Catching Up

Just added the last set of pictures from Cambodia and some from Hong Kong into the old 2008 folder.

On my first trip into S21 (the concentration camp in Phnom Penh) I refrained from taking pictures to try and fully appreciate what happened there.  On my second time through I thought it would be okay to take a few pictures to try and illustrate some of what happened.  I’ve posted 6 photos from the concentration camp, but this really does the place no justice.  It’s full of photos and stories of people that went through a very tragic time in the history of Cambodia.  It’s a bit altruistic to think that these photos will change anything but for history’s sake I post them anyway.

Hong Kong pictures are the typical food and people types of shots.  I tried to give an idea of what Mong Kok is like, it’s the reason I enjoy the area so much.  You are absolutely enveloped by people the moment you step onto the sidewalk.  I can walk down the side walk and people don’t even give me a second glance, a nice change from Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam.

Familiar Territory

Current Location:Hong Kong, China

On leaving Cambodia for the second time I’ve realized that it’s quite important to be aware of the history of a country and to be conscious of what we do and how we behave as tourists in these countries.  What really bothered me upon leaving is tourists wearing the red Krama (Krama is the traditional Cambodian scarf.)   On the surface it seems that it’s quite harmless to wear something as trivial as a red scarf, but in this case it’s the symbol of the Khmer Rouge, and on the way back to Thailand I saw more than one tourist wearing these scarves.  I’m not sure if these people were aware of the symbolism of these garments but I find that little excuse for what they are portraying .  I believe it’s our responsibility as travelers to be educated and aware of what we do in someone elses home and to be as insensitive as to promote something as terrible as the Khmer Rouge is enough to make my blood boil.  I’m not sure where I learned about the red scarf but it was something I knew about far before I set foot in Cambodia and while I see locals still wearing these garments, it’s something that is somewhat understandable as almost all of the educated population was eradicated in the 70’s leaving just the peasants and a few of the educated population.

All of the ranting is probably exascerbated by the fact that I visited S21 for a second time, again on the day before leaving the country.  I re-read all the stories and looked again at all the pictures on the wall and tried again to understand how a human being can try to kill all of his brothers and sisters.   It’s not something I enjoy doing but like I wrote earlier it’s important to understand the history of a place as a responsible traveler.  On leaving a second time I realized I enjoy the place quite a bit and there is a more than better chance I go back there, not sure in what capacity but probably not a tourist for a while.

Back in Hong Kong for my 4th trip here and things are incredibly familiar, from the people to the food and everything in between.  I’ve already had to loosen the belt one notch since arriving thanks to Homers family treating better than good.  Most meals typically have more than 10 dishes and go on far longer than I’m really comfortable eating.  I’ve put away the camera for a while as most of the pictures would be a re-hash of the last trip but I’ll wander around a few days and snap pictures to try and give a better idea of what a day in the life of Hong Kong might be.  Up until this point all we have worried about is where dinner might be in 3 days time or where lunch will be tomorrow, I know it’s quite silly but I’ve done most everything in Hong Kong and typically while a way the afternoon wandering around the streets people watching.  I really do love the food culture here in Hong Kong.  No where else have I visited before is food so central to every day life.  It’s literally found everywhere you look whether it be a food stall, someone eating, a restaurant, or a street vendor cooking something quite random.  And you also have to appreciate the fact that the Chinese waste nothing when it comes to food, this time I got to enjoy ducks’ tongues for lunch.

All of this food leaves me to believe I was probably Chinese in a previous life.


Current Location: Siam Reap, Cambodia

I realize I tend to gush about a place as an initial reaction but I really did like Laos, even though I only stayed there 6 days. The people are genuinely laid back and don’t take too much advantage of tourists like Viet Nam, that was especially refreshing. I ended up staying just a few days in Savanahket and a few days in Vientiane, the old capital and where dad used to teach. I peddled out to his old school one day and wandered around the campus for a while getting stared at by just about everyone. Most likely because I was in the wrong attire, shorts and a blue shirt. Everyone there is dressed in long trousers or long skirt, and white long sleeve shirts and ties if you’re a boy. I start sweating just thinking about what they have to wear.

