Thursday, May 31, 2007

Off roading into Thailand

When we returned from going out during our last night in Siem Reap, we asked the owner of the guest house how we can get to the Thailand border from Siem Reap. He ordered us a taxi that would take us all the way to the border. After asking him, he informed us that it would probably take anywhere between 3-5 hours to get to the border depending on what type of driver you have. Katie had read that the roads to get to the border had improved a lot over the years. For this reason, we had assumed the roads would be okay. I mean, not roads as we know them, but not exactly what we had experienced.

The roads actually weren't roads at all. In fact, someone had just cut down all the trees in the way and from there on out said, “hey, this is a road now.” Have you ever ridden on an old rickety rollercoaster made of wood? (for those of you from Buffalo, like the Predator at Darien Lake) or have you ever been on some other type of theme park ride where you are thrown around, up and down and all over the place holding on for dear life? That's what this was like. Except at a theme park you know for the most part you are safe. That if it was really that dangerous, the theme park would not have it open in fear of a law suit. Well, in this case, you're not really safe, and there are no such things as law suits. It's kind of like Russian Roulette between your car and the other cars, bikes, tuk tuks, motorbikes, and trucks on the road. These roads were dangerous. If I had been hungover in the least, I would have thrown up all over the place. There were a lot of close calls with us gasping for life in the back seat and the driver kind of laughing it off in the front seat. At times we were halfway on the road and halfway down a hill to pass cars, other times we raced to pass a tuk tuk as oncoming traffic was straight in front of us, missing us by inches. The bumps and roads were so bad that at times we were only going like 35 kilometers per hour – which is probably like 23 mph. This is why it takes so long to get to the border.

I took this video while holding my hand as steady as I possibly could. That means I had my elbow on the rest on the car while my other hand was trying to hold it still. This was to illustrate how bumpy this ride was. Also, please note how muddy the passing cars were.

And then there's the mud. Some of the potholes were big enough to be mini ponds. And if you got lucky enough to accidentally ride through it, your car became completely covered in the red mud. The first time this happened to us, our car got completely sprayed. You couldn't see out a single window. What did the driver do? Keep on driving until maybe 30 seconds of not being able to see ANYTHING (not even what's in front of us, mind you) his windshield wiper fluid finally cleared enough of the window that I wasn't fearing for my life again. This was about 2.5 hours into the trip by now, of constant and intense bumps.

Then, to make matters worse, we came into a monsoon. This was even worse, as you could barely see what's around you. And remember, there are no designated lanes for going any which way. If there is a big pothole, it's very common for another car to go into your lane assuming you'll see it beforehand and there will be enough time to sort out which car will go where before hitting. So, yea, the monsoon caused even scarier conditions, with more mud covered our car. This slowed us down, even more.

A video illustrating the monsoonal road conditions.

Throughout the majority of this trip, I put on my headphones to relax myself because it was quite nerve wrecking. Thankfully, maybe only twenty minutes into the monsoonal conditions, we finally reached the border. We ran out of the car, grabbed our stuff from the trunk and ran to shelter. The water was so heavy, that the puddles we had to step through were up to my ankle. It was disgusting. Remember how dirty I've said that Cambodia is? Well, I was walking through all that filth up to my ankles. Nasssssssttyy. Some puddles had garbage just floating in it. We had to stand outside customs for about 15 minutes before someone finally helped us. We got stamped out of Cambodia and walked into no-man's land. We were in the area between Cambodia and Thailand. There was a casino, some stores, other buildings, etc. At this time, we came into contact with a new type of beggar – the stealer/beggar. One girl was begging Katie for something or other and in the meantime was reaching her hand into Katie's bag and about to steal her cell phone when Katie realized what was going on. Katie grabbed her hand firmly and said DON'T. What nerves!

We filled out our entrance forms to Thailand while being soaking wet. It took some time but we finally got through the border and were now in Thailand. Our destination was Bangkok, but we had really no idea exactly how to get there. We walked around kind of following signs on where to go, and with people shouting to us when we started straying the wrong way. It wasn't actually too difficult to find our way to Bangkok as most people were offering their services to you. We found a minivan bus and a taxi to take us there. The taxi seemed a bit sketchy, more expensive but ultimately faster. After agreeing on our destination, we hopped in to what seemed like a heavenly ride.

Shocking. I was shocked at the roads in Thailand. I mean to just come from Cambodia with so much poverty and non-existent roads – to have roads that are even better than the roads I drive on in Japan was so relieving. In fact, I was shocked at how nice Thailand was in comparison to Cambodia. Like really, how do you just cross border, - where it takes ten minutes and be in a completely different environment altogether. I guess it's the same as crossing from the USA into Mexico but I have never done it, so this was shocking to me. We all dozed on and off in the car ride. Again, stopping at a 711 convenient store on the way helped me put into perspective that we are in civilization again. And how fun it was to try all the new convenient store foods!

Then, Bangkok entered into the horizon...towering skyscrapers, Western architecture, real bridges, cars, all that goodness of a built up city that isn't suffering from lack of money. Now, we had agreed at the taxi departure spot that we wanted to go to the tourist street in Bangkok – simply for convenience of location and because that was where all the cheap hotels and hostels are located. Our driver had other ideas in mind. First, he took us to one hotel – even though that wasn't our agreement. Katie & Brian went in to inquire about the prices while Haruka and I stayed in the car to make sure the driver didn't leave us there. They came back out – it was clean and nice but too expensive. We asked him again, please just take us to Khao San Road (that's the name of the tourist street). His response “it's too far, let me show you another spot.” Fine. Spot #2. Same deal, Brian & Katie came out saying it's too much money, etc. The hotel agreed to drop the prices but we still weren't very happy. Finally, after much discussion we decided what the hell, let's just get out here because we'll just be wasting our time driving around. So, it made me a bit mad that we had agreed on a spot before we got in the taxi and then the man denied taking us there but whatever.

We all kind of lazily got situated in our rooms before deciding to head out into the city to try to find this infamous Khao San road. We started out by walking, taking the subway system that has ONE line and walking for maybe 30 minutes more before asking a Tuk Tuk driver to take us there. Can I tell you how bad traffic is in Bangkok? It sucks. That was the main reason the taxi driver wouldn't take us to where we wanted to go because he said it would take two hours from that part of the city to the part of the city we wanted to get to. But, by tuk tuk we went. With a traffic problem comes a pollution problem. Bangkok was disgusting as far as smells go. Granted, so was Phnom Penh and parts of Cambodia but at least it was for the most part a natural stink. Bangkok was pretty much a pollution of car exhaust stink. The tuk tuk was a huuuuge mistake. Since you are sharing the road with buses – if you get stuck behind one, you are having diesel exhaust being blown into your face. And that happened a few times. When that happens, you do your best not to intake in the fumes because it is suffocating. For the majority of the trip, I covered my mouth and nose with my hands, but that action only helped very little.

