Ok, my initial idea was to write an entry for each day that I was travelling, but clearly thats not going to happen. So here's a brief (ish) review of the past few days in Cambodia.
In case you were worried, I did find another Guesthouse the day after we arrived and its great. Its called the Golden Temple Villa and they have hot water and everything!
I can't get over how dirty it is here. I know I keep saying that, but its soooooo dirty. You think Brussels is bad on a hot day when all you can smell is the sweet scent of dog poo? Imagine that and times it by 100 and you're not even close to the smell here (although, just so you know, I don't really smell it anymore...). But what's really funny is that this morning there were loads of women in front of their houses sweeping away at the dirt road and the heaps of rubbish, and I just wanted to say "seriously, just give up. Its really not worth it." I think that's all they do all day. Funnily enough the piles of rubbish never seem to get any smaller....
I'm not sure what I expected but its certainly a culture shock. I guess i'm so used to going on holiday and only ever seeing the "tourist" side of the country, where everything is clean and organised and you live in a bubble of happiness for 2 or 3 weeks. They have those kind of places here too, but it costs $100 or more a night, so its kind of out of my price range...and anyway, I'm really glad i'm seeing the country like this and don't go home believing its a paradise. And its not surprising that its not paradise, after all the country has been through in the last 50 years.
So, people keep asking me how i'm coping with not having my straightners and how my hair is. Well. I think I probably have about 10 species of bug living in them (eeeeuuuuuuuuuugh) and a good couple of kilos of mud. You walk out into the street here and after 5 minutes every inch of your body and clothes is covered in dirt. Yesterday I was so pleased at how tanned I was looking, and then I had a shower and it went down the plughole...
The town of Siem Reap where we are staying is a few Kilometers away from the Temples of Angkor, home to hundreds of 11th and 12th century temples. On our first full day here we were so zombied from our experience crossing the border that we took it easy and spent the morning chilling on the balcony at our Guesthouse with a cold beer. It was also the national water festival, so there were boat races on the river, and hundreds of local people from all the villages in the surrounding area had come to see it. In general I feel pretty safe here, but when Keely and I walk around everyone stares at us. I'm not sure if its because of how we dress or because of our colouring (both blonde, blue eyes), but I have to say its slightly unnerving to feel like the minority and to be so scrutinised. We met a German guy, Simon, at our guesthouse who is travelling on his own for 3 weeks, so we decided to hire a tuktuk and go together to watch the sunset at Angkor. We ended up spending the 3 days with him and had a great time. The Guesthouse arranged a driver for us, who's name was Sophy (how bizarre huh?) and he ended up being our driver for the whole weekend. Very nice guy.
Now I could tell you how impressive and breathtaking it was when we arrived at a temple on the top of a moutain to watch the sunset, but to be honest there were way too many tourists, and it kind of killed the atmosphere, and my photos. Who wants to go home with photos of random people? But the sunset was nice. The trek back down was quite interesting too; a mass exodus of people shining torches in the half darkness and trying not to trip over rogue branches and stray roots.
The following day we woke up at 4am (i know, I know. I only usually ever see that time of day when i'm crawling back home from a night out.....) and went to Sra Srang, a giant lake in the Angkor temple complex, to watch the sunrise. It was great, apart from the fact that there was 5 or 6 little Cambodian kids that hassled us constatnly to buy their postcards and bracelets. They're everywhere and they're all selling the same things. I should have taken a video. When you arrive at a temple they come running up to you and say "Hello lady. You like my bracelet. You buy, ok lady. 2 for 1 dollar. Ok, ok, 3 for $1 dollar. Ok ok lady, 4 for $1, special price just for you. Ok business bad I give you 5 for $1 dollar. You don't buy from me I cry. I need money for school. You come see me when u finish lady. You come buy from me, ok lady. Good, ok." It's insane, they also know how to say it in Japanese, Russian, French...but if you ask them anything else they just say "you buy from me, ok." So basically they just learn enough so they can take your money! Mental.
We started the first day with the "small tour" of the temples, that encompases the "Big 3" most impressive ones. I have to say, I wasn't prepared to be so blown away by it. The most stunning was Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed. We arrived there very early in the morning so the light was perfect and the first rays of sun cast eerie shadows over the large tombs and towers. What makes it even more spectacular, apart from the amazing architecture, is that the whole temple has been overtaken by massive trees that are over 300 years old. The roots are completely entwined in the stones and in places these have caused the buildings to collapse, and in others the roots have kind of worked their way around the structure, like a giant grasping hand. Its very poetic to think that when they constructed these temples they must have destroyed thousands of acres of forest, and now nature is reclaiming what was hers....We were so exhausted at the end of the day and we didnt have time to visit the largest of the 3 temples, Angkor Wat, so we left that for day 2...and ended the day with a 1 hr foot massage for $5....yes, its a hard life.
