Jun 152014
 
Gater i Pnomh Penh

Gater i Pnomh Penh

Pnom Penh was one of the last major cities on our long journey. After 15 months of travelling and hundreds of cities, our lust for sightseeing was not quite the same as before. We had simply become lazy. We spent a few days in Cambodia's capital, but we did not do much. We had planned to go to the "killing fields" but skipped it since it rained that day and we were simply too lazy. We met a nice American/Australian couple (Ashlee og Locke)

Royal Palace inngangen

Royal Palace inngangen

and ended up spending much of our time in Pnom Penh drinking margaritas and beer with them. A little later we regretted that we did not go to the "killing fields" as we met several other travellers later in our trip who said it was a great and emotional experience. Cambodia has a traumatic past with the Khmer Rouge Massacres in which thousands of people were killed in the 70s. At the "killing fields" you can see a lot of skulls, tombs and monuments to remind us of all those who were killed.

Pnom Penh is probably the city with the highest number of "Wat"'s in the world. You can not walk 100 meters without stumbling across a Wat. Many of these were pretty cool, and much more decorative than an average church. Pnom Penh also has a nice promenade along the river, but generally, we think that there was too much pollution and traffic. We visited a market where we got to sample various Cambodian delicacies straight from local merchants. I had the pleasure of trying my first chicken anus soup.

pnom penh large market

pnom penh large market

The market in Cambodia was generally more comfortable than in Vietnam or Thailand in that few people tried to scam us. Most of the stuff was ridiculously cheap. A t-shirt cost less than 15kr ($3US).
There were some souvenir shopping there...certainly....

Torunn on the market

Torunn on the market

Food and beer prices in Cambodia are better than any other country we have traveled to. You can reach incredibly far with 50 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". There was much indulgence to be had in our few days in Pnomh Penh, but not much sightseeing. We did not even enter the Royal Palace because it cost 6$ per person. As we were acclimatized with the local prices that seemed like a to steep price to pay. 6$ (35 Norwegian kroner(14$) ") is ,After all, 12 pints of beer !

Pastime in Pnomh Penh

Pastime in Pnomh Penh

After Pnomh Penh we continued the trip by bus to Siam Reap. We were supposed to travel to one of the cities by the large lake in Cambodia, but dropped it when we could`nt find the right bus at the world's most confusing bus station. Siam Reap bus was there, so we jumped at the opportunity…and it spent about twice as long to the destination that it was supposed to...welcome to Asia.

 Posted by at 5:58 pm
Feb 152014
 

The next stop on the trip was the town of Siem Riep - North-west in Cambodia. Siem Riep in itself is not too interesting, but it is close to one of the 7 Wonders of the world, Angkor Wat - the ancient temple city. We rented bikes and cycled to the Angkor Wat Temple on the first evening, as the one-day ticket included entry from 17.00 the evening before.. We arrived at the great temple just in time to see the sunset. There were about 15000 other tourists that had arrived at the same time with the same plan. We went into the main temple and saw as much of it as we could before the darkness set in.

Stig and Torunn at Angkor Wat

Stig and Torunn at Angkor Wat

Most of the tourists crowd together at a temple called Pnomh Bakheng at sunset. This is a relatively large temple on top of a small hill. We had heard that this temple turns into a complete circus every night at sunset. All the guide books advice people to go there.. Thousands upon thousands of tourists,all with big cameras around their necks - ready to capture the perfect sunset picture..

Angkor wat

Angkor wat

Such an experience has absolutely zero appeal to us. We did the crazy-crowded-sunset-experience when we were in Santorini, Greece. A repetition of this did not tempt us at all. All the romance and the "special experience" of a beautiful sunset feels cheap and commercialized .
We went back to Siam Reap, ate some Mexican food and had a margarita before we went to bed early. The next morning we got up before the morning sun at 04.00 to make the most out of the one day we had paid for at Angkor Wat. We tried to wipe the sleep out of our faces before we got on our bikes and started the ride towards the ruins in complete darkness. Even at that time in the morning there were hundreds of cars and tuk-tuks, all of them with the same goal: watching the sunrise by the majestic temples. I felt like I was on a pilgrimage,and it felt a bit like one of the scenes in lord of the rings .

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

Imagine the orcs marching to Minas Tirith, the scene where Frodo is climbing up the mountain-side, that is what I saw that morning at Angkor Wat. Thousands of orc-like creatures (tourists) marching in the darkness across the stone bridge to the Angkor Wat temple, not Minas Tirith,..

Cycling around the ruins

Cycling around the ruins

Most people choose to go into the actual Angkor Wat complex, but we decided to sit on the grass by the river just outside the ruins. From there we could see the sunrise at a distance, and without the crowds. It was a clever decision because we actually got the place to ourselves instead of standing like sardines in a barrel.
The Angkor temple complex is enormous. You can stay there a month without seeing everything there is to see,particularly for people who enjoy immersing themselves in the history and details. They sell 1,3 and 7 day tickets to the ruins.

