On Thursday morning we crossed the border into Cambodia. The ride from Bangkok to the border was pleasant, but from the Cambodian border crossing to the city of Siem Reap was actually beautiful. You could notice a distinct change in the scenery. Cambodia has turned out to be a pleasant surprise in every way. The leaves are a little greener, the sky is a little bluer and the people here have been incredibly friendly. We were really lucky because the road we were driving on for four hours in Cambodia had only just been paved 2 years before. It was a dirt road before that and it took 8-10 hours to do the same drive then – yikes!
We made it to Siem Reap that afternoon and after a little bit of time to rest, we visited a nearby orphanage and battered women’s shelter. The charity, New Hope, was eager to give us a tour of their new school and let us help teach English in the classrooms. We were surprised at how old some of the English-learning students were. I talked to a “kid” who was 20 years old and had only been learning English for a month but he could hold a basic conversation with me. I was truly impressed by how eager everyone was. They also fed us at the restaurant associated with the charity and we were served some local delicacies.
The next day was the big highlight of Cambodia – Angkor Wat. This complex of beautiful temples was built in the 12th Century making it 900 years old! We woke up at a still hot and humid 4:30AM to get to the temple by sunrise. The temple looked ancient and mystical in the dawn light as we stood with some 500 tourists watching the complex slowly illuminate in the purple sunrise.
The three temples we visited over the course of the day were Angkor Wat, the most well preserved and the most famous; Angkor Tom, the biggest, decorated with 49 towers and pensive carvings of faces on every tower; and Ta Prohm, a temple so picturesquely overcome by the encroaching jungle that the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie was filmed there (now you know why she adopted a Cambodian baby).
After a quick lunch, we drove South to a canal that led us to Tonle Sap Lake, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Asia. Here we took a little boat cruise down the canal and saw the floating village that has situated itself here. The families here build their houses on boats and tie them to each other and the land. Then, when the rainy season comes, their houses just rise with the water and they don’t have to move. The water was just a couple shades more brown than the Erie Canal (zing!) but that didn’t stop any of the Cambodian children from splashing around. The beggars of Cambodia are also particularly resourceful. The families would motorboat on up next to our boat and a child would climb on to our boat selling water and Coke. A couple of times, boys would boat up holding pythons and try to charge in order for you to take a picture of them or hold them.
This Saturday afternoon, we are about to board a public bus that will take us from Siem Reap in the North to the capital city, Phnom Penh in the South. It should be a noisy six hour affair, but I’ll report back on that later.
I’ve also started a flickr to put up more photos than I can here, but I’m not too good with the new technology. I’ll post a link here, but with any luck, things will start to look more organized there in a couple of weeks.
If that link doesn’t work… oops.