Reaching Khao San Road, you are suddenly transported from Bangkok and entered to a part of the universe that houses people from everywhere. I can see why this is considered a tourist road, as once again there is diversity all around us. The street mainly consists of shops to buy things, bars, restaurants, food stands, money exchanges – really anything a tourist would desire. You rarely saw a Thai person and if you did, they were speaking English and heavily influenced by Western Cultures. When traveling, I try my hardest to avoid places like this. It seems the most fun I've had in many situations – whether abroad or at home has been at the dive, hole in the walls spots. But, this place was cool, it was fun and it was what I desired. I suppose since I never get to drink at bars in my town in Japan, I'll take what I can get anywhere else – tourist or not.

By now, we were starving as we hadn't eaten in hours and hours. I think walking around for 40 minutes trying to find our way here increased our appetite even further. We chose a place that had a guy playing guitar. After eating our dinner, we only had one or two more drinks before deciding to move on. The guitar player had left and had been replaced by a U2 cover band. Walking around Khao San road we ended up off the road and to a gas station. A gas station by day, a bar by night. It was soooooo creative. They put out all these plastic tables and chairs, hang a huge screen that was displaying the music videos of what was being played, port-o-pottie's set up, bars arranged conveniently and even a wait staff. When it started to rain, they brought out large umbrellas for everyone that was there. Seriously, reallllly cool and creative. I got pretty tanked at this “bar” / gas station. It was also nice because a lot of the people here were in fact, locals. Eventually, we left and went back to our hotel to get ready for our only day to sightsee in Bangkok.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tuk Tuks, Motorbikes and Boats

...OH MY!

Again, isn't getting there always half the fun? It certainly was when we decided to check out the floating villages that were quite a distance away. There were a few options of places we could go to in order to see these so-called “floating villages” but our guest house owner was an ex-pat married to a Cambodian woman who suggested avoiding the tourist trap ones and gave suggestions of where to go. We took his advice and hired a different tuk tuk driver who knew the way there and had connections for us to go. Brian decided not to come this day, so it was just Haruka, Katie & I. We set off in the morning and enjoyed the tuk tuk ride that took about 1.5 hours. All of a sudden, we stopped and were told to get off the tuk tuk and go on the porch of someones house in the shade. We sat there, not exactly sure what was going on and thought, well I guess it's break time. There were two young girls also nearby and they came and sat right in front of us peering at us curiously. The one girl had a badly cut up toe and she was unwrapping her bandages. They sat there giggling and looking at us until two more men arrived with motorbikes. It was at this time that we realized, ah, we can't take the tuk tuk any further for one reason or another. So, we hopped onto these strange men's bikes and off we went.

The motorbike ride was really awesome. First of all, like I said we were avoiding the tourist trap area and so this area was not used to foreigners. Being on the back of the motorbike, I got to intake all the smells and sites at a really close vantage point. It was apparent why we couldn't go further with the tuk tuk. The roads were non existent. Huge potholes scattered the area that was meant to be a street. Many of these potholes had been filled with water, floating out some of the road. There were many times, we had to actually go off this “road” and go under people's homes to get around it. All the kids and townsfolk were screaming to me and waving. The smells were disgusting, I can't imagine actually living in these areas. At one point, we actually were able to go rather fast because the roads were decent. I was a bit scared at this point, since I didn't have a helmet to wear. The only thing I was thinking about at this point was my mom would be pissed if I died over something as silly as not wearing a helmet on a motorbike. Sorry, Mom! We arrived there.

The first thing we did was go check out some of the people in the area while our boat was being prepared. They had just caught a bunch of fresh fish and were bagging them up to either eat or be sold, I'm not really sure. There were about 5 or 6 people underneath a tarp just going through all these fish! And then, our third form of transportation for the day was our boat ride. A man that didn't speak any English put us on his boat. There were 4 of us altogether , us 3 + our guide. Then, the man driving our boat made 5. The boat was big enough and long enough to hold maybe 15 people but again, this whole boat to ourselves. Now, Brian didn't want to come because we had seen a form of floating villages in Phnom Penh, but I think the part of this area that was so amazing were the stilted houses. Since it was the dry season in Cambodia, the water levels were really, really low. All these houses are on stilts that rise up atleast twenty feet into the area. It was seriously phenomenal to see. During the wet months, water is that high – all the way up to the bottoms of their houses. I can't fathom how fast and how quickly water must fall to get to the top of these stilts.

We drove past all sorts of houses on stilts and other cool forms of “architecture” before we finally reached the dirty waters that housed the floating villages. Seriously, this water was disgusting. Do you remember when you were a kid and you played outside after it rained? And, that rain water was puddled up into gutters or small pools somewhere on pavement or in the grass. Do you remember how brown and DIRTY that water was? That's basically what this whole body of water appeared like. Brown water. Like a light colored hot chocolate. For those in Western NY – like the Erie Canal. Nothing that you would ever want to go swimming in – if not for worry of disease but for worry that could be something lurking under there, like the loch ness monster that might take you down and no one would find you since it's so dirty. We made it to the floating villages and they looked a lot like the ones we saw in Phnom Penh, but much larger of a “village”. Our English speaking guide informed us that the majority – I forget the percentage – but the vast majority of this village is actually populated by Vietnamese people and not Cambodians. He also informed us that the Vietnamese and the Cambodians that inhabit this village get along well with no discrimination, racism or resentment amongst one other.

The villagers sustain themselves through fish farming. You could see all sorts of long, tall, bamboo like sticks – all over the place and these are – fish farms. Most people here survive by fishing. He explained that during certain parts of the season, by law you are not allowed to fish – as to not kill off all the baby fish before they have a chance to grow and reproduce. However, he said it's not strictly enforced and all sorts of illegal fishing goes on.

When the rainy, wet season arrives, these villages pack up and move to the main town where we embarked on our boat. The water gets so deep that they are unable to sustain themselves via fishing as they do during the dry season. I am not exactly sure what they do during the wet season. We hung out there for a while before returning back to the town. On the way back, we stopped at this one floating home.

A Video on the way back from the floating villages

Also, this part of the country does “crocodile” hunting. Seriously. They catch the crocs when they are mere babies and raise them in cages. From there, they are sold to people in Vietnam who will kill the animal and use it's skin for whatever. While, I completely and utterly disagree with these actions, it's hard to make a big stink about it when these people are extremely poor and are trying to make a living for themselves. Moreover, these crocs, which just swim around 5 feet from where these people live are a serious threat and danger to the people in this area.

After we docked the boat, we got off and walked up a hill where there was a temple. We viewed it from the outside which was pretty spectacular. There were all sorts of paintings depicting superstitions of the religion. We continued walking through the village, he showed us the school here and explained that the students were on break for one reason or another. We continued to keep walking when we stopped at the local lunch spot. Our guide bought us each a soda and we sat down with all the locals as they watched some drama on TV. Literally, in this local lunch area as about 40men aged from 8 to 60 were in there drinking a soda all crowded around a small TV watching it. It was interesting. We got the occasional stare, I don't think because we were foreigners but mainly I think because we were the only women in there! We stayed there for about 15 minutes or so until we finally hopped back onto these strangers' motorbikes and made our way back to the tuk tuk – weaving through the towns and villages again.

We met Brian back at the guest house where we went and had dinner one last time in Siem Reap, going back to a delicious Mexican restaurant we had eaten at in the beginning of the trip. Honestly, I can't get enough Mexican food when I get it pretty much NEVER here. We all did some shopping for gifts for everyone and had one last night out on the town on pub street. I doubt we stayed out late – as we had to be up really early again to make our way to Thailand somehow. That story comes next...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

the last day of my pass..

