A Travellerspoint blog

The difficult side of Cambodia

A breakfast of hope

Today was a difficult day for me. I never expected to come to a developing country and not see poverty. In the past week I have seen more poverty than ever before--kids begging for money, adults in tattered clothing. But I didn't feel it in my heart until today.

I arrived in Battambang on a little motor boat from Siem Reap. I met a guy from NYC on the boat, Craig, and we explored the city (what there is to explore) a little. This morning we went to a cafe for breakfast and sat next to the window, eating our big breakfast of banana pancakes, fresh fruit and lemon juice. A few minutes into the meal, a small boy came right up to the window, begging for food. His tiny dark body was barely covered with clothing, a pajama shirt that had string for buttons and had never been washed. He carried a big plastic bag and hid in the shadows of the cafe, only revealing himself to stare at us eating.

I dont give children money here since you hear so many stories of what they do with it: being "pimped" by their parents who dont give any of the money to their kids or using it to buy sniffing glue. I don't know the truth but every chance I got, I would try and feed the starving children who hope for a handout from someone.

He just stood there at the window, looking at the feast in front of us. We couldn't deny his presence and obvious hunger so we gave him the rest of our food (begger kids are not allowed in restaurants unless you walk in with them and store keepers shoo them out if they see them near their patrons). He gave us the most beautiful smile in return. He had the most gorgeous face, dark eyes paired with big white teeth. It killed me to see such a young boy with nothing. After took his food, he ran around the corner so we couldn't see him eating. A survival tacit or just shame, he finished the food quickly and came back to us. We played for an hour or so but when I left him I knew that I would never forget him. I wanted to take him home and save him from his life of begging on the streets but instead I had to leave him alone again. I hope his life changes, but I don't know how it would, and I wish I could do more.

This is a similar sentiment of travellers I've talked to that travel to Cambodia. They are such happy people, friendly and smiling but most of them have close to nothing. You can feed one person one meal but when you leave you can only hope that they somehow get a better life than they have when you crossed their path.

Posted by MonicaTeal 00:22 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

The Temples of Angkor

Exploring ancient worlds in Cambodia

Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples are what attracts most tourists to Cambodia. People spend everything from one day to weeks (okay, maybe a week. I mean, how much time can you really spend at the temples?) exploring the temples which are scattered around the area of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I spent 3 days in the temples and it was an unforgettable experience.

We arrived by boat from Phnom Penh and checked into a beautiful hotel (with a pool!). Then we spent the following 3 days waking up early to see as much as we could before the heat and fatigue got to us (and then we went to the pool! It was so relaxing in this heat). The first day, Saturday, we woke up at 4:40am to head to Angkor Wat for sunrise. Walking into the temple in the dark is very strange but once the sun came out (an unspectacular sunrise since it's the rainy season), it was incredible to be in the middle of the complex. Exploring each one slowly is the best part of the temples as they are all very different: in varied states of repair and have different artistic elements to them though they were all filled with tourists and vendors.

I won't get too much into describing the temples themselves but if you haven't been, make sure it's on your list of places to go. It's a magical experience. For me, sitting in a spot and thinking about the time and effort it took to build these temples, what was going on in the 9th or 10th century when they were finally completed--made it a more enjoyable experience.

The town of Siem Reap is the base and starting off point for all tourists. The town is geared towards them but I found it to be more charming than cheesy. It was a quiet and beautiful town, a nice break from the craziness of Phnom Penh. We relaxed, ate gelato, saw a show at dinner and got massages (Marie and Ken won Most Massages). It was great and I hope to return someday.

Interestingly enough, I just found out that my father was in Siem Reap and the temples in 1969, right before Pol Pot took over eventhough the US government told Americans not to go. Go dad. He biked through the temples and had a wonderful experience. It's interesting for me to think about us being there around the same age in two very different Cambodias. I hope the temples are still standing when my kids are my age and we can continue the tradition.

Posted by MonicaTeal 20:15 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia

Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: The beginning of a long journey

-17 °C

After two days of travelling, four airports and beds made out of chairs pushed together, I arrived in Phnom Penh. It's a bustling city and I headed straight into the thick of it on a moto. Fifteen minutes after landing I have a great moment: we are sitting at a stoplight and a moto pulls up next to us carrying a woman and two men. I look over and the woman is staring at me, mouth open, eyes wide: staring. I couldn't help but laugh, do I not look like a local with my sweatpants and big backpack? They sped away but the image remains in my mind.

(Side note: I apologize for my lack of English skills. My speech has been limited to pronoun, verb, noun and sometimes adjective since being here and speaking with the locals.)

I had a busy 2 days in Phnom Penh, which I thought was plenty. The most moving experience by far was S-21, the site where terrible torturing occurred during the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. The site is an old school house and they have left everything intact: the beds people were kept with the torture devices on the beds and photos of the victims in that room on the wall. It's intense and life changing--I couldn't even go through the entire museum. If you are interested in Cambodian history, I would learn more about those terrible years which changed the country forever. You can still feel the pain in the locals today.

The city was okay, but I was really looking for a more rural Cambodian experience. The people here can be really intense towards tourists (I understand, everyone needs to eat) but the men are really friendly and don't make me feel uncomfortable at all (they just stare). I will say that driving down main boulevards on a tiny moto on the wrong side of the street while dodging other drivers, pedestrians and cars was thrilling but not enough so to stay in this crazy city.

The country is overwhelmingly young, it seems like 1/4 of the country is made up of babies though I have yet to see a pregnant woman...The kids here are the cutest things ever, when you pass by them especially in the fishing villages, their naked little butts scream HALLOO!! and wave and smile until they can't see us anymore. But the poverty here is so terrible, it's really difficult to see. I'll write more on that later.

While in PP I met a group of American law students, studying in Hong Kong for 4 months. We traveled together, by boat, to Siem Reap. It was a beautiful 5 hour trip through tiny fishing villages and since it's rainy season, we navigated along the tops of trees. Siem Reap, for those who have never been to the city, is a charming though heavily touristed town that has become popular due to it's accessibility to Angkor Wat. And then started my unforgettable weekend with the Angkor temples.

Posted by MonicaTeal 18:48 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

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