window view in Phnom Penh
To be honest , the thought of going on this weekend's trip to Cambodia (a war-torn, relatively undeveloped country) scared me just a little bit. We had heard horror stories of Malaria-carrying mosquitoes and active land mines. I'm sure Mom was thrilled! But in reality, Cambodia is a beautiful counrty with wonderful, vigilant people. This was the longest weekend trip that our group has taken thus far, and it was definitely worth it. I got to experience everything: a beautiful palace in the sprawling, dirty capital city, the site of one of the most horrific genocides of the 20th century, century-old temples, and even some Indiana Jones style ruins. All of these things were wonderful, and since we stayed mostly in the heavy tourist areas, there was little danger; I barely even saw any mosquitos, much less any crazy military areas left over from the 70s.
Killing Fields Memorial
Definitely a trip I would have regretted missing!
Thursday afternoon, right after class (Quality Control - with a NUS professor!), all of us got a cab to the airport and flew into Phnom Penh
, the capital city of Cambodia. Just for future reference, "all of us" or "the group" will refer to the ~20 GT people who went on this trip; later on it might refer to a smaller group, which is pretty much the same core group of Delta Chis and Lambda Chis and a couple of other cool people. But anyway, back to Cambodia. Phnom Penh was much more modern than I expected, although still pretty dirty for US standards. We checked into our hostel, which wasn't too nice, but it did the job.
me & Demby
They had a restaurant in the bottom floor and it was convenient for food. We sort of went out that night for a couple of drinks, but thestreets were kind of dark, sketchy, and full of beggars, so it wasn't a long night. I think rap music would do well here. These people are hustlers from the hood and don't even know it! One interesting thing about Cambodia before I continue: they take US dollars, which is what comes out of the ATMs. I was a little confused at first; we had heard this, but still converted a lot of money into the local inflated currency, the riel. It is about 4000 riel to 1 US dollar. They take both, but actually prefer the US money. Crazy huh? The biggest use for the riel nowadays is for amounts under a dollar; they don't use coins. So any change is dealt with in riel.
And these people are surprisingly fast with the money conversions. Street smarts are underrated!
We got up early the next morning to do some site-seeing around the capital city, since we had to catch a bus to Siem Reap
(another city) at 12:30pm. Our first stop was the Killing-Fields, which was an eye-opening experience. It was where the Khmer Rouge waged genocide aganst the population, killing thousands of intellectuals and others against their regime. Sad stuff. Reminiscent of Nazi camps. Our next stop was a much more positive experience, as we were able to tour the royal palace where the king resides. Amazing architecture! All of the buildings have these hooked, spiky things on the gables and look really cool.
at Angkor Wat
Our tour guide was also great, and I learned a lot. One intereting thing is that Cambodia is officially Buddhist and Hindu. Sounds conflicting, right? Well they deal with it. Makes for a lot of good temples and idols. After the palace, we ckecked out of the hostel and boarded the bus to Siem Reap, our next exotic destination.
The 6-hour bus ride to Siem Reap was quite an eye-opening experience. The "highway" was barely a two-lane road with the occasional passing motor-scooter (they're everywhere in Southeast Asia) or cow. The houses lining the road were small two-story shacks that doubled as barns for the animals down below. Each house also generally had a dirty little pond for water. Sad stuff; many of the children didn't even have a full set of clothing.
The halfway stop was also pretty interesting, as many vendors tried to sell us tasty local snacks; fried insects anyone? This was where we first experienced the cute little kid tactics in full force. It is easy to feel sorry for them, but these kids are relentless! I ended up getting some fresh fruit, although looking back it's probably not the safest bet (who knows what kind of water they may or may not was it in). The pineapple was great, but the best was the mango; the fruit was young and still firm like an apple, put on a skewer with slices coming off of it (like a blooming onion). The icing on the cake was the little package of sea salt with bits of chili pepper to sprinkle on it. DELICIOUS! It definitely hit the spot, and made the extremely hot bus ride much more bearable.
south side of Angkor Wat
We were pleasantly surprised after we rolled into Bou Savy Geusthouse in Siem Reap. This place was very nice (for Cambodian standards), comfortable secluded from the main road, and had excellent customer service. These people arrange all of the drivers and tours for you, and their little restaurant out front had wonderful cheap food. Demby and Tribbles were my roomates for the weekend, and we enjoyed the free ESPN and HBO very much! We had arranged for a driver Saturday to take us to all of the famous temples in the Angkor area, and it was well worth it!
It is hard to describe all of what we saw in the temples, but the pictures speak multitudes. We didn't even visit half of the temples in the area, but at least hit the hot spots. Most of them were of the Hindu/Buddhist origin and were completed around the 11th century.
Adrienne & Melissa
The stonework was amazing, especially in the vast expanses of Angkor Wat. Some of us even got to ride elephants outside one temple! It was a fun ride, and feeding them plantaines afterward was also a great time. And monkeys were pretty much chillin around, although they were tough to find. The temple in the jungle (sorry, but I forgot the names of all these places) was probably my favorite. It was where one of the "Lora Croft: Tomb Raider" movies with Angelina Jolie was filmed, and the numerous Chinese tourists were totally eating it up. It was fun being able to jump around on old ruins just like an old action adventure hero. This was definitely the beautiful part of Cambodia that give its people so much pride. I also bought a bunch of crap from the numerous little kid hawkers on the walkways in between temples.
A shirt, painting, recorder, ring, bracelets, scarf, sunglasses...you name it, they had it and I probably bought it! Probably cost me a sum total of $10 (if you don't include the painting; it was nice). It was definitely a successful day, and it was nice to get back to the hotel and cool off a little bit before dinner.
Our last hurrah in Cambodia was a buffet dinner/dancing show at one of the nicer hotels in the city. The food was ok...some strange stuff on the buffet line, but the made-to-order tempura and fried noodles in the back made it worth it. Some strange Chinese deserts weren't too appetizing, but the fresh fruit was delicious as always. The show that we were watching (or at least pretending to) was pretty cool and very artful with the traditional Khmer dancing, although not the most exciting thing in the world.
It was just fun to hang out with everyone with food and drinks and chill out the last night. Overall, the trip was definitely better than expected! An early morning flight put us back in Singapore around noon, and my immediate shower and shave was a wonderful feeling. I think Cambodia is one of those places that is great to visit once. I might not go back in my lifetime, but I'm glad I got the chance. Only two weeks lift in Singapore, watch out for more...