Cambodia

A Return of Sorts…

Today I had taro frozen yogurt in my neighborhood parlor.  So what does that have to do with my blog?  Simply, the taste took me back to a journey through seven countries I remember with great nostalgia and fondness.  So it seemed so very right to get back to this blog to relive and share the second half of it even when it has been three months since I returned from it.

Last I left you was in Cambodia with a visit to the Killing Fields.   Less somber areas to cover from now on.

We leave Phnom Penh today and head over to Siem Reap.  Thaly –our only female guide- is there to see us off.  People are well into their day.    The road awaits us and it will be an all day trek.  We will go through Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom provinces.   Stupas along the way…  

Of course we must stop at a “happy house” (aka: as bathroom).  I don’t need any more “happiness” so I roam.  There is such peace in this place.  Wish we could just eat here.  

Orchids hang from the balcony.    Reminds me of all the orchids my mother grew in her backyard.  There you go again Asia, a million miles and time period away and you are bringing me closer to my past than I’ve been in a while.

We pass by numerous lotus plantations.  The lotus plant is not only beautiful but every bit of it is of use.  Every part of it can and is used for medicinal purposes. At the side of the road we spot a vendor selling its fruit.  Some in our party are excited to see it since they used it in salads and have not been able to see it any other place outside of India.   

But the lotus flower is so beautiful that one almost forgets the rest.

    

We stop and gawk but must continue on toward spiders and crickets and water bugs and lots more creepy crawlers.   When we get there, one tarantula decides to check the time on Tom’s watch.    Our tour guide approaches me with it and I don’t think I’ve ever jumped back as quickly as I did then.   Some of his species where not as lucky as it was and ended up in this huge pile on the side of the road, fried to a crisp.   Yep, I actually had one –all I could taste was the rancid oil it had been fried in- though I decided to pass on the crickets and water bugs…

A kid, trying to sell us some green mangoes, demonstrates how the crickets are yummy too.  

I wasn’t buying it.  Which says a lot, for this kid could sell you anything!  

He had a way with words and his expressions said so much.    And he had a lovely smile.  Yep, I bought a bag of mangoes.

As we leave a vendor is bagging some tamarind.    

We are back on the bus.  Our next stop is a stone carving village.   No matter what culture, children always like to play.

Carvings are impressive.      

Some oversee the abodes of the ones that carved them.  

It’s almost hard to appreciate the skill it takes to carve them when there are so many together.

But it is a skill passed from one generation to another.  

The larger the piece the more valuable it is and the more skilled the carver has to be.

   

But again, it is the faces that captivate me the most.  What are they thinking?  What is generating that expression?  What is he reacting to?      

After a bit more of a ride we stop at Prei Proh Village where lunch is riverside.     

After which we visit the ancient bridge of Kampong Kdei.   Three things I am particularly fond of photographing: bridges, windows and doors.

I am happy snapping away.

 

Ah, but I forgot:  faces, I love photographing faces, specially when they are not aware of it.

This man waits for a tourist to offer a ride to. And not having found one returns to just waiting.

So does his horse.  

A bit more of a ride and mid-afternoon we arrive at Angkor Home Hotel whose lobby can’t be any more soothing to the soul. 

At night we go to a Angkor Mondial restaurant and show.  The dancers were amazing.  A characteristic that stuck to me of the dance is how the women, while dancing, bend their fingers back so much that it seems that they will break.

Tomorrow we will go to Angkor Wat, a visit I have been looking forward to throughout the trip!

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Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Fields of Pain

I wake to no sunset again (at least none that I can capture).  Perhaps it is aptly so, for a day like today.  The Killing Fields.  A confession is to be made:  I am a product of Hollywood and all I can think of when I think of where we are headed next is of a movie I did not see so as not to be depressed.  And now, here I am going towards the real thing and to be forcefully faced with man’s capability to kill, torture, and destroy psyches.  I am bracing myself mentally.

We have breakfast and out the door we go.  Our bus waits in front of the hotel.  A flash of a familiar color attracts my attention and I turn and see my Baby Blue.  Actually not my Baby Blue (aka: my little hybrid, Toyota Prius) but a Baby Blue.  First Prius I see on this trip and it’s exactly the same color as mine.  Suddenly, for the first time, this strong feeling takes over me and I am tremendously homesick.  I’m taken aback by it.  It physically stops me in my tracks.  And then, in matter of seconds it is gone.  As if it had never taken over me at all.

We arrive at the infamous S-21 (Tuol Sleng Prison).  This place, where they executed over 300 people a day, is oddly calming now.  Flowers are in bloom. We are reminded that we are to show respect for what is in effect a burial ground.  

This was not a place of calm.  It was one of death.  Testament that among our race are those who can and will commit horrific acts.

The Chemical Substance Storage Room.  The sign reads: “Here was the place where chemical substances such as D.D.T…. etc. was kept.  Executioners scattered these substances over dead bodies of the victims at once after execution.   This action has two purposes: firstly to eliminate the stench from the dead bodies which could potentially raise suspicion among people working near by the killing fields and secondly to kill off victims that were buried alive.

I am starting to feel quite perturbed.  Thaly, our guide was 10 when it happened.  She tells us of the mystery revolving around what lay within these walls.  Of how her family is one of the few who survived intact.