On our third day, the last day that our pass was valid for, we did the famous outer loop of the Angkor Wat area (see blog titled A VERY HELPFUL MAP). We hired the same tuk – tuk driver as we had for our first day since we liked him a lot. Brian decided to rent a bike for $2/day. That meant we squeezed the remaining 3 of us into a tuk-tuk and took off to the temples.

Our first temple for this day is named Pre-Rup, a Hindu temple that was built in the late 10th century. From this temple, we were treated to nice views of the countryside. On the top of the temple were three main towers, these were the highest towers to climb to. The temple had nicely restored carvings that were easy to distinguish the scenes. There was a tower in the middle that was highest of all the other ones, where you needed to climb maybe about 10 steps to get up to the top. Brian caught up to us at the first temple which was good because he was able to follow us for the rest of the day via his bike.

The next temple is another Hindu temple built in the late 10th century named East Mebon. Around the perimeter of the temple were elephants marking the 4 corners. These elephants were big, bigger than me and not entirely restored all the way. We walked around the perimeter for quite a while before entering the actual temple. This temple has been compared to a “mountain like ruin” because it rises three levels and has five towers. Nothing I can say that can't be explained by looking at a picture...

The third temple of the day was Ta Som, a small Buddhist temple constructed in the late 12th century. Many of the towers were similar to Ta Prohm in terms of having the same face like towers. It is a rather narrow but long temple to walk through. Walking within this temple, it seems that many parts of it are still being restored or there was nothing more they could do for this temple. At the end of the path, you reach a huge, tower tree growing over the temple again. I think this might be my favorite tree on top of temple photo shot. It may be the biggest one of all that we'd seen in Angkor Wat. Safeguarding this area of the temple was a one armed man begging us to purchase his postcards. He was a lovely man whom we talked with for about 10-15 minutes before we moved on. Most of the beggars in Cambodia started driving me crazy, but he was a good one. He talked with us and laughed with us but not in a way that he was strictly trying to get our money. That was refreshing for a change. We had two children come up and ask as well for us to buy their goods. Instead, we let them look at Katie's cell phone where she had many little toy charms dangling off of it. They were fascinated with the toys, so we gave them the toys instead of buying their goods. That was refreshing, too – to give something that we really didn't need or want but that they will enjoy and still not benefit their family as to prevent them from going to school. On our way out, we ran into Brian again, who was talking with two Cambodian women. We sat down in the shade with them and started chatting as well. These women, one aged 21 and the other I don't remember but probably around the same age were so lovely. They were fascinated with Haruka, telling her how beautiful she is and how they aren't that gorgeous. In fact, they were beautiful, funny and fun to be with. We all started practiced the Cambodian language (Khmer) and we ended up attracting a crowd of about 15 or 20 locals who were intrigued with our struggle of trying to speak their language. As usual, it was a lot of fun to speak with the locals that aren't trying to get something from you.

The last temple we went to before lunch was Neak Poan, a Buddhist temple built in the late 12th century. You walk up one long path full of vendors, as usual, trying to sell you goods. My favorite part of this pathway was the on-duty policeman laying in a hammock sleeping. It really makes you feel safe when you see that. =) haha. After that part of walking, you show your pass to a guard and continue up a smaller pathway to reach the temple. On this walkway, we had pleasureful music of land mine victims playing traditional Cambodian music. Since the government doesn't provide any type of support for land mine victims, and being either legless or armless prevents them from being able to do many types of jobs – most turn to begging for their living. Throughout my travels in the Angkor Wat area we came across many of these land mine victims playing music with a sign that said “we choose to play music so that we don't beg. This is how we will support out family, etc” and then there is a small bowl for donations. I still have a burning image in my mind of how happy one of these groups were. They were all smiling, genuine smiles and playing their music happily. I wish I had donated to that group since I can still envision that moment in time.

After all these walkways and pathways we finally reached this “temple”. This is considered to be a small island temple. There is a central temple that is placed at the axis of a cross or lotus pattern of eight pools. Since it was the dry season there was absolutely no water in any of the pools. So, it really just looked like scattered stones all around a plot of land. We were able to walk down a set of maybe 10 stairs onto the grass where it is usually covered by water and get a close up of that central temple. In the middle near the main temple was a really large stone horse that is believed to save drowning sailors. We walked around here for quite a while before deciding to head back to have lunch which I was definitely welcoming since my feet were starting to hurt pretty badly. On our way back up the paths, Brian screamed to us that he had lost his bike lock key. A small hunt had us returning back to the temple – I went one way and Brian the other. Luckily, it was only a 5 minute hunt until Katie spotted it since she trailed behind the steps Brian made in case he didn't see it. At last, we could actually go to lunch.

Lunch was especially annoying on this particular day. There was only one restaurant, restaurant meaning a bunch of tables underneath a tent serving food. But at this one, the begging kids were relentless. There were two girls, who had to have been sisters who were just soooo adorable but sooooo annoying at the same time. They did not give up, ever. It was a good thing that we had chosen to eat here because shortly after sitting, a monsoon enraged and everyone who was stuck outside was soaked to the bone. We waited until the monsoon ended before we headed back on our way especially since Brian was still on his bike at this time. I asked our tuk-tuk driver to stop so I could use the bathroom. Haruka and I ran into the bathrooms and she showed me one of the funniest signs I have ever seen. There was a sign in her toilet stall that demonstrated the correct way to use the toilet. It shows a person, literally standing on the toilet seat and squatting to pee that way – with the no smoking sign over it. And then it showed a person sitting on the toilet seat and said “this is the correct way to use this toilet.” It was sooo funny!!!! Just as we were about to leave the bathroom, the monsoon returned and we had to run to our tuk tuk as we got soaked through to the bone. Poor Brian was on his bike at this time and literally was a wet dog.

After lunch and the monsoonal rains, we went to Preah Khan, a Buddhist temple constructed in the late 12th century. This temple was rather large with phenomenal carvings all over it, too. The reason these ones were so spectacular is mainly because they were in such great shape, still. When it was in use, it served as a Buddhist monastery and school that held about 1,000 monks. We saw one building left over that had columns as part of the architecture. This is one of the few buildings that has columns that dates back to this point in time. I'll just post some pictures regarding this temple as most of this stuff is easier to just look at as opposed to me trying to explain it to you in detail.

After we finished with Preah Khan, we asked our Tuk Tuk driver a big favor. We asked him if he could take us to this one temple that isn't really in the Angkor Wat area per se. He said he knew the way, he thought he did at least. This time as well as with the next few blog entries will include how getting there is usually the majority of the adventure and fun. We headed out of the main temple area and into where the civilians live. The roads were not really roads, but more or less a red sandy/earthen color that had been cleared for motorbikes, tuk tuks, bicycles, people walking, whatever to use. Brian followed behind us on his bike. He was able to keep up with us for the most part since we had to be very careful to avoid a lot of potholes and whatnot that didn't allow us to get up to a really fast speed. Furthermore, we had to stop a few times and ask the locals if we were headed in the right direction. At last we were finally overcome by two problems. #1 – we had a fork in the road and weren't exactly positive which way to go. #2 – Brian had a flat tire on his bike. Our tuk tuk driver took out his tool kit from underneath his seat and tried his best to fix the flat tire but it was continuing to release the air that he had put in. Meanwhile, two women riding their bike came our way. Mr. Driver asked them which way to the temple and thankfully they had come by because they pointed us to the opposite direction that he had thought we head in. Our solution to Brian's bike was to shove us three girls on one seat, the bike opposite of us and Brian kind of hanging out of the tuk tuk. We went like this for maybe another 10 more minutes until we finally reached where our tuk tuk driver told us “it's that way.”

