March 12, 2012

The day after Matt headed back to Canada, it was round three of vacation for me: Cambodia.

After an early departure and a hefty layover in China, we finally made it to Siem Reap.

Muesli and fruit overload

Angkor National Museum

This is a monastery that was next to our guesthouse. Established 500 years ago for Buddhist teaching and lodging for monks.

Preah Prohm Rath Monastery

Dr. Fish! A tank of fish that eat the dead skin off your feet... yummy!

Despite her best efforts, she couldn't wrap her head around it!

Swensen's... Mmm...

"Pub Street", a major hub for foreigners. Siem Reap had a random array of tourists: European students, Korean tour groups, the elderly, and us. 

We spent the next two days exploring the temples.

Mango crepes and some strong coffee

First stop: Angkor Wat (the world's largest religious structure)

Next up: Angkor Thom

Bayon @ Angkor Thom. This was my favourite temple spot.

Angkor Thom

Typical Khmer lunch

Terrace of Elephants @ Angkor Thom

Day Two

Ta Prohm, the film location for scenes in Tomb Raider.

Amongst the Buddhist carvings was this.

Pre Rup
I nearly fell down the stairs of this temple! But survived to tell the story.

Ta Som

Neak Pean

Preah Khan

Took a balloon up for a unique view of Angkor Wat

New city, new sights: Phnom Penh
Fast forward from ancient Khmer temples to the more recent, bloody history of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). The group took on a socialist mindset and attempted to make Cambodia completely self-sufficient and independent. The first step was for cities to be abandoned; it was assumed that cities fostered capitalist thinking and people needed to start over at their roots. People were told to evacuate their homes under the pretense that they would be returning in a few days. Over time, this evolved into the submission of cars, clothes, jewelery, or anything else that indicated social class. Educated people and people who worked for the previous government were viewed as a threat and often disappeared. Anyone suspected of disagreeing with the new regime was eliminated. The people were forced to literally work to death cultivating food and doing other labourious activities in order to 'contribute to their community'. The Khmer Rouge were ousted by the Vietnamese in 1979 but never fully dissolved until 1996; they retained a seat in the UN until 1993.

If you're interested, you should read "First They Killed My Father" which depicts what life was like for a young girl and her family during this time. I've also read "Stay Alive My Son", which is from the perspective of a father; Although this book isn't as well-written, it emphasizes how widespread the horrific experiences were. I'm currently reading "Cambodia Year Zero" which is written by a French journalist who found himself in Phnom Penh when the city was being taken over by the Khmer Rouge.

Snack time

Choeung Ek Killing Fields. One of many around Cambodia. Nearly 10,000 bodies were found here in mass graves following the fall of the Khmer Rouge... many of whom were tortured at Tuol Slend (next). We were provided with an audio tour of the killing fields by one of the survivors. As we walked along the path, the recording made us chillingly aware of what to see beneath our feet: bone fragments and tattered clothes still seeping up from the dirt paths.

This is a Buddhist stupa containing more than 5,000 skulls

Tuol Slend Genocide Museum (S-21). A high school was turned to a prison and interrogation centre used by the Khmer Rouge. Around 17,000 people were imprisoned here and often shipped to Choeung Ek to be killed. Of the 17,000 prisoners, only 7 survived.

At first glance, we thought these were guidelines for the tourists.

This is the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh. The kind was visiting so we weren't allowed inside - Rude!

And on to the quaint city of Battambang.

Amazing art performance by a youth group. 
Two former students from the group got scholarships to study in Montreal!

Bamboo train! Literally a slat of bamboo on wheels

A video of the ride... it went surprisingly fast!

When we met oncoming traffic, the cart had to be disassembled and then reassembled!

We visited a "factory" where a woman and two children were making sticky rice in bamboo shoots. 

This was what I consider to be my nightmare... Ground up fish paste (or what our driver called "cheese") in buckets, roasting in the sun... The smell ruined me for the day.

Another "factory" with women making rice paper

Killing caves. Khmer Rouge soldiers would throw victims down here

At the same time each day, bats fly out of this cave.

On the last leg of our travels, we found ourselves back in Siem Reap

Took a stab at Khmer cooking...

Before: Pumpkin Soup

Before: Cashew Chicken


ATV tour around the outskirts of Siem Reap. Lots of things to see (and avoide hitting or being hit by) on the way; mostly cows and water buffalo.

The last thing to see was the silk farm. It was a perfect, relaxing end to the trip since we were both exhausted.

Boiling the cocoons and spinning the silk...

Dyeing and re-spinning

My favourite part of the farm was the garden outside

After knowing what I know about Cambodia, I was surprised by the state of the country; Aside from the memorials, there really was no indication that it has endured decades of unrest. I know, as a tourist, I didn't get to see the raw culture or get to know the culture at any deep level, but it's seems clear that Cambodia has a great deal of resilience and I loved being able to see and get to know the country.

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