Tumbling down temples and floating villages

Trip Start Mar 01, 2009
Trip End Dec 21, 2009

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Native Khmer

Flag of Cambodia  , KH.16,
Friday, September 18, 2009

I am writing this blog from the ‘comforts’ of a Cambodian bus as we cross the Mekong river on a boat in South Cambodia in an effort to reach the Vietnam border so once again somehow I have managed to fall behind with my blogs - this time thankfully just by a week! Cambodia had been a funny one - people are so desprate for money - there are so many causes that need help and yet after a pretty tiring week here it’s hard not to get the slightest bit irritated with it all. Especially when you’ve experienced being conned more than once! My faith in humanity hung in the balance a few evenings ago when a desperate westerner approached me with a sob story about being robbed on the bus and needing money to make calls back to Australia in order to get money wired over and to get some food as he hadn’t eaten all day. It all seemed pretty genuine and went and got Miriam to listen to the story for a second opinion. It hit a nerve as after being in exactly the same position a few months ago in Argentina and having to borrow money from an Aussie guy who I hadn’t known before the border crossing I was not in a position to refuse this desperate looking guy. So me and Miriam both gave him $5 each and he promised to come and find us that evening or the following day in our guesthouse to repay us. We haven’t seen the money since. It’s really not the money that bothers me - he obviously needed that $10 far more than we did in order to go to these lengths to get it. It’s the deceiving bit that gets at me. Especially when in a county like Cambodia where everyone needs help - some just more genuinely than others. It’s also the first time than sort of thing has happened with a westerner since I’ve been travelling which is difficult as for the past 11 months all I have experienced is a sort of unwritten trust between fellow backpackers which is wonderful. In hindsight there are a few things that don’t add up with this particular guy but at the time when you put your faith in a situation and a person to be honest and trustworthy and then it turns out to be completely the opposite it’s hard - especially as there are street kids on every corner of every town in Cambodia begging not even for money just for food or milk for their small brothers and sisters not to mention the multitude of landmine victims around the place destitute to a life of begging to survive it sort of goes against the grain to support a middle aged Australians probable and most likely with drug addiction when there are far better causes to support in Cambodia. Especially when it’s a quarter of your daily budget.

But that aside we had a wonderful first few days in Cambodia. Headed to Siam Reap in the north for our first few days in the country and found a lovely guest house - recommendation of an English guy we met on the bus from Bangkok who was returning there after spending sometime there already. So despite our tuk tuk drivers insistence to stay at his desired hostel (they all make commissions from taking us to certain places) we had to become pretty firm when he stopped there and even got the security guard to join in on trying to persuade us to stay there we eventually got away and found the place by the night markets that had been recommended not by someone not trying to make money out of us.

We had a much needed sleep in on our first morning which was pretty much my first morning sleeping in after 7 for quite some time. It wasn’t until our second day there that we really got out and did something though. We headed to the temples of Angkor which are situated about a 20 minute tuk tuk drive from the city (bearing in mind we had managed to find the slowest tuk tuk in Cambodia) but the guy was just a sweetie - he worked for the guest house and so although we were going there anyway he found us in the night markets and brought us there and then after insisting on a hug every time we wanted to leave or return to our room we decided he deserved the job of driving us around for the next two days. Much to the other million tuk tuk drivers in Siam Reaps disgust.

The temples of Angkor were spectacular. Dare I say it - more spectacular than Machu Picchu. It’s not really fair to make a direct comparison as they are two completely different ruins literally worlds apart from each other but from my relatively historically un educated (on the subject of ruins) point of view I thought the temples of Angkor were more impressive. More glamour and fewer llamas at the least.

The fist we visited was Angkor Thom - a large walled city with contained several temples. The faces adorning the larger of the temples were haunting and in abundance all over the building. The colours of the lichen on the sandstone were beautiful and gave a very grand air to the place. The second temple we visited had far too many steps for my liking in that sort of humidity - the sort that encourages the sweat glands in the more obscure parts of the body - such as your knees to let them selves be known. And then there was the elephant platform and several cool tunnel buildings with no roofs but impressive sculptures which also provided shelter from the slowly appearing sun.