He gave us some vague directions on how we could reach it, but he, himself had never actually been there. We headed straight past people's shacks as they watched in curiosity why 4 foreigners were walking through their quiet land. It did feel a bit invading but as quickly as we were there, we were gone, too. A few people just pointed for us to let us know we were headed in the right direction which was relieving. Brian & I were a bit of a ways up from Katie and Haruka. We came to a few forks in the road and decided to just keep heading straight. We had acquired a fan club. There were 4 kids following behind Katie & Haruka, probably aged 8-12. When we realized they weren't going to leave, we decided to ask them which way when we arrived to more questionable areas. A 15-20 minute walk with the aid of 4 kids had us safely arrive to this temple that has yet to be restored. It was a cool temple, like the others, but what made it phenomenal was being the ONLY 4 people there (8 if you count our young guides) and having to actually risk finding our way there.

The temple was small with all the broken pieces still scattering the ground. Furthermore, for not being restored, the carvings were all still very intact. On one of the corners was another tree growing off of it and aiming straight for the sky. There was a lot of nature, as far as bugs, nasty centipedes or millipedes everywhere. It was so quiet. I asked the oldest boy, the one I believe was in charge of the other 3 some questions. I had bought a phrase book in the case I couldn't explain my vegetarianism to restaurants. I had the book with me so I told the boy that I was from America, my name is Sara and I'm 23 years old. He told me his name was Hao, but I couldn't figure out his age. All the kids didn't get too close to us, but observed us from afar. If we got too close to them, they got really uneasy and a bit nervous. With that in mind, I was very careful about how I talked to him and with my book. I really felt I had to build a bit of trust that I wasn't going to hurt him in any way. They played around in the temple as we checked it out. After about twenty minutes of being in there – our tuk tuk driver came pulling up on a motorbike with a woman to check on us. I am assuming one of those kids were hers and so she let our driver borrow her motorbike to make sure all was okay.

He went back to the street as all of us started walking back towards the street with the new woman in our presence. She kept trying to talk to us and we obviously couldn't understand anything. It's amazing to see how far along I have come in Japanese in this aspect. Not even for verbal language but even body language. She kept doing all sorts of motions to indicate something or other to us but I had no idea what she was even trying to indicate. I was using both American and Japanese body language and I don't think she knew anything I was trying to indicate. At some points she was kind of freaking me out with how loud sometimes she would raise her voice and then do a body language. I think she was just getting frustrated that we didn't understand. Brian had walked quickly ahead of us and by the time we had caught up to him, he had a band of about 8 kids following behind him and giggling. It was really cute. They all followed us back to our tuk tuk on the side of the road. We gave each of the 4 kids that helped us find the temple $1. That probably made them rich – as the average Cambodian family doesn't spend more than .50 per day on what they need. (according to CNN). While we were gone, Mr. Driver had fixed Brian's bike and so we could head back with our normal cargo minus Brian and his bike.

The sun was beginning to set and the day was coming to a close as we reached back to the Angkor Wat area. On our first day we had wanted to watch the sunset at a famous temple to do so but as a result of a high probability of rain we had not. While we were all rather tired, we held a small meeting on if we think we should try it out on our last day. Brian had really wanted to do it, so that's where we headed to next. This temple was named Phnom Bakheng, built in the late 9th – early 10th century, it is a Hindu temple. I was shocked at how many people were there to watch the sunset. I heard it was popular but I didn't expect there to be traffic back-ups and herds of people all headed up. This temple was built on top of a small mountain/hill. You could take elephant rides up for $15 or do what we did and walk the 15-20 mins of an easy incline to reach it. At this point, I wasn't as interested in the temple as I should have been but more or less of the sunsetting. From the top you could see views of a lake named Tonle Sap and what surrounds the area of Angkor. When we reached the top, there were just hundreds of people perched on the temple stairs watching like birds as the sunset. Unfortunately, it wasn't a spectacular sunset as the sun really didn't set but more or less just faded off into the distance.

Brian went back down since he had to ride his bike back and Haruka & I waited for Katie to return from frolicking off to take pictures. When the sun was nearly gone and we had not seen Katie yet, I took off around looking for her as Haruka waited in the same spot we were at. We searched for about 15 minutes with no luck. My last attempt – when I swore I saw someone that looked like Katie brought me to around the temple – I noticed something even better than the sunset, but the moon rising. It was the first night for a full moon and there it hung, stranded in mid air mesmerizing all that saw it. I quickly ran back to get Haruka so she could see it, too. At this point, the temple guards were trying to kick everyone down to the street but more and more people were beginning to notice the moonrising and not the sunset anymore. This moon was perfect for a photo op. I tried my hardest to capture the beautiful moon, but to no luck because my 3 year old camera just isn't capable of capturing that type of beauty.

Haruka & I headed back down by ourselves and found Katie with our tuk tuk driver waiting for us. We went back to town and had a really quick dinner at a restaurant and we all went back to the guesthouse. Brian was dead from riding his bike all day and the rest of us were tired just from all we had been doing for the past week now.

Click HERE to see all the pictures from the first 4 temples

Click HERE to see the pictures from the hidden temple and the sunset

Monday, May 21, 2007

the ants go marching one by one..

hurrah hurrah
not really.
they are all over my bedroom floor and I have discovered they live underneath my tatami mat in there. You can't just tear up a tatami mat to remove the problem. I put packaging tape OVER the hole so no more will come out and then I placed two ant traps right next to where they want to go home. That way, I am hoping in their mass panic they will fall for my secret booby trap of ant traps. It's times like these I realize I am not prepared to live on my own. I hate taking care of problems like this cause I don't know what to do. I hope Yasko can help me tomorrow...

I should be posting the next portion of my Cambodia update soon. Furthermore, this past weekend I went to Tokyo and saw Sumo and went to a festival and whatnot. I hope to get to that before it gets too outdated...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Temple Scrambling Day two

Following our first day of walking, climbing, and playing incessantly; we had planned for the second day to not be as physically exerting. There was a temple and a few other things that required a car to reach; thus, we hired a tour guide with a car and that's how we got around. We were being escorted around via a big white van, the 4 of us in tow with our tour guide and the driver in the front. The morning was a bit overcast as a result of the early morning rain showers.

