|Phnom Penh 10 – 11 June
We had an easy day. A very relaxed breakfast at probably the most expensive bakery in town, but we deserved it. The first good thing for us in Cambodia we noticed: there is a sort of tuk-tuk again, which means transportation around the city is easier and nicer. Phnom Phen is actually quite a nice city. The influence of the French is evident in the large boulevards and majestic buildings and monuments here and there. It has an open atmosphere and the people are very friendly and speak English remarkably well. Our hotel is located in a quit back street near the river, and there are a lot of men lingering around eager to sell a service or to just have a talk. When we complimented them on their English, also in comparison to the Vietnamese, they said proudly: ”But we are far more intelligent than they are”. Then we ask: “ But they were the ones that saved you from the Khmer Rouge nightmare, weren’t they?” Reply: “Oh yes, but they were helped up by them in the first place; it was just a way to seize control over us”. We had quite an interesting and enlightening discussion with them.
Local transportation as we haven't seen it so far.
We finally found a bookstore selling many 2nd hand English children books. Saskia is such a speed reader, that we can’t keep up buying/exchanging new books for her. We have had a hard time finding anything except for Harry Potter, which she doesn’t like. But now we have a whole new stack of nice books for her.
The children watched some movies on the computer and Jan-Rene went to visit the S21 Tuol Sleng Museum. (an old school transformed into a prison and interrogation centre by the Khmer Rouge between '75-'78). For the first time in 2 months he had goose bumps at seeing the evidence of so much horrors. He thought it was a thoroughly depressing, but impressive site.
We visited the Silver Pagoda (together with thousands of Cambodians, because in was Sunday), the local market and had an early dinner at the FCC (Foreign Correspondence Club), a cool (but also expensive) place to hang around.
All though more up-market tourism is also starting here to, you don’t have to look very far from the main attractions to recognise the great poverty of this country. Life expectancy is 57.4 years, most industries were decimated during the long war years and tourism is the main hope for the future. Reading about the recent history of this country, you realise the suffering of the Cambodians has been enormous; (civil) war, genocide, corrupt politicians, and injustice. A whole generation has been wiped out here; you notice that there are a lot of young people and that the elder generation is somehow missing. In just two days we have also seen quite a few beggars and landmine victims.
We have not planned much time to spend in Cambodia, since we also want to have time to spend 1-2 weeks at a Thai island beach. We are therefore moving on tomorrow. For us as a family there is more to do and see in Siem Reap, and we would like to stay 4 days at one place to get a bit of a rest.
Siem Reap, June 12 -15
We had an easy and comfortable bus ride to Siem Reap. After checking out a few different hotels, we found this great little combined B&B and Boutique hotel, managed by a Dutchman. It is a small paradise called the Golden Banana (www.golden-banana.com). We feel really at home here. So it’s time to enjoy the pool, play/reading time and enjoy the many good restaurants Siem Reap has to offer.
Tourism has developed at high speed during recent years (and still is), since this town is the gateway to Cambodia’s spiritual and cultural heartbeat, the Temples of Angkor.
The centre of the town is lined by small shops, even with some expensive galleries, restaurants, cafes, and with many hotels ranging from budget to super luxury. But again here, you are confronted a lot with beggars, and many landmine victims with missing limbs. On the other hand the centre seams like a sort of Disney land for grown ups.
We took a day to visit the Angkor Temples. It was in two words: phenomenal and magnificent! Despite the heat (it is supposed to be the rain season now, but it is hotter then ever), we all enjoyed it very much. You can walk and climb on everything, and the temples are very impressive, in terms of both architecture and size. It is almost unreal to walk and drive (by tuk-tuk) through such large and beautiful buildings, which were built such a long time ago. Angkor used to be the ‘Capital/Holy City’ of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 12th centuries. At its height, the capital contained more than a million people, and vast waterworks and grand temples were built. At that time Angkor’s military, economic and cultural dominance held sway over the area of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. The main Park area covers about 10km2.
We (JR and me) would have liked to go back another day, but we figured that that would spoil it for the kids. So, we’ll do some handicrafts shopping and have some more pool time.
I went back to the temples another day at 05.00 am for sunrise, while the rest of the family was still sound asleep. Again the magical and inspiring atmosphere of the Park caught me. Although the main site where to watch the sunrise was busy, the temples were still very quiet.
