Monday, October 10, 2011

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We flew Vietnam Airlines to Siem Reap, Cambodia, no problems except the usual knitter's dilemma when flying - to knit or not to knit. I chose wrong, hoping to work on some hexipuffs while flying. You can guess what happened, my needles were not allowed on the plane, so I lost one set of US size 4 knit picks metal tips. I wonder if the wooden tips would have been allowed? (No worries tho, I had a set of wooden tips in my checked bag, so I am back in business!).

Siem Reap, Cambodia is the site of many ancient temples, including the famous Angkor Wat. We spent three nights at the Sofitel Angkor, a luxurious hotel in the middle of a very poor country.

Each day we visited several temples, including the temple where the Laura Croft movie Tomb Raider was filmed. It was very hot, and combined with the humidity, and each day was a sweaty adventure.

When we drive through the country, on bumpy dirt roads, the living conditions of the people in the country is shocking. One room shacks in the dirt, maybe a scrawny cow and a few chickens. Our local guide says that people are happy, compared to the days when they were ruled by Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. Tourism is new here, and they are happy to see us and to provide services to the tourists.

We visited a small orphanage, where the children put on a little dance for us. They were learning English, and one boy showed me the boys' sleeping area, he was so proud of their bedroom, where the boys sleep 3-4 in a bed and each have a little cubby with their clothes. A husband and wife run the home, with 34 kids, some orphans, some abandoned at temples, several with HIV. I could see my own children and grandchildren in their faces, and just wanted to wrap them in my arms and take them home. Instead, we buy their paintings as a way to contribute money and tell them how good they speak English.

Outside the temple grounds, where the bus would park, we were surrounded by people selling all kinds of Cambodian items - "madam, I have a nice scarf for you, only $3 American dollar". It was hard to resist the children, who spoke good English, so we all ended up with scarves and bracelets for a few dollars.

I bought bamboo bracelets from a 16 year old girl, who walked with me to the bus. It was the weekend, so she wasn't in school - she told me all about the US, "Your capital Washington DC, Mr. Obama is your president, he has 2 daughters Sasha and Malia". TanMan was carrying my money that day, so I had to wait for him to pay her. I called to him, saying his name, and then he was surrounded by kids calling him to.. "mr. Reek, please buy from me!" It was a crazy mob, but it made me laugh like crazy.

The smiles of these kids just tugs at your heart - even the older, gruff men on our tour can't resist buying things.

Yesterday we had the afternoon on our own, so 6 of us went to the Old Market, where you can buy anything. We all had foot massages, for $5.00, that lasted one hour. It was an wonderful treat after traipsing through the temples for days, and we had a ball doing it together. We had dinner in the city too, but most of us passed on local food. I had a cheese pizza, but TanMan, who is a adventurous eater, had a local dish with shrimp.

At this point, I am tired of pho, a vietnamese dish of noodles and broth, and Cambodian rice dishes. We have continental breakfast at the hotel each day, which has local breakfast items, and breakfast items preferred by their travelers, including American, Japanese and European breakfast dishes. I love these meals and make it my main meal of the day.

So far, neither of us have gotten sick. We only drink bottled water or pop in a can, no ice cubes! We use bottled water to brush our teeth too, but you can't help think it is just a matter of time before we eat something that isn't right.

This morning we have on our own, then we have a 4 hour bus trip to get our boat. I went into town alone to get a facial for $6.00. The local transportation is Tuk-Tuk, a motor scooter pulling a cart.

Unfortunately the flooded river waters in Thailand have made it to Siem Reap, and the market was flooded. My Tuk-Tuk driver took me to a different place, then waited the hour it took for my facial. Then he brought me back to the hotel. The facial was wonderful, the best part was when she had a fresh cucumber and was slicing thin pieces to cover my face.

Now we take the bus for a 4 hour ride to the boat, our home for the next week. More flooded countryside and incredible poverty.

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