I had been advised to take a direct bus (ie tourist bus) from Laos to Cambodia as there is often problems with the border. Anything tourist related around here involves some scam or other. The mini van crammed in way more people than could comfortably fit (and it was actually quite amusing hearing the girls in the back screaming...AAhhhh i cant survive 10 hours like this!!!) the guy wouldn't turn on the air-con (i don't care too much about air-conditioning but we payed for it!) and he pumped really crap gangster music on full blast for the whole 10 hours. My head was beside the speaker and all i could hear was the blaring fuzzy base sounds it was not fun! The bus also stopped for many leisurely hour long breaks along the way.
Now crappy conditions and long breaks might seem ok and really i'm an expert on uncomfortable travel by now!! But the point of it is to make you tired and irratable by the time you get to Phnom Pehn so that when this young fella jumps into the van as we arrive in the city we all just agree to check out his guesthouse...its in the cheap guesthouse area anyway (he promised us the most AMAZING dream guesthouse ever for just $3!!this could only mean its a complete dump!) The place was a ...hole! Ive never seen such a horrible guesthouse and my god they were running down the street after me almost dragging me back so i would stay there! Even after the horrible journey i had the strength thank god to carry on the search!
My start to Cambodia was kind of how the rest of my time was in tourist places. The competition for the tourist $ is so high that you are seen as a piece of meat with no purpose but to extract $$$ from. Thailand and Laos are not this bad...i dont even remember it being this bad in India. There is always a bit of fun or compassion with these but in Cambodia its cut throat.
This will help you get the picture...i'm the green beetle and the ants are the moto-drivers, guesthouse owners etc
Huge street kids population too. If i sat down in any tourist cafe i would have a swarm of kids coming up to sell stuff. One boy about 15 pointed at the cut i had on my knee, when i said 'ahh motorbike' then he pointed to his foot...from the tip of his big toe all along the side of his foot had gone gangrene...swolen and completly black, he said a car had ran over it. He didnt know when he was going to the hospital just that 'yes doctor going to cut off'. This is the tip of the iceberg to the horrible stuff i saw and i dont know how it didnt effect me so much in India but i could not sit there and do nothing!
This just consumed me while i was in Cambodia ,i let it consume me too much and got angry at how most of the other tourists are so oblivious just only concerned with themselves..i even saw some joking with the gangrene toe boy, pretending they were going to stand on his foot and the little fellow laughing and playing along so he could hopefully sell some books.
Anyway i spent about 10 days in Phnom Pehn working with an agency to help street kids and visited a few orphanages. Even buying a bag of rice for an orphanage was a scam, my guesthouse guy brought me to a local place near the orphanage the 40kg bag of rice cost $40 i found out it should only cost $20....i could have bought 2 if someone wasnt being so greedy!!
However on a lighter note i did have a lot of fun here too. One night in a bar i recognised a girl from couchsurfing...i had ment to send her a mail asking could i stay with her but didnt get around to it. She was a bloody hilarious scottish girl and we got on very well. The rest of the corruption in Phnom Pehn was sooo currupt you just had to laugh! For example if your house has gone up in flames the local way to call the fire brigade is to shoot a round of bullets into the sky!
I just noticed now the baby on the driver lap...anything goes here on a motorbike! Ive even seen a newborn baby in the basket!
So if i wasnt depressed enough about the street kids i took a trip to the 'killing fields' an area where innocent Cambodians were brought and murdered during the pol pot regime. This was where after the Kymer army got America out of Cambodia they started kind of a holocost, they wanted to destroy anything americanized (or modern). So anyone who was a teacher, doctor, if they spoke english or had any type of education was killed! Smart people knew to act stupid but the army checked their hands for callisus...from hard outdoor work...so if you had fairy washing-up liquid soft hands....goodbye! Farming people with no education where left alone. What a sick game!
This is some cloth coming out of the ground from one of the bodies in the mass graves. Its crazy this was so recent you just have to speak to anyone who is over about 35 years old and they will tell you of their parents made to work like slaves in fields or of people they know who were killed.
You dont see this sign everyday!
Cambodians also have a shocking similarity with a certain type of women from north Dublin when it comes to dress sence....Pyjamas that take you from night to day! This fashion came by storm to north dublin a few years ago...i think possibly by a picture of a celebrity doing her shopping in her pyjamas, so many women now wear a full face of bright orange make-up and walk about Tesco at 4 in the afternoon in their zebra stripped pyjamas with fluffy pink slippers! Its very very funny and to see the same style here (without the slippers) over the other side of the world ...well im sure you're very impressed with this!
Phnom Pehn central market...pyjama heaven
Heavy monsoon rain...again similarity to ireland.....summertime in ireland that is
After Phnom pehn i went to a little village called Komphang Chhnang and clearly not many tourists make it here! Not the prettiest place ever....like india unfortunately Cambodians throw rubbish all over the place....but this was without a doubt the friendliest place ive ever been!!
