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Cambodia

SAIGON (Vietnam)
Tuesday 26th March

This morning we got up and had a leisurely breakfast with Chris and Dwarra, then finished packing and caught our car to the airport at 10am. The flight was only about 45 minutes, but they gave us a nice pastry box for brunch.

We arrived in Phnom Penh and sent through the slightly complicated process of getting our visas. You have to stand in 1 long queue and fill in a form and give them $20. Then you stand in another long queue to pick up your passport with it's visa. Not too bad really, MUCH easier than Vietnam, where there didn't appear to be a set system at all!

We collected our luggage and found our Travel Indochina person to take us to the hotel. He took us and another couple called June and Kingsly Grandby to our hotel. (He must have had trouble as a child!) They were really nice!

We dropped off our luggage in our beautiful hotel room (it's huge!) and went to find some lunch. We walked along the waterfront and saw the Royal Palace and lots of street sellers.

We could choose either local currency or American Dollars, so we got dollars. Everything is priced in dollars! You can pay in local currency if you want, but only the locals seem to use it.

The cash machines all give dollars. The cash registers are all set up in dollars, with a side slot for all denominations of local currency - this is used as change for amounts less than a dollar.

We passed lots of cafes on the main road and had pizza for lunch at a place that wasn't pushy. It was really nice pizza! On the way back from lunch, we saw street sellers selling deep fried bugs (crickets, spiders - small tarantula size!, frogs, beetles and others). Another person was selling birds, sparrows in a cage. Sparrows here are the same as in the UK.

After lunch, we went to the pool. It's so nice and cool! It's much hotter here than in Saigon. It's also very flat! From the airplane window, I was amazed how flat and arid the place is. We met our tour guide at 7pm along with the rest of the group. They seem nice, but not as nice as our group in Vietnam.

After the intro, we all went out for dinner by tuk tuk - these are small, open carriages pulled by motorcycle. These are safer than the ones in Vietnam, so we will use them here. Dinner was really nice, including fried, glazed bananas for desert!

PHNOM PENH
Wednesday 27th March 2007

This morning we meet the tour group and go to the Royal Palace. It's a beautiful golden roofed building. There were golden statues, silver floor tiles and lots of artefacts. The silver pagoda was built in 1892 and contains the emerald Buddha and the golden Buddha, encrusted in over 9000 diamonds.

At the palace, the guide shows us a tree with pretty flowers and says that pregnant women make tea with the flowers and its good for the baby. Our local on the tour, Sarinal, then asks the guide if I can have one. He looks at me (belly and all) and says yes. So Songinal tries to take only a small piece with the flower, but it won't come off, so then she takes off about a 1 foot long section with the flower and gives it to me. The guide seems happy with this and carries on. I'm now carrying a small branch with a pretty and aromatic flower. It's a bit surreal, really.

Then we go to the National Museum, which has some nice stuff, except we are turned over to this lady guide who's really keen to tell us all about everything in every detail! It's much too hot for this and we all are nodding off by the end.

The front of the museum features the construction Buddha on the gables! I never knew there was a construction Buddha! Cool!

Then we go to the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes. This was a school until the Khmer Rouge took it over and made it a prison and tortured lots of people there. There are huge boards of photos of the Khmer Rouge people and the prisoners. There are rooms where people were chained to bed frames and tortured.

The bed frames are still there. There is a photo on the wall of the bed in front of us, with the corpse still chained to it. The floor is stained dark in the middle of the room, under the bed frame. There were hundreds of photos on the boards of the Khmer Rouge and their victims.

We asked what happened to the torturers. The tour guide said "nothing". Anyone you see on the street at the right age could have been these people. They were not hunted down because the genocide was so widespread that there was no one to hunt them down.

All the teachers, leaders, anyone foreign, anyone who had been to university, anyone who wore glasses, anyone clever was killed. All so that Pol Pot could not be challenged by the people he enslaved. There was no one to lead against the guilty after the genocide.