On the way, the guide talked our ears off, but it was way too early for me to communicate or want to attempt any type of communication. The first stop on the way was 38 kilometers from Siem Reap to a temple named Banteay Srey. This was a Hindu temple built in the late 10th century. According to a pamphlet, the name of the temple roughly translates to Citadel of the Women. However, many people just say this as a metaphor to refer to the “beauty of the carvings.” This particular temple was made of pink sandstone – so quite different from most of the temples we had seen on the first day. Walking to the temple area, we walked through an island walkway. On the sides of this walkway was plenty of dirty, brown water. I don't know if it was meant to be some type of moat or if the rainwater had just puddled there to give that false affect. When you reach the temple, you see it is a nice, quaint temple – maybe if walking straight around it – only taking 5 minutes. However, in this square were many raised towers and small rooms that our guide informed were at one time a library. These towers are unique in that some open in one cardinal point and others open in others. There really were intricate carvings all over the temple – that our tour guide filled us in on all the stories. Many of them were based around the Hindu God Shiva.

After this relatively quick view, we had a quick breakfast whereby I witnessed some shady business by our tour guides. Cambodia, like most developing countries are corrupt in many practices. For a harmless example, our Tuk-tuk drivers, like these drivers as well – do something along the lines of contracting out to certain restaurants to bring us to. We are pretty positive that these restaurants in turn, give our drivers some sort of commission from our business. I didn't mind it with our tuk-tuk drivers mainly because when we said “we're hungry” they told us where to eat. However, with the drivers on this day – they chose the times and places we were going to eat. I didn't mind too much being told where to eat – as I am sure all the food was the same anyways, but we weren't too happy when our drivers on this day told us WHEN to eat as well.

It was at the restaurant where I was just casually observing my surroundings that I watched a woman walk up, give money to our drivers and walk away. Then, this next example is what I thought was really shady. We were all in the van waiting to drive off from breakfast when a man was walking by our van. The driver rolled down his window, stuck his one hand out – then I noticed them do a “high 5” in a “hey, what's up?” kind of way and I saw the swap of what was maybe money or even possibly drugs, I have no idea. It was at this time that I was very grateful to have a man with us and not just us 3 girls traveling.

After a very seedy breakfast, we started on our way to our next stop for the day – which would take us quite a while again. It was 12 kilometers to our next destination, Kbal Spean. In order to reach this area, we had to do about a 45 minute hike uphill through the bush to see it. While it was rather humid and hot already – it was really nice to be out in nature. We had one view that was tremendous, showing that Cambodia does in fact have more than just the desert landscape we'd been viewing to this point. On the way, we saw cool white trees, interesting bug, reptile and amphibian wildlife, a rock that appeared to look like a spaceship, vines, all sorts of fun nature wonders.

I figured we'd reached our intended location when I heard the solacing sound of a waterfall being invaded by tourists with preying cameras. Kbal Speak is a river with waterfalls that has carvings behind the waterfalls, under the river, along the bank, on protruding rocks, - these carvings called lingas.

History moment- the linga cult. The Linga Cult was a sect of Hinduism centered on the God Shiva, who was worshipped in the form of a linga (ie a phallic symbol). Most of the Hindu temples at Angkor housed stone lingas, which were cared for and worshipped. Water that passed over lingas became sacred, even magical. There is an interesting appliction of this belief at the 'rivers of 1000 lingas' at Kbal Spean where lingas were carved into the riverbeds in order to 'fertilize' the waters that fed the rice paddies below.

As you just read, Kbal Spean has 1000 lingas carved into it. Moreover, there were countless amounts of Buddha and Buddhist images as well polluting or beautifying the river. (depends how you look at it).

It is rather spectacular to see how these carvings are still nearly perfect after years of water flowing over them or past them. It boggles my mind how they haven't eroded away since they were carved sometime between the 11th and 13th century. We spent around 30 minutes admiring all that was around us. I particularly enjoyed the waterfall that was near the bottom of the river, I seem to love the sounds of waterfalls the most. The walk back down from this area was much quicker than our walk up, which was nice because it seemed that it was getting more crowded with tourists.

Again, we were taken to another stop for lunch at a randomly placed restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was a cute restaurant and soon we were joined by dozens of French tourists on both sides of us. Thankfully for us, we had already ordered our food. After lunch we had about a two hour ride to our next temple – the main reason we booked this tour. I was able to fall asleep for most of the trip which made the two hours seem go by quicker than I had thought they would.

This last temple for the day that we visited was named Beng Melea , a Hindu temple erected sometime in the early 11th century. The reason many people spend the time(it's 63km east of Siem Reap) and extra money(another $5 to view) to get out to this temple is because it has not been restored yet. You can go to this temple and view it as it was once first discovered, with trees growing all over it, moss on the concrete blocks that have yet to be picked up, vines, animals, how nature is left untouched can and will take over what man has made. Some call it the jungle temple and you can see why from the pictures. It covers one square kilometer. According to the guidebook, this temple may have been a prototype for the now- most famous actual Angkor Wat temple.

We first walked on the outside of the temple, first observing how quiet this temple is in comparison to all the temples that we viewed previously. It was thundering loudly overhead when we first arrived, leaving the sky quite dark and scary. It did really feel like the lost temple feeling that the guidebook said it would. After observing the outer wall of the temple we climbed our way into the temple. As it is not restored, we literally had to walk over, through, around, into all sorts of passageways since there was no walkway. None of the stones had been cleared – and it made for difficult walking. Thankfully, I had packed sneakers so I switched from my sandals to sneakers and it made these climbs a bit easier. There's really no way I can put into words more about this temple so let me just show some pictures from it from here on out.

At the end, right when we were walking back to our van – our tour guide gave us all umbrellas and said “it's going to rain”. We took our umbrellas and not even a minute later it down poured on us. And maybe only 3-5 minutes into this very heavy, crazy stopped, just like that. We all climbed into our van relatively dry and napped until we reached back to our guesthouse, marking the end of our second sight seeing day in this area.

CLICK HERE to see all the pictures from Bantreay Sreay and Kbal Spean

click on the below picture to see all BENG MELEA pictures

A very helpful MAP

I made this map at work today so you can get an idea of how big the area is.
The RED # 1's are the temples we viewed on the 1st day.
The RED #2's are where we went the second day (some are not on the map)
The RED #3's are where we went the third day
If you click on it - it gets much larger.

For comparative size - the ANGKOR WAT area is 1KM square
ANGKOR THOM is 3km squared

Monday, May 14, 2007

Temple Scrambling Day 1

The early bird catches the worm. That's a phrase that entices the lazy folk to wake up early to get a lot done during the day. That's basically how our whole vacation was; our first morning in Siem Reap, we woke up early to get a great start on the day of temple viewing. We hopped into our two tuk-tuks that swooped us away to the land of mysterious temples.

