Now that I've surpassed Tony as having the most out of date blog on the planet, I thought I should write about Cambodia. Better late that never right?
Anyway, Jess, Desiree and I started off with a night in Singapore- we arrived late and then had the next morning to look around. Highlights included continental Asia's southernmost point on Sentosa Island, the 4D movie theatre, and Singapore's general clean and green-ness. I've heard people say it's sterile, but that wasn't my impression- although I was slightly paranoid that I'd accidentally spit in public and be fined $1000...
After our morning in Singapore, we caught a flight to Phnom Penh- Cambodia's biggest city and the seat of Pol Pot's infamous regime. We checked out various palaces, the national museum, and of course the killing fields- a sobering reminder of the nation's unfortunate past. Amidst all the culture and history, however, one moment stood out:
Yes, that's right- if you think your dog is a handful, try walking your elephant. And what's more, try pooper-scoopering the resulting deposits:
As well as chasing elephants, we got to check out a rather impressive royal palace and museum,
see some traditional Cambodian puppet theatre (along with an incredible gymnastic dance quartet who reminded me of the exhibition gymnastics at the Olympics), explore some interesting markets, and consume a lot of extremely pleasing western food and drink. Good western food is as rare as hen's teeth in Taiwan, so we took the chance to indulge in some home comforts. I even had the misfortune of watching the All Blacks' dreary world cup thrashing of Scotland (our hotel room had cable...)
After Phnom Penh, we caught a bus to Camodia's 3rd largest city, Battambang. Upon disembarkment, we were set upon by a vast horde of Cambodian hotel hawkers, most of whom seemed to be working for the same hotel. Completely overwhelmed and unable to think straight, we retreated to the bus company building, where the hawkers seemingly weren't allowed. Our eventual choice was a pretty good one, and we ended up spending a couple of days being shown around Battambang and surrounds on the back of motorcycles.
My driver, Wat, was quite the go-getter- besides tour guiding, he was taking a computer course every morning at 7am, which he hoped would eventually get him a good job in Siem Reap. He also owned a house by the river (cost: $250USD), and had a wife and child ("one is enough," he informed me- referring to the wife, not the child- in a statement that probably didn't seem quite as absurd to him as it did to me)
Aside from all this, Wat was a great guide and a very funny guy- we had a lot of laughs while tripping around the countryside. It was really encouraging too to see the opportunities that do exist in an economy that was completely destroyed not so long ago.
This incident probably bears mentioning:
Our final Cambodian destination was Siem Reap- Cambodia's 2nd largest city, it acts as the gateway to the incredible Angkor Wat and too many nearly-as-impressive temples to count. However, I won't bore you with too many photos of the Angkor Wat sunrise, or the Angkor Thom sunset, or the various intricate carvings and incredible medieval architecture, as there are plenty of those around.
We spent got a day pass for the temples, which meant getting up at about 4am to ensure we got to Angkor Wat in time for the famed sunrise. Getting up that early meant we were pretty much spent, and had seen all the main temples by about 11am- but there were plenty of other things to see in Siem Reap. These included, in no particular order- going to a very moving concert by Dr Beat Richner (staged to raise awareness of children's health issues in Cambodia), exploring more markets, sitting in our hotel pool drinking excellent coconut smoothies, drinking cocktails in upmarket bars (at $3 each, amazingly cheap), and getting bitten by an angry black dog. The latter meant a trip to the doctor for rabies and tetanus shots, but it didn't put a damper on what was a pretty awesome trip.
If anyone's thinking of traveling, I'd totally recommend Cambodia- its developed enough that you don't need to step too far out of your comfort zone, yet not so much so that you can't get off the beaten track, or that you can't climb the temples. (DOC would have a field day putting up 'DANGER- DO NOT PROCEED BEYOND THIS POINT' signs if Angkor fell under their jurisdiction.) Furthermore, everything is DIRT cheap.
Following the wildlife theme of this post, I'll leave you with this: (although the beetle- which had been buzzing around the boy's head attached to a string- wasn't displaying too many signs of life by this point)