Vanuatu Adventure - The Trip Archives
01/29/2003 Entry: "Heart of Cambodia"
First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who contributed to the virtual B-day card for my 30th (that my awesome brother put together). It helped make an already memorable B-day all the more amazing!
Let's see, how to sum up 2 weeks it such an amazing place?! Brian and I decided, while researching Cambodia prior to embarking on our trip, that due to lack of infastructure it would be a good country to do a group tour. SO... We signed up for the 15-day "Heart of Cambodia" Intrepid (Australian tour co.) and in hindsight we're so glad we did.
Basically, the tour was designed to incorporate the must see/experience areas, such as Angkor Wat and the capital (with the Museums and Killing Fields) and to see some of the smaller towns that are normally skipped by many tourists. Altogether we visited 8 different towns in Cambodia, truly giving us a taste of the rural areas along the way.
On Jan. 11th we met the other 9 members of our group + our group leader, Steve. There were a # of people from Australia, two guys from Scotland, two women from Canada and Bri and I. We covered a range of ages from 21 - 72. It was nice to have such diversity in ages and backgrounds, it ended up lending to a good group dynamic.
On the 12th of Jan. we had a pretty sobering experience visiting first the Toul Sleng Prison (S-21) Museum and then the Killing Fields. We quickly learned that most everyone had been touched somehow or another by Pol Pot's Regime from 1975- 1979, killing 100's of thousands of Khmer people thru this horrific period of genocide. The tour guide we had for the day had lost his father to Malaria due to lack of medical treatment during that period. It's hard for me to fathom that this all happened so recently, in our lifetime. After learning the recent history it makes you look at everyone with new eyes. You can't help, but ask yourself how was this person affected by their recent tragic history. The people, Cambodians, are trying to move forward. They don't want revenge, they want to live for today, and are some of the most loving, kind and gentle people I've ever met.
On the 13th we started making our way north first to Kampong Cham. We took a 3 hour Express Ferry up the Mekong to reach our destination. In the afternoon we visiting a pre-Angkorian temple. The next morning we headed to Kampong Thom, along the way we stopped in a small town that has been nicknamed "Spiderville" (for good reason). We made about a 15 min. stop in Spiderville so a few adventurous/crazy souls could order a fried spider (this included Brian). We found a woman carrying a tray full of this non-appetizing delicacies. It turns out the history behind the fried spiders, is that during the Khmer Rouge with huge food shortages the local people developed a taste for fried spiders to keep themselves alive. Anyways, I used the spider as a prop for a photographic opportunity to give the appearance of chowing down on the spider, but then I quickly handed it back to Brian for the actual tasting. He said it didn't taste all that great, a bit like chicken, and did I want to try some. For the sake of trying everything once, I tried a bit of one of his legs. I don't really recommend it.
In Kampong Thom we visited a amazing place called Sambor Preah Kok, a area that consistes of more than 100 pre-angkor temples/monuments in the heart of the forest. We also visited a rubber factory. THe smell was a bit overwhelming, but our curiosity, especially Brian's (by the end of our 1 1/2 tour he'd figured out the productivity and several other figures) was enough to keep us going.
The next morning we headed further north to Siem Reap, our home base for the next 3 days to thoroughly explore the Angkor temple area. WE visited 10 temples in 2 1/2 days. Some of our favorites were Ta Prohm (the forest temple, were a part of Indiana Jones was filmed), Bantey Kdei (called the Women's temple for it's intricate bas-reliefs/carvings) and Angkor Wat (which is the most intact wat in the area and the most magnifiscent in design, architecturally and artistically).
The most memorable moment of those 2 1/2 days was sunrise at Angkor wat on the 17th of Jan. (Gramp's B-day!). We arose at 4:00 am, headed to the temple at 4:45am and were sitting on the steps of the library (on the grounds of Angkor Wat) by 5am, in pitch darkness. We sat back on the steps to await the awakening of nature, listening to the mesmerizing sounds of monks chanting, roosters crowing and frogs croaking. Suddenly it was as though someone painted the sky with a light yellow and the three main temples became a sillhoute in the foreground. It was an unforgettable experience. It wasn't just about the sun peeking through the temple, it was the whole sensory experience, the sounds and peace of dawn in such an awesome place.
On Jan. 18th we took an hour journey down river toward the third largest town in Cambodia, the french colonial riverside town of Battambang. It was fascinating to observe life on the river. We passed numerous river villages along the way. One area consisted of homes made of riverboats, the diet mainly consisting of fish. Another village was made up of mainly houses built on pantoons with a total of 3 buildings (the church, aidpost, and meeting area) on stilts 30 feet high to accomodate for the river level during the wet season.