It was a short tuk-tuk ride and we reached our first destination, the infamous Angkor Wat temple. I had seen pictures on the internet prior to coming to Cambodia; but nothing could have prepared me for the bewildering behemoth structure before me. It was literally breathtaking to see in person. I was even awe-stricken by the simplest things around me before starting to advance towards it. We all caught our breathes again and started up the walk. Around us was a moat that surrounds the temple, we spent like 5 minutes at first checking out all the unique carvings on the wall, doors, ceilings, poles, ground, everywhere. These carvings are called bas-reliefs, some depict stories and characters from Hindu mythology and the historical wars of the King who built this temple.

this is walking towards Angkor Wat

This is looking back from the way we came

Some facts about this temple:

  • it was built in the early – mid 12th century

  • It was a Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu

  • It's been a Buddhist temple since the 14th century

  • it's situated westward which is very odd (all others are generally situated to the East)

  • the exterior wall measures 4265 feet x 4921 feet

  • the temple itself is 1km square

  • it consists of 3 levels with a tower on top of it all

  • the 5 lotus towers you can view in the picture are 213 feet high

The best part of this temple is that you can basically do whatever you want. For example, climb up to the highest point on unstable stairs that were built hundreds and hundreds of years ago. This type of dangerous undertaking would never be allowed in America or most developed countries. Now, there are signs that say Climb at your own risk – and that's what we – and most people did...climb up and up and up. These stairs aren't exactly stairs per se, but really small, stumpy, chunks of concrete that jut out over each other. I took my sandals off, placed them in my bag and started my ascent. If you've ever been around me hiking or in any other situation, you know that heights just aren't my thing. Well, I put my fear in my bag with my sandals and didn't look down. There are so many dangerous aspects of this climb, for example; “stairs”that really aren't, the steepness, sweaty palms and feet, sun blinding your vision – but the challenge was worth it. I made it up before Haruka & Katie and admired the view that my brief stunt of rock climbing gave me. There really isn't anything up top that is super spectacular aside from the view. I sat up there with Haruka for maybe 15 – 20 minutes before facing the descending escapade that was needed.

Katie & Haruka following after me

If you have ever gone up something really steep, you probably realize that going down is actually even more problematic. Thankfully, someone else thought that too and a steel bar was put up for that reason. There was one set of “stairs” that had a pseudo handrail attached to the side of the concrete. This was just a silver, metal pole that was creaky in use and also sweaty and unpromising. The scariest part is that if one person fell, it would be like dominoes – that person knocking down (and probably killing) everyone in the way.

yep, this picture above is how you come down...scary...

We made it out alive...obviously. This was certainly a beautiful way to start out the day of temple viewing. Our next stop was Angkor Thom. There are five entrances to the city, one for each cardinal point that is crowned with 4 giant faces. We stopped at the South Gate, the first gate that you enter when approaching from Angkor Wat.

Facts about this Angkor Thom:

  • constructed in the late 12th – early 13th century

  • It's a Buddhist temple

  • It's 3km squared and walled

  • it's moated

  • Inside the Angkor Thom area are many, many smaller temples too

After eating lunch, we went and checked out the wonder of Bayon, which by the way, ranks as one of my top favorite temples I saw in Cambodia. This temple was behemoth as well, taking about two hours to go through it. The fun being climbing all over it, in it, through it, basically any particle you can think of we did. This temple has many, many towers that are all covered with carved faces, 37 towers to be exact. Most of these towers have the 4 faces that are in the direction of the cardinal points. It was constructed in the late 12th century and is a Buddhist temple. Again, this temple, like Angkor Wat had many carvings all over it. This temple's carvings included scenes from a real life war, market scenes, cockfighting, chess games and even childbirth.

So yea, we spent hours checking out this beast in the beating sun as well. Afterwards, I went and looked at a very large Buddha that was nearby. Following a bit of confusion of not finding Brian for a while, we finally continued on our way of viewing the temples that were within Angkor Thom.

a short scaryclimb up got me here, PEEK A BOO

If you've ever seen Tomb Raider, one of the temples that was used was at the Angkor Wat area, so I decided to be sexy like Angelina Jolie and this is my best shot at it (get the pun?)

Another temple that we went to visit that is withing Angkor Thom is called Baphuon. This particular temple was under construction so we could see the workers reconstructing it for many, many future visitor's viewing pleasure. This is a Hindu temple that was built in the mid 11th Century. We were able to pass through the gate, walk up to it and just view from the distance as Cambodian men hammered and picked away at it.

From there, we spent probably around atleast 4 more hours going through the complex. Unfortunately my camera battery died so I was unable to take pictures of the rest of the temples. However, hopefully I will be able to get copies from Brian or Katie (please, guys, please!) So, for now I will just tell you about them.

After viewing Baphuon, we walked down a path where we could see all sorts of structures around us. We kept walking, went through a mini labyrinth, and finally made our way to the next Hindu temple named Phimeanakas, constructed in the late 10th – early 11th century. This is a pyramid that is constructed of sandstone. This temple was the tallest one WITHIN Angkor Thom area. Legend has is that the golden tower crowned the temple and was inhabited by a serpent which would transform into a woman. The kings of Angkor were required to make love with the serpent every night, or else disaster would fall upon him or his kingdom!!

Next we could come across the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. Both were constructed in the late 12th century and are Buddhist in nature. Our elephant friend was 2.5 meters tall and had a 300 meter long terrace that has many carved elephants on it. At the north end of the elephant wall is the leper king wall. This wall is also carved but with things like demons and other non existent, but mythological creatures.

After walking around a bit to see all this, my feet were happy to take a break when we got back to our tuk tuk's. We requested to go see the West gate of Angkor Thom since Katie has read it was worth a see. We drove out there, through bumpy, holey roads and took a good look. There was a family of ducks here, too! Cute. Our tuk tuk drivers next took us to Thommamon ­ a Hindu temple built during the late 11th – early 12th century. This temple was much smaller in size compared to what we had seen so far. It was a quick jaunt walking through passageways and checking out the carvings. Moving onto Ta Keo, a Hindu temple made in the late 10th – early 11th century – this temple was a little bit larger and we hiked the scary stairs up to the top again. I climbed alongside an Asian man, a companion for the way, unspoken but sharing in our triumph of reaching the top. During it's heyday it was known as the mountain with golden peaks. It indeed offered nice views of mountains in the distance. At the top, I met a young man who was offering me information about the temple. However, in the end he asked me for money – I didn't it to him because he actually worked there. In my opinion, it's quite ballsy to ask someone for money when you are working. It was about this time of the day that I was starting to fade. My feet were killing, the heat was killing me, and the constant badgering for money or to buy someone's goods was starting to get to me.

But, we forged on. The next temple was also one of my favorites. There were many like this one in the days to follow as well. It's name was Ta Prohm and it was a Buddhist temple erected in the mid 12th – early 13th century. What made it so interesting was that it was still largely covered by nature. All of the natural overgrowth hasn't been removed from it. It was intentionally left this way, and you can see many trees actually growing on and over the walls of the temple. It is famous for this reason. There is one picture in particular that famous and it shows how a tree is literally just growing on TOP of the temple! You will see pictures of this in other temple photos I have but just not from this day. In it's heyday, this temple was a Buddhist monastery that was very wealthy controlling over 3000 villages.

Next up on today's schedule (can you believe we did all this in one day?)- was Banteay Kdei – a Buddhist temple constructed in the late 12th – early 13th century. This temple was also largely unrestored,with much of nature still around it. This one, too was once a Buddhist monastery. And we went from here to our last temple Srah Srang which was just nearby. Srah Srang is also a Buddhist temple made in the mid 10th and late 12th centuries. This temple was unique in that it had structures of many guardian lions around it.

I limped across the street to check out a lake before we ended the day. After badgering from many kids to buy bracelets and other goods, we decided to head back to our guesthouse. I don't think I have walked that much in one day in years. My feet were filthy by the end of the day....