One of the Khmer Rouge generals agreed to surrender if he and his people were guaranteed amnesty. The new government had to agree in order to stop Pol Pot and cut off his funding.

This general was in charge of an area rich in natural resources, so he had the power to stop the funding and end the genocide.

During the genocide, Pol Pot decided to invade Vietnam and take back the Mekong Delta area for Cambodia. Vietnam eventually invaded Cambodia to stop these attacks. When Vietnam invaded, there were only 8 prisoners left at S-21. These were loaded into a bus and taken to the killing fields. On the way, the Vietnamese were coming the other way, so the Khmer Rouge abandoned the bus. This is why these 8 people survived. These 8 were workers (repairmen and builders and an artist) used by the Khmer Rouge to keep the prison running.

After the prison museum, we went across the street to a café for lunch. I had a very nice fried rice and a coke. Rich had a red curry and a beer. During lunch, the power went out. It was REALLY hot without the fans!

After lunch, we were going to go to the Russian (Psar Thmei) Market, but on the guide's recommendation, the whole group aside from 2 voted to go to the Killing Fields instead.

I didn't want to go, but Rich really wanted to. So I agreed to go with him.

The Killing Fields consist of the following: as we entered, we could see a tall monument in the middle of the area, which contained glass windows and we could see the huge pile of human skulls within. We walked along the path and read a series of signs explaining what had happened there. The buildings had been removed.

Following along the path, we came to a series of depressions in the ground. These were the burial pits. Along the path, there are white bones coming up through the soil and scraps of cloth that used to be clothing.

There is a pit next to a tree where the Khmer Rouge would take mothers and children. They killed the children by holding their feet and swinging them and smashing their heads against the tree. Then they raped and killed the mothers and threw them into the pits with the remains of their children.

The monument / mausoleum is a respectful but stark image of what happened here.

The Khmer Rouge were not an invading force. They were Cambodia's own children! Pol Pot and his forces drafted and brainwashed the children and got them to do this to their neighbours and relatives.

I wish I didn't believe that people were capable of this.

Then we went to the Russian market. The bus waited for us for half an hour. Rich and I walked around with Kelly and Songinol and Roger. It was nice to walk around it, but we didn't buy anything. The reason it's a Russian market is because after the genocide, the Russians were the first to start trading with Cambodia again.

When we got back, we want for a nice dip in the pool. We saw a few other people from our group and chatted to them for a bit too.

There was a thunder storm on the horizon, so we left the pool early and got the camera. We went to the outdoor balcony on the central stairs and got some fantastic photos of the lightning! I love photos of lightning!

Then we met up with the group and went out for dinner. We walked along the main road and went to a café near where we had lunch the first day. The food was good and we had a nice time.

SIEM REAP
Thursday 28th March

This morning we went to the airport and flew to Siem Reap. Our hotel is great! It's only 2 stories high, with 4 small buildings surrounding the pool. Our room is on the ground floor, with a porch area. You walk out of the room and into the pool! I love this hotel. It's called the "Day Inn" Angkor and Resort. A bit of a rip off for the name, but they do a much better job than the original! The staff are really friendly and nice.

We dropped off our bags and went into the town with Kelly, Roger and another couple. Roger is nice, but a bit intense. His wife died recently. They used to travel a lot together and he misses her terribly.

We went to a nice café for lunch. I had a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake. Very nice! Rich is convinced that Cambodia doesn't want to feed him. This café is the 3rd or 4th to bring his food out ages after everyone else has been served. Oh well.

The people here are very friendly. I think Cambodia has a brilliant future in tourism. After lunch, we took a dip in the pool. It's wonderful, but quite warm.

After lunch, we met up with the group and went for a cruise on Lake Tonle Sap. It's the second largest freshwater lake in the world. There is a floating Vietnamese fishing village on the lake, complete with schools, police station, etc.

On the way there, we passed through a village with high poverty levels. The houses consisted of a small private living area/storage area at the back, a large open room in the middle, often with a big bed, a TV and storage, and a table at the front to sell to tourists and locals.

