Thursday, February 10, 2011


Saturday, April 7, 2007 CAMBODIA

At breakfast this morning we all announced to Nang that we all wanted to ride the elephants and would willing pay the $10.00 fee and forgo the Silk Farm in order to ride the elephants. He has reluctantly agreed to our request and will make arrangements for us to ride the elephants tomorrow. By 7:30 am we were on the bus and headed for our first adventure of the day. I asked Nang to confirm the temperatures yesterday and he said that in Cambodia you only ask if it is “hot” or “cold”; nothing more! But when pushed agreed that Jim was correct on the temperature that I gave you for yesterday. It was a “warm” day! Today it is much more comfortable; seems to be cooler and maybe only a two or three shower day.

As we passed streets full of markets, Nang said that these were rice fields just a few years ago. We noticed many little houses outside the front doors; they are “spirit” houses for the ancestors and offerings of fruit and incense are made regularly by the family.

As we continued the area became much more primitive; especially as we went along the river and into the farming area and we noticed that well pumps served the neighborhoods as there is no running water in the homes. Suddenly we pulled over and started walking. As we passed one home we noticed that the owner was butchering a dog. He was cutting off the head as we passed by; reminding us that dog is considered a meat much as we consider a cow as meat.

We were assigned two to an Oxen Cart and headed off with our driver through the farming community. Table after table was loaded with filleted fish laid out to dry in the sun before taking it to market. Many toddlers were running naked in their yards. Nearly all of the houses were built on stilts as this entire area floods during the monsoon season. Suddenly we each went a different way and found that we were being taken to our individual driver’s homes. There we took off our shoes and entered their home where we met the other members of the family and visited for a brief time. Our family had a large marker board on the wall with English words written on it and when we asked about the board they told us that they are using this to learn the English language. Afterwards we were invited to stroll through the village with the farmer, our ox cart driver, to visit his rice field. What an unexpected and unique experience. He even stopped to pull some lemon grass so that we could smell the lemon flavor; they use this in this cooking extensively for the flavor.

We’d had such a good time that we were the last to arrive back at the bus to continue our journey. Soon we were passing through an area with extremely small grass huts built on stilts that had no water and no electricity! But, we could see TV antennas; they have batteries to run the televisions for a few hours a day. They only get two channels but enjoy learning about the outside world, Nang said. Later we saw some of these houses being moved…they put them on the back of a pickup truck and move then regularly depending on where the river is flowing. Most of the residents are fishermen and as the weather changes so does the location of their home. Eventually we reached the boat area and boarded a boat for the trip out to the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake. This is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and the lifeblood of this area of Cambodia; it is home to hundreds of people living in thatched-roof houses on hollow bamboo poles. Everything they need is out there; beauty parlors, small markets, clothing, fruits and vegetables and more regularly float by sooner or later. The people who live on the water are constantly on the move as the water level rises or recedes depending on the time of year. On the way back we nearly got broadsided by a boatload of Japanese tourist who’s driver had lost control of his boat…our driver jumped to the side of our boat and prevented the pending crash and was back at the steering wheel before we could react and take photos. We all decided to increase his tip for saving our buns!

The school boats are also used as hospitals if necessary. Several of them have been donated by different countries; one of the newest and largest was donated by Japan. At this time of the year the water level is very low and they use motors with very long props that extend out behind their boat about ten feet. They have to clean the props often because of the debris in the water.

We got off our boat and boarded a floating restaurant/souvenir shop where they also had crocodiles penned where we could see them. After a short stay, just enough time for photos and Jim to get “taken” on one of his negotiated bargains. He bought a map of Cambodia and after we left on our boat we discovered that the one they gave him was dirty and torn. I think we’ll look for a new one before we leave.

On the way back into town, Nang pointed out his home and on our request agreed to stop so that we could meet his family. His wife and two small children were very gracious. His home is on government land along the river and they will be forced to leave in a few years as this land is being cleared to create a park along the river. He has purchased a small plot of land and plans to build a home on that land. For now he has planted it with fruit trees and vegetables for his family. We all enjoyed our extra “discovery” and the fact that he was willing to give us a glimpse into his family life.