Ruin with lots of faces on

Ruin with lots of faces on

The price of the tickets is incredibly high when compared to the prices of other things,and the wages in Cambodia. One day at Angkor Wat costs 20 dollars. In contrast one night in a bungalow with bathroom is about 3-5$. It takes about 2$ per person. That means that you can stay 10 nights in hotels for the same price as one day at Angkor . A cheap hotelroom in Norway, costs approximately 500 Norwegian kroner(14$) ", or 100$. Compararatively this attraction would cost about 2500 kroner (400$US) a day if it was in Norway.
The worst thing is that this money does not go to the preservation of the ruins, or to improve the lives of people in the local area. As abhorrent as it is 20% of the money goes to a local oil company(!), 70% in the pockets of corrupt(and rich) politicians in the Treasury department, while only 10% goes to the maintenance of the ruins. That in itself is reason enough to boycott the place, but on the other hand it is one of the world's seven ancient wonders,and has to be experienced when you're in Cambodia.

Stone face

Stone face

When we walked around the ruins we saw hundreds of beggars and poor people. Some mothers had children with serious deformations, and used them as a tool to get money off tourists. With all the money coming into this attraction every day, you should think they could use a little of it to better the poverty of the local people., It is quite despicable that they are unable to set aside some money to the local people, rather than put it in the pocket of rich oil executives. Greed rules..

Local kids and monkey

Local kids and monkey

We made the most of the one day we had at the ruins. The area between all the different temples is enormous, so it was good that we had bikes. Very many other tourists were in groups that got around with big polluting buses. That day there was more exhaust in the jungle than in the middle of London.,There were thousands of cars on the road and noise everywhere. It felt more like we were in the middle of a big city than far out in the woods on a jungle-road.
The first thing we did after sunrise at Angkor Wat was to go up to the temple Pnomh Bakheng. We had it completely to ourselves. At that moment it was impossible to imagine how chaotic this place would become that very evening around sunset. It was beautiful and serene, Me and Torunn alone on an ancient temple. There were many wonderful sculptures of lions,elephants and other animals.
After that we went to see one of the most famous temples - Bayon. It is a massive structure that has 200 huge rock faces.

Face of the king

Face of the king

All of the faces are of the king at the time. A proper narcissist! .
There were many good photo opportunities, as all the faces have been renovated and looked very cool. There was a group of 200 orange-clad monks at the same time as us, which gave an authentic atmosphere to the experience.
There were many more temples on our journey through Angkor. We saw the elephant sculptures, and climbed to the top of a huge temple. We did not read about the whole history of each temple, but tried instead to live in the moment. When we found special statues and engravings inside the temples we visited it came as a nice suprise.
The Ta Promh temple was one of our favorites. It's pretty cool to see a building that has been taken over by nature.

Tree growing on ruin

Tree growing on ruin

The huge "silk cotton" trees have surrounded the stones with their enormous roots. Trees rising majestically above the ruins, and their roots have torn the stones out of the walls of the temple in an attempt to get down to the moist soil. This temple is best known as the "Tomb Raider Temple". It was here that ex-big-bossomed Angelina Jolie jumped around fighting with bad guys in the early 2000s.P1070059
There was an enormous amount of people wherever we went in the Angkor complex. This place is totally occupied by mass-tourism, especially after the Chinese have become richer and are travelling more. There were similar tendencies all across Asia - Chinese tourists were everywhere. The locals told us that only 2-3 years ago there were no Chinese tourists, but these days there are almost exclusively Chinese tourists - a sure sign that China is doing very well at the moment.

tourist-monks

tourist-monks

After 10-11 hours of temple exploration, we were pretty exhausted. There are only so many ruins we can see in a day. Some people call it "temple fatigue".. We were actually a little glad that we only had one day to spend there.. It wasn`t enough time to learn the unique history of all the temples, but we didn`t really want that. We just wanted to get a feeling of the place, and a general impression. What we are really interested in is cheap beer from the tap, and cheap frozen margaritas, and this was something that there was plenty of in Siam reap! The simple pleasures are usually the best ones!. The following 3 days we remained in town just to relax. A pint of ice cold beer in chilled glasses cost the beautiful sum of 3 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". We had to pay 8 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". It was pretty amazing. Of all the 36 countries we have visited on this trip Cambodia was undoubtedly the cheapest country, and one of the countries I want to go back to, the beer prices in itself is reason enough.

Siam reap relaxation

Siam reap relaxation

One morning when we were looking for a place to eat breakfast we ended up at a hotel that was next door to where we stayed. It was a surreal experience. There were Norwegian flags everywhere, and Norwegian newspaper articles on the walls. There were 20 blonde 18-year old girls sitting around, all of them from Norway. We had not met any Norwegians for months, and suddenly we were in the midst of a Norwegian colony. It turned out that the hotel was owned by a Norwegian model who had started a tourism study there. The girls studied sustainable tourism (the best kind of tourism). When we met them they were heading out to pick garbage in the streets.
I imagine that it was an extremely unrealistic spectacle for the local people to see 30 blonde Norwegian girls picking garbage in the ditches. White people are considered upper class in Asia, so it is untypical to see them pick up the garbage of the poor people.
After a few days we went on to Thailand. Our plan for Thailand was to find a place where we could do as little as possible.
When we finally got to the border we were shocked when they only gave us 14 days worth of Visa. It was incredibly annoying as we were going to be there for 30 days. The last time I was in Thailand I got 30 days stay, but this is apparently only if you arrive at the airport. An idiotic rule, and a very bad start to our month in Thailand. This meant we had to spend a lot of time and money going out of the country at a time when we really should be relaxing on an island. Read more about the journey to Koh Lanta in the next article..

