Angkor Wat, Cambodia

18 05 2009

Angkor What… Angkor Wat!!
May 15, 2009 – May 18, 2009

We arrived in Siem Reap at about 7:00pm on May 15th and arranged a taxi from the airport to our hotel… Mr Souvath was his name I think. Mr Souvath was a nice enough guy I guess, but he was so persistent on being our ‘tour guide’ while we were in town and I hate being pressured into things… so this made me slightly cranky (I know – hard to believe right!).

Siem Reap is a super cute little town that neighbours the famous Angkor Wat which is about 15 minutes away from the town. Angkor Wat is an enormous temple complex that was built for the King in the early 12th century…though I think parts of it were constructed in the 6th-7th Century. The temples are really a city in themselves. There are a bunch of different ones, with Angkor Wat being the biggest and the main one. The Wat was originally a Hindu religious site, and then later became Buddhist. During our first day there we went to see Bayon and Angkor Thom in the morning and then Ta Prom in the afternoon. The next day was dedicated to exploring Angkor Wat itself.

If I could actually explain in words how massive and amazing these temples are, I probably wouldn’t be doing it justice. They were HUGE and so beautiful!!!!!! It really looks like they all came straight out of a fairytale. Farhan put it so perfectly when he said there is something so “majestic” about Angkor Wat. To think something like this was actually build in the 6th century completely blows my mind. We got up really early in the morning on our second day there to go and see the Temple at sunrise… so 5:00am (minus Zaileen who is now the sick one of the group), and then went again in the evening to be there during the sunset at 6:00pm. It started to rain quite a bit during the sunset period so we really didn’t get one, but the sunrise was breathtaking. As soon as we are back home, we’ll but up some of the 700 (not exaggerating) pictures Farhan took of all of the temples, including the sunrise.

Oh yes, that driver that I told you made me cranky at the beginning of the trip… we ended up giving him a call and using him to drive us to and from Angkor Wat during the two days we were there. In fact, he even took us to the pharmacy when we need to pick up some meds for germy Zaileen… and to drop off and pick up our laundry – twice! By the end of it he had won my heart and I decided he was the sweetest guy on the planet.

There isn’t much else I can tell you in this post since all we really did was explore the temples, and when we weren’t doing that, we were relaxing by the pool at our hotel. During our last night there we did go and watch some Cambodian dancing which was a great cultural experience. I thought Indian Costumes were extravagant… you should see Cambodian stage dressing – wow!!!

And before I forget… everytime our driver would drop us to a spot at the Wat, or pick us up… a slew of little kids would surround us and try to sell us things “You want post card ma’am, one dolla. Here flute…nice – you buy one dolla.” One little girl pointed to the sweat band I was wearing on my wrist and said to me ‘This nice. I like it… when you come back, you give to me because I like it okay.” – too cute they were! When we were walking towards one of the temples there were 4 or 5 little girls playing a game and they came up to us for a moment and asked us if we wanted any postcards, after we politely declined, they went and continued playing their game. There was one little girl there in her cute little purple outfit who didn’t really say much. She just looked at me with her big brown eyes and smiled, and as we all walked away she yells out… ‘Good Luck for you.. Good Luck for you.” I almost died… she was the sweetest little pudding ever! After we finished our exploring of that place and walked by them again to leave, I don’t think any of us could help ourselves, we had to stop and chat with them… gave them a little money and bonded with them as they explained to us this game they were playing. I’ll never forget that little purple cutie… she’s probably the cutest little button I’ve seen so far.

The best story of all of them is Farhan’s experience I think. The driver had dropped us off to Angkor Wat in the early evening at around 4:15pm and as usual, a swarm of little kids jumped all over us… selling postcards, bracelets, necklaces, instruments… you name it! One little girl went up to Farhan and asked him his name. Farhan knew she wouldn’t be able to say ‘Farhan’ since most non-ismaili’s can’t… so to save her the trouble, he said ‘Ali’. The little girl says to him, ‘Okay I write a letter for you when you come back.’ So off we went to the temple, and when we came back, Farhan had decided to buy some things from the kids so we could remember them. You probably guessed it… the little girl who had developed an instant bond with Farhan actually did write him a letter on the back of a postcard she had set aside for him. It started with ‘Dear Ali’. I laughed a little when I read that part. I’d like to quote the whole letter she wrote but it’s already stored away for safe keeping. As soon as I get my hands on it… I will come back and update this part. I do remember that she had drawn a flower on the card for him and said something to the effect of ‘ I hope you like this flower I drew for you. Please always remember me and come back one day. You are very handsome and have a very nice smile. I wish you good luck in your future. I wish you lots of good luck. ” So sweet right!!! She was a cutie…. they all were. I think one of the best parts of this particular trip was definitely the kids!!!