One lady was selling tiny shellfish by the tin can measure. They were spread on a plastic sheet on a big front table beside the road. Her children were mostly naked, although in this heat it hardly matters. They were about 3 and 5 years old and seemed very happy.

We have been advised not to buy things from the children so that they have no option but to go to school. If they can make money, the parents often won't send them to school. They have to pay each day to attend school.

We boarded a boat and headed out the river to the lake. On the way, a woman with a little boat and 2 children on board started to paddle straight towards the front of the boat. Our driver was trying to out run her and it looked like we were going to ram her boat, but at the last minute, she pulled up beside us, at speed. The children latched onto our boat and started trying to sell us bananas and sodas. The children were only about 3 or 4 years old and they seemed well practiced at this.

We continued on to the café on the lake. The boarding area was over a crocodile farm! There were railings around openings where you could look down and see the crocodiles. There were about a hundred! They looked quite peaceful and well fed.

We went straight to the top of the café to a deck area where we had a fantastic view of the sunset. It was a great sunset too! We took many pictures.

They brought us a table and a few chairs, so we sat and watched the sunset. Then we got back on the boat and headed back to the bus. The fading sunset was still beautiful and we took more pictures.

For dinner, we went to a local expat café with Jeffrey our tour guide, Songinal and the other young couple who have been really quiet so far. We had cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes for dinner and then took part in the pub quiz. The quiz was just like it would be in the UK. Fortunately, it was fairly easy, so we did pretty well. Then we walked back for an early bedtime for our early start to the temples.

TEMPLES OF ANGKOR!
Friday 29th March

It's so early! We are meeting up at 5AM to get tuk tuks to the Temples of Angkor. It's still quite dark. Jeff told us to remember our driver since there would be many tuk tuks at the temples. Our driver has a very happy smile, so he's easy to remember.

We were a bit concerned when we lost the group half way there when we stopped to get petrol, but it was fine. We met up with the group at the ticket place. We stopped and got out and started walking on a path in the early light before dawn.

We could see the dark outlines of Angkor Wat in front of us. We walked around the temple and took pictures of the dark outline of the temples reflected in the pool in front.

It's such an incredible sight! We walked to the library buildings and took photos of the sun rising over the temple. Once the sun was up, we walked around the temple and saw the long corridors of bas-relief carvings, Buddhas, and beautiful sculptures.

The temple is still cared for by monks, who sell incense to put in the Buddha's alter.

In the centre of the temple, there was a very steep stairway up to the upper area of the temple. About half the group decided not to go up, as it was about as steep as a ladder and about 20 metres high. I went up, of course, and so did Rich.

I'm so glad we went up! The view from up here is spectacular! We can see the jungle surrounding the temples for miles around! There are other temples and structures coming up out of the jungle in the distance, with the sun and clear blue sky overhead! Its fantastic! We got back to the group and started off again.

We went about 20 feet when we realised we didn't have our backpack with us! Songinal was watching it for us and wanted to see how long it would take for us to realise we didn't have it! I wonder how long she would have carried it if we hadn't noticed!

After the temple, we went to a local café and ate our boxed breakfast from the hotel, a cheese sandwich, 2 pastries, and some fruit. We got a soda at the café to pay for our seats. An old lady came by to ask for money, so I offered her my pastries and her eyes lit up! I hope she liked them.

Then we met our tuk tuks and went to Angkor Thom. This temple has lots of faces in the carvings. The main gate has a large face on each of the 4 sides of the tower.

We approach the temple from a stone bridge, similar to Angkor Wat. The temple is busy and the heat is intense. Our tour follows a long line of other groups, slowly winding through the temple. The style of the carvings is different here, with more faces than patterns. The long relief carvings are similar to Angkor Wat in that they tell the story of life at that time and show legendary battles and kings. The heat between the sun baked stone walls is intense.

We leave Angkor Thom and the Bayor temple and walk along an open area along another wall of carvings called the Terrace of the Elephants. Needless to say, there are many elephants on these carvings. Then we come to the Terrace of the Leper King, another stone wall with intricate carvings.

