We've had a really good week here in Siem Reap. First, its a bit of a luxury trip for us. We're in a decent four star hotel rather than our usual three star or less. It's called the Angkor Holiday Hotel. It's a rather soulless design catering to tour groups but it's very clean and comfortable with aircon, a pool, a good breakfast buffet and our own safe in the room. The place is only two years old. The service from the staff is outstanding - friendly, prompt and eager.
After a week here, one of my strongest impressions is just how nice the people of Cambodia are. They're very polite and courteous but friendly too. Always quick to smile and laugh. Vendors aren't pushy except for a few around the temples. They regularly go out of their way to help you. Out of all the places I've been, no country has a nicer people.
We've had our own private van with driver as well as an English speaking guide to take us everywhere and look after us every day. This has made it a dead easy trip. Of course, we've done dozens of temples but there's hundreds in the area. I have to admit I wasn't overly impressed with Angkor Wat. It's interesting with some fabulous base reliefs but not awe inspiring - even when we saw the sunrise over it. However, Angkor Thom (aka the Tomb Raider temple) definitely lived up to its reputation. Fantastic. We also saw the temple at Beng Mealea which is in a state of total ruin and covered by overgrowth. Very atmospheric with few tourists. Overall, the temples were well worth coming here too see.
We also managed a few excursions further afield. The floating villages of Tonle Sap were interesting. The one at Chong Kneas is too touristy but Kompong Phluk was worth seeing. We even got paddled about a flooded forest. The whole pace of life centered around the ebb and flow of the massive Tonle Sap lake is fascinating.
We also visited the reclining Buddha at Kulen National Park. It's the only place I've seen beggars so far. The Thousand Linga was interesting. Basically a thousand phallic symbols turn the river holy. Ok, there's a lot more explanation needed but I've learned Hinduism is very complicated and I certainly can't explain all this penis envy. We had lunch at a beautiful waterfall downstream where there were few tourists and plenty of Cambodians splash about.
The best part of traveling Cambodia is just watching people go about their daily life. Jenny describes it as being very much like rural Malaysia 30 years ago. There are still bullock carts but motorscooters provide the main form of transportation. They're used for everything from transporting pigs to stacks of mattresses to families of five. It's a very poor country with few modern conveniences and not even simple machinery. It's a simple life and a hard life but I'm sure they have much stronger communities than what we have in the West.
We spent a day teaching at a local primary school. It was a great experience that I'll write up in more detail later. The school didn't even have electricity or running water. It was fabulous meeting the children and our kids had a chance to help teach them English.
Today is our last day here. Jenny managed to take a cooking course at a local cooking school while the kids and I went to see the Land Mine Museum. Land mines are still an horrendous problem here. In fact, there seem to be hundreds of good causes and we've felt compelled to donate to quite a few. It feels wrong that such a nice people have so many troubles.