Archive for the ‘Cambodia’ Category

Siem Reap

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

I am singing now–What a difference a day makes…24 little hours…

So after the hardest day so far, we followed it up with one of the best days.

Welcome to Siem Reap. Home of Angkor Wat. We are loving it here. It is reminding me of Ellicottville and Nice, Cambodian style. The town is full of bars, little shops, tons of partiers, lots of travelers.

Good Morning, Angkor Wat

Good Morning, Angkor Wat

The Gate to Angkor Tomb

The Gate to Angkor Tomb

The town maintains a very strong French influence and we are happy as clams. Cheese. We spend the afternoon having Thai massages (which have been SUCH an experience, it warrants its own entry). We have cocktails at the Red Piano–a famous bar in the center of pub street. It was Angelina’s favorite. She invented a cocktail, which we really enjoyed and the entire time we were drinking these tasty new discoveries, all we could think and talk about were the Mathiesons. Visions of Tim and AMT sucking them back at warp speed, getting trashed off their new favorite drink. Soon dear friends! Tomb Raider night chez Kitty and the Germ.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

We had a fun dinner at the Dead Fish restaurant. It had traditional dancers and a system of ordering unlike anything I have ever seen. First, place your order. The waiter puts the written order into a tin that he shoots down a string in to the kitchen. Just because you ordered first doesn’t mean you won’t get your dinner last. Waiting until everyone is served just doesn’t happen. It can’t. We kept thinking that this multi-levelled resto would never pass Canadian safety requirements. It really was an accident waiting to happen. Slightly treacherous.

Dead Fish Restaurant

Dead Fish Restaurant

Cambodian Dance

Cambodian Dance

After our dinner (surprise, surprise, I had Pho–again) we have the famous Cambodian Dr. Fish massage. This is the deal. You take your shoes off. You sit on the edge of an inflatable pool. You submerge your feet. Little fish come and start sucking the dead skin and bacteria off your feet. I assure you, you read this correctly. Fish eat the skin off your feet. It was a strange feeling. We have some hilarious pictures. That being said, it will never replace a good old fashion pedicure.

Arnon, Marc, James & Catherine

Arnon, Marc, James & Catherine

Dr. Fish Massage

Dr. Fish Massage

The following morning we got up–before the crack of dawn to head to Angkor Wat to see the sun rise. It was stunning.

Very Early In the Morning

Very Early In the Morning

Kitty and the Germ at Angkor Wat

Kitty and the Germ at Angkor Wat

Ancient Stories

Ancient Stories

Reflection

Reflection

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

"Pose"

“Pose”

After that we went to Angkor Tomb. This is an amazing site. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

Angkor Tomb

Angkor Tomb

A Matter of Perspective

A Matter of Perspective

Kitty

Kitty

Entry to Angkor Tomb

Entry to Angkor Tomb

"Cheese"

“Cheese”

Beauty at Angkor Tomb

Beauty at Angkor Tomb

Finally we saw Ta Phrom. Some of this will look familiar if you have seen Tomb Raider (hence the Angelina connection). Ta Phrom just moved into 2nd place of sites/experiences on this journey. There is a magic that is hard to describe.

Nature Taking Over

Nature Taking Over

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

Tomb Raider Temple

Tomb Raider Temple

Trees vs. Stone

Trees vs. Stone

Kitty and the Germ at Ta Phrom

Kitty and the Germ at Ta Phrom

Trees have overtaken the temple and I have never seen anything so exquisite in all of my days. It literally felt like it had been touched by the hand of God. It was as though the trees just didn’t care and since they were left to their own devices, they did what they wanted to do. Ta Phrom temple just beat out the Great Wall of China which was incredible, but totally man-made. The added natural element of the tree temple can’t be duplicated.

Stunning Ending for a Perfect Day

Stunning Ending for a Perfect Day

Sunset over Siem Reap

Sunset over Siem Reap

Back to the Red Piano. Mmm… More Tomb Raider cocktails.