Click on my dirty feet to see pictures of all of Angkor Wat temple and some of Bayoun
(about 60)

CLICK ME if you want to see all the pictures from Bayon and Baphoun

Click HERE to read about Katie's outtake on our trip to Cambodia

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Siem Reap Day 1

It was finally time to depart the city that smells like Durian – one of the major reasons Phnom Penh smelled so bad. The day before at lunch we had made arrangements to get a ride to the bus station that would take us from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We caught the 8:30 am bus that would take around 5 hours to get us to Siem Reap. I sat with Haruka and together we enjoyed the “in-bus” entertainment; a Cambodian singer on TV. The music wasn't awful, in fact it was much more enjoyable to listen to than the American crap they began playing later. Haruka & I had a good time together laughing at one of the parts of this video – a dance. Basically, this man was singing and his back up dancers were circling around him doing some arm move that resembled somewhat the chicken dance we have in our culture. It became the butt of our jokes for the next few days.

The bus ride was a really good way to see the country some more. Cambodia a really arrid country with very little vegetation. In some spots there is vegetation, but for the majority of this bus ride, I was just staring out at red dirt with a few trees or bushes scattered in no pattern. Their places of dwelling all sat alongside the road, not too much different from anything I had seen yet. Mainly shacks, wood homes that look like they haven't been updated in dozens of years. Kids are running naked, adults are laying in hammocks, families are gathered around a picnic table, a few stores trying to sell random items. Every now and then you go past farms, where you see cows that look hungry and men working in the rice paddies.

We stopped at a town for lunch that is famous for eating spiders. Don't worry – eating spiders would be against my vegetarian beliefs. Brian went off on his own, while the remaining 3 of us picked the closest available restaurant. I had vegetable noodles, this was probably the dish I ordered the most while being in this country. All it really is – is a packet of ramen noodles that has cooked vegetables on it with a tasty sauce (the sauce was probably meat based, but what can ya do?) . Our 30 minute lunch break ended and we all climbed back onto the bus. Only a few hours more and we finally reached Siem Reap. As we pulled into the Siem Reap “bus station” - I saw the man holding the sign with Katie's name on it. We greeted him as we got off the bus and the 4 of us were divided into two different Tuk-Tuk's.

We hadn't even been in the Tuk-tuk 10 minutes and I already could detect a large difference in this town from anything I had seen yet in Cambodia. This is the town that all the tourists stay in while seeing Angkor Wat; thus it brings in a lot of money from other countries. The houses weren't shacks, the people weren't begging, it smelled fine, everything about it was cleaner, nicer and more welcoming. Even the weather didn't seem as hot to me.

We were taken to our guesthouse, “Two Dragon's” that is owned by an ex-pat. Our guest house was sooo cute! I shared a room with Haruka while Brian & Katie took the other room. We had intended to watch the sunset over Angkor Wat this evening, but our Tuk-Tuk driver's had told us it was going to rain, so we cancelled the plans. The change of plans led us with free time for the rest of the evening which we discussed over some beer at the guesthouse. Our first plan of action was to go for a small stroll around the area to get a feel for it. We walked over a bridge that covered some pretty dirty water and into an area that had beautiful trees and flowers.

Some sort of fern, viney, plant was completely enveloping ancient trees. From the top of the trees hung a bunch of bats. It reminded me of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney. I remember seeing the same bats hang over my head down under.

From there we decided to do some more shopping at markets. These markets were much more spacious and open than the ones we had shopped in at Phnom Penh. I bought myself a skirt that became a staple of my attire for the remainder of my trip. We strolled on down to the food area and had some “Special Pizza.” The food was so cheap here, just like in Phnom Penh, even with beer. I ordered some sort of vegetarian pizza. The next stop was the bars! There is a street in Siem Reap creatively named “Pub Street” because well, that's what it was. A street full of bars and restaurants that caters specifically to the tourist in the area. It was cute but it still lacked the typical American bar that we college graduates are accustomed to. Cambodia, just like Japan mainly has beer gatherings at restaurants. Mingling doesn't really exist for some reason, so we had a few beers and went back early since the next day was jam packed with things to see and do.

That best part comes next...

Sunday, May 06, 2007


This story is too good to not blog about until later.
This morning I was going through customs to come back into Japan. The customs man told me he wanted to search my carry on luggage. I handed it over to him. Opens up some of the pockets and he starts going through them.
He takes out a tampon, he looks at it and says:
Customs man: What's this?
Me: a tampon
Customs man: oh. can I open it?
Me, feeling awkward: uh, if you want to
Customs Man: What is it again?
Me: a tampon
Customs Man while waving it in the air so everyone waiting to go through the line behind me can see: a tampon. I don't know what that is. What is it?
Me: ummm, uhhhhhhh it's for women.
Customs Man: what do you do with it?
Me laughing, not sure what to say: uhhhhhhhh umnmmmmm you use it.
Customs Man: How do you use it?
Me, not sure if this is really happening: well, ummmm, uhhh, you see it's FOR WOMEN
Customs Man: OH! and he quickly puts it away.

As Katie said, maybe I should have demonstrated how to use it. hmmm. It was a really awkward situation!

If you look at my Phnom Pehn post I added pictures and links to all my pictures from those days. I'm working on the upload process. Honestly, I have sooo much to write about for Cambodia and I really want to because it was an amazing trip that I want to share with everyone. I am having trouble getting the videos to work, arrghh. It'll get up, I promise!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

First impressions - Phnom Penh

Okay bare with me here. I wanted to update this with a little bit of what has been going on. I am still in Cambodia so I don't have time to think that much about the clarity and conciseness of my writing.

I've been here for almost one week now so let me start with my first few days.

After a long day of traveling from my town to Tokyo and flying about 6 hours to Bangkok, we arrived at night. We were spending the night in the airport to save money on a hotel since our flight from Bangkok to Cambodia was at 8am the next day. We got a 45 minute foot massage and then crashed out on the chairs until we woke up.

We took our one hour flight into Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. I was really exhausted when we arrived because I barely slept in the airport, but the excitement got my adrenaline flowing and I was ready to go.

My first impression of Cambodia was paradise! Tropical paradise with palm trees, blue skies, and something I never seem to get enough of no matter where I've lived is HEAT! We got into our taxi that took us into the city. On the way, my surroundings started revealing how Cambodia is in fact, a 3rd world country.

Our taxi shared the road with just about everything one could imagine. Mostly, motorbikes - some people were walking with carts of fruit amongst us, others were cars, vans that were packed up with 20 people, motorbikes transporting whole families on them, including babies & infants. There are no lanes or lines dividing where people go - people weave in and out of traffic as best as possible. Horns around going off all round you - as they are used to indicate that you are going to pass, coming to an intersection - basically to inform everyone around you that you are there. They aren't used in an angry manner like back at home.

The sounds of honking and the engines of motorbikes are what filled my ears and continued to all day long. We arrived safely to our hotel, showered and quickly headed out to the city.

Our 1st sightseeing spot was aimed to be the Royal Palace. It seemed to be a straight shot from our hotel. So, we headed that way. We came across a market place. There was no possible way I could describe these in a manner to ever make anyone understand. I only hope I can describe it enough so it'll help me recall it years later when I am reading this.

