Cambodia - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 263 (73)

Siem Reap

Friday 26th November

We allowed ourselves a bit of a rest this morning. We had decided this already last night when Chan dropped us off after the wonderful dinner and dance evening. It would be our last day under the wing of our new friend and taxi driver with just a half-day of activities planned in all. We started off the morning with one final visit to the temples and pretty much let Chan guide us as to where we were going to go. He took us to a temple called Preah Khan where we wandered around the ruins in search of something new that we had not yet seen at any of the others. The temple was certainly interesting but nothing new jumped out at us and we were by now starting to reach our temple saturation point.

Before saying goodbye to the Angkor temple complex for the last time, we stopped to enjoy another one of those freshly opened coconuts. Once again it was delicious and when it came time to pay the R2,000 (€0,38), I handed over a $1 bill to a young girl who went through great pains to try to locate me a couple of R1,000 notes for change. When she finally offered them to me, I told her to keep the change with a smile and she jumped in the air with joy before running off to tell of her new found wealth to some of the other youngsters there. From the expressions on their faces, they must have been thinking something along the lines of: ‘Wow, weren’t you lucky to get such a generous tourist today.’

The final destination that Chan took us to this morning was the land mine museum. There are two of these museums in town and we specifically wanted to go to the older and more run down one. The guidebook tells of the new museum winning over the local government through financial handouts and thus receiving all the advertising funding. The newer place also charges royally for its entrance fee whereas the older museum is free and is run and operated by a guy that has made it his life’s mission to remove all the landmines he himself was forced to lay as a child under the oppression of the Khmer Rouge. Some of the stories and imagery at this small, open-air museum are quite unsettling. There are a number of people that appear to live amongst these make shift huts and dwellings that collectively constitute the museum. Each has various limbs or portions of limbs missing through their inadvertent and unfortunate contact with one of the many thousands of live landmines left over from this country’s previous regime of horrific nightmares. Not only are there literally thousands of landmines all over the museum on display but there is also a small walkthrough where the various types of landmines have been placed in and around the earth and trees to try to give the viewer an idea of just how devious those that architected the laying of the mines truly were. The are still literally hundreds of thousands of live land mines all over Cambodia and the signs that you see posted around the country are not only road signs for the benefit of traffic. Many signs depict children stretching their arms out to pick up a suspicious object with a huge, red X painted across it. There are variations on the same theme but all of them essentially try to put across the dangers associated with children inadvertently coming into contact with live mines. When I was a child, I had to learn things like how to look both ways before crossing the street but here the kids are taught hash lessons necessary for their very survival.

I had a rush of emotion after wandering around the museum and taking it all in.  It was clear that Cambodia is still very much suffering from the long lingering after effects from the internal troubles of not that long ago. I quietly located the contribution box and tried to slip a few notes into it thinking that I was not being observed but no sooner had I done this than a small child with half an arm missing called out ‘thank you’ from a secluded corner across the room. I looked up to see a beaming and thankful smile. No additional words were necessary in that brief moment of mutual understanding.

The land mine museum is an extremely poignant place to visit. I was very impressed not only with the museum but the fact that there is no entrance fee, other than the suggestion of making a small monetary contribution by virtue of the presence of the contribution box tucked quietly and unobtrusively away. I can think of no other more worthy cause for our money than the work that the owner of this museum carries out. Apparently, he travels around the province on his motorbike chasing after reports of land mines having being found. He used to have a metal detector until the local police one day confiscated it and so now the only tool of his trade is a simple wooden stick that he skilfully uses to locate the deadly metal objects.

Next up after the brief but very intense visit to the mine museum was another visit to a money change office, where I converted another $250 (€192,31) of traveller’s check into US Dollars. Just like the previous visit, this office also had stacks of brand new sequential bank notes so I took the opportunity to purchase one brand new note of every denomination to add to our rapidly growing collection of money from around the world. With the exception of the very largest note from Hong Kong, we’ve collected every value of note, along with all the different coins, from all the countries we’ve visited thus far.

Chan dropped us off at our hotel and we bid him a sad farewell by means of a bit extra cash for his troubles. The expression on his face said it all. I really feel that we were lucky to have met up with him so soon after entering the country. Although the people in Thailand are generally no less pleasant than those here in Cambodia, there’s something about the Cambodian people that makes me want to give more than is necessary as opposed to trying to negotiate hard for the best deal I can get. We’ve bargained very unenthusiastically when buying souvenirs and making other purchases here and I’ve always felt very glad to hand over my money to the Cambodians.

