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Cambodia - Land of Extremes

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 27 December 2007 | Views [942]

This is a landscape full of hardship and splendour.  Toyota Camrys and donkey carts.  In Phnom Penh we stayed where the queen stayed for $20/night.  Rats and squalor share the block with the Royal Palace.  Dirt, grime, litter, stinking sewers, begging children and amputees, solicitations for sex; it's all a bit greasy.  After two days, we're pooped from the heat and a vicious battle with food poisoning which takes 8 pounds off each of our bellies...thankfully! 

We went from the Royal Highness Hotel to the Royal Hotel in Battambang 6 hrs of flatland northwest of the capital, where we find three exuberant wedding parties taking place out our window on the streets below.  Quite a nice town and riverfront, good for our recuperation....slowly steamed rice...then noodle soup.  From the rooftop restaurant, beautiful burnt orange sunsets make the Royal the place to stay!  Full moon rises and we're off to Siem Reap, the glorious Khmer temples of Angkor await us.

34 degree C days make for slow feet, but the quiet mystery and beauty of the Preah Khan temple complex is a joyful place for the soul.  Angkor Wat's kilometers of gallery walls illustrate God and Demon wars and Heavens and Hells.  The faces of Bayon smile from within its stoney soul and make for a peaceful walk amongst its crumbling walls.  Though 1000 years old, the smile is as present as the Khmer smile is today. 

The Royal in Battambang gave us souvenir Khmer scarves as we left and it is when traveling in our tuk-tuk chariot north beyond Bantay Srei that we see their usefulness - to shelter our faces from the orange dust of the road.  We look like we've been taking tanning pills.

One thing about Cambodia, when it gets a bit tough the Cambodian smile always improves things.  Happy Hour daquiris at the Soup Dragon make for a lovely afternoon after a day of templing, and makes for a lovely Christmas setting watching the streets a buzz below us.

Our first massage in Asia.  Long overdue.  Laura's research points us to the blind masseurs from Seeing Hands and at first we quickly glance at each other in semi-fright as it appears a bit dingy but these masseurs leave no muscle unturned.  Despite the cough that nearly takes the life of my masseuse, we come out dazed and ecstatic from the experience!  Cranial to toe, very very thorough.

Before we leave Cambodia it's one more visit to the Hands4Humanity Cafe to see Leak.  She is a compassionate soul campainging for the poor and her passion for her work draws a lump in my throat.  We'll see what we can do to help, as she is truly trying to make a difference building modest homes for amputee victims of the leftover American bombs which litter the countryside.  What a legacy to live with.  Adults and children pulling bombs out of the soil to sell for scrap metal, knowing the risks, and suffering the consequences.

Tags: culture

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