Imagine person after person sitting and trying to sell their own goods - in 105 degree weather, probably without a recent shower. The sights, the sounds, the smells, especially the smells will be hard to forget. Chicken, shrimp, fish, unidentifiable dead meats all sitting out, waiting to be purchased. Some, very few had ice around it - the rest just sitting - being prebaked before purchased. All sorts of new fruits, random foods. It was so crowded, you are being pushed, barely able to move. I tried staying in on the path that was built to go between people's square tarp stores, but sometimes, you had nowhere to go but practically on top of the stores. People were even trying to get through with their motorbikes. We walked through this incredible maze before we reached a dead end. We couldn't get to the palace from here afterall. So, we had to turn around and make our way through the maze again.

There were definitely a few parts that if I were hungover or not feeling particularly well - I would have definitely lost my stomach right there on the street. On our way from the putrid smelling market to the palace we came into another challenge of being here. The constant begging - people all over are trying to sell their services to you - from tuk-tuk rides (a small cart that can sit 2-4 people being pulled by a motorbike), water, boat rides, books, DVDs, newspapers, post cards, practically anything to get your buck. It was at this time that we had been bombarded with "I'll give you a ride".

We were able to escape and ignore most of the begging. We finally came upon the Royal Palace to discover it is closed until 2:30 as one of the tuk-tuk drivers informed us. Our group of 4 walked across the street to sit by the water (the Mekong River) to figure out our next plan of action. The decision was to walk to Wat Phnom, the tallest structure in all of Phnom Penh. We weaved our way through traffic and got there.

The temple was gorgeous. You walk up to it via stairs, on both sides of the stairs were large, pink various statues. The inside had a very large, golden Buddha, beautiful paintings, flowers, donations- beautiful. Outside of this temple were monkeys! We left and decided to have lunch. We chose a cute cafe' on the corner of one of the main streets that offered vegetarian food. Although, I didn't admit it, at the time I was very relieved to be eating at a place with other Westerners. This is a country with all sorts of "don't drink the water" and "be aware of what you are eating" warnings. I am okay with it now, but at first I was very sketched out by those thoughts.

I had vegetarian spring rolls and one of the best salads I have had in ages. After eating, we headed back to the Royal Palace via tuk-tuk whereby we were finally able to go in. A bit of confusion on my part and I wasn't able to bring my camera in. I wil have to get doubles from Katie and she was the only one who understood there was a fee to bring your camera in.

The Royal Palace is this huge complex that has tons of unique buildings. They all have a gold roof and are constructed in architecture I have never seen before. The gardens were lush and green, the trees had cool yellow flowers, Buddha statues everywhere.

Inside one of the buildings called the Silver Pagoda was a gorgeous hall that all the way in the front had lit up statues. We walked into a little museum building that described how certain colors had to be worn on certain days by (I think) "royal" family members.

Everything in the complex was amazing. It's hard to believe just on the other side of this place contains such poverty. As we were leaving, all the kids that approached us to buy their water came back again. We decided to check out a park afterwards. A young boy begging us to buy his water followed us nearly all the way there. The park must have been the young person hang out as there were dozens of motorbikes parked there with college-aged kids just hanging out around them. It looked like it could have been fun as a localk. Passing by a really cool tree, we checked out another colorful temple.

After that, we walked back to the river area and decided we wanted to do a sunset boat ride on the Mekong. We borrowed some beers, hired a boat all to ourselves and off we went! We passed by what are known as "floating villages" People live in shacks that are placed on some sort of floating wood. Electric lines are hanging over these shacks bringing electricity to the individual shacks. It was really funny to see these shacks that look like they haven't been updated in 40 years, ready to fall apart at any point and then a TV screen flickering in the midst of it all.

Just as we were getting off the boat, it started to rain which felt phenomenal since the weather was sooo intensely hot. We had dinner at a restaurant owned by a French man. Ending the night really early after a few drinks, we went back to the hotel and I was crashed out by 9:30!

Day 2

We met our tuk-tuk driver about 9:45 to take us out to the depressing part of our trip. Our itinerary for the day included the Killing Field's from PolPot's genocide, and a prison turned museum explaining this. The drive out to the killing fields were enlightening - we were able to see how the locals a little bit outside of the city live. Basically, shacks on top of shacks amongst their garbage. Literally, garbage decomposing right there, under their feet. Again, some of the smells will be unforgettable in my mind.

We finally reached the Killing Fields. The first thing in view is a huge tower high in the sky that is filled with bones of victims that were recovered from the fields. The clothes were on the bottom row and the top just filled and filled with skulls divided by the age of the victims. I was shocked to learn through some of the signs indicating significance and history that more people were killed in this genocide than in WW2. Why have I never learned about this at school? At the killing fields, you basically walk around the area where there were mass graves, with signs that tell you really depressing facts. For example the magical tree - the tree that a loud speaker was hung off of to mask the moans of victims and painful cries of those being tortured.

It was wierd to walk over ground normally, as a priveledged tourist - where so many people suffered and died. It's hard to imagine such atrocity there. It was a depressing way to start the day. After that, we went to Tol Sleng prison or S-21. At one point, this was a high school turned prison during the genocide. It was here that thousands upon thousands of prisoner's were tortured and killed here. Most people went from here to the killing field's to die. They described in detail the torture and murder methods used.

The prisoner turned museum showcased photographs of the thousands that were murdered. It showed the rooms in which this happened, and on the wall of the rooms was an after-torture photo of a person in that room. It also had interviews of those who worked there and what they are doing now and how they felt at the time. Most felt they had no other choice; they did not want to partake, but by refusing, they would die. It took a lot not to cry. I have never been to the WW2 holocaust museum in DC - but this was pretty bad.

Moving away from the depressing history of this country, we went to a marketplace next. It was inside a hot, stuffy, crowded area. Basically, they cram as much stuff as possible inside it with little room to move. All sorts of things are sold, including but not limited to: silk, designer bags (Lisa's heaven), purses, shoes, socks, clothes, food, Cambodian art, crafts, anything you can really imagine.

Do as the locals do. When it's really hot, nap in the midday. We did just that, napped after a long, strenuous day in the heat. Before dinner, we tried a famous coconut ice cream dessert. It was soooo tasty - you get three flavors of ice cream, some peculiar fruit and stuff that tasted like nothing I've had before served to you inside a coconut. mmm mmm.

We drank a few beers back at our hotel before having dinner and going out for the night.

Some random thoughts about Cambodia I want to share:

  • I have seen people carrying the following items on their motorbikes while moving: a chair, ladders, pieces of glass, infants, and even texting on their phone
  • Even though there are very few schools, the students who can afford to go wear uniforms
  • Anchor beer tastes great
Click on the Cambodian landscape to see pictures of day one
Click on Cambodian Fruit to see pictures of Day 2

That's it for Phnom Penh. I am sure I won't get to blog about the last 3 days I have spent in Siem Reap until I return back to Japan. My days in Siem Reap have been amazing with all the temple seeing I've done. I have hundreds of pictures and some videos that go with this blog. I might add them into this blog or just post links - so check back. I leave for Bangkok on Friday morning - leave for Japan Saturday night - will be back to my house sometime Sunday.