Adventures in Asia 2008

my travels through India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Archive for the ‘Cambodia’ Category

Traffic Chaos

Posted by maudholma on 27 April 2008

“We will pick up a few more people and then go”, S and I were told when we got into a taxi from Sihanoukville to Kampot. At this point there were four of us in the car. After few more minutes and a few more people, four of us sat in the back with the remaining four (including the driver) in the front. How someone manages to switch gears when he is wedged between a man sitting on the gearstick and a woman whose feet are competing for room with his remains a mystery to me. Maybe it’s best that way.

“We will wait for four more people and then go”, we were told when we got into a taxi for the Vietnamese border a few days later. That would have been one less than the previous time. We lucked out, and instead of waiting until the car was full managed to find another taxi with one passenger that was getting ready to leave. This time there were only two people in the front (including the driver) and four of us in the back (including two backpacks), until we stopped to pick up two more people, who squeezed into the front and seemed to think nothing of it. S and I couldn’t wait to get to Vietnam, where driving was sure to be safer and taxis not as full.

“We have no taxi here – only moto”, S and I were told after we had crossed the border and started to kindly decline motorcycle drivers’ requests to drive us the 10 km to Ha Tien, the nearest town. After all, who would put a 15 kg backpack in front of a moto driver, strap on a helmet, and hop on the back? The answer: two people with no other means of transportation. We watched a garbage truck, an egg van, and a minibus full of businessmen pass us before realizing that we were not likely to experience safe driving or empty taxis in Vietnam. After a few days of taking motos I can confirm that this still holds true. I never thought I would miss a Toyota Camry that seats eight.

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Wedding Bells

Posted by maudholma on 21 April 2008

In between our stops on the tourist trail of Cambodia, S and I did a homestay in a village near the town of Kampong Cham, a few hours from Phnom Penh. The family we stayed with consists of an American man, his Cambodian wife (whose whole family lives and farms in the same village), their 2 adorable children, a dog, and some chickens. During our two day visit, we got to see a glimpse of “real” Cambodian life and, like our elephant riding experience in Laos, is probably going to be the most memorable experience of this country.

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia after years of civil war and unrest and immediately began forced evacuations of Cambodia’s cities and towns. People were told that there was a threat of US bombings and that they would be allowed to return in 2 or 3 days. Instead, these “New People” were forced to move to the countryside and join the “Ancient People” in an attempt to create the perfect Communist state, built on agriculture. During the 4 years that the Khmer Rouge were in power, an estimated 1-2 million people (according to some reports, one third of the country’s population) died or were killed. Many starved to death due to food shortages and terrible living conditions coupled with inadequate healthcare, with the rest being tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. Ironically, since most of its leaders were well educated, the group targeted those with an education as well as monks, teachers, and members of the previous governments. It’s shocking to think that this happened only a little over 30 years ago and that it was allowed to go on for so long before anyone intervened. Kheang, the wife of the family we lived with, remembered stealing fruit as a child whenever she could to supplement the meagre rations of watery rice soup with fish paste that they were given. Since she was only 5 years old when it happened, her memories were a little more innocent than those of her mother, who said she still feels like she’s opening up old wounds when she talks about that time and felt disappointed in that some of the perpetrators have never been brought to justice.

As a slightly more uplifting part of our homestay experience, S and I attended the wedding of Kheang’s cousin. At the ripe old age of 28, her parents had told her that she could no longer turn down proposals, and essentially forced her to marry someone she had only met for 15 minutes before the wedding. During an entire day of ceremonies, the bride and groom rarely looked at each other and didn’t exchange a single word. They did, however, change clothes about 10 times, each outfit more ridiculous than the previous. S and I didn’t do much better – we wore stained and sweat-drenched t shirts, capri pants, and flip flops. As one does to a wedding… Nevertheless, the bride insisted on having her picture taken with us and everyone tried their hardest to drag us onto the dancefloor! If for nothing else, I learned that I don’t want a wedding photographer who habitually lifts up his shirt to are his beer belly due to the heat, a husband-to-be who teams a red jacket with pink pants, white socks, and black shoes, or techno music when I get married.

After a quick stop in Phnom Penh for some sightseeing and more sweating, we made our way to Sihanoukville, on the south coast of Cambodia, where white sand, turquoise water, fresh seafood, and breathtaking sunsets are the order of the day. I probably won’t get much sympathy if I complain about the heat?

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Sues’day from Cambodia!

Posted by maudholma on 14 April 2008

After four days of relaxing on the island of Don Det, S and I said kop chai lai lai and bye bye to Laos and crossed the border into Cambodia. Two minibus rides and a night in Phnom Penh later, we argued our way onto a bus to Siem Reap. It’s currently Khmer New Year in Cambodia so we weren’t the only ones trying to get out of the capital! We smiled, we pleaded, we begged, and were eventually successful. This time we were the only pigs sitting and lying on the floor; there was a family of 4 who didn’t initially fit onto the bus either, but they were given small, plastic stools to sit on. When we pulled into the bus station in Siem Reap, men with signs for different hostels started appearing in the windows. By the time we stepped off the bus we were each surrounded by 5 of them talking non stop. “I’ll take you to the guesthouse for free, you don’t need to pay anything”. “We have double rooms with fan or AC”. “You saw me first when you got off the bus – come with me”. “I’m a tuk tuk driver, I don’t work for a hotel, so I’ll take you anywhere you want”. (One of the big surprises of Cambodia so far has been how well people speak English). S and I were standing about half a meter apart but couldn’t talk to each other without screaming at the top of our lungs and even then we could barely hear each other!

Siem Reap is best known because of its close proximity to Angkor, a collection of ruins from the Khmer empire. Yesterday we woke up at 4:30 in order to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat (said to be the world’s largest single religious monument) followed by 9 hours of sightseeing at two other temples and the ruins of the city of Angkor Thom. It was definitely an experience and some of the sights were incredible, but the hundreds of tourist buses plying the routes between the main sights, not to mention the thousands of tourists running around with their cameras, ruined the atmosphere somewhat. We barely had enough energy for dinner last night and made a half-hearted attempt at celebrating Khmer New Year before giving up and going to bed. Instead we’re planning on celebrating both the second day of New Year (the holiday lasts for 3 days) and the second day of the halfway point of our trip tonight!

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