 Posted by at 7:13 pm
Jan 202014
 

The next day we went on to Sen Monoron, a village in eastern Cambodia, a stone's throw from the border with Vietnam. It was a standard Cambodian uncomfortable 5 hour minibus-trip where we were sat next to a very very smelly Frenchman. Arriving in Sen Monoron we were greeted by a nice little lady who offered us a small bungalow with bathroom for 3 dollars! It was an offer we could not refuse! She took us to our bungalow and we found out that it was actually a pleasant little bamboo hut that even had hot water and wifi. 3 dollars is less than 18 kroners and is definitely the cheapest shelter we had on our entire 15-month trip, 9 NOK per person. It was very simple but cozy and the people seemed nice. It was fun to see how Cambodian children were raised compared to children in Norway. They had a little boy of about 2 years old, crawling around by himself on a porch without fences, and it was 10 meters straight down to the jungle below. Other times I saw the little one run around with big, sharp scissors in his hands. There was also a very steep staircase nearby. As we were eating and talking with his mother, she had the boy on her lap. He was completely naked and was playing with a small spoon, which he put on his penis. The next thing he did was to try to put the spoon into our food!
We ended up sitting on the porch in the evening talking to the family. We mentioned that the only reason we went to Sen Monorom was to visit the elephants at EVP - Elephant Valley Project.

Stig bathing the elephant

Stig bathing the elephant

Then the man in the family began to spew out lots of propaganda about how corrupt and greedy they are. He believed that we should rather go to a local who rented out elephants for riding. Still, we decided to go to

Elephants crossing the river

Elephants crossing the river

the Elephant Valley Project because we did not believe a word of what he was saying, and we got the impression that he was the greedy one, trying to sell his elephant-rides. We had a long discussion about animal welfare, and it turned out that he did not understand the concept. All that mattered to him was that the locals earn money. Something they do because of EVP, after all, they were the reason we were there! After a bumpy ride we arrived at the valley where the elephants lived. There we learned everything about how good this project actually is for the local community. It turns out that the people managing the project use much of the proceeds supporting developments in the local community. They provide free health service to the locals, so that they do not become dependent on their elephants. They also employ more than 50 locals to protect the forests in the area against poachers.

Torunn scrubbing an elephant

Torunn scrubbing an elephant

The elephant-day

The elephant-day

The day we were there we joined a group with 6-7 other tourists. We walked some distance down into a valley where we got to see some of the elephants. This project is completely sustainable, because it does not involve elephants doing something that they normally would not do. The only thing we did the first half of the day was to walk behind the elephants in the forest and across the river, while they were bathing, eating and enjoying themselves in the mud. There is no riding of elephants here because many of the elephants get back problems from the saddles they are forced to wear. We got to help out bathing

Torunn and elephant

Torunn and elephant

the elephants while they were in the river. We also got to play vets when we tried to peek inside the mouth of one of the elephants that had dental problems. The elephants are beautiful and elegant creatures and it's great fun to see that they are doing well in their natural habitat. We went to the headquarters were we were served a very good lunch. Then it was our job to scrub the elephants. We went to an elephant scrubbing-place where we had water hoses, scrubs and brooms. 6 the dirty elephants walked to the cleaning station where we were ready to work hard scrubbing all the soil off of them. Scrubbing elephants is actually more fun than it sounds! 10 min later, we caught the elephants in the act of throwing more soil all over their newly scrubbed bodies. We fed them with some massive banana-tree stumps. The elephants knew exactly how to attack these logs; by stepping on them, squeeze them hard into the ground and then stuffing them into their mouths with their trunks.
It was an expensive experience as we paid 70 dollars for a day, in a country like Cambodia where you can stay at an acceptable room for 3 dollars or have a pint of beer for 50 cents. But it was worth it as they go to a good cause and we could see that the elephants there were happy. We heard from the staff at the EVP that the man from our guesthouse has recently started up his own elephant charity. But since we had actually talked to him and knew what kind of person he was, we are quite confident that he will never be able to achieve anything like it. He only thinks about making money and not about the elephants' best interests. There is certainly no need for another elephant charity in this small town as long as the EVP is active! But many greedy people in the town are angry at EVP since it is run by foreigners and they think they will lose tourist revenue, but the reality is the opposite. There is very little else to do in Sen Monoron than visiting the elephants, and without EVP they would have had fewer tourists. We were in Sen Monoron for about 3 days, and enjoyed a lazy day in our tree house. After going to the EVP, we went to Cambodias capital, Phnom Penh.

 Posted by at 1:37 pm