A Travellerspoint blog

April 2007

Still in Phnom Penh

and, although my camera is almost full, still no decent internet connexion or PC to even bother trying to post them...

Written on April 29...
Ok, first of all, a clarification to a previous entry, about beggars and my saying no to them. That's not entirely true, as starting..well, very long ago, as far back as Vancouver, but more in Hong Kong and Thailand, I have given food (I never give money because you don't know what theydo with it, but food is, hopefully, eaten.) to people passively begging on the sidewalk. Instead of throwing away a left over, I'll always give it away. Same with if I have fruit or peanuts or other snacks in my bag, I'll give them happily to someone who clearly needs it more than me. I have done this countless times and a few people I have travelled with have noticed and remarked on it (I thought everyone did this too, but apparently not...).
The problem with here in Cambodia is that 1. They are very pro-active (I would say agressive, but not in a violent way) in their begging, which I find difficult to cope with, and more importantly 2. there aren't nearly as many little snack stands here, meaning that I don't snack as much, and am much hungrier when we finally find a place to eat, and eat everything on my plate. As a result, no snacks in my bags, no left-overs and a $12US/day budget make it very difficult to give anything away. (The original $17/day had to be brought down after buying the visas)
It's really not as if I just want to keep it and splurge on myself! We are currently staying in a $1/night dormitory, and my meals cost about $2each, +Internet fees (up to $.75/hour, $.40 where I currently am) so that leaves me with about $3/day for entrance fees to visit sites (I.e national Museum today was $3 to ge in, so technically, anything other than dinner tonight will make me go over budget). Tomorrow is looking worst, as we will visit 2 sites (killing field and genocide museum) which each charge $2 entrance fee + a tuk-tuk ride will be required (we just walked today) for as much as $4each, so I'm pretty much certain to be over budget then too. On top of it all, Lonely Planet made me feel even worst by noting that it's Buddist tradition to give to people who have less than you....technically, that encompasses almost every Camdbodian!!!

Anyway, all of that to say that I feel very bad about seeming so greedy (which I know I am, but not to that extent!!!) to locals, but it's not exactly as if I'm floating in cash either. I think I would feel a lot better if I could give as I want to, but I'll have to leave that to the people who are here on shorter vacations, or who are at least going back home to work (=make $) as opposed to study (=no earning potential, and massive costs). I think the main killer for me is the fact that everything here is in $US. In Thailand, I had 600B daily budget. It's much more pleasant to manage than 12$!!! For that reason, I deal in riels as much as possible ($1US=aprox 4000 riels, a meal from a street vendor will be approx 3000riels).
Anyway, enough ranting about money, but it's definitely something that's on my mind a lot more these days than for the past couple of months.
Last note to this topic: Cost of living here, as you can see from the numbers above, is crazy cheap!!! If I was here with decent (aka normal) amounts of money for a normal vacation, I could live like a freaking queen!!!

Quicknote on the begging kids at Angkor Wat. They are quite good at what they do. They generally engage coversation by asking where you're from, and many of them are able to recite facts about Canada (i.e population 32M, capital Ottawa, very cold) !!!!! Impressive!!!! I didn;t expect that and it took me a second to realize what the first kid who did this was saying!
Off topic but related to Angkor Wat: Today we visited the National Museum and got to see many many pieces that were originally taken from Angkor what. They really should be returned,as they are clearly missed there. Seeing them in the museum

Back to Phnom Penh. It's no where near as nice as Thailand. I desperatly miss the fruit stands (in Thailand, there are fruits stands almost everywhere, where they sell good portions of cut mangos, pineapple and melons for 10-20B) and the general goodness of the food. Traffic here is comparable to Bangkok (aka completely out of this world crazy and seemingly orderless) except that there are a lot more motorbikes than cars. For example, to turn left, whereas we put our signal (most of us) and wait for an opening, here they don't signal at all and simply start driving in the oncoming lane, honk their horn several times and cut people to turn onto the street or wherever they want to go!!!!! (Note: they drive "on the same side" as us, which is weird after over 2 months of "the other side"). They also use their horns for everything (aka telling others that they are there). On the 5hrs bus ride from Siem Reap to here, the driver was on it almost all the time! Whether to get a cow or dog to move out of the street, warn a car from the oncoming direction that it was in it's lane, passing a motorbike and/or any slower vehicle and/or any little town we passed. I wondered what he would do if the horn died! hehehe

