Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cambodia - 2014

Introduction

Thank you for visiting my blog.  The Observation and Summary  section of the blog will list some of the helpful information as well as some suggestions if you plan to visit.  The next section Our Journey will make you go through the experience that I had in this wonderful country with me.

Observations And Suggestions

Visa andHotels

The Visa On Arrival is easy but remember to bring the passport size pictures.  Also good crisp dollar bills.  If the bill is little bit torn, dirty or something written on them, no one will accept it.
Palace @ Phnom Penh
If you have a chance to book a tour guide, my suggestion is to book a guide for the whole day (approx. $30).
The US Dollar is accepted everywhere but have some Riel for smaller changes.
Not all of the hotels in this part of the world has elevators, so if you are physically challenged to climb the stairs, check with your hotel before you cough up the money.

Tuk Tuk 101

Tuk Tuk’s are the best mode of transportation where you can enjoy the local scenes.
Tuk Tuk’s are pretty inexpensive so don’t pay big bucks to stay in the city center, you can stay closer to the place also.  From here, you can take a nice walk to the center and ride the Tuk Tuk back for a few bucks.
You can negotiate the price of the Tuk Tuk price.  Do your research or ask your hotel, how much certain rides will cost before head out.
The poles at the side of the road carry a lot of cables and not sure how they figure out the problem ones to fix.
If you are tight on time, get a Tuk Tuk and don’t rely on the bicycle.

Other Info

You can get your bus tickets or mini-bus tickets in your hotel or in restaurants.  You can ask them how much the mark up is and you ask around before committing to buy the ticket.  Also, make sure that the bus company picks you up from your hotel for free.
Angkor Sunset
Siem Reap Sunset
If you live in a place where there’s a beautiful sunset or you don’t care for a sun set, my suggestion is not spend time going for the sun set in Siem Reap because there’s no nice background or anything.  It is like climbing a hill to see a sun set.  Don’t take me wrong, it is beautiful.  But I would rather spend time visiting temples than climbing up the hill to see the sun set.  There is no temple or Angkor background for the sunset.
If you are white guy, you will be getting a lot of attention from the local ladies…not sure whether they are serious or joking around with the white guys asking them to take to America.  Nothing vulgar or indecent, fun to watch them joking around.
The road trip between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is not as bad as I feared or depicted in the forums.  It is a decent road for the developing country.
Food near the temples are decent but expensive.
Cambodians have found very innovative ways to use their motor cycles.  They anything and everything to their two wheelers and I was hoping to see the Airplane being towed by a two wheeler but it didn’t happen…other than this different type of carts and attachments were hitched to their motor cycles.

You have to pay for the rest rooms in the Angkor War temple as well as in other temple areas.  So have some Cambodian Riel handy.

Strange things

All of the check-in counters for the international travel open just two hours before the flight.  While waiting in the line to drop in the bag, one of my friends from WalMart days (25 years back) recognized me and started talking to me.  I still can’t remember him:-(. 
The immigration official at the departure counter was yelling at a Chinese guy for not having the departure card and when I presented my stuff, he was asking for tips so I paid a couple of dollars as tips for the kick of tipping an immigration officer…:-)

Our Journey

Arriving at Phnom Penh

Palace
The VOA is quick and easy.  You fill out the visa (available on the side desks or on the counter that states “Visa Applications” - the left most counter), attach a passport size picture and drop off with your passport.  A bunch of guys sitting behind the counter go through your application and the officer at the right most area will call out your name.  You go there to pay the visa fee and collect your passport.  It all takes about 15-20 minutes.
We were hungry and tired, so didn’t want to haggle with the taxi guys, so got the taxi in the airport.  The going price to the city is $12, since we are 5 people we had to pay $3 more.  It is better than taking two taxis for two Tuk Tuks.  You may be able to save a bit if you could walk out of the airport and get a taxi from the road (not sure how much but we didn’t do it).  Took about 45 minutes to get to the hotel.  The first thing that I notices was that there’re not horn or honking sounds even though there’re a lot of chaotic traffic and the second thing is that the
Cambodian made use of their two wheelers for a lot of different purposes (from Tuk Tuk to mobile stalls). 