On Jan. 19th, I woke up not feeling any older, as I was ineviably asked by a co-tour member. We spent the morning visiting a few local temples. They were interesting to see. But, the most exciting part of the day, one in which I almost passed up to "just take it easy" was our afternoon on motorbikes and the "bamboo train." Nine of us, hired moped drivers to take us on one of the most exhilarating and beautiful rides of our lives. First we headed along a dusty trail north of Battambang for about 45 mins. We were asked to get off the bikes and walk across a suspension bridge. On the other side we got back on the bikes and proceeded to zoom thru a series of small villages on narrow dusty paths. Kids were singing out the salutations all the way with Hellos, Bye-Bye's and High 5's. We even received a few bouquets of local wild flowers along the way. The kids energy was incredibly contagious and the sights of life in the village made us think of Vanuatu. Eventually we arrived at the a small station to ride the Bamboo Train. At sunset, we embarked on a small one car, flat bed, bamboo contraption that just barely held our group. The car motor was started and we sped off into the purple, orange and pink horizon of the most brillant sunset I've seen in years!!! That night we went to this great local restaurant with the whole group. We had a delicious meal and I was surprised with an amazing cake that said "Happy 30th Birthday Amy!" on top and a group gift of a shadow puppet and a lovely card. Every bit of the night was wonderful except for the bit of dust that was extremely irritating to my Left eye, it was half swollen shut by the end of the night. But, as I told one of our friends on the trip, it made my Cambodian B-day all the more memorable : ) !
On the 20th we flew down to Phnom Penh and jumped on a bus to head to the seaside town of Kep. As Brian said in an e-mail to our folks, the "undiscovered jewel of Cambodia." It had the most relaxed air about it. It was really quite lovely and rejuvinating. Our last main stopover was in Sihanoukville which is another beachside town. Only this one is much more touristy. We stayed in bungalows off the beaten track. On the 23rd we spent an entire day on a chartered boat. We truly felt like we were living in the lap of luxary. We spent the whole day exploring small islands, snorkeling, reading and chatting. The perfect end to our time together with our group. On the 25th we were back in Phnom Penh. We went to the Russian Market, explored the Royal Palace and walked around the city. We spent the last 1 1/2 days with our friend Jenn (a co-PCV).
On the 27th we began our journey here to Vietnam. We took a 5 hour boat ride along the Mekong over the border into Vietnam. Spent the night in Chao Doc and then took a full day tour to make our way north here to Saigon. So now it's our 2nd full day in Saigon. We've had a incredible time, exploring this slightly overwhelming, vibrant city of 8 million + with our friend Bao (anther PCV whose originally from Vietnam). It's been wonderful to be with him, he's been taking care of us, taking us to the best local resturants and showing us the sights. We've been officially invited to attend the New Year Celebration (Lunar New Year - Tet) with Bao's grandparents. The celebration starts at 6pm tomorrow night and we'll stay til just after midnight (I think a nap is in order tomorrow) to welcome the new year.
We'll write another update in about 2 weeks at the end of our Vietnam portion of the trip. In the meantime, we wish everyone well and "Chuc Muang Nam Moi (Happy New Year in Vietnamese)!!!"
Love, A & B
Sunset from plane on our way into Cambodia
Skulls at Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh
Killing fields memorial
The lovely Apsara
Novice monks on motorbike
A&B near rubber trees
Sap from the rubber trees
Brian with tasty treat
Amy with her tasty treat
Woman in "Spiderville" holding our tasty treats
Rice Straw on Ox Cart
Banyon tree and temple door
Doorway at Bayon
Sunset over Campong Cham
Near the mountain temple
Baynon windows at preah Khan
Apsara door frame
A&B in Ta Prohm
Our travel companions at Ta Prohm
Doorway at Bantey Kdei
Bantey Kdei (the women's temple)
7 headed naga at the women's temple
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Hallway relief carving at Angkor Wat
Another wall carving
Hallway at Angkor Wat
A&B on steps to central temple at Angkor Wat
Looking west from central temple
Floating Village on Lake Tonel Sap
Little girl in temple doorway
Monks at mountain temple
Battambang River Scene
The Dusty moped riders
Riding the Bamboo Train
Sunset durring our bamboo train ride
The Dragonfly Army
Looking down to the ocean from an old French Casino
Amy's Birthday (including cake)
The Gang at Amy's B-Day
A small fishing village on the way back to Phnom Penh
Ok so we ODed on the photos from Cambodia but it was spectacular. Hope you enjoyed our photos.
Two new ones I forgot the last time
Sunset on our day cruise
The independence monument in Phnom Penh
A blee A blee A blee thatLs all folks
Replies: 4 Comments
Okay, I think I would rather die than eat a spider. And I don't think it has to do with being pregnant!!! Love, Carrie xoxo
Posted by Carrie @ 02/19/2003 04:20 PM MST
Great new pics! It was fun to see the tasty treat pictures that you had described. I think I would try one - easy to say from here!
Posted by aswitzer @ 02/18/2003 10:36 PM MST
Thank you so much for taking the time to enter you adventures on the web site. You too are having the time of your life and I am so glad it is going well and you are fine. The pictures are so great to see and it is such an education for those of us reading about it. Keep safe and Happy Birthday, Amy.
Posted by June @ 01/31/2003 12:11 PM MST
Yeah for a great new entry!
To everyone - make sure you check out the new pics that A&B added to the previous journal entry - there's a whole batch and they are great!
Happy Lunar New Year!
Posted by aswitzer @ 01/30/2003 12:13 AM MST