A Travellerspoint blog

Kratie to Laos

sunny 35 °C

Friday, December 23 and Saturday December 24

On Friday, we travelled to Kratie, a small town with a very decrepit hotel. The highlight was going out on the Mekong River in the late afternoon to view dolphins. They weren't jumping very enthusiastically but would surface for a couple of seconds and give us a thrill. Just before we left, two came right up to our boat to greet us! We truly enjoyed the peaceful hours on the river.

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We met Santa on our way into our restaurant. No Christmas music in the streets here, though.

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Behind our hotel, right outside our window, a loudspeaker played what we can only assume was Cambodian music for hours on end. To us, it sounded like random notes on a pentatonic scale, like mind control music from a horror show. I can't imagine what it would be like to live with that music for hours every day!

Saturday morning, we heard a Moslem call to prayer at 4:30 am and then at 5, the crazy music began. We wondered if it was to get people up for the day. It played for half an hour, stopped till 6, then started again. Some of our group who went out for a walk thought that it might be music for a funeral.

Saturday was another long travel day: 7 hours over quite rough roads in northern Cambodia (some paved, some dirt) and across the border into Laos. Sambo said we would get a free bum massage today!!

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We learned that local people pronounce the name of the country as 'Lao' (without the final 's' sound). In Cambodia, many homes had tarps spread out on the ground with rice drying. A few farmers are still harvesting rice but most rice fields are already cut. Along the roads, it's common to see wagons and trucks transporting large bags of rice.

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One bus dropped us off on the Cambodian side of the border, then we had to walk 300 m. or so across the border and board another bus after we had gone through Immigration on both sides of the border. The buildings were magnificent but there seemed to be very little traffic across the border; we didn't see any vehicles crossing during the hour that we were there, just tourists crossing on foot.

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We finally reached our destination in mid-afternoon, a lovely guest house on the banks of the Mekong River. Our guide rented bicycles for us so that we could ride around the island to see how people live. One thing we like about the G Adventure tours is the variety of opportunities for low-cost sport activities that get you into close contact with local people.

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On our 16 km tour around the island, we saw water buffalo, rice paddies, a rice wine distillery (that gave us free samples!), cows wandering freely, cocks used for cockfights, and a palm sugar producer that has been in business for 40 years.

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At age 80, this man still climbs the sugar palm trees daily.

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Along the way, we were frequently greeted by kids shouting 'Sabaidee' [Hello]. Although the physical exertion was demanding, especially in the intense sun, we felt a good tired at the end of the trip. Donna immediately went for a full body traditional Lao massage (60 min. for about 12 USD) to stretch out the tight muscles. Ahhhh!!!

Our fellow travellers have been taking advantage of these massages each evening (sometimes for the feet and legs, sometimes whole body). The spas have about 6-8 beds lined up in a room and the masseurs/masseuses work on your body with your socks and shoes off but the rest of you fully clothed. The massages are very effective to get out all the kinks and knots!!

Posted by HosMiniTravels 18:56 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

sunny 37 °C

Thursday, December 22

Today was an emotionally tough day for all of our group. We went to see the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields and Toul Sleng prison, which used to be a high school. While it was difficult to see the locations mentioned in the book, Under the Banyan Tree, I'm grateful that I had read that book prior to our trip. It documented one young girl’s experiences during the Khmer Rouge period from 1975-79. She would have been the same age as our guide and host.

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The author, our host and our guide all lost a number of close family members during that period. We learned today that almost half of the Khmer population died during that time, either at the hands of the Khmer Rouge or from starvation. Only 15% of the educated people survived the Khmer Rouge regime. You don't see a lot of older people in Cambodia; our guide told us that those who survived probably played some role supporting the Khmer Rouge - one didn't really have a choice. Since that period of genocide, the Khmer (Cambodian) population has boomed and now fifty percent of the population is under age 25.

The details of both locations we visited are too gruesome to show in this blog but I have included pictures of the memorial at the Killing Fields and the prison rules.

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Our guide was a young child during that time and lost 5 family members. We were able to talk with 2 of the survivors who spoke about their experiences during that time. One was a mechanic in his 30's at the time who was kept alive to help the regime fix machines. The other was a young child who had been brought to the prison with his brothers to see his mother and ended up being spared purely by chance at the very end of the regime. These survivors speak to visitors so that this period of terror will not be forgotten.

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Five former leaders have been charged for their roles under the regime but only one person has been convicted. Two died while awaiting trial. Two more are undergoing proceedings but the process is moving very slowly and at a very high cost.

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For a change of pace, at dusk, we went for a cyclo tour of Phnom Penh. Even though we were in the midst of rush hour traffic, we felt very comfortable and secure. We weren't able to understand all of the street signs, though.

