poor. We only realised this morning that we had been staying in the nice part of town and even there, tiny children, totally naked with not even a pair of pants or shoes, sit and play in the filthy streets. There is a an energy to the place though, you get the feeling that the country is moving towards better things.
We visited the Royal Palace yesterday and they decided I wasn't dressed modestly enough and made me hire a pair of enormous, electric blue itchy trousers that i had to tie on, much to Eoin's amusement. I looked ridiculous.
So, now we're here in Vietnam and I feel like kissing the ground. It's much nicer here, hurrah. It was interesting to visit Cambodia, and, as Eoin put it, the people who weren't trying to rip us off or run us over were really nice to us.