Now onto the Perhentian Islands for some relaxing beach time!!!!


Phnom Penh, Cambodia

15 05 2009

Eye Opener
May 14, 2009 – May 15, 2009

Our Cambodia experience has been document worthy right from the moment we boarded the ‘Bus’!!! So at 6:30am we arrived at the bus stop we were told to wait at in Vietnam and we waited patiently for our bus… and we waited and we waited. We thought for sure that we had missed it – but really the driver had decided to wait down the street and assume people would just know to go there! WTF!!! Anyhow… eventually we got onto the bus that was playing very loud Vietnamese music and a Vietnamese movie as well. It was … different! I wish I knew Vietnamese though because this movie was apparently hilarious!

Tip – If you ever do decide to be adventurous and take a bus for one route… take it between cities rather than countries!! See when you are taking a bus between countries, you still need to cross the boarder- one tiny detail we forgot. In order to cross the boarder, we had to get off of the bus after about 2 hours, go through customs at the Vietnam Boarder… which entailed everyone giving their passports to the attendant and then waiting for your name to be called before going through the gate! I had to wait to hear my name among hundreds of others in this little room.. no heat, no microphone… just wait! and of course, my name was the last to be called… naturally!! Then we get back on the bus, drive for about 3 minutes to the Cambodian Boarder and go through it all over again to get into Cambodia! It was a good experience and I’m glad I did it… but 6 hrs later, I think I will fly next time!

We were only in Cambodia for a day… from 2:30pm on the 14th until 6:30pm on the 15th. Considering it was only one day… we accomplished quite a bit…

As soon as we got to the bus station… a bunch of tuk-tuk / cab drivers swarmed us. Finally we told one guy all of the luggage we had and he said ‘no problem – $2.00USD.’ Can’t really go wrong with that can you… we followed him, thinking it was a normal car if it was going to fit all of our luggage… but, I was wrong. This guy managed to fit 3 huge suitcases, 2 duffle bags, 1 carry-on and four people onto his little tuk-tuk! We were all completely cramped in.. squished by our bags, but – as they say… when in Rome, do as the Romans do!

Once we got settled in our room… our room where the toilet is actually in the shower, we set out to do some exploring. The first thing I have to tell you… Cambodia officially has the cutest kids ever! I kid you not, everywhere you look, there are these cutie little kids and babies smiling and laughing and being all sweet and shy. So flippin cute!! Good on you Angelina!!!

Phnom Penh consists of about a million people…many of them on scooters or driving considerably nice cars!! Farhan described it as the “Dar-Es-Salaam’ of Cambodia. It’s a very slow paced environment here… Kiosks and food stands everywhere. People are out and about, if not actively working or doing something, than just sitting on their bikes on at a table, chilling and not really doing much. It’s incredibly hot in this city… make sure you have tons of water with you when you are walking about!

After getting a bite to eat at this little Cambodian Restaurant near the riverfront, (and seeing an elephant casually walking the streets as we were in mid meal… i swear it’s true!) we of course somehow stumbled upon Phnom Penh’s famous night market. They were playing Justin and T.I, Fergie, Ciara… all in Cambodian! It was awesome… I had to stop and really listen before I realized that none of what I thought sounded familiar was even in English.

We ended our day with a Khemer Massage!! I was surprised to see that the person who would be my masseuse looked like quite a young girl… I think it was like that for all of us actually. So anyway, as soon as we got in there, the ladies all sat us down in this lobby area, washed our feet and then lead us to another room together…. and then they said, ‘take off your clothes.’ We were just like … ‘All of them? Really? Ummm no thank you?” I’m not sure if they actually understood what we were saying, but they could definitely tell by the body language that we weren’t feeling it… and once they realized that, they separated us and we all ended up getting amazing massages! Felt so bloody fantastic after that… definitely needed it after that bus ride!!

