Our Post-tour Extension
29.11.2012 - 02.12.2012 30 °C
We said good bye to Saigon and boarded our short flight northwest to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We were collected at the airport by our new tour guide, Thai, who gave us many excellent insights to his country over the next few days.
Thai, our Cambodian Guide
He indicated that the country had a large number of different "occupiers" and changed their flag with each one. The Kingdom of Cambodia is currently a constitutional monarchy where the King reins and the elected Head of Government rules. Most are Buddhists.
We stayed in Siem Reap, a charming town full of tourists with a great sense of fun. It was very safe with little crime. They have very unique vehicles - motor-rickshaws which seat 4 people and are pulled by small motorcycles.
This is how they fasten the rickshaw to the motorcycle.
The rickshaws themselves are very ornate. Here we are in one of them. It cost very little (1 - 2 USD) to make the trip from our hotel to the downtown market and restaurant area.
Roy and Dave in a cyclo-rickshaw
With a population of 14 million, Cambodia is half the size of Newfoundlland and Labrador (and marginally larger than North Dakota). It is one of the poorest countries in the world and has suffered greatly from the genoside of The Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. It is estimated that 30% of the population were murdered - everyone with any sort of education, artistic ability, leadership qualities, connections with other governments, members of Buddhist, Muslim or Christian faiths and those from certain ethnic groups was hunted down and murdered. They killed the children of these people as well because they believed they would grow up and want to avenge their parents' deaths. Many more starved. They have located over 20,000 killing fields which are the sites of mass graves. They found the most recent one just a couple of years ago. They also destroyed about 95% of the beautiful temples, the ones left were used as warehouses. Despite all of this horror, the people are rebuilding and moving forward with enthusiasm. They say they have "poverty but not misery".
Killing Fields Memorial Temple
Bones found in a mass grave
After arriving we went on a local orientation walk and then boarded our bus to head out of town for a ride on and oxen cart to view the life along the river and a local home.
Oxen Cart Ride
Michael and Mercedes
Many of the houses are built on stilts. Note the little spirit houses.
We headed out to a local restaurant for dinner which features a Khmer Cultural Dances show.
Traditional Cambodian Dancer
Cambodia has the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia called Tonle Sap - the "Great Freshwater Lake". This lake changes to ten times its size in the rainy from the dry season. In fact, at the end of the rainy season when the mighty Mekong is at its highest, it actually backs up into Tonle Sap. It is the only lake in the world where water flows into it in one season and then back out to the ocean during the dry season. In addition to becomming ten times larger in area, the lake will rise a good 20 to 30 feet during the year. The industrious and resourceful Cambodians have adapted to living on this lake in many floating villages. They build homes, gardens, schools, and animal pens on floating structures and gather together in floating villages. During the year a village will move to 3 different locatiions depending on the height of the water. We were there at the highest water level - so we saw only the tops of the trees. People there say that this is the only place in the world that the trees grow from the top down.
Tops of the trees - people are fishing underneath
Floating School with the students arriving by boat
Students going to school
Below is a Buddhist Pagoda which is normally able to stay above the water level even in the rainy season - you can note the water lines which were over the top of the ramp in especially high water years.
Our guide, Thai, was born and brought up in one of these floating villages. He went on to University to study Law and has worked with several environmental organizations as well as a guide for OAT. As we saw a mum paddle by with her two youngsters, we heard him quietly comment that there he was, 30 years ago.
On our second last day we were able to visit the ruins of the ancient city of Angkor - a holy city which took centuries to build and stretches over an area of almost 100 square miles and was a great population center with over a million people in the 11th to 15th centuries. It was amazing to see how the jungle had taken over the magnificent and intricately carved walls and towers and temples of this area.
Here is an entrance
There were many examples of trees growing right through the ancient and carved walls.
This is some of the carving which would have been done in situ after the structure was completed.
Here is a group of restoration workers - they have years and years of emplpoyment security!
This is a picture showing "before" and "after" of a restsored wall.
Here is our group of happy OAT explorers.
Another area had amazing carved faces on each of the 4 sides of each of the towers.
Angkor Thom was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Its grandeur was enormous with large terraces bordered by carved walls and large entertainment areas for the rulers and royal families to enjoy.
We enjoyed a home-hosted lunch with a local family and then set out to see Angkor Wat - the City Temple. Angkor Wat is a large pyramid temple with 5 magnificent towers built about the same time as Notre Dame in Paris. It is surrounded by a great moat 570 ft wide. It is the symbol of Cambodia and featured on its flag.
Bullet holes on the outer walls of Angkor Wat from the Khmer Rouge taking target practice. Thankfully this beautiful temple was not part of the 95% destroyed during that period.
Hindu statue inside the Angkor Wat
We entered the Wat and climbed up the many stairs to walk around the inside and look back out.
Wat showing the many stairs up to enter the top area.
View of the courtyard below from one of the top windows - note the Buddhist monks.
View looking back to the land beyond the moat of this great Wat
This temple has over 1 km of carvings along the walls of its very long corridors
Carving detail all along the walls.
We sat and watched this magnificant temple turn gold in the sunset
before having a little cocktail party on the edge of the moat where we were able to sample local delicacies and watch the beautiful Angkor Wat settle into the darkness.
On our last day in Cambodia we had a bit of spare time in the morning before departing for the airport. Our guide took us back to town and we were able to visit a place called Artisan Angkor. A group of enterprising artisans have set up a training program where they pass on their skills to young people from neighboring villages and produce some very beautiful artworks. We were able to walk through their workshops to see their intricate and painstaking work. This is another excellent way to move their economy forward.
We returned to the hotel, checked out and headed for the airport and our Bangkok Hotel - the Pantip suites. Then next morning we headed for the Bangkok Airport and retraced our 20+ hour journey home.
All in all this was a truly amazing trip, one which we would highly recommend to those of you with a yen for adventure and foreign lands. It was physically and mentally demanding yet so very informative. We were very impressed with our tour company Overseas Adventure Travel and a special thanks to our primary Tour Leader, Lee Trien who was instrumental in making this a trip of a lifetime. Not only did Lee have encyclopedic knowledge of the country, the politics and the history but he was able to herd 16 people day after day with grace and humour. Also thanks to Khin Po-Thai our excellent tour leader in Cambodia.