Friday, January 27, 2012


Warning - this blog post contains disturbing images.

There is more to Cambodia of course than just temples.   We chose to fly into Phnom Penh instead of Siem Reap, mainly because it was a lot cheaper.  We were scared off of crossing the border overland due to all the stories about the rampant scams involved.  Our entry was still a little bit rough.  Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world.  This means that everywhere there are mothers and children begging for money or even just food.  There are also lots and lots of people missing limbs from bombings and land mines.  It was all just very sad and sobering.

The traffic is also the craziest we've seen so far.  Crossing the street on foot isn't really advisable.

Still the area outside the cities is less depressing, full of people growing crops and raising children that looked happy and more well fed.  They were always ready to wave at us and say hello.

We picked a well-rated budget hotel from Tripadvisor for our first couple of days in Phnom Penh.  It was a family room, with 3 beds for $75 per night including breakfast.  It wasn’t the prettiest hotel room, but after a couple of nights it grew on us as it was very clean and bug/critter free with smokin’ wifi.

Cambodia is still trying to emerge from a horrible genocide that resulted in the obliteration of 21% of their population (can you imagine?)  Unlike the other most famous incidents of man’s inhumanity to man, this one didn’t involve people of different races or even different religions.  The idealist communist regime of Pol Pot killed 1.7 million of his own people.  To learn about this important piece of history we went to the museum known as Tuol Sleng.  The worst (most depictive) part of this museum were the artist renditions of the tortures carried out there.

There are row upon row of pictures of people killed here - these are some of the children

On the same day we rode a short way out of town to see the “Killing Fields.”  This is actually just one of many killing fields in Cambodia – places where the Khmer Rouge  carried out their systematic genocide.   A very well done audio guide, and an impressive monument erected to the murdered, made for an excellent and sobering education about Cambodia’s recent past.

Especially difficult for the kids was the “Killing Tree” known because it was found to be covered in the blood tissue of babies that were killed by bashing them against it.   Bullets were considered too expensive.

This day would be a tough education for anyone, but especially for two teenage kids from 21st century Los Angeles.  I was proud of my kids for both their bravery and fortitude.

We decided to cut our time in Phnom Penh short by a day and head (via Toyota Camry with driver) to Siem Reap.  Our driver was a maniac and, as Cambodians routinely squeeze 4 and sometimes 5 vehicles wide onto a two-lane highway, it was a fairly uncomfortable 5 hour drive.  Happy to report though that we arrived safely.

We’ve already told you about our time at the temples, but we did other fun things in Siem Reap.  Pub Street is the place to go for dinner and we enjoyed some pretty good ones there.   On our first night when offered a “Pyrranha Pedicure” for $3 person " includes a beer" we couldn’t resist.  While they were no doubt not pyrranha, they were pretty darn big, and having them munching on your feet was giggle provoking at best and scream inducing at worst.  It was a good deal though, and we all agreed our feet were cleaner (gross) and softer when finished.

One day I had a $7 "Khmer massage."  I can best describe it as forced yoga.  It wasn't all bad though.  After I became convinced she wasn't going to permanently injure me, I was able to relax.  My favorite part though was the cute pajamas they gave me to wear.

After leaving Siem Reap and Angkor Wat we chose to spend 2 nights in the Cambodian countryside at a small hotel called Sambor Village.  I really liked this little place, and found it pretty in a definite rustic kind of way.  Peyton was a little less enthusiastic, citing the mouse that was such a frequent visitor in their room that she named it Rick.

She was also less than thrilled when Mark insisted on stopping to sample some mystery meat from the "beast" (that's what they called it) on the spit below.  When pressed they said it was cow, but we weren't so sure . . . .

We thought bike riding through the countryside would be fun, and it was was except that the bikes were all a little whack and not really designed for big north american people.  Wilder's peddle kept falling off and everyone struggled a little to stay upright.

We had to return to Phnom Penh in order to catch our bus to Ho Chi Min City Vietnam.  This happened to coincide with Wilder's 17th birthday.  He wanted to celebrate by returning to a Tex Mex restaurant we had enjoyed the week previous.  Mark and I also snuck out and bought him some cupcakes.   Quality (and lots of quantity) time with our teenagers has undoubtedly been the best gift of this trip.

As we head to Vietnam we are all a little road weary.   I therefore picked a Western style apartment for 7 days in the suburbs, over hotel rooms in the center, thinking we could use a bit of a rest.   We have a good friend at home who is very sick, and being away feels bad right now (love you Ted.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Angkor Wat

The one thing you cannot miss when visiting Southeast Asia is Angkor Wat.  Located in Cambodia, it is a large group of temples and temple complexes built from the 9th to the 15th centuries.  More impressive than the pyramids, and representative of the advanced civilization of the Khmer people during that time, it takes days to see just a part of them.

To do that we got two rooms in a small hotel, the Shining Angkor, just outside the town of Siem Reap.  It was a fabulous deal at $33 per room per night, and Mark and I were upgraded to their Deluxe room which featured the most beautiful carved wood bed (super comfortable) and a nicely furnished balcony that I enjoyed every day.  It also had a small clean pool that was great when returning from the hot and dirty business of temple touring.  We found this hotel a great bargain and enjoyed our four days there.

We bought the three day pass to the temples (cost same as two day) and saw the most popular/well known ones with transportation provided by Cambodia's version of a tuk-tuk, pulled by a motor bike and thankfully with four seats.

The first was Angkor Wat itself.  It is very large and fairly well preserved.  I had to work hard however to get pictures without scaffolding in them.

My favorite temple was called Banyon and features all these fabulous faces.

Peyton's favorite was Ta Prohm.  This one is famous for scenes in "Tomb Raider."  It is cool because the jungle has all but taken over during the ensuing centuries making for a very unique setting.

This is yet another temple called Angor Thom.

One evening we went to Phnom Bakheng and climbed the large hill and then waited in line to get to the top of the temple in time for sunset.  We wanted to ride the elephants up, but when the price was more than we were expecting we elected to hoof it instead.  There were far too many people up there, but is was a pretty view and the sky turned all the expected lovely colors over the cambodian countryside.

On our last morning we got up before 5am (well everyone except Wilder who stayed back to watch football playoff games) and went back to Angkor Wat for the well touted sunrise there.  The skies didn't cooperate though, and so it was just a gradual lightening of the sky without any of the expected lovely colors.  After that Mark and Peyton declared us done temple touring and we headed home to take a nap.

Next we spend a few days in the Cambodian countryside before heading back to Phnom Pehn (the capitol.)  More about Cambodia in the next post.