The french influence is still quite apparent in Laos, from a fair few locals still speaking french to the patisseries found everywhere. I can’t say there is much to do in Laos, although most of the backpackers head to Vienvang for ‘tubing’ down the river there. Basically an eternal spring break where people float down a river, get roped into bars that line the river and drink themselves silly each day. I didn’t make it to the plain of jars which leaves a reason to head back to Laos and spend more time.

Dad summarized some of his time in Laos as

Vientiane was a pretty sleepy little town when I was there late 60’s/early 70’s, except of course, for the USAID/Air America/and some US military “advisers”…The school was operated by the French at the time, although most of the upper echelon were Lao. Much of the teaching staff were French and IVSers. The Lao people were very good people – very friendly and seemly happy folk.”

Back in Cambodia after bouncing through Thailand is a bit much in terms of traveling, and we’re off to Phnom Penh tomorrow after doing the temples yesterday and the museum today. The temples were amazing all over again. I got to fit in a few extras that I didn’t get a chance to see last time and was pleasantly surprised, especially at Bantay Srey. The carvings there look like they could have been done yesterday instead of 967 when they were made.

I’ve taken on the mantle of flashpacker since traveling with Homer, mostly because he doesn’t have a budget like I do so I end up having to forgo my 1$ lunches and dinners for something a little more extravagant. On the other hand I did manage to get him to stay in backpacker lodging, which is something completely new to him, and quite a few steps down from what he is used to.

I’ll might post a few more pictures of the temples if any of them came out.

Stuck in Cambodia

Current Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After spending a few days in Battenbong trying to get a glimpse of rural Cambodia I find myself in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.  Rolling into town on a bus I was caught off guard at how different this place is from Siem Reap and Battenbong.  It could almost be mistaken for Bangkok or a moderately sized asian city.  This mistaken idea comes from the idea that all the other towns I passed through and visited don’t even come close to the modern feel this place has.  I find myself staying the backpacker district which makes life pretty simple, $4usd gets me my own room with a bathroom attached which is quite a luxury from the dorm I was staying in Bangkok.

Battenbong is the second largest city in Cambodia yet it doesn’t get touristy like the rest of Cambodia due to the fact that there is not a whole lot there to see.  I found myself renting a tuktuk for a day to just take me around the country side to see what is out there, probably the most common thing to do in Battenbong.  It was a neat day riding around, quite charming to have kids run to the road to wave and shout hello at the passing tourist.  That was certainly the highlight of the days ride along with seeing yet more temples and completely random things like fruit bats, absolutely massive, and a jars full of snakes.

It’s strange to say that I’m staying in the backpacker quarter of the city, just seeing it seems quite contrary to the idea of backpacking, it almost takes out all of the challenge.  Though I must say that the benefit of staying in a place like that is the ability to meet other backpackers quite easily since we are all grouped together.  It’s certainly one of the joys to be able to meet so many different people, it’s sort of like college again except without the homework.

I spent the last few days running around with the folks I met at the guesthouse, first to an orphanage that an Aussie girl was teaching at for the last month.  The kids are absolutely adorable and really appreciate being taught.  It was fun just chilling out playing with toys with the kids for an hour.  After that I tagged along with a Kiwi who is playing at being a photojournalist.  He was headed to the municipal dump to see if he could visit with a community that lives on the fringes there.  We all spent a few hours wandering around meeting the people.  Not much was said that either could understand but the kids laughed a lot and the parents smiled.  It’s a fairly voyeuristic concept to do something like that but I guess that comes with being a traveler.  Derek admonished me last year for not taking more photos of people and that’s a concept I’m still not fully comfortable with.  It’s the idea that treating these people as if they were part of a human zoo is quite demeaning to them.  I try anyway, treating them as people instead of the background is what I try to focus on.

