Sunday, 6 July 2014

Loving Cambodia

I didn’t expect to like Cambodia.  Our friend had her purse stolen there and I wasn’t really that interested in ‘happy’ pizza and the sex trade.  So, loving Cambodia and adding it to the list of our favourite countries really surprised me.  We opted to divide our time between Kampot, the land of pepper, and Siem Reap the land of everything else!  We avoided Phnom Penh where the purse snatching occurred and where other friends had fed their family ‘happy’ pizza, accidentally! Phewww
The temples were absolutely incredible!
We drove across country for six hours to reach Cambodia and got a glimpse of the real Cambodian countryside.  Small villages with tiny homes on stilts lined the road, ox carts were abundant, and the poverty was apparent.  The homes were tiny, the families large, and everyone slept on wooden floors, with open windows and barely a roof over their heads.  The land was lush and green and the road was under construction – the entire way.  Ugggg.  I suppose that was evidence of improvement or, maybe just very poor planning.  We were later told that the roads are so poorly constructed that rebuilding them is a constant event.
A typical house in the country.

These are traps to catch crickets.  They have a light that attracts the bugs to fly into the plastic.
Once they hit the plastic they drop into the trough at the bottom that has a small amount of water in it.
We saw many platters of crickets and grasshoppers for sale in Cambodia!

Kampot was surprisingly quiet, the roads carried very few vehicles and it was a pleasure to cycle around the town.  The people were so friendly and everyone seemed to move a little slower, which was quite a culture shock from Vietnam.  Bicycles and tuk-tuks were the main form of transportation for the tourists, and the town appeared to be doing well.  There was a river running through Kampot that was clean and swimmable if you wished; however, we did not indulge.  We found the best pulled-noodle and dumpling restaurant ever, and although we were only in Kampot for a few days we ate there twice. Mmmmm so yummy and the noodle pulling show provided cheap entertainment for us all.
Taking the ox for a walk!
Hand pulled noodles and dumplings - so yummy!
Another beautiful sight!
Siem Reap was another thriving area and again we loved the fact that the vehicles seemed to move through the streets with some kind of order.  We felt safe and enjoyed meeting and chatting with the locals.  Many people spoke English, which made things easy.  The level of service the businesses maintain in Cambodia, pleasantly surprised us as well.  When you book a bus ticket, the bus company will pick you up at the hotel, the same goes for shows, and the circus.  Our hotel even offered a free tuk-tuk ride to the city centre as often as we wished, and picked us up at the bus station upon our arrival.  Amazing service!
The Apsara dinner show.
So beautiful and graceful.
Enjoying our tuk-tuk tour.
There seemed to be little evidence of ‘Scambodia’ other than the process of crossing through the border.  We watched our passports and cash head off on a motorcycle towards the border as we sat waiting for our bus to arrive.  We were told that we could pick up our passports at the border – hmmm.  This seemed VERY sketchy to me, but all of our research informed us this was a common practice. Our ‘medical’ that we had to undergo at the border was also interesting.  It consisted of us paying 1$ to have our temperature checked.  My temperature indicated that I was dead, but that didn’t seem to affect my admittance.  We did read that this process could be skipped but for the four dollars American it cost us to have the medical, we didn’t think it was worth it to give the Cambodian border officials a hard time – yikes!

After actually getting into the country, we paid more than fair prices for transportation, food and even the gifts and souvenirs we purchased in the markets.  The hotel booked tickets for us for several things and never charged a commission or inflated the price.  One of the fellows working at Ta Prohm took us on a small tour, offering to take pictures of our family, and never once expected money for his service.  He was just happy to explain about the species of trees and the filming of Tomb Raider that took place there.  Everyone we met seemed friendly, honest and fair. 

The size and scale of the temples amazed us.

We did avoid the floating fishing village, as our research came up time and time again with reports of tourists being taken to orphanages, where children were being used as tourist attractions.  The Phare Circus was an amazing show with the proceeds going to help youth and education.  The performers were awesome and all of us thoroughly enjoyed it.   We also visited the National Museum which housed so many Buddhas we were amazed.  We purchased our tickets for Angkor Wat the evening before we wanted to visit, and took advantage of a few hours of touring around the temples, taking in the sunset.  Every temple was different and beautiful and the pictures we captured there were works of art.  Shopping in the markets was such a fun experience and it amused us to see ‘newer’ travellers excited when they got a dollar knocked off the asking price.  The vendors didn’t make much money off of me, but both sides profited by the fun and comical exchange. I even negotiated a $100.00 tuk-tuk fare from Cambodia to Canada, but I had to include a winter coat in the deal, not bad eh!

The ruins around the temples were massive piles of rubble that were labelled and categorized. Many of the temples had or were in the process of being re-built.  What an enormous undertaking. 
The whole area was a photographer's dreamland.
Squid and fish, hanging out at the market!
Cambodia was a great country to explore for the Mitchells.  Maybe we were just lucky or maybe we have learned a thing or two from others during our travels.  Whatever the case was, we were grateful.  Our next stop is Thailand, the last ‘new’ country we will visit before we start heading back across the world, towards home.  Hopefully it too will rank amongst our favourite places to visit. 

We were amazed at this tuk-tuk called the 'rock and roll' tuk-tuk.  It had a disco ball, air conditioning (hahaha) and several speakers that would play out your favourite tune.  
Based on the gas tank, you may have been 'rolling' home to that favourite tune though!  We were in stitches listening
to the driver try to convince four young Aussie boys to hire him to tour the temples.
"Is your tuk-tuk safe?"
  'Of course, very safe and plays good music too, come look!"
I was laughing so hard I was crying as I took these pictures. 
A little pampering session after checking out the temples.

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