I officially fail at blogging. Oops. Anyways, Here Comes The Sun was the official theme song of our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our trip started bright and early last Friday, since we had to leave PGP at 5am, and we even managed to catch the sunrise at Changi.
A few hours later, we arrived in Cambodia! The main form of transportation (at least for us tourists) is the tuk-tuk. A little frightening to ride in at times, and quite bumpy, but it allows you to experience the sights and sounds in a completely different light.
We were all pretty exhausted by the time we reached our hostel, but Jayne would not let us just sit there and do nothing, so we hopped back into our tuk-tuk to head out to the landmine museum. What our driver said would be a 20 minute drive was upwards of 35 minutes, but we did get some nice views of the Cambodian countryside.
When we arrived at the museum, they were closing up but were nice enough to let us in anyways. Experiencing the landmine museum was one of the most shocking and eye-opening things I have ever experienced. Hundreds of missiles and other explosives that have torn up the Cambodian countryside were on display and there was plenty of information to educate us on the severity of the situation. Children and farmers find unexploded bombs in fields, and not knowing what they are they kick them around. Then, without even realizing it, it explodes next to them and they lose legs or arms. The one ray of hope in the museum was that the entry fee goes towards the demining efforts in Cambodia and towards helping children who have been hurt in landmine accidents. The founder of the museum, Aki Ra, has been named a CNN Hero for his efforts in making Cambodia a safer country for its citizens. Information on the Landmine Museum Relief Fund can be found at http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/menu.html and information on Aki Ra and his demining efforts can be found at http://cambodianselfhelpdemining.org/.
After the sobering experience of the landmine museum, we managed to get back into town (albeit 30 minutes late) to see a traditional Cambodian dance. It was a little on the snooze side since it wasn't very upbeat dancing, but it was neat to experience all the same. On the way home, we stopped by the outdoor market, which competed with The Blue Pumpkin as our favorite place to visit in Siem Reap. The Blue Pumpkin was this cute little restaurant/cafe, where you could eat sitting on couches with tables on your lap. And all the food was delicious. Needless to say, we visited that place every day for the three days we were there. And I'm pretty sure we visited the market at least twice every day. So those were some popular destinations.
After we got back to the hostel, we took it easy since we had to be up early for sunrise on Saturday. Max's two friends from Sweden met us in Cambodia, and since he could play the guitar we just had a giant singalong. Even though we only knew a small percentage of the words to each song it was still mucho fun. And it got even better when we ran into a girl who happened to have a violin with her! The only thing that was needed to complete the perfect camping scene was a campfire, although I suppose it would have been way to hot for that.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early. We left our hostel around 5:15 so we could catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, the most famous temple in Cambodia. When we were first arriving, it was pitch black and locals had to lead us to the viewing spot with flashlights. Slowly, though, it started getting lighter and lighter. Our first glimpse of the sun came around 6:45, and EVERYONE started scrambling to take pictures.
Watching the sun continue to rise right behind Angkor Wat was, needless to say, pretty cool. Pretty much like nothing I've ever seen before.
We also managed to capture the perfect group shot with the sun and the temple in the background.
After watching the sunrise, we spent a couple hours walking around Angkor Wat and then met our tuk-tuk drivers who had been patiently waiting for us since early morning. We continued on to see Ta Prohm, which is famous for being the tomb raider temple. After Ta Prohm, we stopped for a quick lunch, then headed off to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is not an actual temple itself, but rather a complex of temples and terraces and such. The famous temple at Angkor Thom is Bayon, which was built by a king and dedicated to himself. As if he didn't have enough money, he later built a temple dedicated to his mother, then his father, then his son. This was my favorite temple of the day since there were no marked routes to follow. Since it looks exactly the same on all 4 sides, you can basically get lost inside of it which was kind of fun. After eventually making our way out, our tuk-tuk driver took us to the base of some hill. Apparently there was a temple at the top with a great view of the surrounding area. After reaching the top, and climbing very narrow and scary stairs, we were able to see out over all the trees and temples. I didn't stay up there for long though since it was the middle of the day and the sun was unbearably hot.
All in all, it was a fun-filled day with MANY cool photos and sights. Since I took so many photos I'm not posting them here, but there are two complete Facebook albums up!
After returning to the hostel, we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon and evening. Pam and I got half hour massages for only USD5, we went to the market and got 7 "Same Same... But Different" t-shirts for the group for USD12 (total), and went out to dinner at The Green Star restaurant. Our pictures with our shirts on are the best =)
Kurt confessed afterwards that he almost turned around for the first photo, which would have made it that much funnier. And what's ironic about the first picture was that Max was the most tired out of all of us since he had just woken up from a short nap, yet he looked like the one person who was loaded with energy. What the rest of us were feeling was demonstrated by Pam and Eugenia after we got dessert.
After traveling to Cambodia, I can honestly say it's like no other country I've ever visited. It definitely made me realize how sheltered I am in little old Mystic, Connecticut, USA. Everything about the trip was amazing, and I loved seeing the ruins of the temples, but if I had to pick a favorite part of the trip I would say it was the people. Cambodians have absolutely nothing, yet they are so much happier than people in Singapore or America. The children especially were the best. On our way out to the countryside we passed many kids who waved to us as we drove by. Eugenia made it a habit after that to wave to every single person we saw after that.
On Saturday, there were children EVERYWHERE at the temples trying to sell us stuff. It was very hard to say no as they were extremely persistent.
They were selling everything from bracelets to books to postcards to flutes. They would follow you as you were walking and cycle through the same few phrases. "10 for one dollar"... "come back and buy my bracelet lady"... "same same but different." Max noted that they were especially persistent with the ladies, and I told him that's because we actually had hearts and they knew if they pestered us enough we would eventually give in. While it sounds like it might have been annoying to be surrounded by that, it was actually quite amusing. The kids had a good sense of humor, and tried many different selling tactics. They told us they took credit cards and they told us to borrow money from friends if we said that we didn't have any money. And all of them could count to 10 since they were often selling things in sets of ten. However, when I asked a little boy how high he could count, he couldn't make it past 14 of 15, which shows how even something as basic as education we take for granted since there are so many people who don't even have that privelege.
In total, I managed to take 500 pictures in Cambodia, but if I was asked to pick a favorite, I would tell you it's this one:
This particular boy wasn't selling anything and he didn't even say much. All he had with him as he was walking by was that sack draped over his shoulder. As he was walking past he saw the camera in my hand and pointed to it, then pointed to himself saying, "me, me." When I asked if he wanted a picture of himself he nodded, so I took this picture and then showed it to him. His face instantly lit up and he started grinning when he saw the picture of himself. This specific moment was so profound to me, since all it took to make him happy was to see a picture of himself taken. It made me think how much happier the rest of the world would be if we appreciated little things like that.
Moral of the story though is that I was extremely sad to leave Cambodia. Our brief visit was not long enough, and I would gladly go back at any time. Hopefully I'll have the chance to towards the end of the semester!
Anyways, missing everyone at home and thankful I had a great visit with the fam, hugs and kisses!