Heaven and Hell

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Jun 19, 2010

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Where I stayed
angkor pearl hotel

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, June 5, 2010

He says:

We arrived in Seam Reap 3 days ago and have had a great time exploring Angkor and the city, whilst staying in a very new and plush hotel where we seemed to be the only guests. Cambodia itself has been good so far, although you definitely get the feeling that under the surface or outside the main tourist cities the country seems to have a rough edge that makes me continually on edge. This was reinforced through a conversation we had with our Tuk Tuk driver on the second day who told us very harrowing stories about life for ordinary people in Cambodia. It seems that however much they work or try to get ahead, the corruption and nepotism from the government and police ensure that the rich elite continue getting richer and the poor and working class continue getting screwed over and poorer. One thing he said that struck me was that in Cambodia you could only hope to live for today, because there is no telling what tomorrow would bring. The number of landmine victims, beggars and children selling trinkets is a continual reminder that life continues to be extremely tough for ordinary citizens and underprivileged.

It has disturbed me that every interaction we have had with a local has involved requests for money. This is not a reflection on them as people and we have had really great conversations with locals, but makes you continually aware of people’s plight and it has made me very uncomfortable and guilty, because you simply can't help them all. We have given what we can to a range of, what seemed to be good causes and people, but the more you give the more you seem to be asked. We gave our largest donation to a couple of guys who pulled up on bikes and approached us while we were sitting by the river on a bench. They turned out to be English teaches from a small volunteer school about 40 km's from Seam Reap, one of the guys was the founder and couldn't have been more than 25. They originally asked us if we would be interested in volunteering our services for a day to help teach English, however, unfortunately this was yesterday afternoon and we had a bus to catch today so, despite being very interested we had to decline, although we gave them a donation and promised to send some old text books once we get home. They have set up a website which is ... and we ended up talking to them for quite a while about the differences in education systems and their aspirations for the future.

Cambodia has also been the first place where I have consciously felt the need to hold back whilst bargaining in shops and with tuk tuk drivers, and have on multiple occasions felt the need to give more than the final price. It may be a symptom of it being the low season at present, but everyone seems to be absolutely desperate to make a sale or a tuk tuk fare. The desperation is quite evident with each tuk tuk driver undercutting each other for a fare and every shop owner pleading for a sale.

On the other hand, Seam Reap itself has been pretty laid back; the food has been good and the people generally friendly. However, the real reason you come to Seam Reap is not for the town of course but Angkor Wat. We organised a tuk tuk to take us around through our hotel on arrival and opted to go from sunrise to sunset on the first day and reassess whether to go for another day after that day was finished. It was an extremely long day from 4:30 am to 6:30 pm but was worth all the pain and exhaustion. It has been a dream to come to Angkor since I studied it in year 9 history and it didn't disappoint. We started at Angkor Wat itself for sunrise and despite having a group of whining poms behind us complaining about the early morning, how the place was 'complete turd' and that the largest religious building in the world was nothing more than a large birdhouse, nothing could ruin the grandeur of watching the sun rise behind the inner sanctum, illuminating more and more detail until the whole temple was bathed in light. It was truly breathtaking and even now writing about it is giving me a shiver up the spine. There were hardly any tourists around being low season and so we wandered around the temple taking in the amazing bas reliefs, the incredible details and marveling at the incredible engineering feats. After Ankor Wat we went to Gaynor’s favorite, the Bayon, which is crowned by multiple towers adorned with huge faces looking down at all angles, and other temples within Angkor Thom (fortified city), being stopped briefly by an orphan being looked after at a monastery within Angkor Thom for a chat and the obligatory request for a donation for building a local school. At least he was more pleasant and polite then the thousands of children who accost you at the entrance to every temple selling the same beads and trinkets that every other child is selling outside every other temple, so we gave him a donation and were on our way. After climbing, photographing and visiting a number of other temples, including Tomb Raiders tomb of course, in incredible heat and humidity, by lunch time we had completed the 'small' circuit', which is supposed to take all day (not sure how cause we certainly weren't moving fast in the heat) we were totally rooted and were seriously considering packing it in. Thankfully the rainy season has definitely hit and over lunch we had a brief storm and suddenly the temperature and humidity dropped to more human levels so we chucked our tuk tuk driver another $5 to take us around the 'big tour' which includes many more outlying temples.

The scale of Angkor is amazing and the number of temples is incredible, we must have visited close to 15 to 20, including one that has the most bizarre 2 story building that looks like it has been transplanted from Athens, and is completely at odds with every other building around it, and hardly scratched the surface. However, we were definitely done, exhausted, sweaty and filthy. My time at Angkor will go down as one of the favorite experiences of my life and something that everyone should definitely do.

We were far too exhausted the next morning to even contemplate going out to Angkor again, so instead we stayed in town, did a walking tour and generally chilled out with more fruit shakes, good food and multiple cocktails in the evening. We also thought we should treat ourselves to a massage after our exertions the day before, so when the afternoon storm was brewing we went and found a massage place and booked in for an hour massage. Now don't get me wrong, I love a hard massage, whenever I go to a Thai Massage place I always ask for it to be hard and love the feeling of being tenderized and the release of endorphins that makes me walk away feeling high as a kite. However, take my advice, NEVER have a Cambodian Massage unless you are into S&M. Combine the worst pressure points from Thai massage, add some extreme contortion (including your back being bent in half backwards) and finish with some form of severe stretching exercises (made twice as bad because of my extreme inflexibility and my masseuse who just wouldn't believe that my body doesn’t bend in half so just pushed harder). And hard, as an example, when I have a Thai massage usually cracks 5-6 of my fingers, during this massage she managed to get 12 cracks from 10 fingers. Either Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge developed it as a form of torture during one of their purges and some individual decided that they got some form of sick pleasure out of it or the Cambodians have had such a savage history that they need to feel extreme pain to feel alive. Either way, it is nothing like the massages I have thoroughly enjoyed in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and is more akin to torture then anything that could be described as pleasure. Anyway, somehow we survived, although I was seriously concerned that there was going to be some irreparable damage to my right foot.

We have also picked up a copy of 'The Killing Fields' and 'First they Killed My Father' to get a better handle on the horrors of the Khmer Rouge before we visit the Killing Fields whilst in Phnom Penh. Both are extremely harrowing but give a great insight into what Cambodia has experienced in the recent past.

We are currently 1 hour into a 6 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh where I hope to upload this blog if we can find our hotel (we stupidly forgot to take down the address before leaving our hotel), oh well I'm sure the tuk tuk drivers in Phnom Penh are an honest breed and will take us to the right hotel if we ask nicely...
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Annika on

Wow Gaynor! Angkor Wat!! I sooooo want to go there. It sounds like you had such an amazing experience :)

Tina & Vicki on

Great pics, great places but it looks like you both need your roots doing!
Glad you enjoying your vacation.
x x

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