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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Phnomenal Temples

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 22 July 2010 | Views [507] | Comments [1]

After Snookyville it came as somewhat of a relief to head into somewhere a bit more Cambodian.  Phnom Penh was a hell of a place to arrive - hot, sticky and very smelly.  We trudged past the moto remarques (tuktuks) and made our way towards one then another hotel, finally bedding down in a boxroom by the river.  No natural light and way back from the riverviews - perfect for sleeping, ne?  No.  Next door was crashbanging with works, so we had to bail for a nicer place shortly after - bit of a shame cause the first place was delightfully old-school.  AS it happens, we threw the peace of the new place away by dancing the night away at Heart of Darkness, a nightclub full of NGO girls and rich Khmer...very strange and very cool.

Phnom Penh's sights are grisly or grandstanding - torture cells or palaces.  The former broke our hearts, the latter blew our minds.  It is incredible to think how much the Khmer have been through in the last 50 or so years...literally beyond imagination.  There's too much to deal with - four MILLION dead.  In the cells of Tuol Sleng they don't have any idea what to do - they're a tourist attraction of sorts, but how to present it?  As Neil in Kampot said (and which was echoed often) the past is so brutal that they can't look back, just to the future.  And the future?  Well, the leaders aren't committing genocide directly but as it stands now, the city is an odd place, kept alive by NGOs and aid, full of riches as well as staggering poverty.  Compared to the cities in Vietnam and South China it seems to have little direction or hope.  Yet the paradox is that there is so much in the way of fine handicraft, fine dining, fines for improper use of motos.  They say that 70% of the country has been sold to international companies, including the killing fields. Perhaps it is simply because the civil war ended so recently, and it takes a long time for everybody (including the government) to recover and manage the future. But right now, exports rule the roost and money is leeched out by the corrupt rich while the average Khmer is ground away from poverty.  The NGOs do great things for the ones lucky enough, and tourist bring in some cash, but a lot of people are screwed.

Siem Reap was much better, enjoyed the temples a lot.  The main one - Angkor Wat itself - was a little bleh, but the surrounding temples, and there were a lot of them, were really good.  Pick of them was probably Bayon, run close by Ta Phrom.  We rode rickety probably-cast-iron pushies through the park, and it was wonderful cycling past so many wonderful sights and getting a feel for the scale of the place.  Most of the temples speak better through photos than through words, so check out the gallery.  What's not possible to photo is the immensity of the park and amount of buildings.  It's one after the next for miles and miles.  Monkeys and birds are all over and people live in amongst it too.  The only thing it doesn't have is landmines, mainly thnks to an insane genius called Aki Ra.  He runs the Cambodia landmine museum in the Angkor park, much to the chagrin of the tourism officials who like to downpaly the horrific recent past in favour of the glorious ancient history.  His story is grim for much of his childhood as a forced soldier.  By the time he was in early twenties he was with the UN clearing mines.  When they cleared off he was on his own and without all the gear.  So he did what any hero would do - get out the wrenches and spanners.  Using sticks (STICKS!!) and household tools he cleared hundreds of minefields.  He's been told to discontinue and now operates using international funding to clear mines.  In his spare time he runs the museum to raise money and look after kids affected by mines.  If you visit Cambodia go to his museum.  If you don't, donate online.  Few people are heroes like this man - he's in the David Attenborough/William Godwin/XXXXX class.

Siem Reap meant we were firmly back on the road more trodden.  The place was swarming with tourists and travellers.  It seems to be the place for Japanese to visit in SEAsia and also there were plenty of older package western tourists.  And of course, there were the dreaded backpackers (we are 'budget travellers', not backpackers!) with their cheap bargaining, nose-turning and cliched beer t-shirts.  We did however have a very good time out with Bella and Lauren from Kampot and some folk they'd met from guesthouses - so it wsn't all bad.  A dog also adopted us and walked us home that night, which was nice.  It's hard to find a non-foreign Cambodia though - much harder than in Vietnam.  It's very much a bubble place where one can dine on pancakes, pizzas and burgers for ever.  We did pick up an excellent money belt though, and stayed in a lovely lodge.  We tried repeatedly to contact the dive school in Pattaya but couldn't get through.  We decided to take a punt and go anyway...see next post for how it worked out...


Phnom Penh: Daughters bakery is excellent; FCC not so much; Heart of Darkness is great fun; look for all the ethical stuff

Siem Reap:  Peace cafe is a wealth of information/options/advice plus great food and ethical store; don't bother with Banteay Srei; go for Beng Melea - people were raving about it; Landmine museum is fantastic; Jasmine Lodge is a lovely place to stay with a very friendly manager - and ethical; dead fish cafe looks good but was empty when we went.

Both: www.thehipster.com (also delivers to any country)




Budget travellers my arse

  Chris H Jul 22, 2010 11:15 PM

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