Holiday in Cambodia



Leave it up to the Americans (in this case, at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh) to bring in that special Christmas cheer. And to top it all off? Why Alvin and the Chipmunks singing "Please Christmas Don't Be Late", of course.
Friday December 8 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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The Big Old Angkor Post

So I've spent the last few days exploring the ancient area I am calling Angkor. You would think after a couple days exposed to loads of information on the place, I would at least know what it is called. Well, there are a bunch of temples (Angkor Wat, Bayon, etc.) that are organized into cities (Angkor Thom, etc.) But for the purposes of this, we will call it all Angkor.

I decided to do Angkor slowly, rather than rush through it like many tourists who seem to all follow the same itenerary from some book. I bought a three day pass (for $40) with plans of not necessarily doing 3 full days, but having that option. It turned out to be a great plan. I went up at around 9:00 each morning, and spent the day looking at various temples, enjoying lunch, and reading.

One day, I rented a bicyle and rode the 12 or so kilometers up to the temples. After heading out to some of the less visited, less restored temples and trying (but failing) for
a geocache, I'd say I rode a good 20 miles at least. (Probably a good thing to burn off all those calories from my ice cream habit.)

Needless to say, the experience was awesome. There was so much to see, from the completely restored temples to awesome carvings to long undisturbed temples. Yet again, something so long looked forward to doesn't disappoint in the least. Yeehaw!
Tuesday December 5 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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Bamboo Train

Battambang, Cambodia is the country's second largest city, I'm told. You wouldn't think it, though. The main streets in town are named No. 1, 2, and 3, and there is hardly a building over 3 stories. As far as "cities" go, I'll take it.

The downside to a small, off-the-beaten path city is that diversions are few and far between. (I've been spending an inordinate amount of time in internet cafes here, both keeping cool, and filling up the time.) But one thing that is unique to this area is the bamboo trains. These are cobbled together bamboo platforms balanced atop train axels hooked up to an engine. They can be easily disassembled in the case of an oncoming real train or to pass each other en route. It is really a great use of the otherwise seldom used tracks.

Having heard so much about these, I had to see them. I hired a moto driver from my hotel to take me. We meandered through villages and rice fields with him providing helpful tidbits along the way (Battambang rice is supposed to be the best in the country!). When we got to the "station", they built us a car, and me, my driver, and the taxi all loaded up. The ride took 20 minutes over some pretty rusticrailway lines. It was great. Halfway through the trip, we had to stop because there was another "train" on the tracks. It turns out, they were filming a movie. So I sat and ate some fresh coconut ice cream as they finished up their shot and carried their train from the tracks. It was really a great way to see something unique and to see the wonderful Cambodian countryside.
Friday December 1 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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Cambodian first impressions

Cambodia, so far, has been a refreshing change from Thailand. Many things are the same (the climate, the prices (more or less), and the disregard of traffic "laws"), but many things are different, both for good and bad.

On the good side, things are less touristy here. I hate to say that, because it sounds so elitist, but it truly enhances my experience of the place. It is easy to find places that are like I imagine they would be if Sihanoukville wasn't a main tourist destination for Cambodia (which isn't saying much, as Cambodia isn't quite the tourist destination). Take for example this: Ryan and I were walking back from the beach, me with my juggling clubs in hand. Street kids are always pointing to the clubs with a questioning look on their face, and when I toss them up a time or two, their faces light up. Anyway, this time, I was doing just that when a rather jolly (read:drunk) looking fellow comes out of a back yard and beckons (read:drags) us into his back yard to put on a show for his friends. We oblige, naturally (for what juggler can turn down a captive, appreciative audience). Needless to say, they are extremely excited. The main guy comes out with drinks for us, which we beg off, but we do position him between us while we pass clubs around him. So fun. Things like this seem like it would happen less frequently in Thailand, or at least the touristy parts.

On the downside, Cambodia, or at least the parts I have seen so far, are poor. There are beggers everywhere, and the business people are a bit more aggressive, esp. the moto drivers. It is sad to come out of a store to 10 kids with their hands outstrecthed and a desperate look on their face. We had dinner the other evening at an outdoor place, and there was a kid that sat watching us eat the whole time. We've had many a discussion on this topic. We can never come to conclusions on what to do, how to feel, etc. etc. But whatever the case, it sure is a bring down.

Both the good and the bad is what makes it the experience that it is, and for that I am greatful. I'm looking forward to much more of each in the coming weeks.
Monday November 27 2006File under: Cambodia, travel

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Funny Money

Funny Money

One of the curiosities about travel - sometimes it is fun, sometimes it is maddening - is the money. Conversion rates, deciphering the value of a bill, making sure you have enough to get you to the next country, but not too much, so you don't lose money on the transfer back, etc. etc. And then there is the actual notes; I'm just totally enamored by just about all paper money I see, not because of its value, but because of what it says about the culture.

This money-aspect of travel was really punctuation while crossing the Cambodian border yesterday morning. The Cambodian currency unit is the riel, with an approximate conversion rate of 4,000 to the US dollar. The US dollar is widely accepted, though, and often prices are even quoted in it. Well, in anticipation of this, I converted the remainder of my Thai baht (except a few choice bills for my collection) into US dollars. When we got to the border, the border police refused to accept dollars for the [exorbitant] visa fee. So it was back to an ATM to get out baht.

The motos that met us off the ferry to give us a ride into town (Sihanoukville) quotes prices in baht. We then tried to covert that to dollars, because we had no baht. Since we didn't have correct change in dollars, we converted the amount to riels, which we picked up at a roadside money changer. All in all, it makes for some interesting commerce.

So having traveled for the past 10 weeks, I'm getting quite the stack of foriegn currency. In my wallet, currently, I have 6 different currencies: US dollar, Thai baht, Cambodian riel, Chinese yuan, Hong Kong dollar, and Macau pataca. But don't get any ideas. The sum total of all these is prolly no more than $50.

Yes, I realize this is a very pertainent post, it coming on the heels of National Buy Nothing Day and all.

Sunday November 26 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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