So the place we are staying at is called ‘Hotel Cara’ – not a bad place actually… free internet! Can’t go wrong. There is a club across from it called “Emerald’ and then a bunch of little restaurants next to it. Our plan was to go to one of the restaurants and then maybe check out Emerald. The first couple restaurants were closed so we went to the one that was obviously open and looked quite lively. We walked in, Farhan and I hand in hand, likewise with Zai and Haji, and about 12 young girls are sitting at the front lined up sitting in chairs. As soon as we entered, they all stood up and started to greet us. I thought it was rather unusual, but we continued on into the restaurant anyway… the moment we sat down – about 4-5 waiters/hosts rushed our table asking us if we wanted any beer, and what we wanted to drink. I was so confused by all of it. When I told the guy to give us a minute to look at the menu, he looked a little bothered by it, but was still polite and let us be. The lady on Farhan’s side of the table wasn’t so accomodating though. She stood there persistently, waiting. Zaileen and I started getting a little uncomfortable with it all… so we looked around to see if anyone else was maybe experiencing what we were. It seemed like the place was filled with couples… younger made up girls with slightly older men. Draw whatever conclusions you’d like from this description… all we knew was that we walked into the wrong place at the wrong time and this was definitely our cue to leave!!

As soon as we walked out of the ‘restaurant’ there was a tuk-tuk sitting there… the driver insisted on being the one to drive us to where we wanted to go…. Mara was his name. We drove to a place called “Metro’ based on recommendation. Apparently they have really good Ambli (Tamarind) Martini’s there. Not too often you can say you had one of those! We decided we were going to eat at the place across from Metro first and then go there for a drink or two, and then we’d catch a tuk-tuk home for an early day tomorrow. But Mara insisted on waiting for us until we were ready to go home. Even though we said we’d be a while, 2-3hrs later…. Mara was sitting and waiting patiently for us when we left Metro (very cool and trendy place by the way… good Ambli Martini). When we got home, Mara asked us if he could be our driver tomorrow. Since we weren’t totally sure of what we were going to do, we told him it was okay and that we were actually going to the airport the next day. He said ‘No no, its okay. I sleep here, wait for you tomorrow.’ We told him again that it was okay… such a sweet man he was.

The next day… you guessed it, Mara has slept in his tuk-tuk outside, waiting for us. Since we didn’t have to go to the airport until about 430pm, we did some site seeing and Mara was with us every step of the way! We went to the Central Market and then to the Russian Market! There really wasn’t much bargaining to be had here… these sellers weren’t having it – most of them didn’t even entertain the idea of the word ‘discount!’

After the markets, we hit the museums… National and Tuol Sleng (S21). The National Museum was beautiful…. very well manicured. It’s very clear that Cambodian’s take a lot of pride in their home and their history. The National museum was full of artifacts from Angkor Wat which is the temple we are going to see in Siem Reap, Cambodia after we leave Phnom Pen. If you are planning to go to Angkor Wat and happened to be in Phnom Penh first, the National Museum is a good place to go to so you can get some background on the ‘Wat’ before you get there.

Tuol Sleng (S21)… this was the main site to see of all sites in Phnom Penh. Tuol Sleng Museum is an old high school that was turned into a detention centre during the Khemer Rouge Regime from 1975-1979. Over two million people were killed in Phnom Penh during this period… and this includes small children, to teenagers, adults and especially educated professional people. The detention centre was converted into a museum to honour those who were murdered during this regime. The museum holds a lot of evidence and pictures of all of the people who were killed. We saw pictures of babies, women, little boys, men. We saw the tiny cells they were held in, and actual pictures of them victims after they had been killed. This truly was the most eye-opening and tragic site we’ve seen. My heart still hurts a little everytime I think about what all of those people must have gone through and how not only Phnom Penh, but all of Cambodia was affected. If you google ‘Khemer Rouge’ a ton of sites will come up if you want to learn more about it. Here are a couple that I found.

Overall, Phnom Penh was a very short but such a worthwhile trip… We saw yet another way of life for people in the world, gained some education about Cambodian History and got to see some of it first hand. We ended our time here by seeing a bunch of monkeys running across the wires near our hotel after our good friend Mara dropped us home!

See you in Siem Reap… home of the Angkor Wat!