Arriving back into the city center we stopped at Les Artisans D’Angkor School where they teach students the art of stone carving, woodcarving, lacquering, gilding and silk painting. Very interesting and beautiful things for sale in the showroom but we all left empty handed. Our lunch today was at Carnets D’Asie Restaurant, a French restaurant in Angkor; very classic and beautifully served. There were seven courses served at our round table in a covered courtyard. Just as we were finishing the workers who are constructing a building next door returned; the noise level was rather intense and we were glad that it happened during the dessert. Back to the hotel for a rest and swimming by 1:30 pm.

At 3:30 we headed out again for our tethered balloon ride to see the views from on high. When we arrived we found that the winds were such that they were not flying right now so we headed over to the War Museum while we waited to see if the wind would dry down enough for the balloon.

The War Museum was an old mine field where they had gathered rusted hulks of tanks, machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, a MIG airplane, a Russian helicopter, several American made things that were left over from the Korean War before they used them during their wars. Our guide was a career army soldier who had lost one leg and was wounded several other times. Lots of displays of land mines and he gave us a great demonstration on the different types and how they worked. We were all surprised when we realized that Cambodia was at war for thirty years. Their last war only ended in 1999. With that in mind we all changed some of our opinions about the conditions that we are finding in this country.

The balloon was still not flying so we drove over to the King’s residence which is across the street from the Golden Spirit of Shrine Preah Ang Chewck and Preah Ang Chorm; two golden Buddha’s. One of the unusual things located here are the fruit bats that live in the trees above the Temple. They are very big and were flying in and out of the trees. We were able to snap photos of them both flying and hanging from the tree limbs.

We returned to the hotel about 5:30 pm and at 7:00 we met in the lobby to go to dinner at a local restaurant. We rode the remoks (rickshaws pulled by motorbikes) again through the town…it’s Saturday night and the traffic was wild! Arrived at the Bayon I Restaurant and enjoyed dinner along with a shadow puppet show performed and narrated by teenagers. Another very nice evening that concluded with a short bus ride back to the hotel.

Some interesting notes:

Scaffolding is generally bamboo tied together with ropes on even very tall building projects.

Motorbikes are used for transporting everything. No license needed, only have to be 18 years of age. We’ve seen husband, wife and three small kids on one bike. Many of the women ride side-saddle. Women ride their own bikes with high heeled shoes. Very few people wear helmets. We’ve seen up to 24 chickens on the back of one bike. Think about two dead pigs on the back of a motorcycle! Anything and everything is transported on these vehicles.

Large groups of Tourists from other parts of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam regularly arrive in a stake truck. They cram in and stand in some of them. Others have a tarp over the top and narrow wooden benches for them to sit on. They travel for hours in this manner.

Termite hills up to three feet tall are very common everywhere there is dirt and/or trees; many times there is a tree in the center of a hill.

Bathrooms or WC for water closets are generally very clean, regular toilets and always fully stocked with paper supplies; a nice change from China.

Trash: multitudes of trash is littered everywhere, the bulk seems to be plastic bags and bottles. Next to a beautiful hotel or home you will find a pile of trash burning and/or littering the ground. Most of the roads are red dirt and even the paved ones are very rough.

One corner has about a block of rugs set out every day with hundreds of black shoes; this is the flea market for second hand shoes. Another corner has a mirror propped on a table for an outdoors barbershop for one! This street is one of our shortcuts so we’ve seen them nearly every day of our stay. They are very ingenious in their ways to make a living.

Gasoline: there are gas stations and then in the countryside they sell gas in one and two liter bottles on the side of the road; the one litter bottles are old whiskey bottles and the two litter bottles are old soda bottles that they get from the recycle centers after the hotels and restaurants turn them in for cash.

The greeting in Cambodia is a bowed head and hands folded in prayer as opposed to a handshake; this means that they are showing you respect.

We see so much so fast that it’s sometimes hard to relate in these journals just how much information we are seeing and hearing. It really makes us all appreciate our lives in the good old USA!

Postscript: A reader asked what tour company we use when traveling in Europe...Grand Circle and their small group OAT is hard to beat but have also used Rick Steves and Trafalgar Tours. But must admit that when traveling in Europe we make our own plans and travel on our own by auto ninety nine percent of the time. With the Internet it's fun and a piece of cake!

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