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We can't believe we are in Cambodia

We can't believe we are in Cambodia. Dave and I have uttered that phrase numerous times since arriving here a week ago. It is just an odd place to be able to visit due to its turbulent history. It really only opened its doors to tourism in 1998 so this whole foreigner business is still a relatively new concept here. It has been full of surprises and destroyed assumptions for us. The cities of Phnom Phen and Siem Reap are full of hotels and restaurants and bars that cater to tourists. Dave and I ended up on our first day in Phnom Phen eating at the Freebird Bar and Restaurant. When we first walked into this place we immediately commented on how it looked like any bar and restaurant in the states and on further observation we realized it was completely decked out in American flags, pictures, and other memorabilia from the states. We had the nachos and they tasted just like back home. It is just a bit strange to eat at a place like this in a country where you would think wouldn't have restaurants like this.

The other thing about Cambodia is that they use the US dollar for pretty much all transactions. Their currency is called the Riel but we have hardly used it. Only for small transactions and tips here and there. The price for almost everything is quoted in US dollar - food, hotels, taxi service, merchandise, and on and on. This is the first country that we have visited that doesn't want to use their own currency (even in Nepal, the 2nd poorest nation in the world, uses their own currency). Cambodia also is not the cheapest place we have been either - maybe due to the use of the American dollar for everything!

Cambodia is a more conservative country than Thailand and clothing is of major concern here. It is all over the guide books, in the information supplied at hotels and even in restaurant menus that westerners need to dress appropriately. This means you should not wear shorts or short skirts or tank tops or spaghetti string tops. The guide books will tell you that Cambodians are way too polite to say anything to westerners if they are not dressed appropriately but you can count on maybe a prolonged stare or maybe a dirty glance. It is just considered disrespectful to show a lot of skin especially in sacred and ancient temples and religious structures. Can you imagine going to church wearing daisy dukes and a tank top? Well, that is basically the inappropriate equivalent of wearing a short skirt in Cambodia. Yet, everyday we see western women and men wearing the clothing that they specifically ask them not to. This really bothers me because here you are in a completely different culture that has a completely different set of values and you are a visitor yet you do not adhere to a simple request to cover up. I understand that it is really hot and humid here around 100 degrees but still, you are a guest so put on some pants!

We flew from Bangkok to Phnom Phen about a week ago and spent 3 days in Phnom Phen. This is the capital of Cambodia and the largest city. It doesn't take you long after arriving in Cambodia to learn about the Killing Fields, Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. The effects of this time still resignate throughout the country. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia in the mid to late 1970's. He declared it year 0 and was determined to build some sort of utopian society. At one point he announced in Phnom Phen that the US was going to bomb it and that everyone needed to immediately evacuate the city. So everyone packed a few things and left the city and ended up being forced to work in the rice fields only getting 2 spoon fulls of rice to eat a day. As you can imagine many people died of starvation. He had some idea that formal education was not needed only hard work was valuable and that the poor and uneducated peasants were the only viable citizens needed in Cambodia. With this philosophy he went about killing anyone who was educated, looked educated (meaning wore glasses), he didn't like, thought was against him, and on and on AND their families, children included. Him and his regime took children away from their parents to receive approved education by illiterate peasants. It gets worse. He created the notorious S-21 prison (in Phnom Phen) out of an old school where only 7 people out of 21,000 came out alive. Unspeakable acts of torture and murder were committed here. Then there was the Killing Fields (about 13 km outside of Phnom Phen). This is where people were brought to be executed and then tossed into mass graves. Both the S-21 prison called Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields can be visited. Dave and I went to both of these and to describe it as horrifying and unsettling would be an understatement. Although it is allowed, taking pictures of what we saw at both of these places just seemed completely inappropriate and disrespectful to those that died there so we have few photos. It was emotionally hard to visit these places and makes me emotional just thinking about it and writing about it, but I'm glad we did it so we could show our respect to those who suffered so greatly.

We are currently in Siem Reap. We took the "Mekong Express" from Phnom Phen 4 days ago. Unfortunately the "express" part didn't really apply because the air conditioning on the bus broke down about an hour into the trip and since it is brutally hot right now aircon is a must. So the bus pulled over on the side of the road in rural Cambodia and we waited for about an hour for another bus to arrive.

We just spent the past 3 days exploring all the ancient temples they have here including the most famous one - Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat gets all the attention and it is definitely the most well preserved out of the Wat's but there is this Wat in Angkor Thom called Bayon which is incredible. It is falling apart like all the temples but it has these pillars that have faces carved on all sides. It is beyond magnificient. All of the Wats were incredible - you could spend forever wondering through them and looking at the carvings. The whole experience of visiting these ancient buildings was one of the most magnificient things we have seen on this trip. Dave and I were blown away by what we saw. It was overwhelming looking at these temples, palaces, and buildings from an era so ancient, that are still full of intricate details and carvings. When we see things like this we truly feel blessed. This is the reason why we travel and seeing this is worth every effort we put into this trip.