Walking Around Phnom Penh

Walked around the Royal Palace area while trying to figure out where to get the mini-bus tickets for the next day to go to Siem Reap.  Even though the google map didn’t take us the place to buy the ticket (may be the place is closed now), we walked around some interesting areas where a lot of monks were staying and around the local market.
The food in Cambodia is relatively inexpensive and we were able to buy the tickets for our trip in a stand near the restaurant.  So don’t hunt for the particular bus company office to buy the ticket, you could find the ticket booth in most of the shops and you could get the ticket in the bus company that you are interested (it is cheaper than what you could get from your hotel).
Walked to the night market along the Mekong river and enjoyed the very lively atmosphere there - about 20 people were dancing on the sidewalk with music blasting with some tourist joining them.  Visited the night market where someone was playing music on the stage and a bunch of T-shirt & typical night market shops around.  Took a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel for $2.

Visiting the Killing Fields


Prison S21 - School Converted to Prison
Locks for the Legs in the Prison
We took a Tuk Tuk to the Killing Fields museum and we paid about $17 for more than half a day trip.  The museum is very basic and none of the original buildings survived but being in the same place where thousands of the Cambodians executed was eerie.  I think that everyone should visit this place to understand what happened in this place which is right in the middle of the farmlands.  The thought of “it is better to kill dozens than let one criminal get out in case of doubt” is very dangerous and we all think that it’s reasonable to think that way but it led to killings of thousands just in one prison cell.  The S21 was a school but this school was converted into a prison where each class room is made into smaller cells and walls broken to connect each room.  Couldn’t believe that this went on for more than 3 years.  Only 7 people out of this prison walked out alive and all others were executed.  Must see place in SR.

The Bus Trip to Siem Reap

The mini-bus has a free pick up from the hotel and the mini-bus left on time.  The trip was not bad at all given that we were sitting on the very last row in the bus.  The roads are reasonably maintained and because of the new road construction, it was bumpy part of the way.  We arrived within 6 hours and the hotel, Gold Temple Villa, sent a car to picks up.  The hotel ambience at the check out area is really good but the rooms are basic.  Cambodians are really friendly people.  We made arrangements for a Tuk Tuk and a bicycle to go to Angor Wat for the Sun Rise to Sun Set.  But forgot to book a guide for the day.

Bike ride to Angkor Wat

Sunrise
Tough riding the bike early at 430am and keeping up with the Tuk Tuk in which my family was riding with the old basic bicycle (no gears). Whenever I braked, the bike was making a huge noise and whenever the bike started to speed, the back wheel started to wobble.  When you are entering the temple, choose the left side entrance and stay there to see the view of the temple at sun rise.  Our luck, it was cloudy and there’s no beautiful view we saw in the pictures.  

Angkor Wat 

Looked for the guide and hired someone to guide us in the Ankor Temple for $20, and the tour lasted for 90 minutes.  The guide is decent but not great, so please get a guide from your hotel if you can.  It was interesting to see a room where clapping the hands or any other noise generate echo but only if you beat your chest and that noise makes echo.  Also, the sound of “Om” echoes but no other word makes the echoing noise.  There is a belief about the center of the universe that exist inside the Angkor Wat.    
The reason for the steps are are steep in Angkor Wat and in another temples in this area is that the devotees need to go up to pray to the god by touching the ground and they shouldn’t walk standing straight up.  Walked around the temple and enjoyed the sculptures beautifully done and one interesting thing is that the Hindu epic Ramayan is everywhere but no sign of Mahabharatha.  The Ramayan war scene statues are every wall.
The Tuk Tuk driver agreed to take me in the vehicle for additional $2, so we parked the bicycle nearby.  The Angkor South gate is very impressive and the Bayon temple has a number of similar faces in its temple.  Whose faces are those is a question for which no one knows the answer.  After touring a few more temples in the South Gate area, we headed to the Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset.  There are a few cops there who asked us whether we needed my parents to go in the motor bike to the top of hill.  We decided to walk and it’s a good 30 minute walk up hill.  Phnom Bakheng  was very crowded and hardly any place to sit but the view from there is average and the sunset is nothing great.  If I go there again, I won’t make the trip for the sunset.
Arch walkway just with stones
After collecting the bike, rode the bike back to the hotel.  Not bad riding back because the Tuk Tuk couldn’t go faster because of the traffic so I was able to cope up with the speed.  If you are getting a bike from your hotel, check the locks before leaving the hotel.  The lock in my bike didn’t work.  Made a deal with the driver to pick us up to go to the floating villages the next day.