I’ll not get self-righteous and say that what we have as Americans is shameful compared to what some of the Cambodians live in.  But I will say that it certainly gives you a new perspective with which to look at life and what is important to have.  The kids living in there are quick to smile and laugh with us, an infectious behavior for all those involved.  I can’t say I know how the parents feel about living there, it would be quite presumptuous of me to say that they would want to be elsewhere, for all I know they could be quite content.  For a people who have been downtrodden on as much as the Cambodians they are surprisingly good matured.  They probably have every right to hate the falang but they treat travelers quite well.

I can see why some travelers have a hard time leaving Cambodia, it’s got a lot of charms without the chaos of Thailand and from what I hear Viet Nam can also be a challenge.  I delayed in getting my visa for Viet Nam by a few days and that has almost set me back a week due to a holiday and the weekend sneaking up on me, but I honestly can’t complain.  Phnom Penh is a nice place to get stuck.

Crossing Borders

Current Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Crossing the border into Cambodia for the second time wasn’t any easier than the first, probably due to the fact that this time I was part of a group and got wrangled into paying an extra fee for getting my visa done with them instead of handling it on my own as I did the first time. Other than that little hiccup it was an uneventful ride through to Siam Reap, although I did see a couple of cycling tourists on the Thailand side which made me miss the cycle again.

Walking around town the first night to get my bearing I was astonished to find the downtown area so flash. I’m staying at the Happy Guesthouse in the backpacker district and it’s still on a dirt road, the guesthouse itself is very nice, 3 story hotel-ish building, while the downtown area could be mistaken for anywhere USA with all the trendy bars and restaurants all packed to the gills with falang tourists. It certainly feels like a tale of two cities because once you leave this district things immediately become evident that this sort of opulence doesn’t belong here.

I knew coming into Cambodia that the economy runs on the greenback but it’s still strange to go to an atm and pull out a wad of Jacksons. Officially the currency is the Rhiel, conversion 1usd = 4000rhiel, which instantly makes me a millionaire! Technically the currency might be the Rheil everything is quoted in USD. Foolish me I was swayed at the border to change what Baht I had left into Rheil after being called unpatriotic, I must learn to trust my instincts. Now I have 300,000 Rhiel to spend somehow.

I spent the entire day yesterday in the Angkor Wat area. I rented a cycle, a very ill-suited one I might add, for $1 and hit the road at 7am. Angkor Wat is as grand as I could have imagined and then some, and it’s not hard to see why it’s considered a wonder of the world. I’m not entirely sure people should have the kind of access they have to the area as lots of people touch the sandstone carvings, the sandstone can’t stand up to being groped all the time.

It did have the level of authenticity I was looking for in the Thailand temples, everything looks and feels untouched for the last 1000 years. I could take 1,000 pictures and still not capture 1% of the grandeur of the area. The level of detail is constantly astounding.

I think I managed to fit in 7 temples yesterday in the 10 hours I was wandering around the area, didn’t even bother stopping for lunch of a bathroom break (it’s so hot I drank 6 litres of water), cycling from temple to temple. I’ll not suffer you but maybe 20 pictures out of the hundreds I took yesterday. It’s something that needs to be experienced, pictures do it little justice.

For the amount of tourists in the area it was still possible to find quiet moments rest at some of the lesser travelled temples. Notably I got a 30 minute siesta at the top of Ta Keo, 50meter vertical climb that many people weren’t keen on doing, listening to the insects thrum and wondering how long it took to construct these temples.

The last temple to visit I heard was at the top of a hill that overlooks Angkor Wat, Angkor Wat is a particular temple, not the area, to catch the sunset. I got there a little bit early and there was already a massive amount of people. After a while I decided it wasn’t worth the chaos of crowds there and decided to hike it back and head into town where I’d treat myself to a pizza and beer after a long day. On the way down I met several more bus loads of people, good luck to them… I hope they got to see something after the long hike and vertical climb up to the top of the tower.

It was a fun day especially since I got to ride again, though it made me miss my saddle and I know now why I spent as much as I did on a Brooks. Lots of climbing vertical steps and walking, fending off touts.

Great day.