Published: August 3rd 2012July 20th 2012
We spent only a week in Cambodia, although I took almost twice as many photos as I took in 2 weeks in Laos!
The first half was spent in the capital, Phnom Penh, which was a much more city-like place that Vientiane had been. (2m people versus 200,000 I suppose!). We stayed in an area where there were quite a few other backpacker hostels, bars and restaurants. We were close to the river - the Mekong again. (I think we've visited and walked along the Mekong in about 5 different places, in 3 different countries now!) We were also staying a little too close to the "girly bars" - even one of the tuk-tuk drivers we met thought our hostel was one! Hmmm. Apparently they have a lot of trouble with that sort of underworld, a little like Thailand does, which is unfortunate. Otherwise everywhere was nice and we had some delicious traditional food - Khmer curry, coconut fish, soups.
We spent a day walking around the city, to a few temples and the royal palace museum. Then we spent a day going to the Killing Fields (which are now contraversially privately owned) and Tuol Sleng prison. It was quite a somber day out, but it was definitely good to go and learn about the country's history. The past was also enormously present throughout the country today as there are virtually no old people - or anyone over the age of 35 for that matter! But we saw lots of young people and families, and everyone was very friendly.
The remainder of our week in the country was spent in Siem Reap, in Northern Cambodia, which we got to on a very luxury bus - AC and English films playing non-stop for 6 hours. It went much quicker than some of our previous bus journeys! We stayed in a lovely hotel in Siem Reap too, with a swimming pool, cooked breakfast and a free tuk-tuk service into town. We felt like we were living in luxury, especially when we "hired a driver" for three days to tour round Angkor Wat! (It was a tuk-tuk, but we still felt like royalty!) The sights at Angkor were all we expected and more. It was fascinating that there could be so many huge temples, in such different styles in one area. We easily filled three days travelling amongst them all, and didn't get bored. They all are very different, from red brick to big boulders of stone, from giant carved faces to tiny intricate friezes around doorways and pillars. We sat and watched the local macaques playing at one, stayed for sunset at another, and got up at 4am for sunrise at yet another!
There were a lot of children selling books, souvenirs and postcards, at every temple. It was very sad to see them virtually begging for sales, and getting cross and upset when other children made a sale. When we chatted to them though, they were still friendly and smiled a lot, in between their sales spiel. One little girl was very cute and had amazing English. She was only 6, and when Eoin laughed at her and said "you're so small" she defiantly said she wasn't, understanding him perfectly, argued with him and then started reciting her little sales speech:
"Where you from? England? Capital London. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten." Then she counted to 10 in French, Spanish and German, without pausing for breath! We just laughed at her, but she was so cute and funny. And she probably took it better than any of the others when we didn't buy anything. We did leave with smiles on our faces, but wondering what her future would be like. She was obviously very clever, and hopefully selling souvenirs is just for her childhood (just) to help her pay for school - so many of them can't afford to go to school every day so this is what they do the rest of the time.
On our last day, we travelled a good 70km to one of the more out-of-the-way sights (at a speed of around 30km/h). It was covered in sprawling jungle, trees propped precariously on top of huge walls with massive roots down to the floor, and huge piles of rubble to scramble over and explore. (Apparently just like Indiana Jones). It was great fun, if a little mosquito ridden!
We passed lots of small "villages" which lined the rural roads. There was no real depth to them, just stilt houses along the road, selling their fruit, vegetables, bamboo rice and palm sugar. We stopped by one just as we were wondering what all these ladies were doing, lined up a few feet apart with their huge steaming wok style pots, cooking over a mound of earth with a hole for the wood underneath, and stirring with bamboo sticks. Our driver explained that they were making palm sugar - mashing the palm fruit, boiling it up, then laying it out on massive banana leaves to set, and tying it with bamboo leaves to make small circular sweets. We tried some and it was just like eating butter tablet, or homemade fudge. So we had to buy some! It was delicious, and enormously sweet. Apparently the locals use it for their coffee, and the children eat it as sweets. I was quite happy to be a child for the day!
Siem Reap itself was a nice town. It is now quite bustling with backpacker bars, restaurants aimed at tourists and a few posh hotels, but there were still quite a few markets and a night market serving local food. We ate Cambodian BBQ - like the Lao fondue - where we cooked meat, veg and noodles on a griddle and soup pot in the middle of the table. The only options had lots of strange meat with them, so we tried snake for the first time, crocodile, squid, beef and chicken. And there was an endless supply of veg and noodles, which was great! Delicious!
We also went to a "cultural evening" of buffet dinner and traditional dancing. It was interesting to watch, and the food was great. Good to see the local young people dressed up in traditional clothes, but they only seemed to be smiling and enjoying it when they were dancing with the opposite sex!
Sorry, no photos this time as I can't get the software to work on the blog - all safely backed up though so hopefully next time. Hope everything is good at home. Missing you all lots, but really not counting down :-) Sorry! Lots still to see! Not long though. Lots of love xxx