The love, the hate and all the other mixed up feelings… Cambodia continued.
It only took me a month to contemplate and make my mind up as to what I really think of Cambodia… Having been to Vietnam and Laos so far and ending up back in Thailand I must say the feelings towards the country of Angkor are still quite mixed up!
Again, I really did like Siem Reap and got to experience some of the most amazing things out there. Take the evening school for disadvantaged kids that was set up by a random guy that calls himself Jimmy, just because he wants to help and hopes that some of these knowledge thirsty kiddos end up in universities while otherwise they’d probably end up on the street or in the scam fuelled tourism industry, if they’re lucky. Jimmy sacrifices his private life 6 times a week and gets volunteers involved in teaching English to kids between the age of 3 to 13. How incredible was the experience when we stumbled upon his school on one of the evening walks in Siem Reap. I couldn’t help but stood there sobbing as the little ones run up to us to introduce themselves and ask how we were to practice their skills. Jimmy – the head teacher, said to us that nothing has so far been provided by the Cambodian government. All they have came from people like us – tourists! We spent the evening helping the kids with their spelling and talking to some of them, especially the ‘deputy teacher’, a 13 year old boy called Tommy that aspires to go to uni and one day to become a lawyer… An eye opener for both of us!!!
The touristy side of Siemp Reap however left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Not only all trips and sightseeing that you want to do are very pricy, you can’t even see the money going back to community… The Angkor Wat and the other temples are the prime example. Paying $20 to get in you’d expect something pretty special and all you get is massess of begging children (some as little as 3 and able to say not much more than ‘give me dollar’!) battered roads with potholes the size you’ve never seen before and just general mess and madness everywhere. Don’t get me wrong it is a place to see if you are in Cambodia but will I go back again… I don’t think so! Also being a geographical geek that I am, I was super excited to see the Tonle Sap lake on the Mekong and I did see it… Only on the map, sadly! To go to one of the floating villages and enjoy a 2 hour boat ride on the lake will set you back another $25 and at the end of it your local boat driver asks for tips as he never sees any of the money you originally paid for the trip. Having read a bit about it and spoken to a few people we decided against it and set off to the Capital – Phnom Penh
In Phnom Penh we got to walk around and chill out for a couple of days cheering for the all so enthusiastic local people exercising to music at the river side! What a view for a fitness geek like me :)! Wandering through the side streets and local, ever so real markets was also part of the experience. All joyful and jolly, putting the sad experiences of mass tourism in Siem Reap behind, we went on a half day trip to get to know a bit more about the bloody and tragic truth that is Khmer Rouge. Let me put it that way… After visiting the S-21 – the genocide museum and the killing fields our moods turned rather gloomy and we both needed some quiet time to digest it all and I don’t think either of our brains simply wanted to acknowledge that something like this has ever happened. Now I know why mum and dad never wanted to take me on a trip to Oswiecim (Auschwitz) back home untill I was old enough and ready to decide for myself whether I want to see it or not.
After an evening of brain storming and deciding what to do next we followed Simone and Tanner and headed down south to meet up with them in Sihanoukville (aka Very Lame Ville or simply Shit Ville as we now call it). It is meant to be the place to go when Cambodian sea side is concerned and… yeah, if you like Magaluf or Zante kinda feel with lots of shitfaced kids and people generally looking out to get wasted.com then off you go! It’s defo a place for you… We instead decided to hide in a little French bakery downstairs from where we stayed and spent our evenings catching up with S and T before we moved on to Vietnam. On one of the nights however, when the time came to say good bye to the guys and see them set off to Phnom Penh we ended up drowning our sorrows of not seeing them for a while in several glasses of Ankor beer and jumping in a bar swimming pool at 2 am in the morning just to do some planche press ups on the side (C) and pulll ups on the statue in the middle of it (me). If the 3 days in Lame Ville were worth anything, that was definitely it!
After the drunken shennanigans of S Ville we headed back to Phnom Penh to experience a bit more scamming action and me finding ants instead of chicken in my fried rice before heading off to the mad and crazy Saigon.
Cambodia… it’s been a pleasure to meet you. Will I come back though? Unless it’s to see Jimmy and the kids at the Siem Reap evening school I’ll probably have to say I’ve had my maximum dose of the Kingdom of Angkor.