Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cambodia...same same, but completely different!

Cambodia has been such a whirlwind so far. I got off the plane from Laos and stepped into the thick and muggy air of the Siem Reap, home of Angkor wat. My first impression was that it was incredibly poor and unfortunate, which it certainly is. ..but i was surely surprised when i whizzed past Lexuses on the back of a moto (motorbike taxi). Cambodia is the poorest of all the countries I've been to so far, but I didn't realize how poor until I got under the skin a bit.

The first day i arrived, I checked into my guest house and immediately went for a tour of the "floating village". Hundreds of families literally living on a horribly polluted lake filled with plastic and crocodiles. Their existence seemed rather peaceful, but I just cannot imagine. t Needless to say, these are some of the poorest people in Siem Reap, and possibly in Cambodia. As you cruise along the water, kids in long-tailed boats creep up to you with coolers selling beer and soda, or anything they possibly can! It's hard to say no, but I did. You really don't want to encourage the kids to beg because the money goes right back to their parents to gamble with.
A crocodile farm (cage) and a few kids with water snakes wrapped around their necks and I was back at my guest house to find bed early in preparation for my big day at Angkor Wat.

Since I had already spent $200 to get there and an additional $70 in 24 hours, I decided that Angkor Wat ($20 to get in per day) would be conquered in a day...and for me, it was. I simply cannot imagine going back for another day, let alone an entire week which some travelers do.

I woke up at 4:30 to make it to the gates for the 5:30 sunrise. I opted to go to a less visited wat for sunrise since the big one Angkor Wat is magnificently crowded with an influx of Japanese and Korean "photographers". I wanted some peace and quite, and I'll tell ya, probably the best decision I could have made. I was the only one at Bayon (for those of you who looked it up, sunrise made the amazing faces even more erie). Went to 10 other wats throughout the day including the one where Tomb Raider was filmed and ended my temple day at 3pm. The original plan was sunrise to sunset, but i was spent after 10 hours. I think that'll do for temples for a while!

The next morning, I caught a bus to Phenom Pen (the capital city) where I am right now. Last night I took it easy, explored a bit and had a few drinks with some other travelers over a game or three of pool. This morning, I stepped into a world or Cambodian Tragedy by visiting "S-21" and the "Killing Fields" where thousands of Cambodians and Asians were held executed by the Khmer Rouge in the mid-seventies. What an atrocity, and what an experience. It's weird when you are in a place like that learning about something so disgusting and so tragic. Everyone around you is silenced and you can barely muster up a smile, but it feels like that's how you are supposed to react. S-21 was a former highschool that the K-R overtook and made into a holding cell for the pre-destined detainees. Soooo erie. Then to the Killing fields where the dropped the prisoners and executed them on site, cutting off their heads, raping them, and throwing them into ditches to be buried dead or was heart wrenching. I had a pit in my stomach all day and still kinda do.

Tomorrow morning, i'm going to an orphanage for kids with HIV. There are 22 kids there and they just love having visitors. I think I 'll bring them some paints and crayons. I can't wait for this experience! I'll be in Cambodia for a few more days, and then off to Vietnam. I'll write again before I cross the border!

Love you all!