Final note on Cambodia for now: Every afternoon around 4pm, there's a dust strom (it's probably only a dry season thing - we're at the end of the dry season = the dryest possible time - everything is dusty and you get covered in it no matter what). We actually came to this internet place to escape the storm! The first one occured approx 10 minutes from walking through the border, we were like "OMG!!!"
Well, that's that for now! Tomorrow is looking like a pretty grim day.

Posted by Mistrale 02:20 Comments (0)

Phnom Penh

Big city!

semi-overcast 32 °C

Written on April 28...

We've just made it in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It's definitely a big city, but it feels a lot "more real" than Siem Reap, so it's good. We plan on visiting the killing fields, National Museum and Genocide museum while we're here, so it's looking like a pretty intense couple of days.
A few cute "re-wording when they can't find the right word" we've heard so far:
Small swimming pool you have in your house (for a bath! hehehe)
Electric fire (for the lamp posts on the street)
Water from the sky (for rain)
aaawwwww! It's just so cute!
I had other stuff I wanted to write, but just can't remember and am running out of internet time anyway, so later!
Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 06:09 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Angkor Wat

Very nice, but overall mixed feelings about Cambodia so far

overcast 33 °C

Written on April 27...
Today we visited a few of the temples of Angkor Wat. It's quite a sight indeed! We were originally going to buy the 3 day pass ($40) which is crazy expensive for my budget, so for budgetary reasons, and a small blunder yesterday, we scaled down to the 1 day pass ($20).
Indeed, we tried to go yesterday, and rented bicyles ($1/day each)to get there (it's only 7km fom town), however we somehow managed to get lost on the way and end up at a back entrance, where they only emitted 1 day passes, so they gave us somewhat vague instructions on how to get to the main entrance. We tried to follow these directions, but ended up at a side entrance, where they also only gave 1-day passes. We finally ended up at the right entrance, 4 hours later, after biking in the super hot sun (from 11am to 3pm). hehehe, by that time we didn't even want to go in anymore and decided to hire a tuk tuk the following day (today, tuk tuk is $10 -haggled down from $15), buy a 1 day pass and get a tour that way.
On the flip side, this "getting lost" forced us to bike through where people actually live. Poverty is overwhelming and is seen constantly, through their houses, and in town, through people begging (at the entrance of minimarts, on the street, at the restaurants, kids and adults selling stuff or just plain asking for money or food). I don't think I can properly describe the feeling of repeatedly saying no to 2-3yrs old kids, handicapped men, mothers with their children asking for food... And this is side by side with the sheer opulence of tourists fancy resorts and expensive restaurants. While biking yesterday, some big hotel had a sign advertising their chef's special meal, for $32/person. I think that $32 is more that many many people here make in a month...it's just crazy.

I also feel very very bad with being on such a tight budget here. On one side, people ask for food, or to buy trinkets and clothes for crazy cheap prices (T-shirts: $1, scarves: 3 for $5, bracelets and postcards: 10 for 1 $) and we keep saying no (no space in the backpack, no money to really spare), so they bring their prices down, walk with us for as long as possible, pull on our clothes. It's honestly extremely difficult and is making my stay here rather unpleasant. Being cheap is not so cool, and feels rather silly when faced with this reality..... One example today, of which I still feel bad about: yesterday I bought a "cut and ready to eat" mango at the market from an old lady, for 1000riels ($0.25). Today at the temple I saw some, sold under a tree by an older lady - side note: there aren't very many older people here, with the massive killings of some 50yrs ago) and asked how much: 2000riels. Stupid silly me, who got used to bargain everything, said no thanks and started walkign away. A kid selling postcards They kept asking and I said "yesterday I bought for 1000riels", so their gave it to me for that. It felt bad rightaway, and in retrospect, they could certainly use that 1000riels more than me, we are, after all, talking about $0.25..... I tend to forget that "in the heat of the moment" and just see 1000vs2000, or whatever amount is in question. I hope Phnom Phen is different (maybe with less tourism, there'll be a different feel)