We stopped for lunch a short time after, on our way to the next temple - Ta Phrom. It then dawned on us how well behaved all the children were despite having none of the luxuries we are too well accustomed to as we grow up. Their Mum cooked for us with the help of her eldest daughter - no more than 12 years old while the younger two who much have been 4 and 2 amused them selves with a hammock and no surprises here a Cambodian equivalent of a tin whistle which the 4 year old was intent on using to wind up his big sister to the best of his ability! Sound familiar? Lunch was delicious and the entertainment the kids provided made it all the more worth it. We came to the conclusion this must be where the family lived as well as worked - with one hammock and one platform under the roof but not enclosed with walls for the whole family. No toys to be seen, certainly no TV’s or anything of the like and yet even with their Mum working hard the kids never once got in her way and the little one only made his presence known when it was indeed time for a feed. Even that he managed to suppress until his mother had finished with the cooking. Little snapshots into Cambodian life like this really made our short stay in the country all the more worth while.

Ta Phrom was incredible. It was like something out of The Jungle Book with broken walls everywhere where the trees and jungle have begun to take over and encompass the enclosure. The trees grow among the walls and ruins and although they are the main cause of the buildings to be in the state they are it wouldn’t be the same without them.

The final site we visited was the infamous Angkor Wat. It was magnificent. We arrived there at the best part of the day too as the morning had been grey and misty and not ideal for photos whereas by the time we got to Angkor Wat the sun was shining and beginning to make towards sunset while the clouds had lifted and the grey dull been replaced with much brighter, fluffy clouds to cheer the place up. The building was just so impressive. There must have been a different stone for the majority of it as it didn’t have the same lichen attached to it and was in much better condition. And despite being thronged with people when we first arrived and the sun began to sink, the crowds also thinned leaving a degree of peace and calm over the place. It was a beautiful ending to the day.

The following day we headed out to the Ton Lea Sap lake - the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. We took a boat out on it and despite for the second day running having problems with my camera batteries it was a great morning. The river was as you can imagine - filthy. What with it being muddy due to rainy season and that combined with the fact there was a floating village and so all their waste just went straight into it - I wouldn’t have wanted to fall in but that didn’t deter the local kids. In fact it probably encouraged them!

It was quite different to the floating town I had seen in Thailand a few years ago and different even to anything I had seen on Lake Titicaca in Peru. All the houses and schools and churches (there was even a floating Catholic church) were individual and so the only way to get from one place to another was to swim or take a boat. We went up the river and to the mouth of the lake. Where there were several tiny boats with women and children waiting for the occasional tourist and then of course asking for money. We were also dropped off at this random shop and when we went inside the woman in there and the guy driving the boat both did their best to make us spend $10 on copy books for the kids in the school next door. It takes a lot to try and explain to them that that is actually a huge amount of money for us and there are just so many causes and people who need money that we cant possibly be giving to everyone - I don’t think they were all that impressed but we didn’t get fed to the crocodiles by the driver later on so I took that as a good sign. God knows why they had crocodiles there - we couldn’t get an answer in understandable English from anyone and so in the end just gave up. It was a sort of crocodile farm - or at least they weren’t wild in the river and lived in a contained area but we don’t know where they came from or what their purpose was.

The drive back into town was just as wonderful - as it’s the middle of the rainy season here half the houses are submerged in the overflowing river - or at least the stilts of the houses are. It was amazing to see. Lots of naked children running around the place thinking the rainy season was the best thing ever and it was great to see how the abundance of water effects the communities living so close and almost at one with the river. It’s all so simple remarked Miriam - if they want a house in the river they just build it while there are countless engineers at home sitting there puzzling over how best to achieve the same thing!
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