I flew to from Pakse (Laos) to Siem Reap (Cambodia) on the 30th October… and it has to be said that Pakse airport must be the smallest airport in the WORLD. I'd been nervous about my "Lao Airlines" flight since booking, as the airline doesn't have the best reputation for standards of safety (they don't even publish their safety stats as they are so bad), and a few days beforehand one of their airplanes got stuck in the mud when it came down to land, and had to be lifted out by a crane (I s*** you not). Anyway, I got to the airport 2 hours early, as you do, and it was literally just one room with a bag scanner, a check-in desk, and a few seats scattered around by the exit on the opposite side of the building. Obviously flying isn't something most Laotians do.
My plane arrived without any problems (phew!) and I grabbed a taxi with a couple of old hippies towards the city centre. I forgot to mention that when we landed it was pouring with rain, and the closer we got to the city, the heavier the rain got. As we turned into the main strip, the whole place was flooded. People were walking and cycling through the streets with water up to their knees. Kids were splashing water at each other in the street, and moto drivers (motorbike taxis) were calling out to every tourist walking around… "Hey you, where you go?" The streets were filthy too. I thought Thailand and Laos had been bad, but it was nothing compared to Cambodia. Rubbish is left lying around everywhere, yet no one seems to even notice! Outside shop entrances and houses there would be crap, but instead of cleaning it up the woman would be sweeping a tiny bit of dirt from the road, and the man would be cleaning the mud off the tires on his motorbike. Public health is certainly not very high on the priority list there.
After checking in, I decided to take it easy for the day. I'd caught a pretty bad cold in Pakse, and didn't fancy a trek in the rain, so relaxed at my guesthouse. That night I met a girl called Venla, from Finland and we headed out to the local night market. The market was a funny place. It contained about a hundred stalls, but each one sold exactly the same thing… and every time you even looked at something, the owner would say 'Hey lady, you buy something…. I give you special discount.' That phrase seemed to be the only one the stall owners knew, as they ALL SAID IT. I'd got used to the whole harassment at markets thing by then, so knew how to deal with it, but I can imagine that some people would feel slightly overwhelmed by the experience.
The next day I still wasn't feeling good, so we decided to do something easy and booked a boat trip on the Tonlé Sap Laketo the 'Floating Village' and 'Floating Forrest.' The floating village actually consists of Vietnamese emigrants. During the wet season when the river levels rise, they use boats to get around… a bit like a Cambodian Venice if you like. It was interesting to see people going about their everyday lives in this way, waving to us and shouting "hello!" as we chugged past, but also clearly a huge tourist trap. Smaller boats attached themselves to our 'big boat' and tried to sell us food and drinks, and we had to insist that the boat driver didn't stop at the floating restaurant (where he, presumably, got a kick back from whatever we bought). After we had gone through the village, we had to transfer to a small rowing boat, with local guides, who took us through the flooded forest. The forest was beautiful - so quiet and peaceful - and the little girl steering at the front of the boat sang to us as we made our way through the dense trees. The best part of that trip actually was the tuk-tuk ride back. The driver took us through rural villages where little kids waved at us enthusiastically as we passed and we were able to admire the rice paddies and lush green countryside. That is what Cambodia is all about. The next day we organized the big trip… the reason everyone goes to Siem Reap… to visit ANGKOR WAT. For those who are unfamiliar, during the 9th and 13th centuries, various Cambodian Kings strove to better the temples of their ancestors in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in the world's largest religious building (Angkor Wat). There are thousands of temples still surviving today, but they are tiny in comparison to what existed at the time. The area was the centre of an empire that stretched from Myanmar to Vietnam, and the city had a population of one million at a time when London was a little town of 50,000 inhabitants. I only planned to do one day there, so limited myself to the bigger and more interesting temples, but you could easily spend a week exploring them all without becoming temple tired. We started off at Angkor Thom, where we saw 'The Bayon' (huge heads carved in stone that look out over the area), 'The terrace of elephants' (wall carvings depicting 13th century life in Cambodia, including elephant and c*** fighting) and 'The terrace of the leper king' thought to be a royal crematorium We then moved onto Ta Phrom (or the jungle temple), which is where Tomb Raider was set. It's called the jungle temple as it has been largely left as it was found - abandoned and slowly being destroyed by nature. I've never seen tree roots like it. Finally we made our way to Angkor Wat. The building is the most impressive thing I've ever seen. To think that each of those rocks were lifted and placed there by hand amazes me. Most tourists leave the structure at 4.30ish and make their way to a nearby hill in order to catch the sunset, so I suggested to the others that we stayed inside Angkor, and sure enough, come 5 o'clock we were the only ones left inside. The sunset was beautiful and with everyone else gone it was a truly unique experience. I later heard that the hill was so packed that no-one could even take a photograph of the sunset, so if you ever come here, don't follow the tourist trail!!! Now, in the last blog I promised I would tell you why I have taken so long to update… so now is the time to do it. The day after Angkor I felt much worse, my cold was getting bad; I had stomach pains, so I went to see a pharmacist. She told me not to worry (I was paranoid I'd caught malaria or dengue) unless I got a fever, and only then should I go to hospital. That evening I laid down to watch some TV, and all of a sudden I felt quite hot. I took my temperature and I had a slight fever, but figured it was just due to the cold. As the night went on, I felt worse and worse. I took my temperature again 2 hours later and it had gone up by 2 degrees, something was definitely wrong. I headed for the nearest decent hospital, where they examined me and said I was severely dehydrated and that they needed to do some tests. They tried to draw blood, but I have very small veins that are hard to find, and even after 10 attempts at various