The first day we went to the temples we had a guide who explained to us the meanings of the various carvings and architecture. He actually was pretty funny and made jokes about everyone from the King of Cambodia to Buddhist monks (What do you call more than one monk? Answer - monkeys) and he even had a joke about hunchbacks (how does a person with a hunchback sleep? Answer - Just like us, with their eyes closed. Here is another - Why does this deer carving only have one eye? Answer - I have no I dear. It was a fun day listening to our guide and his really silly jokes. He also was extremely informative not only about Angkor Wat but also gave us a run down on Cambodian history to its involvement in the Vietnam War to communism and of course about the Khmer Rouge. We liked Siem Reap so much we decided to stay another 3 days here.

After Cambodia we will head to Vietnam and then on to Laos. We are not sure of our exact day of departure to Vietnam but will be around the first week of June.

Dave has got some photos for you below.

-------Hey gang, Dave here. Once again I've got way too many awesome photos than I do time to post them so here's a small selection. The ancient Cambodia temples are absolutely extraordinary and I took hundreds of pictures. I picked several scattered below that I thought you would enjoy plus some photos of some other things we've been up to lately.

Here is one of the gateways to Angkor Thom (an ancient walled city)
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The sculpted tower faces of Bayon were awesome. This temple complex was one of our favorites.
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The Sofie Star rises above Angkor Wat.
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Since Taj Mahal we've notice that the Japanese touritsts enjoy jumping in front of mounuments for photos. This is the first time we tried it and its actually fun. Here you can see that Lynette has still not lost her acrobatic skills from when she was a highschool cheerleader. Look at that perfect form! I did not include mine because I need to work on my flexibility a bit.

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Here's the USA themed restaurant Lynette wrote about. It was like walking through a portal into a TGI Friday's. We felt at home for about an hour...
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...Until I went to the bathroom. I've never seen pineapple slices used as urinal cakes in the states.
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Here's two shots from the temple that they used in the movie Tomb Raider. Recognize?
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Don't ask me how those trees grew so large without soil for the roots. I have no idea but it looks cool.
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We went to a badly produced 41 minute movie last night that explained some of the Cambodia history. As you can see its a far cry from the theater we experienced in Bangkok.
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Another exotic culinary experience to share. Last night at the Night Market a woman was selling bottles of liquor that had a dead scorpion and snake fermenting inside, and she offered me a taste. Well I couldn't refuse such an offer. I took a shot. It was about as harsh as a shot of tequila, so nothing I couldn't handle. But there was a distinct and foul aftertaste I had trouble with because it distinctly tasted reptilian.
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You can see that the saleswoman was enjoying watching me cringe from the taste. When we asked if she liked the drink she winced and said,'''Eeeew, no, this is for men." I expected the next day to wake up with a fuller goatee or more hair on my chest or something. But it was not to be.
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In case any of you are curious what the internet cafes look like in places like this here's a shot. I'd say the most primitive internet cafe we've been to was India. And one in Nepal is a close second. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of either.
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The hotels here are really nice and very affordable. Here's what ours looks like.
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More temple shots. We can't believe the complexity and quantity of all the intricate carvings.

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Some shots from the Grand Palace in Phnom Phen, Cambodia.
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It sure is nice to get off a plane or bus and have your hotel pick-up driver waiting for you so you don't have to worry about dealing with the taxis or tuk tuks. We've enjoyed this a few times but this has to have been the nicest sign yet. Usually they are typed very small or handwritten (and misspelled.) There is a huge crowd of men pushing and shouting with signs you can't read. You have to walk by slowly while they stare at you and look closely at all the signs to try and find your name. This one stood out in the crowd.
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We've experienced something about the people here that we find unusual and refreshing compared to the previous places we've been in Asia. We've seen two different tuk tuk drivers and one waitress giving their own money to street beggars or crippled children. This was definitely not something we saw in India, Nepal or Thailand. It is usually an act left for us "rich" tourists. Cambodia has had a rough history and the people have been through a lot. You really get the feeling that the people have a strong sense of unity from this, and care for their fellow Cambodians. Even though they themselves may not have a lot they give to those who have less.

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Thanks again to everyone for all your blog comments and emails.

Till next time,

Lynette & Dave

lschimpf@gmail.com
dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 20:33

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GOOD EVENING DAVE & LYNETTE,
JUST FINISHED READING AND LOOKING AT YOUR ENTRY. LOOKS LIKE ANOTHER VERY INTRESTING COUNTRY. SO MANY THINGS WE WILL NEVER SEE. SO THANKS SO MUCH FOR BRINGING THEM TO US THROUGH YOUR PICTURES. OF COURSE I LOVE THE PICTURES OF THE CHILDREN. THEY ARE ALL SO PRECIOUS. YOUR ROOM LOOKS NICE AND COZY. THAT IS VERY NICE OF BOTH OF YOU RESPECTING EACH COUNTRY'S CULTURE. AGIN WE SAY THANKS FOR THE GREAT PICTURES. OH YES! LYNETTE IT IS NICE TO SEE YOU STILL HAVE THE ROYAL SPIRIT. SAFE TRAVEL AND GODS BLESSING FROM DAD AND MOM

by jwrossrd

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