Friday, March 9, 2012

Cambodia - Phenom Penh

Off for the bus for the 6 1/2 hour ride to phenom penh. The ride was quite comfortable and relatively uneventful except we were $2 american short for our Cambodian VISA. The tour operator said she would pay and we could get money from the ATM when we crossed the border and pay her back. However when the bus stopped over the cambodian border we were told we only had twenty minutes, the ATM was a kilometer down the road and it is about 33 degrees. There was a random Cambodian man sitting on a motorbike and the tour operator said he would take both of us on his bike to the bank and back for $1 (the hitch was we had to go on the bike at the same time). So since we had no cash we figured we had no choice so the teo of us got on the motorbike with the driver - - no helmets of course and we were off to the bank. We made it there and back in time and in one piece and we were quite happy to give him a dollar for this adventure.
Entering Cambodia I immediately noticed gone was the lush green vegetation, replaced with dirt fields dotted with the odd palm tree. There was lots of garbage scattered in the villages of Vietnam but nothing like the amount of garbage we would see scattered everywhere in Cambodia. Most of the homes along the highway are nothing more than shacks. The children are dirty wearing torn clothes and no shoes. The water buffalo look like they have anorexia with their bones sticking out. We came to a little town where the bus was to be loaded on to a ferry to take us across the Mekong river for the last hour of our drive to PP. The town was filthy and piles of garbage everywhere, little children coming up to the bus banging on the sides and begging - such a horribly heartbreaking scene. However we were not allowed off the bus and I was glad but also concerned about my decision to come to Cambodia.
As we reached PP the streets became much cleaner and it was interesting to see so many Lexus cars - more than I have seen in any north American city this size.
I got off the bus and negotiated with a tuk tuk driver to take me to my hotel. My hotel accommodation was lovely a five star by our standards but at a one star price - it was called La Marais Boutique hotel and I would highly recommend if you are ever in PP.
Sharon was staying at another hotel close to me and a girl from england (Susan) who Sharon travelled with in Thailand was flying in to meet up with us in PP.
We all met for dinner and hired a tuk tuk driver for $17 for the next day to take us around PP.
We visited the The Royal Palace which was first constructed in 1434 and the second palace was built in 1866. The palace is decorated with Seima shapes. Most of the buildings include magnificent sculptures and are characterized by many tiered roofs and topped by towers which are symbols of prosperity. The entire palace grounds is absolutely gorgeous right out of the movie 'The King and I' and is in direct contrast of what you see outside the walls. On one hand PP seems to have so much poverty with children begging on the streets and selling trinkets to the Royal Palace to more Lexus cars than i have ever seen and monster homes behind gates.
When driving along the river I noticed some new outdoor fitness equipment (similar to the equipment at Henderson Centre) and people were working out!
I met the owner of the boutique hotel where I was staying. She is from Paris and her husband is Cambodian. In the mid 70's during the Khmer regime his family lost everything but were able to escape to France when he was three years old. He grew up in france and they met and married. They decided to come back to Cambodia to try and help the Cambodian people. She explained how difficult this is as there are so many scams which use children as a front to get money out of tourists She explained that tourist buying trinkets from street children only encourages their parents to keep them on the street rather than in school. She told us about one of the tours that takes tourists to a local school and then ask the tourists to purchase paper snd pencils and present them to the children. The only problem is these children are not really attending school and the paper and pencils go back for the next group of tourist to purchase. She works with an organization that sponsors street kids. She herself sponsors 3 street kids. These children use to earn about $25 a month for collecting garbage rather than going to school. She pays their parents the $25 but in return the parents must sign a contract that the children will no longer collect garbage and will attend school. She takes the children swimming once a week, invites them to her house to play with her children and after a year and a half these children are now getting good marks in school, wear clean clothes and no longer smell. She visits the family twice a week and has noticed the parents now clean their home for her visits. She says it was very difficult to get the children to trust her as they have seen so many others come to help and after a few months they leave She is truly a remarkable person and seems to give a lot of time, energy snd money to help these children There are also a number of non-profit agencies here that have opened restaurants and they only hire street kids to train them in the restaurant business.
I asked her why there are some many Lexus cars - she told me they cost about $100,000 and are mostly owned by government officials who are not well paid but have other means of obtaining income. Also some people who were able to get out of Cambodia with money in the 70's came back in the early 80's and purchased land which was very cheap at that time. I asked if any of these people help the poor and she said absolutely not. The poor rely on the western world for help. She also sells cambodian coffee where ever two dollars goes to help the children. I am bringing home Cambodian coffee.
90 percent of Cambodian people are Bhuddist and are extremely nice and gracious and remind me of the Thai people. Our tuk tuk driver was delightful and so attentive. We ended up hiring him for our entire visit to PP. The traffic in PP although busy is much more reasonable than in vietnam but since the streets are not lit at night it is recommended to travel by tuk tuk.
To my surprise there is a Raffles hotel in PP so I thought I would take the girls for a drink as I read the Singapore slings were only $10 compared to $25 in Singapore. Our tuk tuk driver took us to Raffles in time for happy hour where singapore slings were 50 percent off. That left enough money for us to try the Femme Fatale drink which was made for Jackie Kennedy when she visited Cambodia and the Raffles in 1962. When we were finished our tuk tuk driver was waiting outside to take us to the night market where we indulged in some local food ($5 for all of us to eat) and sat on mats on the ground to enjoy. Raffles to street food this is a city of extremes.

No comments:

Post a Comment