Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cambodia Adventures--Fall 2005


Angkor Wat

After getting an early start with a six hour bus ride from Bangkok on October 21st,  I arrived at the Arayanprathet, Thailand--Poipet, Cambodia border crossing.  Although I had a pretty good description and map of this border crossing, what really got me through there with ease was the Cambodian woman who sat beside me on the bus.

From the bus station we rode a sontaung to the Thailand Immigration where we had our passport exit stamps done.  There was a very long line there, but the Cambodian woman told me not to stand in that line for it was just for the Thai gamblers who were just going to the casinos and not into Cambodia proper.  Gambling is illegal in Thailand so this is a very popular spot for Thai gamblers.


After clearing the Thai checkpoint we shared a tuk-tuk that took us to the Cambodian Immigration and Custom offices where I bought a visa on arrival for $20 USD.  The Cambodian woman told the official I was not paying the extra $5 bribe he had asked for.  Following that we each got on motorcycles that took us to the long distance taxi stand.  I ended up paying about $2.50 for giving her a ride through these border checks.  She saved me lots of line time and money so this was a great bargain.


The "Lonely Planet Cambodia Guidebook" (LP) indicated that you could meet up with others here and share a taxi ride to Siem Reap for a reasonable cost.  There were no scheduled buses on this route and the road was in terrible condition which made it difficult to navigate for any bus.  


I lucked out since there were two South Korean women--Uden and Yuen--who were waiting to share their ride with someone else.  We ended up traveling together after negotiating a ride from Poipet to Siem Reap for just $45 or $15 each in a Toyota Camry.  Here is our driver with my two traveling partners at a spirit house sales company.







The LP described the ride as awful, but it was worse than that.  Sections of the road were filled with gummy mud and between the north and south lanes there would occasionally be pushed up mounds of greasy red mud that were 4 feet high.  We stopped a few times at roadside cafes for bathroom breaks and to buy some goodies---probably the drivers friends or relatives.  One time we had to wait for an hour for them to reattach a bridge plate that had come loose before we could cross it.  When it started to rain again the roadway got really gummy and the Camry began to slip and slide along, and my head hit the ceiling a few times when we hit some potholes.  Finally we came to some firm road and made it into the outskirts of Siem Reap as darkness came as did the downpour.  This road trip from Poipet took about 5 hours and it was very fortunate that it did not rain early in the day or we would still be wallowing in the mud.

The women got off at their hotel and the driver took me closer to downtown to check out some hotels in that area.  I ended up at the Funan Angkor Palace Hotel for $10 per night that was suppose to include a free breakfast and a massage from a blind person.  Neither of these extras were still offered as I found out the following morning.  Fortunately there was a nice restaurant and nightclub next door called the Dead Fish Cafe.  After a refreshing shower I had dinner at the Dead Fish and was entertained by a Filipino Band that played all of the popular songs including the ever popular ex pats favorite:  "Hotel California".




After a $2.50 breakfast of a mushroom omelet, mango shake and coffee at the Dead Fish Cafe on the 22nd, I took a short walk about the market before riding a mototaxi out to Angkor Wat where I spent the day exploring these amazing ruins.  


I caught another mototaxi for my return to my hotel and dinner again at the Dead Fish Cafe.


I had purchased a 3 day Angkor Wat pass for $40 so I again headed out on another mototaxi after another great breakfast of a mango lassi, vegetable omelet, coffee and toast.  Today I would be visiting Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm some of the most interesting ruins that look like they have been almost swallowed up by the jungle trees.  I took a break at a cafe just outside Ta Prohm where the owner, Mich, invited me back for lunch.




In Ta Prohm, a policeman gave me a tour of a closed off area along with pointing out the "Tomb Raider" entrance that Laura Croft entered.  







Since it was near lunch time I returned to the roadside cafe and had a tasty curry with chicken and rice along with a ice cold beer.  While I was there Mich introduced me to her husband, Thy.  




