Siem Reap and the great temples of Angkor Wat
It has been an extremely full week here in Cambodia. We have been here a month and it all feels so normal in one way, and yet surreal in another that we are really here in Cambodia, living our dream of doing something different. Our frantic juggle of full-time paid work and school seems a world away, and yet our days are still a juggle, just different. Less of the circus juggle, more a slower pace, undirected juggle. Each day requires stimulation and activities for two young intelligent boys, deliver our volunteer projects, and appease our own intellectual stimulation. All this in one small room, at times debilitating heat and rain, and a budget so tight it hurts.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so very happy to be here, we all are. I just want to be honest so you know that there are also down days where we struggle to find our purpose and meet our own needs as adults to have space, peace and pursue our own interests and solo time. I knew we wouldn’t have much time to ourselves, but I guess I hadn’t contemplated quite how little. We have been together solidly for a month now, and despite these irritations, fundamentally we each have worked and played so well together and significantly closer and more understanding of each other than ever before
Not once have the boys questioned when we will leave Cambodia, or about their past lives in England or New Zealand, or when they will have playmates and see their friends again. I realise also how these two boys are so fortunate to have each other. They are a massive support, confidente and best friend to each other. I expect more squabbles will come, but so far so good. Of course there are complaints, they whinge, they hassle and ask for things. Bribery is up and running with their kindles. All day they ask for them, desperate to propel themselves back into many Minecraft worlds they have created.
Minecraft has become their obsession, their reward, their “other” world and we struggle to divert their energies into more practical tasks and games. There are benefits of course. It is collaborative and with WIFI they join each others world in games that suit all levels of creativity, experience and ability. Minecraft is being added to the school curriculum in the UK and judging by Oscar’s creation of Angkor Wat in Minecraft this evening, I am starting to understand why.
NORMAL AND NOT SO
CAD WORK, BATTAMBANG
First up this week was the completion of a new logo for CAD below from my dearest talented friend, Vanessa who has been working for us from her home in Doha, Qatar.
This has been so well received the logo has been used already on some materials. Thank-you and a big shout out to Vanessa. Vanessa is now working with us to create a Battambang T-shirt for CAD to use with volunteer students and potentially tourists travelling through. More updates as we progress on this!
I am still involved with teaching English, teaching a particular class in the CAD 1 centre – this is very much a beginners class and they are absolutely delightful. Their teacher doesn’t speak much English either but somehow we work well together as a team.
BATTAMBANG LIVLIHOODS TOUR
First up hand-made rice paper, literally hundreds of perfect round circles drying on bamboo racks alongside the roadside. Finely sliced bananas drying in the sun, followed by the tools and techniques for making Khmer rice noodles. J and I were persuaded to sit and “enjoy” a bowl of traditional noodles (with various ominous additions) in amongst the locals in the village market, perhaps luckily the boys were not required to partake.
Next up, rice wine. A staple part of the Cambodian diet, and the cheapest and most popular Cambodian beverage, srah sohl, or rice wine, is produced by fermenting grains of rice and can be ready in as little as 24 hours. Fascinating to see a local family at work through the entire process. We finished up with our first micro-sip of this cheap and lethal alcohol which actually I rather liked.
Bamboo rice cakes sold in baskets by the roadside were delicious, and a delicacy of this region of Cambodia. Grand finale was a tour of the biggest fish paste market in Battambang which left our senses reeling. Time to complete our 35km round trip and back to base with four numb bums. We dived straight into the nearest cafe for smoothies and a large draught Cambodia beer. It was a truly magical morning, to travel by bicycle and witness the daily life of Cambodian villagers at a far slower pace than by TukTuk.
SIEM REAP AND THE GREATEST TEMPLES
The journey to Siem Reap took around 4 hours with a rest stop half way to enjoy Cambodian street food delights such as crunchy crickets, sweet lychee sodas and the delightful, or not so, durian fruit. A very brief foray to the hole in the ground toilet (Oscar not impressed) and back on the bus for the remainder of the trip. We checked into our guest house in the heart of the city, only a couple of minutes walk from Old Market, and the night-time action and cocktails of Pub Street. The boys were thrilled to see a small swimming pool and were in within seconds. Incidentally, who’d think that swimming googles would become such a prized possession for us here in Cambodia? We are down to our last 2 with no hope of getting any replacements until a sports shop manifests itself along our travels.
