In typical third world chaos we disembark the plane in Phnom Phen and end up at the end of a mass of people crowding around a 30' long desk with some Cambodian writing hanging over three distinct areas of the desk. This is where we "apply" for our visa. Or more accurately this is where we give them the money to stamp our passports and record our names in a massive book that has no other purpose than to be filed away somewhere, never to see the light of day again.
After 30 minutes or so of jumbling chaos around in different areas of the mob, we get our stamps and are cleared to enter the country after a few more stamps at the customs desk. Only the start of the "red tape" travellers requirements.
Cambodia was tough. It was hard to be too upbeat with all of the suffering around us. The country is still recovering from the second holocaust. In the early to mid 70's the extremist group, Khmer Rouge took over the country and tried to exterminate every educated person and suspected non supporter in Cambodia and then some. It is still hard to imagine what people went through just a few short years ago!
Every local person we met has had at least one person from their immediate family exterminated and usually tortured as well. One fellow we met, said his Brother-In-Laws family lost 31 people, everyone except himself! There are so many
lessons to be learned in this part of the world.
One local we met on the river ferry from Phnom Phen to Siem Reap, now lives in the States. He lost his parents, was almost caught and killed on four separate occasions as he fled through the jungle from one side of Cambodia to the other trying to escape. On his brutal journey, he had to drink from stagnant puddles that would make us all sick, eat bugs and anything else he could find, watch family and friends die as they lost their strength to continue on their exodus. All of this while he was twelve! He went from comfortable wealth to living on the streets of Vietnam and learning the second and third of the five languages he now speaks. He learned the languages so he could make enough money to eat. He finally made it to the USA where he lives and leads a good life. Every year he returns to his homeland and makes a journey to the jungles in the NW of Cambodia. Believe it or not in the jungles live the remaining Khmer Rouge people that were directly responsible for all of his nightmares. Yes he has FORGIVEN them. He goes to talk with them, he is friends with them, as he said, "for it to never happen again we must forgive and move on". A major part of moving on for him is to keep open the lines of communication on a personal level.
The other suffering we saw so much of was from the landmines that still kill or maim approx four people a day in Cambodia. The mines are from the Khmer Rouge days and also the Vietnam War. So many people disfigured and missing limbs from land mines. As if seeing the results wouldn't hit home, we only thoroughly appreciated the conditions the people live in when we wanted to venture a mere 150' from the road into a field to get an incredible photo of four water buffalo standing in waist high emerald green grass, surrounded by snow-white egrets all framed by a brilliant blue sky. The photo will only be a memory as we were not able to get into position due to the threat of live land mines. Imagine if you were unable to walk in to a field in Richmond or off the main paths in Stanley Park because you may get blown to pieces. What a way to live.
Angkor Watt was amazing, and darn hot...approx 40 degrees. At 6am we were already soaked with sweat as we climbed the almost vertical stairs to the top of Angkor Watt to see the sun come over the horizon.
Us and our driver (3 of us) on his small motor scooter for two hours on a bumpy very dusty road off to see one of the more remote temples. Covered in dust from head to toe and dust-raccoon-eyes from our sunglasses.
Off on a day off photo shooting:
Capturing a group of locals harvesting rice, dressed in the most colorful outfits, framed by dark purple thunderclouds in the background with fork lightning punctuating the photo.
Hiring a boat to take us upriver to photograph fishermen and arriving at a floating schoolhouse as the children are getting out of school. Not going home in cars, not bikes not on foot but by rowboat, more like dug out canoes actually. All of them dressed in their clean white shirts and blue pants contrasting sharply from the dirty water and filthy, overloaded boats only a ripple away from filling with river water and slipping under the polluted surface.
Meeting some local "expats" having drinks at their place, meeting their adopted monkey they rescued from certain death as his mother was shot by poachers. getting to hear all about Cambodia from these two expat schoolteachers turned animal conservationists.
******** Cambodia postscript from our last update*****
Speaking to some other travellers we found out how lucky one can be without even knowing it. We were told about a Tourist boat that travelled from Phmon Penh to Angkor Watt that was held up at gunpoint by pirates. The passengers, mostly tourists were forced to put bags over their heads and were stripped bare of ALL possessions. Needless to say the tourists were rather scared as they had no idea what would happen to them. No one was hurt, just very shaken. It turns out we travelled that same day on that same journey but were lucky that we got on tourist boat #2 instead of boat #3. Too close for comfort!