The next day, Marc opted out of more temples. Off to the PGA golf course he went. I will clarify that Marc thankfully did not bring his clubs with him on the journey, but was happy to be able to rent shoes and clubs at this fabulous Nick Faldo design course in which he played with a caddy and loved every second. It was one of the most challenging courses he has ever played and will describe the holes to all the golfies on his return.

Marc's Caddy

Marc’s Caddy

Challenging but Fun

Challenging but Fun

Meanwhile, while Marc was on the golf course (getting a horrific burn on his legs I might add), I was back at more temples. Another 2. If there are trees over taking it, I am thrilled. The second temple was a water temple. We had to walk the plank to get there. I of course had vivid memories of the rice paddy and was a bit anxious. Once we got there, it was stunning–and hot. 35 degrees, not including the humidex. I am melting.

Water Temple

Water Temple

As per Jeff’s advice, we head to Hotel de la Paix. Stunning. We have a lovely bottle of wine and I am in a really good mood because there is cheese. We watch traditional dances, performed by orphans.

Dance at Hotel de la Paix

Dance at Hotel de la Paix

That night, it seemed only fitting that we join the local travelers and partiers (it is Halloween) and go to Angkor What?? A crazy night club to dance our asses off and drink cheap drinks out of buckets. Memories of Nice–flooding back. It actually wasn’t a bucket, more of an upside down plastic top hat with some straws. Of course this turned into a wild night. You would expect nothing less.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween

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Phnom Penh

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

We’re driving through the Vietnamese country side on our way to Cambodia on a public bus. We get to the border and say good-bye to our passports and we wait in a stinky bus depot. We wait. Finally some guy holds up a passport and begins to hand them off. No order, no reason–just some form of organized Cambodian chaos. I am the last one left. Our guide has kindly stuck it out with me, and finally my passport arrives. Phew. From there we make our way outside to a holding area where we fill out customs cards, pay 20 USD and get a hand written visa. Then the bus takes us for a “simple lunch”. Never in all of my life would I have thought that I would have been eating in a garage. Yes, a garage. To signal the lunch was over, the driver started to wail on the bus horn. My meal was full of bones and needless to say, we left hungry–fighting over the hand sanitizer.

Lunch in a Bus Garage

Lunch in a Bus Garage

We arrive at Phnom Penh and are here for a few nights. Everywhere there are posters starting child safe zone. I of course begged to differ as our hotel elevator almost chopped my arm off. My Swedish friend said–not that kind of SAFETY. Oh.

Over half the population of Cambodia is under the age of 18. Child prostitution and sex tourism is rampant here. Our first night was at a resto called Friends–all of the proceeds go to child protection and everyone working there is a former street child. They are taught the art of cooking and service and go on to find jobs at nice hotels or other restaurants.

Store on Two Wheels

Store on Two Wheels

Transportation in this city is easiest by tuk tuk. A tuk tuk is a little carriage attached to a moped. Rates to be agreed upon before you step in. Beware of thieves who are known to ride up next to your tuk tuk and yank the sunglasses off your face, the purse off your arm and help themselves to the purchases you have made.

Dragon Boat Practice

Dragon Boat Practice

Flags of all Nations on the River Bank

Flags of all Nations on the River Bank

Tuk Tuk (Three Plus Luggage)

Tuk Tuk (Three Plus Luggage)

The Way to Get Around

The Way to Get Around

We get acquainted with the city on arrival in a cyclo (AKA rickshaw) and propelled by a man bicycling. The city is on fire with tourists. There are restaurants everywhere, the American dollar is the unofficial currency (prices on menus and on clothes are in USD). They are preparing for a festival and everyone is out practicing paddling in their dragon boats.

Ready for a Cyclo Tour

Ready for a Cyclo Tour

Exploring Phnom Penh

Exploring Phnom Penh

Happy on Cyclo

Happy on Cyclo

This is Normal Traffic

This is Normal Traffic

Men don’t stop approaching Marc. You wanna get high? Cocaine? Girls? Heroine? Lady boys? Massage with a happy ending? They don’t stop asking. You can pretty much get what ever you want here–including a rocket launcher or semi automatic.