The second day of the temples was another day of getting to bed at 12pm/1am and waking up at 4am and i'm wondering when its going to hit me. Although the bags under my eyes the size of Africa are enough of a giveaway that i'm running on empty! We did the Big tour today and watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat. It was beautiful. Very peaceful despite the hoards of tourists there. The rest of the day went by in a heartbeat. I dont understand how it goes so quickly and i'm only sleeping 4 hours a night, which in theory should mean that the days seem much longer, but its the complete opposite. This place is incredibly beautiful, I can't get over it. I want to take photos of everything so that I don't forget how impressive it was. Had another massage and then went out for dinner with Keely and Simon to the local backpacker street. Tried the local Khmer Red Curry, and thankfully it wasnt too spicy. It was raining little black beetles that itched like a bastard and I think I swallowed about 50 of them that had fallen into my coke and curry. I was a little freaked out. By a little I mean a lot. Seriously, the things were raining down on us. i'm sure I'll find one in my butt crack later. You wanted to know that, didn't you? I also saw a giant rat last night. And a cockroach. But luckily not in my room.
On day 3 of the temples it was another early morning, but this time just for me. The others were not insane enough to get up so early. I have to say that it was very hard this time to get out of bed. But its the last day that my pass is valid and I'm not going to regret that I didn't see enough. I got a tuktuk back to Angkor Wat and watched the sunrise, then visited a few of the temples while no-one was about. Before 8am all the temples are dead, so in 2 or 3 hours I crammed in everything I wanted to revisit. On the way home I decided to do my bit for a good cause and got a massage from a blind man. Okay, so it wasn't COMPLETELY selfless...but hey, it was a win win situation. Plus it only cost 2 euro for an hour, and the guy was great. I think at some point I may have snored so loud it woke me up (see mum, you're not the only one ). Exhaustion finally hit me after all these days of waking up early and I dragged myself back to the guesthouse and slept like a baby for 3 hours. After my nap I met up with Simon and Keely and we hired a tuktuk out to the Landmine museum. It was a shocking but completely worthwhile experience. This is the history of Cambodia. And when you see what happens to someone when a landmine goes off you understand that the war is not over until they have found every one of the landmines that are still hidden all over the country. They even made landmines that looked like little toy butterflies so that children would play with them and explode. The worst thing is that landmines are constructed to maim and not kill, so the result is always missing body parts. Another humbling experience. We then went and watched our last sunset together, and it was stunning. I can't get over the colours here. It was magic. In fact, the last 3 days have been a magical experience. The temples were more impressive than I could have ever imagined, and being able to spend that time with Keely and Simon, but also taking the time to appreciate it on my own, made it even more special.
So on a lighter note (or maybe not), let me tell you about the food here. I haven't been sick yet, although i'm waiting for it to happen. I'm sure i've probably got worms or something already and its just a matter of time.... eeuuguughghghg. Just the thought gives me the the heeby-jeebies, and it actually puts me off eating. Its also slightly off-putting that there is zero hygeine here. So for the moment i'm living off chocolate biscuits (next best thing to cookie dough) and vegetable curry. I can't eat the meat. I've seen what happens to it once its dead and now it makes me retch just thinking about having a chicken curry (i'm also totally paranoid about bird flu. Someone remind me why i'm travelling in Asia?!)...We were sitting in a cafe-shack-strawhut type thing the other day and a guy drives past with a plastic bag and throws it on the table next to us and drives off. We were all looking at it wondering what it was when I saw a chicken leg sticking out of the top. Yep. KFC express delivery. And the thing just sat there, in the mid-day heat festering away with the local flies having a party on it. soooooo minging. Now while I've been careful, Keely has been more adventurous. I'm not even brushing my teeth using the tap water. She's ordering medium-rare steak. And last night she got sick, but I mean really sick. And I'm really worried about her, but also hoping that its not contagious cause we're sharing a room. She was supposed to leave today with Simon to Phnom Phen, but she couldn't even make it out of bed. And she's so brave. If it was me I'd be calling you all up and making you come out and look after me. That or just curl up and cry like a baby.
So today is my last day in Siem Reap. I slept in. But mainly because I was awake most of the night cause Keely was so ill. At 7am I was up and went to the local market to do a bit of shopping. Not sure how its all going to fit in my rucksack....might have to go along to the DHL office and ship it back....I know, i'm supposed to be travelling light, but I can't help it, and i'm restraining myself from buying more. Seriously. I even considered carrying round a large wooden Buddha cause it was so cheap.
The only way to get around here is by tuktuk (motorbike with a carriage for 3 people attached to the back), or moto (just a driver and you holding on for dear life). When you're walking in the street all the drivers shout at you "Lady, where you go? you wan tuktuk? You wan see temple? Sunset? I take you lady? very cheap. Special price just for you lady." Now I understand where all the little kids learn their English from. So today I decided to be adventurous and got a moto driver and went outside of the town to get some photos of rice fields. I think the guy thought I was crazy. He asked me if we didnt have rice growing in Scotland, and I said no, just porridge. But he didnt know what it was and the conversation got a bit lost. And now i'm back in town and about to go for lunch. Probably a vegetable curry...
Tomorrow I leave to go to Luang Prabang in Laos. After the experience I had crossing the border from Thailand I decided that I will take the chicken route and fly. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, so apparently its very beautiful although quite touristic, but apart from that I have no idea what to expect. I have no idea where i'll be staying, so its going to be a trek in the heat with my backpack...I'm also a bit nervous as its the first time since I arrived here that I will be on my own. But it had to happen sooner or later, and i'm excited about all the possibilities of whats going to happen next...