veins, they could not draw enough blood for tests. They admitted me to hospital and put me on a drip, in the hope that the next morning they could take blood and find out exactly what was wrong. I ended up staying in hospital for 3 days, and the result was that I had contracted amoebic dysentery (Google it - its nasty) as a result of eating some food/drinking some water, presumably prepared by someone with the disease who hadn't washed their hands. They finally agreed to discharge me but gave me 5 different pills to take over the course of the next week. Once I got back to the guesthouse, and started taking the pills, I felt even worse. I couldn't even stand up without feeling dizzy or like I wanted to vomit. The doc had given me anti-nausea pills but I couldn't take them as they interfered with my malaria tablets, so I was basically stuck in bed. Not nice when you're a lone traveler! Of course, me being me, I had to Google what was wrong, and I discovered that if it really was amoebic dysentery then I had been given incorrect medication. I contacted a Doctor friend at home (ta Vik) who agreed, and so spent the next week trying to find an international doctor who would help me. I tried calling my own doctor at home but he refused to talk to me incase something went wrong and I sued him (I reminded him that that wasn't likely if I was dead due to a lack of medication, but this didn't seem to help matters). Thankfully Paula had the foresight to contact the embassy who put me in touch with an Australian doctor in Phnom Penh (the capital, about 6 hours bus ride away), and I made my way there to see someone I could trust. He gave me another 10 days of the correct antibiotic. Moral of the story - don't get sick in Cambodia! I travelled to Phnom Penh with Liam, an Irish bloke I had met in Siem Reap. We had pre-booked rooms in a sister guesthouse linked to where we had stayed in Siem Reap, who were supposed to pick us up at the bus station. As we'd come to expect, there was no tuk-tuk waiting, so we had to make our own way to another guesthouse. Out came the good old lonely planet and the pointing finger - "take us there!"When we arrived they only had 2 beds left, which we took…. what a mistake. It was cheap at just $5 a night but the room was horrible! The walls were so thin that you could hear people talking outside, there were slits in the walls (between the planks of wood) so people could see in, the toilet was dingy and there was nowhere to wash your hands! During the night there was heavy rain and the whole bathroom area flooded. Someone was charging their phone and when they woke up it was in the middle of a puddle. Health and safety in Cambodia… what's that? Needless to say, we moved the next day. Once settled in Phnom Penh, we did actually get to do a few interesting things. We went to the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Museum which was interesting, but a pretty chilling experience. The site was a school before Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge turned it into a prison to detain and torture "enemies of the revolution." The place is very upsetting. The cells are bare with just a metal bed frame and various implements of torture inside, alongside a photograph of a prisoner lying on the same bed and being tortured with the same implement. The old climbing frame used to teach PE in the school was turned into a place where the Khmer Rouge tried to get information from prisoners. They would hang the victim upside down from it until they became unconscious, then dunk their heads in smelly stagnant water in pots underneath to bring them round and try to get them to confess. All the intelligentsia were tortured and murdered, as Pol Pot turned the country into a peasant-dominated agrarian co-operative. He wanted to take it back to "year zero," he cleared the cities and demolished them, money was abolished, anyone speaking a foreign language or wore glasses was systematically killed. Hundreds of thousands died of malnutrition and disease - about 2 million between 1975 - 1979. The worst part was that all of this happened just a few years ago. We sit in our nice homes with amenities, food, water, money, healthcare and the assurance of a civilized system of democracy, whilst at the same time atrocities like this are taking place, the poor are getting poorer, people are dying and even today people are affected by it. Its no surprise that something like 50% of the population are under 20. Following the museum we went to the killing fields. You could see bones and teeth everywhere, sticking out from the shallow graves. There were signs saying 'please do not steal the remains' but I have no idea how anyone could even contemplate it. I couldn't even bring myself to take a picture. After visiting these 2 places, I certainly felt like I could understand why Cambodia was the way it is. When we arrived Phnom Penh the streets were also very busy as it was the annual water festival. The festival celebrates the change in current on the Tonle Sap River, and the town doubles in population during this week long event. Boat races take place on the river and the streets turn into a huge market place. We went for a wander through the streets and noticed that the "Tourism Board" (which doesn't really exist) had sealed off a special area with nice seats for tourists to watch the races from. We went in and it was cool, undercover and comfortable - but then I looked across and saw the thousands of Cambodians packed onto the banks of the river, just to catch a glimpse of the boats, and felt very guilty. The streets were so packed you could hardly move. We decided to go and get some food so headed for the FCC Bar, overlooking the river. Apparently the FCC is where all of the foreign correspondents used to drink during the war… very retro! As we looked out over Phnom Penh we could see the streets lined with rubbish, and it was prime viewing for the street beggars. Begging is prevalent in the whole of Cambodia. Often land-mine victims will stop and ask for money, but worse still are the children who pull on your clothes… 'Please, I am starving, just one dollar!' Here they did it all day long. Cambodia is a sad country, which clearly needs some urgent development and to break away from the corruption of the police and government. I think it was a good time to visit as the country seems in flux - slowly embracing tourism and beginning to develop whilst also retaining its agricultural charm and tradition. I think if I go back in a few years, things will have changed dramatically - but maybe I'll still be able to hear "you buy from me - just one dollar!" as the US dominates the country further and further. Who knows what's in store for Cambodia, but one thing I do hope is that they improve their healthcare! Viet Nam to follow…Merry Christmas!Love Me X