Non stop gangs of kids running to their doorways jumping up and down to say Hallo! People waking up sleeping children to see the foreigner, everybody had either a stunned look on their face or a big smile and a hello, people stopping their motorbikes in the middle of the road to turn around and have a look at me! It so funny to me still that i can cause so much shock by just being a foreigner!! So much shock indeed that i had the power to stop a child crying by just looking at it! Soooo good to be out of Phnom Pehn!!
This friendly lady took me on her boat for a little tour of the floating village.
People here live either in a bamboo house on stilts or in one of these floating houses....usually just a house tied onto two small boats!
Many houses were very fancy indside some even had big soundsystems! And from every house i got a Hello or a stunned face that sometimes if i said hallo and waved enough they broke into a smile!
I was a celebrity here for sure!
So peaceful here
Bit of a raunchy mermaid to keep the fishermen motivated
This was very strange!It was kind of a platform that went across the river at first i presumed it was a bridge but its actually so you can wash your motorbike!
One day i wasnt sure what to do with myself so i hopped on the local boat to a village...somewhere! I had no idea where the boat went to. It stopped at a dirty market village, bamboo huts on stilts and a few shops made from wood and corregated iron. I got a young fellow to take me on his motorbike for an hour or two. He had not a word of english except '2 dolla!'
Off we went through little villages virtually untouched by the western world, the only advertising to be seen were 'Cambodian Peoples Party' banners, no electricty or piped water, just very simple life. He took me up the top of a hill to see some temple ruins, on the way down he started pointing to his lips. What's wrong with him i was wondering...until eventually i realised...oh he's looking for a kiss ha ha!!I just pointed to one of my rings saying 'Married!Married!'
Back on the bike again and i think he brought me to his family and told them i was his girlriend as his mother...i think she was....started hugging me and pointing to the guy and talking in Kymer, when you get to really rural places they dont understand why you dont speak Kymer when sure doesnt everyone they know speak it! Next some shaved headed old ladies arrived and were absolutely astonished with this foreigner sitting there! Im sure they never saw a westerner before, one took my face in her hands and just stared at me while i stared back into her eyes that had gone grey blue from old age while the other ladies were pulling at my legs laughing!! When it was time to go i hopped on the back of the bike and the mother motioned for me to put my arms around the boy ha ha...noo...instead i made sure i put my bag between us!
That was an unusual day!
Lovely sunsets on my last evening in Kompang Chhnang i highly recommend anyone going to Cambodia to get away from the tourist trail!
Next stop Battambang where i had a day or two to kill before going to a day 10 silent meditation course!!
Shocking karoke on the bus to Battambang....it was so load i couldn't concentrate on my book i even had my mp3 player on at full blast pressing the head-phones hard into my ears and still could hear the horrible karoke!!...how can this make for a relaxing journey!
Anyway! Carol you would like this statue...this is the fellow Battambang is named after aparently he dropped that stick in his hand and Battambang means dropped stick....that'll bring in the tourists!
They might work harder in Phnom Pehn but in Battambang the moto-drivers work CLEVERER! On arrival i was met by a well spoken man who handed me his CV!!! So funny i was not expecting a CV! It gave details of his previous jobs working at a water treatment plant etc....not a very good indicator as his quality in being a good moto-driver but i had to choose him just for the effort!
Again to do with the Pol pot regime there are some 'killing caves' not far from the town. Here innocent people were just thrown into a really deep cave and if the fall didnt kill them DDT...kind of like lime i think...was thrown in on top of them to finish them off and help their bodies decay....my god these people did nothing wrong!
Apart from the area where the people were murdered the hill with the killing cave was filled with beautiful little temples with people playing music, massive Buddha statues, gorgeous nature...flowers..trees etc i loved the place.
Making a mountain out of a molehill...the landscape in Cambodia is generally really really flat!
Oh my god so cute!
The most attractive Buddha statue ive seen!
Many many beautiful sights
After a few hours at these caves i visited some ruins of a temple up a gruelling 350 steps that are almost vertical...and it was very hot and humid! Little girls run up and down the stairs fanning the un-fit westereners then looking for payment!
I melting here...sooo hot!
The temples look like just bundles of stones roughly stacked up. This one is about to fall down!
I spent the rest of my time in Battambang doing a Cambodian cooking course....very good....at last found out the ingredients of the delicious local food and also met a friendly Dutch guy and Australian girl which i spent my last evening pre-silent meditation drinking plenty of beer and talking A LOT!
Monks collecting their alms....they live on charity and so each morning they do the rounds collecting food from locals. I asked is their any significance to the different colour robes...no.
I was quite nervous on the way to the meditation centre but ready for the challenge! I was put in with all the old Cambodian ladies and they were hilarious. I had just dumped my bag when an old lady came to the door with 2 limes in her hand....snake....bite! she said and motioned for me to throw them on the floor...i named her the snake lady and as the days of silence went on i had names and stories for them all! There was the woman who looked like she should be long dead, worried Hally Berry, the comedian (like Rosanne), Old lady who had a very startled expression on her face and who walked in a permanent half squatting position, The Mammy, who looked like a real mammy...she always took a 2nd helping of rice, The one who looks like a man and my direct neighbour looked like she had great potential to be a funny old lady however she let herself down a little....i highly amused myself with these old ladies!