Then we met up with our tuk tuks and head back to the hotel for a break. We went out for lunch in Siem Reap and then took a dip in the pool. I love the pool!

After lunch, we got on the bus and drove 1 hour to another temple, Bantea Srei. This temple is known for its intricate carvings which are very deeply carved and very well preserved. Its called the womens' temple because many of the carvings are of women. Our guide told us that the French helped clear the jungle away from this temple and had to reassemble most of the temple.

The stone of Bantea Srei (womens' temple) is a reddish sandstone, instead of the pale stone of the other temples.

Then we went to temple Ta Prohm. This is the original "Jungle Book" temple. I kept expecting Baloo the bear to come out and sing about the bear necessities. They filmed Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider here.

It's incredible! The trees have grown on and through the temple, lifting stones and weaving through the walls and roofs! I love this temple! I recognise this place from the movies. I love this temple! We have taken loads of photos!

It's so peaceful here! Its about 4pm and there aren't many other people here. I wish we could stay here longer. It's so peaceful!

It's sunset as we get back on the bus and head back. We saw a beautiful sunset on the bus.

We stopped at a small village and bought some scarves from the local people. The village here is much better off than the other village beside the Tonle Sap lake. The houses are better built and everything looks much nicer. Each house has a water pump in the front yard and the back yard is used as the loo (far from the house).

There are chickens and other animals around and the children in this village go to school. Most of Cambodia is like this.

Songinal and Raschel gave me a fruit to try. It was supposedly edible! They were eating it quite happily, so I try it innocently and find myself crazy glued to it, my other fingers and my lips are now glued shut! The "edible" fruit has a layer of natural crazy glue between the outer skin and the orange fruit within! The locals could eat it unscathed, since they knew the secret of not touching the white stuff.

Once I got to the fruit, it tasted really nice. Hard work, but really nice.

We went to dinner as a group to a nice open air restaurant. Jeff said he had fun being our guide. After dinner, we went for ice cream at the place we went to for lunch on the first day in Siem Riep. The ice cream was really good. They said they were closing, but let us stay anyway. As usual, Rich's order was forgotten and he had to ask for it again.

LAST DAY IN CAMBODIA
Saturday 30th March 2007

We got up early and had breakfast at the hotel. They do a great breakfast. We sat with Raschel and her friend. They admitted to being amazed at my travelling whilst pregnant. They seemed to think that pregnant people had to sit around being boring. They seemed impressed that this wasn't necessary.

We went for a walk into town and brought a wooden frog with a stick to run over his head ridges. He makes a great hollow ribbetting sound. I thought it was great! Rich rolled his eyes. We also bought the "Killing Fields" and another book about the Khmer Rouge genocide called "And Then They Killed My Father" from a street stall, which seemed somehow appropriate, rather than giving the money to some rich publisher.

We went out for lunch and got my red walking trousers and Angkor Wat T shirt at the market and then back to the hotel. We had lunch with the group, who were heading out at 3pm to catch the flight.

After they left, we went for a swim and sat in the shade. I really love this pool. The hotel is so peaceful! After our swim, we had dinner (fried rice for me!) and waited for our taxi. After the taxi was 20 minutes late, the hotel reception called for another taxi. They were the same company, but they had apparently been told to come at 8pm instead of 6pm!

We got to the airport and we got our flights without any trouble. The first flight was fine and we had a few hours in Bangkok before our long flight home.

I scared myself and Rich by getting a sudden, sharp pain in my lung, but this was due to a stiff back. We had ice cream to help us feel better, then walked around the airport shops for a while. There were miles of shops!

When we waited to board our flight, a lady came up to us and asked if we were the Vidlers! It was Leslie. She could identify us because Rich was wearing his last clean shirt, the Travel Indochina T shirt and I was clearly pregnant, so the odds were pretty good that it was us. She's really nice and wanted to make sure we were OK and had a good time.

We had such a great time! The flight back was fine and Richard picked us up at the airport and took us home. It's nice to be back!
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