|Posted by Webmaster on December 8, 2010 at 5:56 PM|
These four days in Cambodia have been a whirlwind. A mixture of exhaustion, vulnerability and awe. Now I am sitting once again in the Bangkok airport, this time trying to process the flurry of days in a country I found I didn't know much about before setting foot in it.
Saturday I bid fond farewell to Chiang Mai, and with Kelly and Angie flew to Bangkok and on to Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and other temple ruins.
Our seasoned guide Nak met us at the Ei8ht Rooms, our simple but charming guesthouse (a bargain at $8 each for the night) and whisked us on our way to the floating villages on the massive lake Tonle Sep. I was awash with memories of my time in Iquitos, Peru, with its floating neighborhoods of Belen.
The villages house a large Vietnamese fishing population. Nak explained the fishing economy to us, and some of the cultural dynamics between Vietnamese and Cambodian locals. While some of what we witnessed appeared impoverished and shocking, Nak insisted that many of the people were considered well-off in the local economy...
That evening we had dinner at a quiet and lovely restaurant, where we enjoyed Khmer food and I tried something called Khmer Spirit, a rice alcohol with a golden Listerine kick. After a walk through the night market, we had a great time at a bar called Angkor What!? And no, I am not making that up. Quite a good time, chilling out and meeting new people.
After not nearly enough sleep (What!?) we were off to Angkor Wat for sunrise...which the overcast morning sky obscured, but it was still a beautiful experience. We toured the solumn and extensive ruins there, then went to Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm, the latter with its gorgeous ruins tangled with massive banyon and other trees...being there among the poster shots (and yes, Tomb Raider scenes) was amazing.
Then the adventure of the bus across Cambodia...while we ended up on a serviceable vehicle and did ultimately arrive each of us in one (stinky, overheates, grumpy, jostled) piece, we did realize at some point bumping amidst rice paddies and crumbling huts that we were not on the $10 express bus we paid for, but rather the $6 ride...and oh, what a difference those four bucks surely made on us...(At one point Angie looked over at me from her cramped, dirt-stained seat and matter-of-factly asked whether "shaken adult syndrome" exists as a diagnosable malady.)
You win some, you lose some, and in this case the ticket broker appears to have won.
However, upon arriving in Phnom Penh 7 or so hours later, we made it to our digs with relative ease. The Kibiki Hotel, nestled on a secured street behind the Prime Minister's house, was modestly priced but embraced us with quiet charm, attentive staff, gorgeous grounds (a pool that is popular with expats, poolside restaurant and bar, lush foliage separating cabanas perfect for chilling out), and a room that offered quiet comfort.
The next day Angie escorted us to the Cambodian Childrens Fund, a great organization that she has supported for a couple of years ongoing. We toured a few of their locations, and were engulfed by the inspiring children there, whose happiness and hopefulness were humbling. It was a beautiful experience that bouyed my time in Cambodia.
Later that day we laid low by the pool, and Angie share some of her super interesting experiences as a CCF sponsor. She is an inspiring woman of great compassion and kindness!
Then in the evening we ventured out and had pedicures and dinner near the river. While sitting at a sidewalk cafe, with disbelief we witnessed scenes that we might just as easily have witnessed on Dateline.
Sex trade is a looming problem in Phnom Penh (a recent episode of America's Most Wanted details it), and we watched as men came out of a club with young women, some men with more than one. We watched one group of men and their selected prostitutes be whisked away en masse by private van. A shopping trip.
Then we witnessed a man hustling children of perhaps age 13 or so. Some selling DVDs or books, others being sold. It was paralyzing to watch it; we were barely an hour on one corner in a decent part of town. I can't imagine the depth of the issue.
But we were able to contrast that sobering experience with our morning at CCF, an organization that houses and educates and uplifts kids, shielding them from the very injustices we witnessed. So there was that to consider.
The next day offered more to process: the Killing Fields and S21 prison. Seeing those places and people, reading with more depth and illustration than I ever have about the Khmer Rouge, was...huhmm. A tree still stands at the Killing Fields museum out in the countryside...soldiers smashed infants and toddlers to death against that tree. Just one example of the visceral reality of Po Pot's campaign of horrors.
Photo: In the stupa at the Killig Fields.
That afternoon we had a few hours to try to understand the poverty around us in what had once clearly been a beautiful, developing place.
Photo: At the S21 prison, a converted school, some hallways were wrapped in wire to prevent prisoners from commiting suicide by plunging to their death.
Exhausted and with mind churning, feeling at times a bit like I'd been kicked in the chest, I and the ladies flew from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, where I'm writing this. A short connection to Phuket will soon take us to the final portion of our trip: a few days in the islands of southern Thailand.
Photo:Life going on as usual outside the Killing Fields museum.
Rest. Sun. Stillness. Maybe a bit of standup paddling or pulling some rock, or perhaps just a motorbike rode along the beach...
With much to digest,