During our visit to Angkor, Michiel had a little encounter he was not too happy about. On our way to the first temple he was walking while holding a role of Mentos candy in his hand. We had already noticed quite a few monkeys, which were emptying the garbage cans, and thought they were rather funny. But before we even realised what happened, a monkey sped up to Michiel, and grabbed the Mentos role out of his hand. The monkey ran a little further and happily ate the whole candy role in front of our eyes in just a few minutes. At first Michiel cried out of fear, but this turned into anger when he saw his candy role disappear into the monkeys mouth. The rest of the morning he kept telling us how much he now deeply dislikes all the monkeys, and he is never going to forgive them! We had a good laugh about it, and the kids know now that most monkeys are not to be trusted.
By the way, Michiel has started swimming without his little “wings”. It’s not a proper breaststroke yet (more of a “dog-stroke”), but he swims like a little fish through the whole pool and is very, very proud about it!
Kratie 16 – 17 June
We've changed our plan! While trying to sort out our itinerary from Siem Reap to Bangkok, next to an island and then to Jakarta, we realised we could do it more efficiently by flying to Singapore. Tickets from Phnom Penh to Singapore turned out to be very reasonably priced, so we booked them. And since we’re overspending on our budget anyway, we’ve booked a suite at the Raffles and are going to empty all the shops along Orchard Road! ? This also means we have a bit more time to see a bit more of ‘real Cambodia’, and that we will not be going back to Thailand anymore. From Singapore we will go to an island on the east coast of Malaysia.
We travelled by bus and taxi to Kratie. This is about 350 km North of Phnom Pehn, and this is the place where you can see the almost extinct sweet water Irrawaddy dolphins. The travel time was less than we had expected; the roads have been improved a lot recently. The journey was really very nice. We soaked up the Cambodian rural scenery, while we drove along. The last part with the taxi was a very bumpy, but fun drive, and also gave us a chance to make a few stops.
Kratie is a small town, and tourism has hardly reached it. Here we really are in Cambodia. It is a bit messy, and we find it rather dirty. Garbage is just lying all over the place. Littering is problem in most countries we’ve been, but here it’s definitively the worst. The people are very friendly here.
The next morning we took at tuk-tuk to go 15 km further up north to see the dolphins, a beautiful route along the Mekong and through the fields. There we got on a small boat and the first half hour we didn’t see anything. Just when were about to be very disappointed, suddenly, there they were! They surfaced in groups of two-three at a time and were quite close to the boat. The engine was switched off, and it was an extraordinary experience, to be floating in the middle of the mighty Mekong and hearing the breathing of the dolphins as they surfaced. The beautiful Mekong; we have been on this river up North from Thailand down into Laos, and all the way downstream, from Vietnam up into Cambodia, and now in the middle of Cambodia.
On the way back our tuk-tuk had a flat tire. Because of that, we had to spend almost an hour at a local cycle repair shop along the way back, where we were the attraction of the day. Jan-Rene had just burnt is lower leg against the exhaust pipe of a motorbike. The women of the village immediately knew what to do, and local medication was applied: slices of cactus! The whole setting was quite hilarious: nobody speaking or understanding a word of English, Jan-Rene undergoing some sort of treatment, in the mean time we watched how the tire was being fixed, and all of this while being surrounded by a dozen or more Khmer who were constantly touching Nadine and Saskia’s hair.
Sihanoukville, June 18 – 21
It was a reasonably long ride (bus+taxi) from from Kratie all the way down to Sihanoukville (it took us a full day to get there; Michiel and Nadine played very nicely together during the whole trip, and Saskia read 1,5 book), but it was worth it. Now we have 2,5 days at the beach before flying of to Singapore.
And so far, the only thing we can say: if you haven’t got a holiday destination yet, pack your bags and fly off to Cambodia! Sihanoukville itself is rather uninteresting and not very inspiring, but the beaches are however really what you want here; they are very, very nice. Crystal clear water, stretches of white sandy beach, with just the right level of facilities to make your stay a comfortable one, but without it being over developed yet. It still is mostly a backpacker’s scene, and oriented to the well off Khmer from Phnom Penh as well. We are staying at a charming guesthouse (REGA Guesthouse and Restaurant) 20m from the beach, run by a friendly French lady, and with an excellent cuisine.
So, the next couple of days, we did nothing but sitting at the beach, swimming, and enjoying good food.