Originally written in December 2010, as part of our Southeast Asian adventure
After 3 night in Pnom Penh, we jumped on a bus to Siem Reap, city that hosts the Angkor temples. The ride was actually quite cool: we got to see the Cambodian fields which are beautiful despite the fact that a lot of them are old rice plantations abandoned today.
Once we got to Siem Reap we were once again swamped by another hoard of tuk tuk drivers. This is how it works: you book a place to stay and they will always have a live-in tuk tuk driver. Such driver will go to collect you with a piece of paper with your name on it. Sounds reasonable, right?
What if the driver does not hide your name from the competition? Well, you then get out of the bus and hear a thousand people murder your name! We were ready and we have my surname as reference … That ensured very little messing. I still remember just another driver tried to pronounce it with the result being, of course, hilarious.
We stayed at the Golden Mango Inn (thanks to Domnhall for the recommendation!). It was super cheap and amazing. Even the tuk tuk driver was complimentary into and out-of-town. The only time when we would have to pay for transportation was to go to the temples… Great deal! By the way, if any of you, readers, runs marathons, they have their own in December every year.
The next day we went into the temples. I had been personally waiting for this moment from the beginning of our trip… What am I saying, probably since I was 6. I remember seeing a picture in a history book and being mesmerised. We asked Lion (the tuk tuk driver) to take us there and he did so for the following 3 days.
If you don’t know, Cambodia was great empire in the very old days. During their times of splendour they built a lot of temples, most of which have more or less survived structure wise, despite the continued pillaging (courtesy of the Thai).
While we “climbed” each monument I started realising just how true was the opinion that Cambodia went back to the year zero in the 70s. Let me explain, you can visit the country and se pictures of the time in Pnom Penh, see the killing fields, S21… And the other is see the real effect in life.
For example, when you go to visit Angkor, you are presented with the possibility of going there for 1, 3 or 7 days. Each day is $20, if you go 3 the price is $40. That ticket is given to you laminated with your name and your picture in it. You get into the tuk tuk and drive to the first temple, Angkor Wat. Seeing some people selling food and water and children selling t-shirts and scarfs seems somewhat ok. When, later, you have seen 6 fears of architecture and you find another 20 kids at the entry and exit of the temple, along with a band of victims of the mines… It’s mind-blowing. On the one side, the glory of the Khmer, on the other the legacy of the Khmer Rouge.
And I think what’s most frustrating is that education is free in Cambodia. Most kids don’t go, as money is king. How will they ever get out of the rut they are stuck in without selling their souls and national heritage? It’s heartbreaking. We spoke to some of the kids (and yes, we did buy a number of t-shirts of them) and they were telling us (in amazing English), that they had to give the policemen $4 a day. Initially, I did not believe them. That was until 15 minutes later, one tried to sell his badge to David… “As a souvenir” , he said. David and I were not wanting to generate the Cambodian people any extra expenses, so we left.
The kids in the temples are really, really charming. They have an amazing sense of humour and whilst sometimes they are a little bit too relentless in trying to sell you some of their merchandise, they can really be hilarious sometimes. This is one of the many examples:
Kid- “Mr (David), buy a couple of bracelets for your wife (me). They are very cheap!”
David- “She’s not my wife or my girlfriend” (thinking the kid would just go)
Kid- “See, that’s the problem! Do you know why you don’t have a girlfriend?”
David – “No?”
Kid- “Because you have not bought any bracelets. If you do, I am sure you will have one soon”
God loves a trier.
Aside from visiting the temples, we also attended the festival of water (annual celebration in Cambodia) and had some amazing food: fish amok, Cambodian pizza…
The last day in Siem Reap was also our last day in Cambodia. We were to jump onto s minibus, which would take us to Bangkok, to then take a night train to Chiang Mai. We did screw up there as a visa on arrival through land in Thailand is only for 15 days and out plane was leaving 21 days later. As a result we ended having to go to Burma to then reenter Thailand…
Can’t believe we only have 15 days left until we go back home…