Sunday, 7 April 2013

Pack your bags - we're going on a guilt trip.

I actually haven't finished telling you about my Southeast Asian trip - I still have a bit more to share with you but I will intersperse it between other posts so I don't become that party bore.

Last time I left you, I had just left Hanoi - begrudgingly.  
I had wished I could change my whole itinerary and explore the rest of Vietnam.  But it would be a pain and not much was refundable so was unenthusiastic about going to Cambodia.

When I fell in love with Hanoi and had such an interesting and fun experience, I thought I had peaked too early. 
Between you and me, I am a moderate optimist.  I said to myself that was the amazing bit so just accept the rest will be okay.

I had arrived in Siem Reap at night and had no bearing and quite frankly no interest.

I thought,"Well, Angkor Wat is apparently beautiful, it's a wonder of the world right?  Come on, let's tick that box Naomi."

I woke up and found that my hotel was quite sweet - Palm Spring-y.

My room on the right - went against my philosophy and stayed all four nights.
My room was on the right - the one that all the geckos seem to congregate to.

The garden was enviable - frangipani and mango trees.
 Natural orchids growing on the tree.
  I am sure there is a proper name but in laymen terms, 
anorexic lilies.
The flow of the bath entertained me  - doesn't take much sometimes.

But I wasn't in the hotel decor analyzing mood.

As I don't plan things properly, I haphazardly looked at my guidebook but was drowning in the humid heat.  
I promised that I would not complain about the heat but the 
43 degree heat was making me feel faint. 
But I had tourist guilt so left the hotel and let my feet lead me somehow to Angkor Wat.

 Now Wat in Cambodian means temple.  
So when I looked at my free hotel map of Siem Reap, there were loads of wats so I just headed to the nearest one.
I didn't get the whole - Angkor Wat vs wat thing.  
I couldn't be bothered bringing my guidebook because it was heavy and as usual I would wing it.
(I was not a particularly fastidious student either.)
So I'm looking around. Not really getting it.
Although a monk's orange/sepia/crimson gowns are an absolute vision for me.
These mini pagodas are funeral headstones.

With a little botox, this dog could look ten years younger.
The dog would follow me around but then curl up again - adorable.
I think this one was called Wat Bo.
Lovely frangipani trees were in bloom.
Nice but I didn't understand why people would come all the way here for this.
Uh huh. Yep. Pretty nice.
Of course, these temples have nothing to do with Angkor Wat but that was only after I did the proper tour that I knew.

I just walked around aimlessly.
I thought I would just enjoy not having to be anywhere at a certain time.

I wasn't in the mood to shop but only went in to find shade.
Then this real odor bordering on stink overwhelmed me.
It was an open meat and fish market in mid forty degree heat.
I know that this is not particularly appetizing but I did think no one is going to accidentally buy horsemeat when they asked for beef.  
You see what you are getting.
The one that got away - plenty more fish in the sea ladies.
Not quite the fish counter at my local supermarket.
I found myself in the old town of Siem Reap - not particularly pretty.  Mind you Hanoi ruined it for me.  
My eyes had become too accustomed to architectural stimulus.
This was the cutest bit of Siem Reap.
Wanderlust was a boutique with the cutest clothes run by an ex Conde Nast magazine editor. 
It was lunchtime and even though I am quite adventurous with food, I was a bit at a loss.
These were green mangoes and some other fruit in a chili garnish.
Dried meats and fish was useless to me.
Not into the whole nondescript molluscs thingy on a wagon
 in midday heat.
I was getting hungry but this was not gator burger mascot 
but just a souvenir. 
Who buys these things??
"Please feed our hungry fish your dead skin."That made me momentarily lose my appetite.
I found the most touristy cafe and had the local beer and 
ashamed to say it but a bruschetta.
I just wasn't feeling adventurous at all.

But after a drink and a snack, I gave myself a mental pep talk 
and went to Tonle Sap lake.
It is a  large freshwater lake that is 
designated as a UNESCO eco-biosphere.  
I wanted to see what that meant in real life.

I got on a tuk tuk and set off.

I reached countryside really quick - 
this is a huge patch of water lilies.

Sorry I couldn't get a better shot but even with a better camera 
I don't know if it would have captured it.
Went through a few towns and the prerequisite parting of the goats.
The poverty was quite apparent.
Cambodia is still firmly a third world country and recovering from the last sixty years of politics. 
Independence from the French.  Civil War.  
Bombing during the Vietnam War.
  Pol pot and his holocaust that killed around 3 million people.  
They have had it so rough.
The roads were not paved properly - 
so if you go ladies, wear a sports bra.
After twenty minutes, I arrived at the pier.
It was dry season and the water levels were the 
lowest of the annual cycle.
The pier was quite slippery and would not have passed a standard health and safety test.