Day 1: 4am....oh my god whats going on!! Yes 4am starts everyday took some getting used to! We had to try and concentrate only on the breath coming in and out of our nose. Sounds easy but it was impossible to stop thoughts and songs coming into my head, i had no success on the 1st day
Day 2: Same...impossible to concentrate for longer than a second we had been told your mind is like a wild beast that you are going to tame so i kept shouting at myself in my head..TAME THE BEAST when my mind wandered....it helped a little
Day 3: Moving on to concentrating on any feeling you can find in the area between your upper lip and bottom of your nose, i found this a bit easier, found i could concentrate for about 3 seconds....progress! I was started to get really bad pains in my hips...i was wondering if i was going to be able to sit cross legged for another 7 days
Day 4: I had a bit of a breakdown this day, it didnt help that i had 'Alice, Alice who the F**K is Alice in my head when i woke up....why oh why?! The pain was getting really bad, i couldnt eat, couldnt concentrate on that damn area between my nose and lip, we were told that after lunch we would be starting vipassana meditation and this would involved sitting still for 2 hours...2 HOURS!! The pain in my hips was so bad and i just couldnt concentrate...i spent about half an hour crying in my room...What will i do!!! Snake lady came to the door, put her hands on her hips and did a little wiggle for me then walked off....i love these ladies! I realised it was me who really wanted to do this, nobody put me in here and i really only had 2 choices to quit or keep trying...there is no easy way to do this and there was no way i was quitting! I went back in after lunch and with tears still rolling down my cheeks i did it, i sat still for 2 hours and i managed to concentrate.
It got interesting this day, we had sharpened our mind by concentrating on that small patch underneath our nose, we were told to then move our concentration to other parts like hands and shoulder and oh my god i could feel a small tingling sensation when i concentrated on a part!...success!
Day 5, 6, 7: Spent concentrating on the tingling sensations, we had to start at the top of our head and work down to our feet and try to feel the tingling in each part so we could get a flow of tingles from top to bottom. I wasnt hugely successful and getting a flow of sensations but i was getting there, i also managed to tame the beast! Having many hours in a state of extreme relaxation in my mind where at the same time my mind felt sharp and awake. I even managed sometimes to reach a lovely meditation place where i could concentrate on the sensations AS WELL as chatting to myself and listing to music in my head!
Day 8: Apart from feeling desperately stiff from all the sitting down i was doing well and feeling good from the pure food and early nights! The old women were so funny...no code of silence for them...oh no plenty of chatting, they also were determined that i take some of their coffee in my hot soya milk at breakfast time that they had snuck in under their belts!
Many many memories of my past came into my head so clear it was scary sometimes the things i was remembering, how they were in my head and im sure would never have crossed my mind again if it was not for this. Little tiny insignificant things that made me smile sometimes i even burst out laughing from a memory. Aparently the patches on our body where we cant get a flow of sensations are tied to bad memories or thoughts in our mind and when we eventually get some sort of a sensation these thoughts are released. Im not sure how much i agree with that im still processing how i feel about the course but i cant argue with it, indeed i did have some strong not so happy thoughts and i felt they were released and gone forever at the same time that i felt i was getting better at feeling the sensations.
Day 9: For some reason i thought this was the last day of 'serious meditation' thank god it was very intense and i was getting to close to having enough, and enough of the 4am starts! I couldnt concentrate at all this day i was too excited about the course being over so i sat down and relaxed letting my mind flow to whatever thoughts and songs i liked and a big smile on my face.
Day 10: Realised ....oh dear...must be one more day of concentration. Could not...or more would not concentrate for most of this day i had had enough.
Day 11: EXCITED!! After the morning meditation we were allowed to talk again! It was so strange even though i had been having conversations with myself A LOT recently i could not get the words out to speak to others. This was a day to allow us to 'get back to reality' and i see now why this day was needed! It was strange to see the old ladies chatting ruining my names for them! It was also so great to be around local Cambodians and get to know them so well and them treating me just like one of them rather than getting over excited at a tourist. Its strange how i 'got to know' so many of the ladies from their mannerisms over the last 10 days. Wow it really was an experience! This day was spent with just small meditation periods and i strangly found myself craving silence and calmness in my head again!
Where i spent the best part of 10 days!
It took a day or two to get my head back to being sociable, i headed to the world famous Angkor Wat temples for my last few day in Cambodia. Siem Reap, the town nearest the temples was another total mess of a place due to tourists being seen as the only way to make a $ i didnt like it here at all, possibly the 1st place on my travels i can say i really didnt like, it was a lot to do though with it being a massive shock to my head having people shouting at me all day to get in their tuc-tuc/shop compared to 10 days in silence! Despite this the temples were certainly worth a visit.
This was my favourite one...where nature is taking over!
It was so hard to get a picture without anybody in it!
The place was actually packed with chinese and american tour groups....PHOTO PHOTO!!
This carving stretched down a wall a few 100 metres long and they were carved 900 years ago! 900 years and in such perfect condition! Its so hard to even imagine what people were like 900 years ago...this was amazing
Now back to Thailand for some beaches....really looking forward to it!....sure dont i deserve it!