Trip to the Floating Villages

There’re a lot of marriage pandals on the way to the floating village.  The Tuk Tuk driver was punctual and we made arrangement to meet him away from the hotel because we didn’t want him to get into trouble with the hotel for making separate arrangement with us.  When we stopped to take the picture of the marriage pandal, we were invited for the wedding.  The country side roads are decent and it’s beautiful greenery.  To go to the floating villages, there is mud road detour where there’s a guy sitting in a check post kind of a setup to collect the money for the boat and was issuing tickets.  Initially, he asked for $15 per person and at the end we bargained for $35 for all of us five people.  
Commuting to School
Our Tuk Tuk got stuck in a couple of places on the way to the boating dock, the boats are pretty basic and we got in the boat thinking that the may get stuck somewhere.  There were a bunch of guys standing in the water to fish and didn’t find a lot of fishing boats in that area.  We told the boat person not to stop in any shops and when he stopped, we didn’t get down so that’s the first and last shopping stop.  Saw very small children rowing the boat by themselves to go to the school.  In that remote corner n the floating village, there’s a huge pagoda.  After going for the ride for about 90 minutes, we came back to the dock to see our Tuk Tuk driver missing but the Tuk Tuk was there.  There’re a number of local guys in the dock area were looking for our driver and he was in the river fishing.

Remember Where Your Vehicle is

On the way back to the town, i struck another deal with the driver to extend the Tuk Tuk rental to take
around the big circle of the temples in Angkor for additional $14.  After having lunch, we spent the afternoon visiting the temples in the big loop area.  We visited Preah Khan temple at the end and our driver wanted us to remember the gate where we are entering from because a number of people forget where their vehicle is parked and spend a lot of time.  I was thinking that he’s kidding but he was not because we found a girl in the temple trying to figure out where she parked her bicycle.  We visited this huge temple at the end and after 5pm, so there’s no one there. Being in the 1000 year temple, where trees are grown over the structures, was strange.  All tired when we headed back to the hotel.
We were trying to eat in the hotel but the restaurant was closed because someone working in the restaurant was getting married, so everyone left for the wedding party.  Since everyone was tired, I picked up food for everyone before heading out to the night market.  The night market is filled with massage places and every other shop was a massaging shop.  The lanes are zig zag and I completely lost my orientation and had to ask someone for direction to get back to my hotel.

Bye Bye Cambodia

Woke up pretty late in the morning and relaxed in the hotel room before getting the complimentary massage from hotel.  The late lunch at Maharaja Indian restaurant was very good.  Walked around the tourist market as well as the local market where they sell the fruits/vegetables/spices.  People watched for sometime in the Night Market area where a number of local come and hang around before got back to the hotel.  The same Tuk Tuk guy showed up with his friend to take us to the airport.

Summary

Cambodia is a country literally screwed by the western nations for a period 15 years when there's no external aid or support provided for the country that lost 25% of the population because of the brutal Khmer Rouge rule.  And on top of it, USA and China were working together to bring back the Pol Pot rule because they both didn't like Vietnam, the country that liberated Cambodia from Pol Pot (Khmer Rouge).  Even with all of the sufferings Cambodians went through, they treated all of the tourist with pleasure and very nice people.  Also, the roads and tourist infrastructure was decent for a country that's trying to develop.

Relatively it is a safe country and we walked around the back alleys in Phnom Penh without the fear of being mugged.  

1 comment:

  1. Tipped the immigration guy..!!!! hahaha - good 'un :)

    ReplyDelete