Sunset in Phnom Penh

Sunset in Phnom Penh

Now to the dark side of Cambodia.

Pol Pot–the name should be synonymous with murdering tyrants (a name absolutely interchangeable with Hitler) and the Khmer Rouge (interchangeable with Nazi).

Our second day in Phnom Penh was officially the hardest of our trip–starting with a tour of the genocide museum–Section 21 (or S21). Over 3 million Cambodians were murdered during the Khmer Rouge regime (in the late 70s). We started off the day at Section 21. The building used to be a high school, but then was turned into a prison and torture factory–getting people to “confess” and holding them in the prison before being sent to the killing fields. Their crimes? Being too educated and knowing too much. First to go were the doctors, lawyers, accountants and teachers–and all of their families. Then it was the farmers and everyone in between. The goal was to equalize everyone. Everyone was to start on the same level at the very bottom. Eventually they started to turn on each other. No one was safe. Not the elderly. Not the young. Not even the babies.

Tuosleng Genocide Museum

Tuosleng Genocide Museum

Section 21: Former High School

Section 21: Former High School

Entry to "Classroom" Cells

Entry to “Classroom” Cells

We went into rooms that just 30 years ago, people were tortured, brutalized and eventually murdered. Think of the feeling you have when you walk into a cathedral or church. You feel awe-inspired, peaceful, hopeful, perhaps a little critical, but most often you are impressed. There is a feeling of serenity and respect. Now imagine if you will the feeling of being in a tiny room with a few simple yet very effective torture devices and a wired bed frame. Imagine what it felt like to be in a space of pain, suffering, fear, hopelessness, betrayal, anger. The physical reaction I had to being inside this hell on earth was palpable.

Torture Room

Torture Room

All Victims Where Photographed

All Victims Where Photographed

There were only 7 people who made it out of Section 21 alive. One of them was there when we were, sharing his story and providing a glimmer of hope. He was wearing sandals to show us his toe which was never the same after having his nail ripped out repeatedly. We took pictures with him and shook his hand. Meeting him was truly a glimmer of hope and promise in such a dark place.

One of Seven Survivors

One of Seven Survivors

An Honor to Have Met Him

An Honor to Have Met Him

Only Seven Made It Out Alive (We Met the One on the Left)

Only Seven Made It Out Alive (We Met the One on the Left)

After leaving, feeling deflated and weighted down, we went to the Killing Fields. On these hallowed grounds, hundreds of thousands of innocent Cambodians were murdered. There are over three hundred fifty killing fields throughout Cambodia. We went to the biggest one. It indicated where the buses pulled up and started to unload the victims. In an effort to save bullets which were very expensive, alternative methods of systematic killings were implemented. I won’t go into the details as they are very upsetting, and impossible to forget, but know that they were horrific. There were big trenches where they discovered mass graves and they have still not unearthed all of the victims yet. A memorial was set up in the center of the field and from first glance it looks like a temple. As you get closer, it has the shape of a temple, but full of the skull and bones from the murdered. They are separated into age groups. It was horrible and did not take place all that long ago.

One of the Killing Fields

One of the Killing Fields

Shrine

Shrine

Just Horrible

Just Horrible

Mass Graves

Mass Graves

Only Skulls Were Kept

Only Skulls Were Kept

Grouped by Age and Gender

Grouped by Age and Gender

It was a day that we will never forget. On a horrible side note, Pol Pot (who BTW was a monk as a child and studied in France) died of natural causes in his 80s.

On the second day on Phnom Penh we visited the Royal Palace. It’s a beautiful place and one can only imagine what it was like when the emperor actually resided here. Of course, I’m the attraction of the day and a monk (!) asked to have a picture taken with me.

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Roof Top

Roof Top

Gold is the Color of Choice

Gold is the Color of Choice

Inside the Palace

Inside the Palace

The Monks Asked for This Photo!

The Monks Asked for This Photo!

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

A Beautiful Day

A Beautiful Day

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