I agreed to pay him $4 for him to take me around on his motorbike to the other temples at Angkor Wat and into town.  He also agreed to pick me up the following day for my final tour of Angkor Wat.

This motor bike arrangement worked out really well because Thy would let me off on one side of a temple and pick me up on the other side about an hour later.  Thy was usually pretty good about getting me to the various temples when the crowds were less unlike this early scene by Angkor Thom.





It was so hot during the days, I think I drank about 4 liters of water on each touring day.








I would occasionally come across these bands composed of musicians who had been maimed by exploded ordnance they came across while farming their fields.  I bought a CD from one group.


Much of the restoration work that continues to date are funded by various governments and non-profits.









On the 24th, Thy picked me up early and we drove out to the Room To Read library that was on the road to the Siem Reap airport.  Even though it was a holiday the children had filled up the library along with two kids at every computer.



I had read that this library had been partially funded by the founder of Netscape, Mark Andreessen, who has served as a Room to Read board member. 











When I was having lunch at Mich and Thy's restaurant I heard some loud American guy arguing about the lunch bill. He had been sitting near me with about 8 of his traveling friends and had been bragging about how he had got a great cheap meal. It turned out that he had ordered vegetable noodle soup for $1.50 and then later added chicken. Mich had billed him $2 for the meal, and he was telling her that he was not going to pay the extra amount. After a few more of his insults to Mich, I told the guy he was an embarrassment to all other travelers. He still refused to pay, so I gave her a $2 for his meal, and told him he should be ashamed of his behavior. I told his friends and girl friend they should continue traveling without him. He then tried to give me the money, but I refused. As they left, you could tell that this guy had embarrassed them all, especially his girl friend.  

Here are pictures of Mich and her father and husband near the restaurant. Check out my February 13, 2016 "What's at Angkor Wat!" blog entry where I have an update on Mich, Thy and their family.







After lunch Thy rode me out to the distant Banteay Srei Temple---38km away--- which used red stone and was a Hindu temple that some of the faithful still used.





I met up with Khun Bill from Bangkok who was over to work on his infrared photography at the Angkor Wat areas.  He was going to show me where the International Correspondents Club was that was a gathering spot for the international reporters during the Vietnam War---they call it the American War here and in Vietnam. 


 

We had a blast getting there because it had been raining so hard late afternoon and into the evening that the streets were flooded so much that the tuk-tuks we rode in to the Club had water that was up to the hubcaps.  




We got there and the place was filled with many self-important ex-pats with their "charity" Range Rovers and Landcruisers parked outside.  Not quite like the news reporter group I had expected.

On the 25th my minibus showed up to get me over to the bus station and my Mekong Express bus, costing $6, headed to Phnom Penh.  My seat mate was a Cambodian who had immigrated 20 years ago to Australia during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.  He was a vegetable farmer in Australia and now he was buying up land near Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to grow oranges for the restaurant industry.  When we stopped for lunch, he treated me to lunch.  Before we got back on the bus, I bought a deep fried tarantula for $1.  The spider was crumbly, salty and buttery.  It tasted like fried oysters. I shouldn't have eaten the legs though since they got stuck in between my teeth.


During the entire ride to Phnom Penh we passed by acres and acres of rice fields and small villages.  The bus hostess occasionally pointed out some local attractions to me.

As usual when you get off buses in Cambodia, you are mobbed by mototaxi drivers offering you rides to your hotel or other places.  For $1 I got a ride to my hotel.  The mototaxi driver wanted to wait outside the hotel for me for another ride elsewhere.  I told the hotel receptionist to send him away since I was not going anywhere.