I had my own boat all to myself along with a boat driver and guide.
The water was very muddy but in high season the water apparently is nice and clear of silt.
I didn't take a picture of the overbearing guide.  He spoke good English but he gave me the hard sell and telling me sob stories.  
But he was so dirty and his hygiene was terrible that I was getting dizzy with the heat and smells and his disgusting habits which I won't get into.

We sailed by parked boats.
Children were swimming in the muddy water...
This was one of the spirit houses that Southeast Asia have to soothe the ghosts.
We were headed to the villages that are situated on the water.

It didn't quite sink in what that meant until I sailed past their basketball court!

There is the village in the distance.
 There are two "neighbourhoods":
one is local Cambodian and one is of Vietnamese refugees.
They escaped the Pol Pot regime and found refuge on the lake in the seventies and just stayed.
Isn't that window box of flowers sweet?
The local shop.
This was a fisherman fixing his nets.
Normal life - hanging laundry, airing the carpets.
I peaked inside the house as discreetly as I can - whether land or water - I love looking at homes.
I need to get a hammock as well.
This was a rather posh house because it had a patio on the side.
The parking lot.  Don't know if you get parking tickets here.
I couldn't get over that people actually lived here.  
This was not a set for Waterworld.
This was the local church.
Stores even on water have competition. The other store in town.
This is where the birds perch - the guide told me that they were made for wildlife to perch.
The guide said they were taking me to the local orphanage and that I should take some goods to them.  I was not prepared as you might have gathered - for anything.
I only had 40 dollars on me as I was not expecting to do any shopping and had already paid for everything upfront. So he took me to the local supermarket to buy food.
So I told them I only had 40 dollars.  The guide told me he would take care of it and I thought for forty dollars in Cambodia I would still be able to buy a decent amount of food...But the local vendor didn't speak English and my guide brokered the deal.  
He said he would take care of it.

We got back on the boat and headed to the orphanage.
These were the local beggars.  Mothers who were using their own children as a hook which was ironic in front of an orphanage.
The orphanage was for children of the Vietnamese refugees.
Now, there is an unofficial request in Cambodia ask that pictures not be taken of the children at orphanages. But this kid asked me to take of photo of him so I obliged.
The school corridor.
Only to illustrate the "playground".  
Swimming in the water is not recommended.
When I got back to the boat I asked the guide to deliver the goods to the orphanage.  
He then lifted two cases of water and one box of instant noodles.  I could have gotten more at my local shops in London. I had been given this huge sob story and yet obviously monies were not distributed properly. I blamed myself.  I should have paid more attention and not expected that the guide would do the right thing.

I would have loved to get a bottle of water from the floating cornershop but I had no money left. Well, I did have three pounds but they wouldn't accept that nor American Express so I was just dying of thirst in the meantime.

I was miffed at the tour guide and just looked at the surroundings.
Men playing cards at the local cafe.
You see half a boat on the left side of the picture.
There was a girl with a snake around her neck that was about 6 foot long and about 20 inches in diameter. I hate snakes and nearly dropped my camera at the alarming sight. I did not take a picture because I was busy screaming.  Apparently snakes are a very popular pet in these village as cats and dogs don't adapt easily.

I think this house can't make up its mind - should it be a land house or a water house?
Those stick are preventing the house from toppling over!
As I left the boat, the guide expected a tip.  
I had no energy to argue so I offered him my last three British pounds but he didn't want that.  He wanted "dolla dolla".  
Of course, I forgot how the greenback despite its economic turmoils is still king in most of the world. If you gave most third world people the choice between twenty pounds sterling and twenty dollars, most people will take the dollars even though it is explained that sterling is stronger.

 He kept pleading for more money to which I reminded him I spent all my money at the orphanage.  He then told me borrow money from the tuk tuk driver!  I left politely.
Back on the road back to town.
I was still taken aback by the poverty - Vietnam did not have this.  Not near Hanoi anyway.
The stagnant pooling of water could not be healthy and why are there unattended children on a main road?
This was a restaurant that had hammocks instead of seats.
This was not a deserted house...

Finally got back to town.
I asked the tuk tuk driver what I could do just for an hour or two because I was going to just chill out by the pool in the afternoon and he took me to the Lolei group of temples.

