I crossed the border into Cambodia via the Mekong River. It was all very straight forward. We got off the boat and waited in a shady courtyard whilst our guide sorted out our visas and then went to the immigration desk and then back on the boat. Done in a about 40 minutes. We carried up the river to about half an hours drive from Phnom Penh and then a dozen of us bundled into a minibus together with our luggage piled high so that we couldn't see the driver in front. Accustomed to being pampered at this stage we waited for the A/C to be turned on. After about five minutes and the rapid onset of dehydration we realised this wasn't going to happen so flung the windows open with a unified gasp as we felt the breeze come in. It was also less than flattering to find the driver stop at the nearest service station to pump up the tyres. Surely not that heavy?
In the villages and suburbs of Phnom Penh the houses are built of wood, unpainted and elevated on stilts. Apparently to allow more ventilation. And no wonder, Cambodia is definitely hotter than Vietnam by several degrees and has been in the high thirties while I've been here.
We arrived in Phnom Penh to be beseiged by tuk drivers surrounding the bus. Fortunately my guesthouse was just round the corner so I was able to make a speedy escape. I spent a couple of days in Phnom Penh and was glad to leave. Not only was it very noisy but the streets were littered with a lot of rubbish and there was the distinct whiff of pee on several street corners. I did take a trip to the killing fields though. Over two million people were killed during the four year regime, over a quarter of the population at the time. Initially professional and educated people were targeted as Pol Pot wanted the country to be full of labourers, but then their families were killed too because of fear of them speaking out. The way in which people were killed I found very distressing and asked my guide what it was like working there telling the history over and over again. He said he thought it was very important that people never forget what happened. I did think he looked a bit cut off from it though and no wonder. He also told me he was born a year after the regime and lived in the country and remembers going to bed to the sound of gunfire until his family finally moved to Phnom Penh. There have been four Khmer Rouge leaders on trial while I have been here. I have found it difficult to find out any local information but I understand the verdict is due in July.
From Phnom Penh, I travelled south to Sihanoukville on the coast for a few days relaxation on the beach. Or so I hoped. There was an endless stream of beach sellers and sadly many of these were children. I have to say I found this very difficult to deal with. The advice is not to buy from children as it keeps them on the streets, but it seems not to buy also keeps them on the streets too. I took a trip to the Ream National Park. Very beautiful and scenic.
I then took a 10 hour bus journey to Siem Reap. The bus was quite swanky, a double decker, top deck for people and lower deck for luggage and scooters! Siem Reap is much more relaxed, all though there are still lots of street sellers and as it is low season, any tourist in sight is targetted. I hired a push bike from my guesthouse and cycled to see the temples at Ankor. They are simply quite spectacular. It is amazing to think they were built over a thousand years ago. Ankor Wat is a Hindu temple and Ankor Thom and the Bayon is a buddhist temple. And as it is low season I was able to wander about withuto the bustle of too many other people.
Cambodia's currency is the riel but the US dollar is used equally as much. Prices in the shops and cafes tend to be in dollars and in the market, in riel. Any change above one dollar is given in dollars and anything below is in riel, so it is very common to get both dollars and riel in your change. I've also managed to read the local paper a couple of times and land disputes seems to be quite common between local villagers and large coporations. No prizes for who wins!
Whilst I've been in Siem Reap I've been to have my ears candled and to a Khmer cookery class! The ear candling was an unusual experience. A hollow wax candle, which looks a little like a straw wafer is put in to your ear and then the end is ignited! The only sensation I was really aware of was a slight fizzing in my ear! The cookery class was great fun and I really enjoyed it. It was run at one of the restaurants in town. We were asked to choose and first and main course to cook, which we would then eat afterwards. I chose to make fresh spring rolls with shrimps and somior machou prey, technically a soup, but served as a main course with rice. We took a quick look around the market first to be shown the ingredients. And we were shown fried cockroaches and all types of fish, mostly still wriggling. I thought it was time to leave when we got to the pigs heads though!
So I'm leaving for New Zealand tomorrow. I can't believe a month has passed already and it will soon be time to ditch the shorts and pull out the fleece.
I'm trying to upload photos from Cambodia but having all sorts of problems but will persevere. I've managed to put up a few but there are still a whole lot more...