While in Phnom Penh, I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was named Security Prison 21(S-21) which was one of at least 150 execution centers during the reign of the Khmer Rouge--1975 to 1979. After passing through here to the nearby killing fields, it is estimated that over 20,000 were killed after being interrogated and tortured here.   The S-21 was a heart wrenching reminder of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime.  It was here where victims were detained, tortured, raped, interrogated, and then sent off to the nearby killing fields.  About 18,000 people were held here plus another 2,000 children were killed here rather than be sent out to the killing fields.  Some of the guards were children between the ages of 10 and 15 who were trained how to interrogate, torture, and care for the prisoners.  Most prisoners were held here for 2 to 4 months in small cells and chained down and then taken to the killing fields.   They took pictures of these prisoners and the museum is full of these sad pictures.  After that, I was not up to further visiting the Killing Fields just outside town.

Here are some of the chilling pictures of this gruesome place.














You can see that some of the guards were children too.




After my visit to S-21 I was looking forward to seeing some happy school children who were being helped by Room to Read.  I first visited the Room to Read office Cambodia headquarters.  I donated my Toshiba laptop computer and arranged for a site visit the following day.  



When I got there I met Mr. Borany and Mitra, Room to Read Country Director and Book Program Director. I also met Lisa Hogan's sister, Jamie and her spouse, David.  Lisa Hogan was the national Program Director back at San Francisco HQ of Room to Read.  They were on their honeymoon and stopped by to help---they were stamping in donated books.



On October 26th, I started my site visits of Room to Read schools and libraries with Mitra, by visiting a high school with Room to Read computers.  There were 20 computers and 3 students at each computer.  They were learning keyboarding by playing the Mario game. This high school has 7,000 students.  




Cambodia is having to rebuild its education system that was destroyed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge who systematically killed teachers or sent them out to farms as slaves. 

Our next school was a primary school where the playground was still underwater as were the first floor classrooms.  The children seemed to enjoy playing in the water.  




Mitra showed me where Room to Read had the new library under construction and was far above the flood plain.


From there, we visited the Bosco school that was run by a Sister from India who seemed to be an expert at fund raising based on the appearance of the school and education materials seen there.







She showed us the library and allowed us to go into many of the classrooms where we were introduced. 









Near the end of this tour, we stopped by the kindergarten classes who were in the middle of having lunch.  


For more information about Room to Read and the work they do in Cambodia and other countries visit their website at:  www.roomtoread.org

I visited some of the scenic monuments and temples while in Phnom Penh.







This vendor was selling freedom for the captured birds.  I guess you in turn gain merit by doing so.


On October 27th I caught an early bus to Sihanoukville with plans to catch a noon ferryboat to Koh Kong, Cambodia.  The A/C bus featured Khmer Karaoke music at about 100 dBs all five hours.  It was 11:50 when I arrived at the stop closest to the ferry terminal and as I got off the bus, I was mobbed by 10 moto operators who wanted my business--kind of like jumping into a mosh pit.  I looked at the one directly in front of me and got him to take me the 3kms to the ferry before it left.  About 6 other passengers joined in this dash down to the ferry.  

Once on the ferry at a cost of $15 with just minutes to spare we all got seated.  Out of 100 passengers only about 10 were tourists like me and the rest were Cambodians or Thais.  The boat felt like a surface submarine that crashed through the building waves.  Again the Cambodians were enjoying the Karaoke video playing at full blast.  We went through a monsoon on the way to Koh Kong and fortunately it stopped raining as we arrived.


Again, as I left the ferry, I was surrounded by moto drivers who wanted to take me and others to the 10 kms to the border to Thailand for $2.  I picked the guy directly in front of me again and was able to unload most of my Cambodian currency for the fare.  It again started to rain, but we got to the Cambodian immigration before it rained too hard.  After clearing both Cambodian and Thai immigration and customs checkpoints, I got on a new A/C minibus which only went a couple of miles before stopping and transferring us to a dumpy microbus that had no shocks for the hour ride to Trat, Thailand where I would spend the night.


That was the end of my Cambodia Adventure in 2005.



Trip Cost
The total Cambodia trip cost was $229 for a daily cost of $38. The travel and tour costs were $63, lodging costs were $60 for daily average of $10 per night, and the food cost were $106  or $18 per day.




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