Back to the temples.
Overall, I think 1 day was enough (after all, ruins are ruins). My only disappointment is that we didn't hire the services of a tour guide (we didn't even know the option was available until on site, and they must be hired at a centre that's a bit aways from the actual site) as we would sometimes "walk slow" or "linger around" a guide and his group and it sounded sooo interesting. If you ever come here, HIRE A GUIDE!
A distinction must be made between tuk tuk driver and official guide. We hired a tuk tuk (the taxi service around here, essentially a carriage for 2 people pulled by a motorbike) thinking that he would walk around with us and tell us some stuff (essentially acting as a guide), but not, he simply drove us from site to site and gave us very very brief explanation of the site (i.e. this is a temple the king built for his mother). Unfortunately, there isn't much written wabout what we see at each site either, so we got our info from the LP (brief paragraph on each temple), the bits of info "stolen" from the guides, and the occasional info board at the entrace of a site.
We got many great pictures and saw a total of 4-5 temples. I'll talk in more details about each (the little more detail I have) once I post pics. The internet here is way too slow to even consider posting pics!
SO it was a good day, but I'll be happy to leave this town of Siem Reap tomorrow morning, heading for Phnom Phen.

Posted by Mistrale 06:09 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia!!!!!!

well...Siem Reap...

overcast 28 °C

Written on April 25...
We just made it into Siem Reap, the town where everyone stays to visit the temples of Ankor Wat. It's very strange because highly touristic (everyone is priced in US$, no kidding!). I'm currently writing from the main bar street and can hear simultaneously Green Day, Bon Jovi Beyonce and some nasty karaoke... weird! Beer is $.75US for a pint though, so well priced! hehehe
The ride here was quite entertaining, with a nice bus to the border, then a shitty mini-bus (we knew what to expect, but not everyone, some people were not happy!) for a 5-hour ride on a dirt road (the main road). Thailand is floating in cash compared to Cambodia!!!
I gotta go but I'll write more over the next few days.
cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 09:32 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Random notes

That you might find interesting..or not...but I do.

sunny 34 °C

Written on April 24....

I write this blog as much for the pleasure of sharing my trip with you, as for the fact that I plan to print all the entries when I get back home and keep this as a souvenir of this trip (I tried but can't be bothered to write a "journal"). SO anyway, the following are random info and bits of things that I want to write down somewhere.

At Nosey Parker's elephant trekking, we were lucky to meet with a very knowledgeable (and more importantly, decent english-speaking, Thai guy). He said his name was Monkey, but somehow, I doubt!
He talked to us about the life of elephants. Doing these tourist tours, they work approx 4 hours/day, and by work, we mean "walk around". This is much easier than the alternative: working in the jungle deforesting, a tough physical job, done all day long without proper breaks, until death. When they get too hot, the elephants get grumpy and must take a "bath break", where they submerge themselves in a little creek on the property. Our elephant was a bit grumpy during our ride (she would stop by trees and scratch herself for a while, or go straight into a leafy tree and help herself to some leaves and small branches), so she got to go in the water after. Unfortunatly, Aliya had loaded my memory card (we found out just as our elephant was going in the water), so there aren't any pics of the event. In any case, it looked fun and relaxing for the animal.
They eat pineapple trees (you may remember a pic of it in a previous entry) and other random green stuff.