First up on the tourist trail was out to the National Museum to get a sense of the history of Angkor Archaeological Park before our visit at 630am the next day. We decided against a guide for our Big Day, and instead opted for the fantastic Mr Savuth and his tuktuk whom we had found on the web.
Up early and excited we were into one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites by 700am and standing face to face with the world’s great city of Angkor Thom and the Bayon temple.
For each of the four of us, what stood before us truly took our breath away. What unfolded with the children was really truly magical as Oscar in particular came alive with awe, excitement and inspiration. We were met by a Buddhist nun who instructed us how to make an offering of incense sticks and worship the Buddah.
The boys loved every minute of this ethereal world, scrambling over the rocks and ruins, climbing up into towers of Baphuon and marvelling at the majestic carvings along the Terrace of the Elephants.
We continued to Ta Keo and Ta Prohm and delighted in the fact we were visiting during low season and therefore not subjected to too many large tourist groups. One of the most striking aspects of our visit was seeing how the park is still inhabited, with many villages, some of whom ancestors are dating back to the Angkor period are scattered throughout the park.
We worked our days very much around the children. I wanted them to have fond memories of a visit somewhere so special, so we returned to the hotel by 10am for a long swim and chill out before heading back out at 4pm to see Angkor Wat with hopes of a sundowner. Despite being caught in a monsoon downpour, Angkor Wat is everything you read about, and more. We had a day away from the temples and returned again on Saturday to travel a good 45 minutes out to Banteay Srey famous for exquisitely detailed carvings. We passed many farmers in their rice fields, and witnessed once again village life in amongst these archaeological masterpieces. Pre Rup temple, followed by Banteay Kdei and a final clamber in amongst the towers.
We were persuaded to stop by the Landmine Museum and indeed a worthwhile visit for it was both eye-opening and tragic. This is a museum and a home for victims of landmines. The boys were fascinated and asked a million questions, their brains firing on all cylinders trying to get to grips with the horror of these small innocent looking pieces of wood and plastic. We have had many questions from the boys since, particularly Zachary. They have produced some scary looking drawings but I think this is a good thing. It has made them think beyond their own lives, to start to consider the what, the why and the enormity of war.
SIEM REAP – COMPUTERS
The remainder of our trip really was spent absorbing Siem Reap in restaurants, bars, cafes and the infamous Blue Pumpkin Cafe (bpumpkin.com) for ice-cream. Chocolate for Zachary (as always), Strawberry and Vanilla for Oscar (as always), coconut shake for Annie and
Poipet is grim. A city known for scam-artists and lawlessness. We witnessed large military vehicles collecting the thousands of Cambodian legal and illegal workers deported from Thailand by the new military government. An estimated 25000 crossing the border in one day alone, and in reality there is not enough transport and a growing humanitarian crisis as deported workers await transport to their prospective provinces.
Within an hour and a half or so we had exited Cambodia, entered Thailand, exited Thailand and entered Cambodia. Many appeared to be doing the same, and vice versa from Thailand. A strange half mile or so of smelly, dirty and dusty no mans land. Large concrete seedy casinos where Thais gamble in Cambodia without having to go through immigration. Stacks of cheap cigarettes and an assortment of duty-free alcohol which was more expensive than the local store in Battambang. We made it through fairly seamlessly, far too many forms and photographs, and another round of $80 on visa fees into Cambodia – I couldn’t help thinking this to be a crazy system. We were passed over to a new taxi driver with minus zero English skill, a dodgy, beyond old Toyota Camry, and the driving speed of Eitan Senna. It was horrendous. How J was able to keep his eyes open looking through the front windscreen I’ll never know. A dodgy moment as the driver tried to pile in another paying Cambodian passenger. When we refused he tried to sit her next to him in the driver seat. No. No way. We made it clear we wouldn’t be paying him, never mind the fact this wasn’t safe for us at the speed he drove. I swear he then drove even faster and it was truly crazy. Within minutes of arriving back to our room in Battambang, we broke into our emergency mini 5 cl vodka. Down in one.
Next up, Week 5.