They are located just out of town as well and 
they are the oldest group of temples.
Built around 876, over a thousand years old.
I found that out because I eavesdropped on this Korean tour guide and they didn't think I was Korean so I just stood next to them looking at the temples! Cheeky me.
They were in need of restoration.  These monuments have only been rediscovered about a hundred years ago and then due to the political mess that Cambodia has had for the last 60 years, monument restoration was the last thing on anyone's mind.
Luckily, much needed restoration is taking place on some structures.
Stunning carvings.
The temples are still active and monks are in residence next door - their laundry drying.
 Due to the changing religions a thousand years ago, a lot of the carvings of various deities have been removed.  Cambodia wavered between Hinduism and Buddhism, so the respective ruler would have carvings of the other religion etched out with many of these empty niches remaining.
They didn't remove this entirely but just chiseled out the face. This was a Hindu god so was carved out by the Buddhists at the time.

This is the remnants of another nearby Hindu temple.  The original statues of bulls remains in remarkably good condition.  Quite astonishing after a thousand years of rain, sun, and wind.
 Sad testimony of the looting of the statues inside the temples.  The French explorers, especially Andre Malraux didn't think twice about cramming as much as they could before days of luggage allowance.
He was notorious about emptying out temples.
Emptied shrine
But just before the Pol Pot regime, Americans also colloborated with locals and sold a lot of statues to private collectors as it was illegal to take out religious artifacts out of the country. It still is.
Another one of many shrines where the statue has been taken.
 The area in general is full of man made lakes and moats.
 These irrigation channels were dug at the beginning of the Khmer dynasty over a thousand years ago.

 One of the temples that make up the Lolei group of temples.
This was a bit more like it.
The entrance had a protective stone carved of multiple snakes.

 The children who were around 6 years old working saddened me.
They ask that even if you feel bad for them never to buy anything from them because it just encourages parents to make their kids work instead of sending them to school.

 I am not a huge kiddie person - takes a lot for me to say kids are cute.  But I can see why Angelina Jolie keeps adopting kids every time she goes to this part of the world.
These girls were just playing and not trying to flog anything.
 I then nearly had a fainting episode so headed back to the hotel.

But do you see spirit houses again?
The little orange/brown mini pagoda in front of the house in the slight right of center?

This house has one just to the left of the house in front.
Now this may be controversial for me to say this but 
I must get it off my chest.
I understand that religion and spiritual beliefs are important for a lot of people everywhere but it pains me that these poor people sacrifice money to buy a spirit house that is about 1/30th of the size of their real house.  These spirit houses are not cheap and yet these same homeowners were the same ones sending their 6 year olds to sell postcards. 
( I saw the same kids outside the temples go in for a snack.)

I went back to the hotel feeling very saddened by the poverty and child labour I witnessed.

Siem Reap downtown district - not very pretty.
I headed to the pool and mulled over the day's events and I was upset at myself and the guides at getting ripped off while trying to help at an orphanage.
I am aware of the discrepancy between my hotel and the rest of the town.
  I was getting tourist fatigue and tired of organizing my own transport and getting dodgy guides so I booked an official tour with the concierge.
The sun was setting and the next day I would finally get to set my eyes on Angkor Wat.

Hope you join me there. x


  1. This is such an interesting post, an honest account of your experiences and reactions. It is the sort of holiday that really makes you look at your own opportunities in life and I'm happy to have enjoyed your trip at second hand, although a little bit of the heat wouldn't come amiss!

    1. Thank you - it really did do that and I have come back refreshed in many way and yes I wish I did bring along some heat with me!

  2. I understand your sadness. I have only been to one country where the rich/poverty divide is so apparent and that was Cuba. I was completely unprepared for what I experienced when I went in to the city of Havana, having left my luxurious hotel. It did leave me in deep thought that day as I mulled over what I had seen (beggars, child labour).

    Sorry to hear you got ripped off, that's bad enough in your own country let alone on holiday.

    I'm so not adventurous with food and have a very sensitive nose when it comes to bad food smells, I'm not sure how I'd have coped in your situation, but truth be known I'd have gone for the bruscetta too! lol

    It's interesting that you have written this post because it is the complete opposite of the post I'm about to publish in terms of the unparalleled world we live in xx

    1. I heard that about Cuba from some other people as well. I heard it has the same dichotomy between beauty and decay.

      I don't mind so much about getting ripped off but just how and where I got ripped off coupled with the fact that I was just so disoriented and usually that doesn't happen to me...

      That is the one time ever where I just couldn't handle it but I did eventually try the local food :) xx

  3. wonderful pictures, thanks for sharing!

  4. what an INCREDIBLE adventure you are on!

    most impressively splendid.

    1. Hello Team! It was a trip that turned out not to as straightforward as I had planned, let's put it that way! I am back in blighty tho now...* wavingnottoodaroffchurchrow*

  5. I think in Asian countries, like Cambodia, it's pretty much essential to stay somewhere nice. I know it sounds shallow, but I think you need a circuit breaker between what you see and what your life is in the West to decompress at the end of the day. It can be pretty confronting.