After freshening up and resting for a short while back at our hotel, we ventured out into town again for a spot of lunch. We went back to the same place we visited yesterday and, once again, enjoyed the food served there as well as being pampered by the staff. They had a very nice looking menu full of photos of all their dishes, quite reminiscent of Hong Kong in fact, and I quite liked the look of the banana split nestled in a half coconut so we ordered one between us at the end of the meal. After several minutes had passed, I noticed a young woman pull up out from on a scooter. She had with her a coconut and rushed it round back. This was apparently ours and she had gone out specially to find one to satisfy our order. We felt very special all of a sudden. It was extremely delicious and I will have to try this dish again if we get the chance before we leave Cambodia.

The water festival was still very much in swing today and we strolled up and down both sides of the river again, soaking up the festive fairground atmosphere. Young boys were continually jumping from one of the bridges into the river near the end of the boat race course and they seemed to want to play to our cameras. I’m not sure who got most out of the situation, them or us. Various budding entrepreneurs were selling anything and everything and there was even one man with a fold out stall hanging around his neck with a wheel of fortune type game on it. Young kids would place their wagers on the outcome of the spinning wheel. Get them while they’re young!

There were quite a lot more people lining the banks of the river today and the sun was out in force. All the best-shaded spots were crammed full of bodies with the sunny exposed areas nearly devoid of people altogether. Each time the sun would duck briefly behind a cloud, these exposed areas would quickly fill with crowds of locals but they would disperse again just as quickly whenever the sun burst through. It wasn’t difficult to see why. I started to sweat profusely after just a minute out in the full sun and we ended up moving from one shaded area to the next, after a while, just like the locals.

We enjoyed the fun and games for a while before the lack of available shade forced us back to our guest-house where I wanted to see about hooking up the laptop to update my blog website. Nobody at the hotel seemed to mind me hooking up but even though I knew I had everything correctly configured, I couldn’t seem to establish a connection out to the Internet. There was a PC repairman fixing a defective floppy drive on one of the Internet terminals and it wasn’t until I had exhausted a half an hour or more of scratching my head trying to get everything to work that I finally found out that the defective PC was the Internet gateway. A quick ping to the default router address verified this. Indeed none of the Internet terminals would communicate with the outside world whilst this PC was out of commission. Even when I did finally manage to get online after the repairman had completed his repairs, I couldn’t synchronise with my website for some reason. According to the guidebook, Phnom Penh is well and truly wired to the Internet so we’ll have to try again when we get there.

There was another brief spell of rain that did wonders to cool of the night air a bit and we ventured out to find a place to eat. We had passed a place the other day that looked nice. It wasn’t particularly busy at the time so we moved on to somewhere else so we thought we’d give it another try this evening. There were a few more people this time but we were immediately directed to another level upstairs. We hadn’t noticed an upstairs the previous time we were here and might have stuck it out if we had as it was a lot busier up there. We’ve not been to a restaurant quite like this one before. It’s a sort of a cross between a fondue and a stone-grill. At the centre of the table is placed what looks like a large, round, baking dish in the shape of an upturned bowl in the middle and a trench full of water around the outside. Beneath the upturned bowl in the middle are hot coals that release heat through slits in the bowl. These coals also serve to heat up and boil the water in the trench. The idea is to collect various portions of meat, noodles and vegetables from the buffet tables and cook them on the upturned bowl and in the boiling water. It took a bit of getting used to but we eventually managed to cook quite a bit of meat and made a very nice vegetable broth by the end of the meal. With a portion of French fries that the proprietor was happy to have the cook rustle up for us, we were able to enjoy a very enjoyable meal, which was quite different.

With our tummies now full to bursting with good food and drink, we staggered back to our hotel, past the ‘hairdressers’, which are little more than fronts for brothels, and settled up our bill ahead of our early departure tomorrow morning. Including a little extra I threw in, the tally came to just about $75 (€57,70). This paid for the four nights' accommodation, a few bottles of mineral water, a round of laundry and the time we spent in the Internet café.

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