Siem Reap - Cambodia

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18, 2010

           We can't believe we are already at country number 3! It’s been more than 2 months since we first left E-town and it has flow by. The bus trip to Cambodia started out pretty good considering we were in a comfortable van rather than the usual bus. It wasn’t long before the border scamming began though. We ended up taking a taxi from the border to the city of Siem Reap because the bus companies LIE and they don’t arrive at their destination at the time they said they would. AND no matter what they tell you... Thailand currency is accepted everywhere in Cambodia. They tried to force us to exchange all of our money at the bus station just across the border at a pretty poor exchange rate but our spidey senses kicked in and it seemed a little fishy so we took the chance and held off.

            Cambodia is such beautiful country. The people seem to be getting nicer and nicer throughout our travels and Cambodia is no exception. People here have such good hearts and are so wonderful to deal with. We’ve learned how important it is to be as kind as you can back and keep a smile on your face because it really does get you far.

            In our opinion, Siem Reap is the perfect size city. We stayed near the market and were able to walk or bike pretty much everywhere! Our Swedish girlfriends and Mike were in Siem Reap as well so we hung out for a few days and crashed at their hotel pool. One of our outings included watching the Euro cup finals and we were very sad to see Holland lose. =(

            We started our stay in our regular choice room – fan room (no aircon), but quickly realized that Cambodia is the hottest place we have been so far! If we wanted to get any sleep at night an upgrade to aircon rooms was a must. So we went hotel shopping! And boy did we find a gem! We paid $12/night for a BEAUTIFUL room with air con, granite counters, cable TV, mini fridge, free breakfast, glass shower (usually the showers don’t even have a curtain or tub – they just spray onto the bathroom floor so you have to remember to put the toilet seat down!), clean sheets... need we go on? We ended up staying in Siem Reap for over a week and yes, it was because the city captured our hearts but part of it may have been that we had such a ballin hotel.

            One thing that is strikingly different about Cambodia is the poverty. This country has been through hell within the past 40 years and it is still trying to rebuild and move on past the horrors the people lived through. We can’t believe that we had barely heard anything about the Khmer Rouge before we got here and for those who don’t know about this genocide please take some time to wiki it. One quarter of the population was either murdered or starved to death during the brutal regime of the Communist leader Pol Pot. He believed in a Maoist type ideology and wanted to bring his country back to year zero-a no-class, self-sufficient agrarian society. In particular, people with any sort of education were the first to be eliminated. We won’t give a history lesson here but we have definitely learned so much and have had an emotional ride.

            Outside of any minimart there will be little children grabbing you by the hand asking for noodles or baby formula. It is so incredibly heart breaking. Despite all of this, the people are still so nice and positive and you can tell why this country is known as the "country of smiles". We really wanted to help out in some way that our little bank accounts could handle and searched for a place to volunteer. We were a little shocked to discover a Catholic church in this predominantly Buddhist country and sent an email to the parish priest asking if there was any way we could get involved.  The next day we were in the back seat of the Church truck heading to the village of Taom with Father Panus. This village has a century-year old Catholic church and a small community of newly baptized Catholics. They have a learning centre that teaches Catechism and helps out with the community in many ways. There was a group of people our age from Taiwan volunteering there as well! The first thing we helped out with was their rice soup program. Usually, about 200 children show up to get their bowl of rice soup but on the day we were there, 300 came! It was unlike anything we have ever experienced. We walked into the church and there were 300 hungry children in lines waiting patiently for their soup. We helped serve them the soup and all the kids waited  to eat until everyone had their soup served. It was very emotional and eye-opening and we wanted to take them all home with us.

            In the afternoon we went to see a typical village house. The houses are all raised on stilts because of the wet season when flooding is common. They consist of one room (probably the size of an average kitchen back in Canada) and have maybe a hammock and some belongings kept in the corner. And that’s pretty much it. It costs $300 to build one of these houses and we hope to sponsor some in the future! In the evening some of the kids came back to have a dance party with us in the church. It was a blast! The music came from some little ipod speakers propped on a chair while we dance in a circle around it. We learnt some Khmer dancing and yes... you guessed it – there are now some Cambodian children who can Ukrainian dance! It was so much fun to get passed the language and cultural barriers and just enjoy their pure awesome energy.

            We spent the night sleeping on the floor in a room with the volunteers from Taiwan which was kind of an experience in itself. We slept on top of thin blankets with a romantic mosquito net draped over us and Maria became even more envious of Nicole’s ability to sleep ANYWHERE! A sleepless night (for Maria) was definitely worth the experience though. We left the following morning with a ton of amazing photos of these children and a permanent place in our hearts for them.

            We were able to go with Father Panus to a floating village a couple days later and see the community there as well! We went to mass in a floating church! Like not even attached to the side of the bank... it was right in the middle of the Tonle Sap river. The whole community is afloat like that and it was very cool to experience. All in all we went to 3 liturgies! (So you can worry a little less Pan Sendziak – we definitely got our church fill) . =)

            Most people go to Siem Reap mainly to visit Angkor Wat. If you haven’t heard of Angkor Wat then you should definitely add that to the wiki list. We rented bikes (because we are missing the daily exercise we were getting in Nepal) and rode out to the 8th wonder of the world! We went to about 6 or 7 different temples that were all absolutely breathtaking. The highlights were Angkor Wat, of course, and Bayon. These temples suffered a bit under the Khmer Rouge as well and landmines became a serious problem. It’s all tourist safe now but there are so many landmine victims wandering about asking for help. Even though the war is over, there are still dangers like this in the countryside that the Cambodian people face.

            We didn’t eat Cambodian food until our last night in Siem Reap! There were so many good Indian restaurants around and we somehow seemed to develope a passion for Indian food. That last dinner in Siem Reap was absolutely delicious though and we will definitely be eating Khmer-style more often. We tried the traditional dish, Amok, that consists of your choice of meat (chicken in our case), vegetables and lemon grass in coconut milk. Soooooo good!! (Possibly Maria’s favourite dish so far for the whole trip). We also went to the Night market that evening and really enjoyed the new variety of goods Cambodia has to offer. Cambodia is known for their silks and silk scarves will be a must-have souvenir from this beautiful country.  Oh and Ray Bans are now 2 dollars instead of the $5 they were in Bangkok. Daaaaaarnit.

            It’s time to experience the hustle and bustle of the capital city, Phnom Penh! Siem Reap was extremely good to us and is definitely very high up there on our list of favourite places.

            Happy Birthday to Juliana and Pani Sendziak who have their birthdays on the 19th! Mnohaya Lita and all our love!

Miss you all!


PS – We forgot to mention the blind massages we got in Siem Reap! It is called “Seeing Hands” massage and the money goes to support the blind people of the community. It was in fact a fantastic massage! What a cool experience.

PPS – If anyone wants to read up on the Khmer Rouge in a less historical fashion then they should pick up the novels: “First they Killed my Father” and/or “Daughter of the Killing Fields”. Amazing reads. 
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