March 7, 2013 by theloneblonde
- Be me and my friends
That’s pretty much the only step. It’s official; we are cursed, in multiple countries. We thought Cambodia would be a new step in our relationship with the gentle giants of Asia, but not the case. Otherwise, Cambodia was (queue Disney-esque soundtrack) enchanting.
The other day in Singapore someone described Cambodia, as somewhat of the “wild west of Asia.” Which I thought summed it up to a T. With its recent violent past and very new introduction to globalized tourism, not to mention a very favourable exchange rate or no exchange rate at all for Americans (they use USD as their currency and their own bills serve as small change), it is a virtual playground offering anything you have ever wanted in a destination. This may or may not be a good thing.
My friends and I were there to see the historical Angkor site. Which includes temples such as the iconic Angkor Wat (the massive Buddhist temple with the huge pillers) or Tah Prom (the temple that has been almost taken over by the jungle with big trees growing with the temple itself). All the temples are located within the Angkor area, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Though we were greeted with many challenges of actually getting there, though like I said favourable exchange rate.
If you wanted to you could read a detailed account of what we did and the temples rather then read my nonsense about culture/development/ and my general and blah blah blah thoughts: http://singaporesingapura.blogspot.sg/2013/02/siem-reap-part-ii-angkor-wat-and-other.html
So favourable exchange rate and all we set out flying into the capitol of phenom penh and then travelling from their the four-six hour journey across the country towards Thailand (not Vietnam). Though we had no real plans on how to make it this far and decided a cab would be the right way to do it. Now how much would you expect a cab ride that was four-six hours to cost… Well in New York it cost like $150 bucks just to get to the airport. Well it cost us about $100, and we knew we were getting ripped off as it was a public holiday. Halfway there our driver casually mentioned that there was a good chance that all the other drivers on the road were drunk, perfect. Especially awesome due to the fact that our cab ran on LPG, which is incredibly cheap but incredibly flammable. Sweet! The world past by us in our cab from temples to fields, to towns, villages and small cities all of which were very unique. It made me think that it could have been very possible to come here with the Peace Corps, I mean the weather would have been great! But the fact that blending in would never have been possible and khmer (the local language) is really tough. Though I would have gone very willingly! In only a few days in Cambodia I learned that it’s an amazing place, that has had an amazing recovery (will get to this), and I would love to be a part of it. Maybe someday!
We made it to Siem Reap, of which we quickly realized that it is diamond on the rough. It’s an amazing city, but there is a dark side. Like I said it offers everything that anyone has ever wanted for next to nothing. Let’s put it like this, the price of beer was never more the $1.50. Which coming from Singapore where that would buy you a SIP of beer, it was somewhat of a sticker shock. For the price of four beers in Singapore we could have 44 beers in Cambodia at a decent place.
It’s a place to go a little crazy. It reminded us a little of this scene, from what regrettably if my favourite film of all time, Eurotrip….
Reflexology Massage, $1 for an hour. Fish Pedicure, $2 and a beer for as long as you could possibly sit in a tank of fish. Mani-Pedi- $3. Any spa treatment you have ever wanted to try, under $5. A three-course dinner and a traditional dance show for three plus drinks and a tip $20. Electronics, Gold, Silk all out in the open, something for everything. Everything became affordable, at any time of day.
Yet it makes me think in a way of development, and my education in development, that this yes is awesome to have all of this tourism but at the same time, it made me really question, will it last? There are a lot of other things happening behind the doors of the normal day to day operations. The fact that there are sizable language barriers, corruption, and no real standards poses some serious challenges. There is a lot of it that is fun and games, but there is a lot of it that has yet to catch up like the availability of western medication. Not to mention a GDP of approximately $2,200 per capita, making it one of the poorest countries in Asia only surpassed by countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, and North Korea.
There is a German Film that my friend Mallory happened to have watched before going and then made us watch upon our return that really does show this modern picture of Cambodia. It’s called Same Same But Different
Here is the trailer:
It is just one story, but it is a true one none the less.
So back to the temples, we saw a lot of them. Every temple just as grand as the last all in very unique ways. Our seemingly trusty tuk-tuk driver, Paveen, who shuttled us past the hordes of Chinese Tourist on holiday and to all the best entrances, drove us around the park for two days. Most of the temples were originally Hindu temples dedicated to the Hindu deities, but have since become Buddhist many of which were stripped of their main deities but much of the historic artwork remains telling the battles of the bhagavad gita. Though much of them lay in ruins and are straight up out of Indiana Jones. It is almost unreal standing next to an ancient carving of a giant head from thousands of years ago!
You could watch the national geographic infomercial on it:
Once Cambodia was home to this amazing civilization that built this amazing city that is the Angkor Wat. Though there are two sides to every story. Which I will have to explore in Cambodia Part II.