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For supper, we were invited to the home of our guide today so we had the chance to see a typical home, enjoy real Cambodian home cooking, and dance with the kids in the family. The guide lives with his wife and four children, along with his wife’s 2 sisters and their families, all in the same large home. The sisters have separate bedroom areas for their families but the kitchen, bathrooms, living room, and outdoor dining area are shared. The guide supports the operation of and provides space in his home for an after-school English language program for community kids.

Posted by HosMiniTravels 17:50 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia Day 3

sunny 35 °C

Wednesday, December 21

We spent the day on the road travelling to Phnom Penh. (Pronounced Pnom Pen – Thais and Khmers do not pronounce the letter ‘h’.) Cambodia is complex and full of surprises.

Just for fun, along the way, our bus stopped at a roadside market so we could play with tarantulas! They must be quite abundant here as there are lots in the markets. We've been told these ones are not dangerous. Recognize the hairy arm?

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Things are going fabulously for us here. We’re staying in a spacious room at the Diamond Hotel with magnificent solid wood furniture and wood floors. The hotel has definitely seen better days, but we are glad to have any place to retreat to that has air conditioning!!

Items are very inexpensive here. Many things just cost 1 USD. Meals average 5 to 8 USD. We're having some fun riding and bouncing around in the tuk-tuks which provide very low-cost transportation.

Perhaps one indication of the level of poverty here in Cambodia is the unusual sources of protein available: snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, snails, frogs and crickets. During the Khmer Rouge period, just 40 years ago, people had to eat anything that moved in order to avoid starvation and they probably acquired a taste for these items.

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I enjoyed eating fried crickets as an appetizer last night, but only tried a tarantula leg in the market. Our host, Sambo, went a lot further… (try to guess what Lyle is thinking!)

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There are lots of new foods for us to try that do not include these savoury items. Steamed rice or rice noodles are included in most meals and there are lots of cooked vegetables (most familiar, a few new ones). This was a yummy fish baked in banana leaf.

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Posted by HosMiniTravels 17:49 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia Day 2

sunny

Tuesday, December 20

We left our hotel this morning at 4:30 to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. This is a prime location for photographers – and hundreds of them from around the world were there for the sunrise. We got shots of the Angkor Wat silhouette in the dawn light, but the skies were not dramatic that morning. We spent the next 8 hours wandering around the 3 main temple locations: Angkor Wat, Bayonne Wat, and Angkor Thom where part of the movie Indiana Jones; Tomb Raider was filmed. The construction is amazing with volcanic rock covered by sandstone blocks fitted together by slowly swinging the block being inserted back and forth to grind it down to fit, and then using a 'keystone' kind of fit to lock it into place. We walked 22 km around the ruins and almost all of the walls we saw were covered in ornate carvings.

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We encountered some monkeys and elephants – but they were along the roadways, not in the temples. We’d just finished drinking some fresh coconuts, so we gave the monkeys the hulls and they certainly knew how to get at the tender white meat left inside.

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This evening we went to the Phare Circus that has provided street kids with employment opportunities by training them in gymnastic skills to a level at which they could work in a circus. It was an amazing performance that portrayed Cambodia's recent history.

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The Artists and Artisans program which trains the circus performers also trains people in various arts and crafts and has a storefront. It's unfortunate that about 30% of kids in Cambodia are not able to go to school. NGO's are helping to address some of the need. Our host, Sambo, felt that World Vision is doing a good job of assisting community development here.

Posted by HosMiniTravels 17:48 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Into Cambodia!

sunny 35 °C

Monday, December 19

We spent a lot of today on the bus travelling from Bangkok to Siem Reap by bus. At the border into Cambodia, we bid good-bye to our minivans and walked through a grubby market area to the Immigration counter. We officially departed Thailand and walked across the border into Cambodia. The architecture is strikingly different: lots of colonial French architecture which is prettier and more decorative than colonial British architecture. Unfortunately this picture doesn't show the fancy painted railings and ornamentation that some of the buildings have.

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Beside these run-down fancy buildings, there are typical scenes you find in any developing country. The typical Cambodian home is made of wood, raised on stilts, and we've noticed that many of these have tarps in front of the home with rice spread out to dry.

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We’re back to a country where the traffic drives on the right side of the road. We haven’t seen this since the Arab countries. Lots of motorcyclists drive around with surgical masks or scarves covering their noses and mouths. It's dry season and some of the roads are pretty dusty. The roads alternate between pavement with deep potholes and dirt roads.

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We’re staying at the Mekong Angkor Hotel which has a lovely refreshing pool! Tonight, we enjoyed supper at the New Hope Orphanage where former street kids are getting skills employment and language training for working in service industries. G Adventures supports some local businesses through an association with Planeterra (https://www.gadventures.com/about-us/sustainable-tourism/). One of the appetizers was tasty fried crickets!

Posted by HosMiniTravels 16:30 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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