    We went to Halong Bay just north of Hanoi when we were in Vietnam, and they have whole communities living in little houses in the water, just as in Cambodia. Also, lots of villages in Vietnam were like the ones you pictured above...pretty grim you just had to travel out of the city for a short distance, but possibly there has been a lot of change there anyway in the past 8 years since I went.
    Love that you got a free tour of the temple. I've enjoyed your tour description, even though it does sound quite bleak and confronting for your first day. I've also found in 3rd world countries that even though it goes against the grain for me, a professional type tour guide through the hotel usually works better than winging it due to being ripped off or taken places that are not of interest (such as their friends shop....) xx

    1. It is not shallow at all! I think you are right - it is essential. If I had to sit in a coffeeshop next to the children selling postcards I would have gone into an existential combustion.

      Now I am glad I didn't make it to Halong Bay. I don't know if I could have handled too many more episodes of this - I just wasn't prepared for any of it.

      I also don't normally like tour guides - there have only been about 4 exceptions in my travels and were amazing but I am starting to realize that they do act as a buffer and it isn't the facts they spew out but they ease all the dynamics so you can just enjoy the view. I know this was a heavy post so thanks for coming by anyway! xx

  6. This was such an interesting post, it was like reading a chapter in a book. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Sharon. I hope it wasn't too intense and I may have warnings on posts beforehand - always love having you drop by xx

  7. Thanks for stopping by my blog :)
    Love these pics!


    1. Not at all - I always visit those who come by if they have a blog. Thanks for coming by again x

  8. I went to Vietnam last summer and just adored it! Lots of beautiful placesto discover!

    1. Oh did you as well? I will try and go see if you have any pictures!

  9. I admire your tenacity and sense of adventure! I am well aware of the horrendous environments that millions of children are living/existing in across the world. What really pisses me off is that their own governments do little to help the situation. Most of them would rather spend on their defence budget than anything else. That guide you had deserved a good slap. I would find this kind of trip too heartbreaking and depressing, yet tourism is such a huge part of their economy that people would suffer more without the income it provides.

    1. Oh No SK, no tenacity was involved and my sense of adventure only looks it because of my age but it really is more immaturity I think. I knew of it as well but I just didn't prepare myself mentally so was thinking I should have prepped myself beforehand. But that really ticks me off as well but as you said - are we to boycott these places? We may not have huge power but we do have our own input with its trickle effect. But next time, I will go girl scout ready.

  10. ok - i'm on overload right now - i gotta let all this sink and settle in!

  11. You take such amazing photos! Those anorexic lilies freaked me out a little, I thought it was big white spiders xx

    1. Oh you are being way too kind. I need a better camera when I have time to learn the gadget because there is no point getting a new camera and not knowing what to do with the buttons! I didnt see spiders until you mentioned it! xx

  12. Such an interesting post, I love your honesty. You've had some great adventures. x

    1. Thanks - I knew it wouldn't be a popular post perse but I did need to be honest so...This was an adventure for sure! xx

  13. Love this post! Very interesting...


  14. Such an informative and thought-provoking post. I've certainly learnt a great deal from your photos and detailed commentary. I'm very sorry to hear that you were ripped off too. Looking forward to seeing your photos of Angkor Wat.

  15. Hi Miss B, I did get ripped off a lot - one usually does when one goes away but I just wish it wasn't for an orphanage...But always lovely to have you come by x

  16. These place are so nice!!!! Nice pictures as well :-)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Yes, the places were interesting to say the lease. Thanks so much Gloria x

  17. This was totally a heavy post but it's not about reading it all.When I started reading this post,time flew.Its heaviness is actually my feelings.I felt completely lost and heavy.You know the feeling,when you wanna do something for somebody but you can't do anything at all.I'm just so fed up of people taking advantage of a child,more importantly from their own child.It just makes me feel so anxious.But if we were in those people's places,what would we do?
    I dont want my comment to be so long and I also don't want to be accusing but the new world order wants us not to think about these kind of countries,just spend and live unresponsibility so that makes us more and more selfish only thinking about ourselves.If you know what I mean you can understand me.
    Wish to see more soon

    1. I do understand what you mean...It was a bit heavy for me too! But it is just one of those things that one needs to be aware of and try and take the positive out of a situation...But that place was very touching. I hope you don't feel too bad??

  18. What a great post! Thx for all the photos! So interesting to see! xo Caroline

  19. Feels like I've been there with this post. Lovely pictures. Got my eye on your next posts.


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