Thailand's main poduction is of Palm oil and rubber. The elephant ride went through a rubber tree forest. The bark of these trees is stripped (a little, but over time, it adds up to a lot) and the sap is collected in hollowed coconut shells (kinda like traditional maple water collected in buckets). This water is then shipped to production plants where it is processed and becomes our "good old rubber". One can apparently tell the difference between rubber from trees vs from petrol... Because the weather is so hot, the trees are normally poked around 2-3am and the sap collected around sunrise. Each tree can only produce sap for a few years. After that, it's been too damaged from the bark being stripped and is cut down to leave room for a new small tree.

Palm tree plantations (not to be confused with coconut trees) can be seen throughout the south of Thailand (and maybe the North, I don't know, haven't been yet). The oil produced by these trees is mainly used for cooking (no wonder the Thais are not exactly a "slim" people - compared to other asian peoples - all that frying (almost everything is stir-fried here) in palm oil (one of the oils with the highest levels of saturated fats!). Apparently the leaves are also sometimes (other than when used for traditional/low budget roofs) to be mixed with marijuana (which is highly illegal here!) and people smoke it "but not me" he said! hehehe

Things that Thai people laugh at/with me for:
When they teach me a new word or expression,
The next Thai person when I try to use the word or expression! hehehe
When we eat food that soo hot we hurt, sweat heavily and/or almost cry!
When we try something (mainly food) that farangs normally don't try (i.e. they have a sort of ice cone where they shread ice and douse it with sweet sirup -I haven't seen this in touristy areas, but it's fairly common when we wanter off in local markets - It's quite good! too)
I can't think of anything else right now, but the list should be a lot longer! hehehe

Something else that's funny and sometimes difficult to notice (but sometimes very obvious) : Thai people say yes when they don't really know what you're talking about (kinda their version of our "smile and nod" I guess... hehehe something I do a lot of here!) A very obvious example, in Krabi, our hotel had safety boxes on a wall in the main lobby (accessible to anyone walking by), but with a double lock and 2 distinct keys (hotel kept 1, we kept the other -both were needed to open the box), similar to a safety box at the bank (or what I've seen in movies of it). It seemed safe and sturdy, but I asked the lady if people were breaking into them sometimes/often. She was adamant " yes, yes, yes", I rephrased: do people steal from here? Her: big smile, wide eyes "yes yes yes yes" hehehe, 1 more attempt: pointing at the main outside door, enacting (not very well I'll admit) someone walking in and trying to beak the lock, she never stopped saying yes, yes! hehehe! she had no idea what I was asking her! hehehe

Of course, now that I take the time to write down the random stuff I've been wanting to write down, it doesn't come to me anymore! arrgghh! Well, I'lls imply edit this later.

On a different note, we bought our ticket to Cambodia yesterday, leaving tomorrow. It seems like it's going to be a crazy journey. The bus ride to the border is apparently quite easy and comfy (2-3 hours), however, the roads on the other side are apparently worst than anything we've ever seen (or can imagine) - and the trip can take several several hours. I'm planning ahead and will be wearing a sports bra tomorrow ! hehehe
Based on reccs from Lonely Plant and other people, we wanted to get a ride to the border only and take it from there (aka cab it -it's much less expensive here than in Canada, much much much), but the price was the same for a full trip as for a "border trip", so we bought a ticket for the whole thing and will decide there if we prefer to take a taxi...it's nice to have options.
Once again, it seems that what I call the "cattle run" is cheaper than doing it ourselves. A local "government" bus is approx 250B to a town 6k of the border, then we're on our own, but when we factor in the cost to get to the bus terminal, then to the border and after ont he Cambodia side, a 300B "all included" trip is just so much cheaper!!!! I hate that it's easier and cheaper to go on chartered "tourist' cattle run" groups than on our own, but such is life here I guess...
I'll let you know how it goes!!!
Cheers

Posted by Mistrale 22:31 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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