I am actually back in Bangkok now, but seeing as I was losing the will to live when I tried to go on the internet in Cambodia, I thought I would wait until I was back here to update my blog!!
I think when I last wrote I ws just about to go on the hilltribe trek. That was a great couple of days up in Chiang Mai. We were really lucky with the weather as they it was still the end of the monsoon season, but we only had a light shower on one of days. It was beautiful up there, and was a wonderful experience trekking through the jungle looking out over the rice fields and banana plantations. It was quite hard work at times, as some of the hills were very, very steep without any obvious footholds, and it was slippery too, you really had to watch your footing and a few of our group did fall over once or twice. We had to carry our own bags as well....luckily i found this out before we went and we left our big backpacks back at the hostel and took the bare essentials...there is no way I could have managed with 16k on my back!! I am definitely learning the advantages of travelling light!! On the first day we treked to a hilltribe where we were staying for the night and spent the evening playing cards and drinking beer by candlelight as there was no power...it was good fun actually. Because there is no light pollution, the night sky in the jungle is amazing...I don't think I have ever seen so many stars, I spent a while just looking up in awe of it... and there were fireflies dancing around as well...just beautiful. The overnight accommodation was an experience...6 of us slept on the floor in a wooden hut...I didn't get much sleep at all that night as it ws sooo uncomfortable...and i didn't like the look of the leech type creature I found on my bed either!!!! After a hard mornings trek up and down very steep and slippery slopes on the 2nd day we finished the trek with a trip dwn the river on a bamboo raft which was a really nice and relaxing end to a hard couple of days...it was lovely and peaceful on the river, and really pretty too.
Onto Cambodia.....well it was a complete culture shock for me as soon as I crossed the border in Cambodia. The poverty is obvious straight away....there are loads of young children begging, people walking along muddy tracks pulling old wooden carts. then by contrast there are massive brand new casinos and five star hotels....it is mad, and gives you an idea straight away of the problems in the whole country. Basically it is a classic example of a place where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. I spent 3 nights there and did a package tour where I had a private Cambodian guide showing me round...and although I was a bit worried about doing it, it was a brilliant experience, and i feel as though i learnt loads more about Cambodia that way. The guide told me loads about their way of life, and the problems in the country, but he asked me not to repeat a lot of it because he was worried, so I can't put too much in here. Angkor Wat and the temples are absolutely amazing...there are loads of different temples, and they all have stunning features...i took so many photo's because I wanted to remember as much as possible. They are definitely worth seeing...and the setting is beautiful too. Unfortunately, the temple has been sold by the government to a Vietnamese businessman...that's just how it is there. The tourist industry is becoming really big, and loads of new hotels are being built, many of them 5 star with spa's etc. But this is just creating more problems for the poor locals. Apparently, over the past year inflation has been really high, and I found everything is more expensive than in Thailand. The price of fuel is really high as well. It is over US$1, and when the average wage of the hotel staff is just US$40 a month, that is ridiculous!!! The most emotional time I had in Cambodia was on my first morning when I rode by TukTuk past the childrens hospital...the hospital was built and is owned by a Swiss Company and they offer free treatment to all children and pregnant women...I passed there early in the morning and the road was absolutely packed with men and women taking their children to the hospital, loads of them arriving in the back of pick-up trucks or whole families on mopeds...and loads of fathers waiting by their mopeds to hear news of their children....it was just so sad, I could't help but cry. And right next door to the hospital is a five star hotel costing $600 a night....it just doesn't make sense.
The 2nd day I had a city tour, and went to the floating village, which was interesting. There is a whole community including a school, church, hospital all floating on the lake...very strange. Because everything had made such an impact on me in Cambodia I asked the guide if I could buy some gifts and take them to the orphanage that afternoon, so I bought some writing and colouring books and pencils, and then I visited a local boarding school for orphans and deaf, dumb and blind children. It was sad, but the children all seemed really happy there, and the teachers seem to be doing a brilliant job, even though they are only paid about US$20 a month!! The government pay the teachers wages, but the school has to rely on tourists to pay for or donate everything else like books/uniforms etc.
Anyway, I could talk about Cambodia forever...it was such an eyeopener, and overall the hardest, but probably best experience I have had so far.
Take care everyone. Love Gem xx