Saturday, October 28, 2006

Aaron's method of travel attracts a lot of attention... a few locals have even asked if he has a bomb in his briefcase.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A park full of monkeys is pretty much the best park I've ever seen. (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

This is the memorial for the mass grave site. It housed the shelves of human skulls that you can see below in the previously posted photo.

It is difficult to understand what happened to this country 30 yearsago and why. The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Ledby Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for an estimated 1.5-3million deaths in Cambodia. Today we visited a "Killing Field" wherethousands of people were executed. They executed educated people asthey wanted a population of peasants who wouldn't question thegovernment.The Killing Fields were horrifying. There is a monument for the massgraves with nearly 9,000 skulls in it. As you walk along the pathwaysbetween the exhibits there are human bones and teeth coming up throughthe ground.A tree on the grounds was used to execute young children and babies bygrabbing their feet and whipping their heads against the trees. Theskulls in the exhibit have cracks from axes and bamboo as they didn'twant to waste bullets on people. Many people were buried alive.Pol Pot made people relocate to the countryside as he wanted to purifythe Cambodian people for comunism. He executed doctors, lawyers, andother educated people. The schools, hospitals, and museums weredestroyed.In 1979 Vietnam helped remove Pol Pot from power. Afterwards the USsupported the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. They refused to recognizeCambodia as a country (through the UN) which made things verydifficult as the new government was fighting a civil war with theKhmer Rouge, still being led by Pol Pot. It is amazing that thepeople in this country do not have more resentment for the US,Thailand, and other countries that supported this terrible regime.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gas stations in Cambodia are quite interesting. The most common outside the city is a stand with 1 liter glass Pepsi bottles filled with gasoline. Gas is about $4 per gallon which is relatively cheap by world standards, although it is a lot of money for most Cambodians.

The first night we arrived in Phnom Penh with no idea where to go. We decided to follow the guide book and head for the backpacker ghetto along Boeung Kak Lake. That was a big mistake. The several rooms we looked at were full of mozzies and incredibly dirty. Rumor is that the area is going to be bulldozed soon and the places have just been run into the ground. There is not reason to stay or visit this area in PP.

We decided to splurge a bit (compared to what we typically pay) and go for something nice. We moved to the Tonle Sap Riverfront and found a great place for $20 a night. Our room is on the 5th floor and the balcony has a wonderful view.

We read about the Foreign Correspondent's Club down the street and checked it out last night. It is a beautiful restaurant on the 2nd floor overlooking the Tonle Sap. We stayed for the 2 hour happy hour and about an hour extra. The place is great for people watching as it serves as a primary meeting place for news correspondents in the area.

The food in Cambodia is nothing compared to Thailand. Most of the dishes are rather bland and they use a mild chili sauce to spice things up. (it is quite bland as well) The street stalls are nothing like Thailand and we've only found 1 that we liked.

I don't know what to say about this photo but I had to post it.

Phnom Penh is described in the LP guidebook as a city of deep contrast between rich and poor. It is the capital of a country that has undergone tremendous hardship over the past 30 years and it shows. There is a lot of beauty in this city and a lot of things that are difficult to look at. A moto ride down the street will fill your nose with all sorts of smells and very few of them are good.

There is a large and visible population of foreigners in this town and many of them live here. There are a lot of aid organizations as well as international banks who are investing in Cambodia hoping to make a profit. There are some very wealthy Cambodians who stand out as they drive Lexus SUVs and other luxury vehicles down streets full of carts being pushed by hand.

We had a camera duel and it looks like I win because Aaron's photo is still stuck inside a roll of film in his bag... This picture is looking down a corridor inside a temple at Angkor Wat.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Homes on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Siem Reap is not an impressive city. Angkor Wat is surrounded by expensive hotels where the workers make just $1 per day. The economy is based almost entirely on tourism and the wealth gap is very disturbing. There is one street that is blocked off to locals to keep them from harrassing the tourists at expensive western style bars and restaurants. It is quite sad. One day in Siem Reap (including Angkor) was plenty for me.

We hopped on a bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Arriving at the bus station is total chaos. Men swarm you with bus tickets and the price quickly dropped to $3 for the 6 hour journey... we were quoted $15 by our tuk-tuk driver the day before. The tourist areas in Cambodia are full of people trying to get as much money as possible from you. There is no such thing as a straight answer.

The bus was old and packed full. We were the only westerners (with the exception of one guy sitting up front) and we sat in the back. Some rows had 3 or 4 people sharing two seats. The seats are small and rarely does the reclining mechanism work.

The top image is of a rice field on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The bottom image is a look out our hotel room window towards the back of the building. There is a lot of contrast in the city between rich and poor and the areas surrounding the hotels are no exception.

We spent a day visiting Angkor Wat near Siem Reap, Cambodia. The ruins there are very impressive. We hired a driver for the day and he took us to 5 of the main temples. These ruins were landmarks in a civilization of more than 1 million people. Click on the link if you don't know much about it.

Angkor is only half as old as the Coloisseum, and maybe not as impressive as the ruins you would find in Italy or Greece, however it is incredible. Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world (according the guiness book) and the trees growing up from some of the structures look like something out of a fairy tale.

I do have better pictures, however, it is difficult to sort through the 100+ photos I took that day on this very slow computer.. I'm sure I'll find some more time to post the good ones in the future.

Travelling from Thailand to Cambodia is nothing short of an adventure. The road from Popeit, Cambodia to Siem Reap is notorious for being one of the worst border crossings in Asia. We just happened to do it when it was worse than ever.

We started with a 6 hour bus ride from Bangkok to the border. A tuk tuk took us to the border of Cambodia where border officials ripped us off. (just $5 each and there is really nothing you can do about it)

Crossing the border is total chaos as you are completely surrounded by people trying to get you in their taxi. Popeit is a border town that makes Tijuana look like Beverly Hills. After searching around a bit we realized that there is some sort of mafia that controls the taxis. (as we read in our guide book) We couldn't get anybody to negotiate with us as there were guys following us around telling other drivers that they couldn't deal with us. We needed a taxi to take us to Siem Reap which is about 100 miles away. There is no bus service and the only way to get there directly is a taxi. (the bus service stopped because the road is completely flooded) It is possible to take a taxi to another town, then take a boat... however, we wanted to get there that night. We had no idea what was in store for us.

We met a guy from Amsterdam who seemed to be the only other westerner in the town. We split a taxi for $66 that was to take us to Siem Reap. The taxi drove us for about 2 hours down the worst road I have ever seen. The potholes were deep and it was amazing that a sedan could even navigate it. I have never seen anything like it.

We finally arrived in a small town where our driver made us switch to a truck equipped with a snorkel (a device that allows a vehicle to drive in deep water). The POS truck was our only option so we had to hop in.

We road in the truck for 7 hours. The road was in fact flooded and we passed dozens of vehicles stranded in water up to our chest. Our truck got stuck several times and we had to get out and push it through the water. We couldn't believe what we were experiencing. It was absolutely an incredible journey.

The entire journey was in total darkness. We frequently had to stop and our driver paid people to walk in front of the truck to feel out the road (in the water). A picture above shows our driver checking out the deep water ahead. I couldn't get any pictures of the very deep water or the trucks stuck in the water as I had to keep my camera in my dry bag... I also had to be ready to jump out and push when needed. At one point the water inside the truck had covered the tape player in the dash. We had to pay a tractor to pull us with a chain through the deepest crossing.

I am rambling about the journey and words will never do it justice. I'll try to explain it to you all when I get home and I will fail. It was quite an experience and one I will never forget.