There are mass graves, some of people without heads, of women and children but in effect the whole place is a burial ground.  We are told that fragments of bones and teeth and fragment of clothes are still surfacing after the floods.

I bend down, incredulous to see it close up.    

And then we reach the “Magic” tree.  There is something horribly wrong about the fact that it is from this majestic tree that they hung loudspeakers to drown the moans of those being executed.     

And that the next beautiful tree we see, is one against which children were beaten. 

I need to inhale a huge breath of air, hoping that the smell of inhumanity and death does not infiltrate it.

We pass by the stupa built to honor the fallen.  

I enter and the different levels are filled with skulls of different age ranges.    The deodorant they use to clean them turns my stomach.  No amount of disinfectant can clean what happened here.  Again I need air.

A mini documentary and some wall inscriptions later and we are on to the Genocide Museum.  The morning is turning out to be one of reflection.

While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all…  

The barbed wire was there so that the prisoners would not commit suicide (the taking of life was to be done only by the executioners and after torture) from the upper floors or try to escape from the bottom one.   

My quota for facing the darkest side of the “human” race and to image the pain inflicted on the innocent is at its max and I tell my group I will take a walk around the neighborhood.

It seems that all my senses return as soon as I step away from the confines of the Genocide Museum. I can feel the sun on my skin, smell the wonderful aroma of coffee coming from a cart that is quite stylish in its “purpleishness”.

But I do not buy my coffee there.  Instead I go to a B&B that I spotted from the bus.   The wall is covered with local art and I think that it has been way too long since I have picked up a brush.  I daydream about painting here.  I sit, I sip, I breathe in life and a smile once again is plastered on my face.  

 

    

The tour has assumed that after such a somber morning people would want to relax.  Their idea of relaxation is taking us to the Russian Market.  But it is a good place to encounter life again.  This market became the foreigner’s market during the 1980’s when most of the foreigners in Cambodia were Russians, hence the name ‘Russian Market.’  The market (aside from not having one Russian item in it) is a busy one and pretty much anything can be found.  I, the non shopper, once again manage to find something that I absolutely need and must buy.      

And, of course, shopping makes you thirsty.

Hello guy… cheap drink here… (They don’t want female business?)

And builds up an appetite, so we return to the bus

and go to a restaurant whose name  translated means Sweet Cucumber.   We have a pretty good meal.

Dessert is taro ice cream, my new favorite. 

At the National Museum of Cambodia we are up close up and personal with history and art.  I buy an offering of flowers –the flowers are as fragant as they come- and I will place it at an altar that moves me. 

The main terracotta building in itself has my attention.  

Ganesh welcomes us.  

And there’s a million shades of green among the leaves in the museum’s garden.   

Which is probably why I decide to present the next photo in black and white as contrast.  

On the way back to the hotel I snap some more photos.    The river flows alongside of us. 

Electrical wires that I do not understand how they are not considered a major fire hazard.  

At the hotel we are left with an evening on our own.  Five of us decide to take advantage that we have a female guide when she announces that she is headed to the salon.  Girls night out!

We walk.  I photograph.  

When we arrive at the local salon, there is only one person there.  She gets on the phone and in matter of minutes helpers arrive one by one on scooter. The salon so reminds me of the ones back in South America.

I have my hair done. Oh, for a full $5!  The girl gives me one of the best massages as she washes my hair.   

The day has ended in the most relaxing of ways.  I sleep like a baby.

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, Phnom Penh | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Water Life and Cambodia Ahoy!

I have been dreaming of seeing Angkor Wat and today -when we leave Chau Doc, Vietnam and take a speedboat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia- I will be two days closer to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.  In between there is much to see and two immigrations to go through.

As we are leaving the hotel we spot a little girl apparently alone, but actually waiting for her dad.  She’s on a bike with her own little rattan “throne” in front.  We all start waving at her and she timidly waves back.  Dad comes out and takes the veil off her face.  She stares at us and is probably wondering what the fuss is all about!  

After the bus drops us off we still have to walk through a market to get to the boat.  We pass by a temple with inscriptions in Vietnamese and Chinese: Chau Phu Temple.  You would think at this point I would be tired of temples and markets but I still find them fascinating, each generating different emotions in me every time.  

Though small, it is a thriving market the one we go through on the way to the pier.  A crate of chicks reminds me of a Spanish children’s song that goes: “Los pollitos dicen, pío, pío, cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frío…”  (The little chicks say peep, peep, peep, when they are hungry, when they are cold…)  These must be really hungry ‘cause their pío, pío is loud and strong!  Somehow it saddens me and I look away.       

The lanes are narrow and motorbikes and people coexist in them.  I’m so enthralled by these huge grapes that I don’t realize that a bike narrowly misses me (or I it).       

And yet, on my next photo none of the craziness is reflected.

We go through an alley  and my inner voice goes “water ahoy!” (I know it’s land ahoy but I wasn’t up for arguing with myself.)

Soda anyone?  

And had I not had breakfast, I could of gotten it at the boat that offered a hot meal to all.     

A houseboat floats by and my thoughts float with it.  I wonder how it must be to live like that. 

I have a few minutes to ponder this as our boat gently advances to a fish farm that we are visiting.   But before that, we shall pass and visit a floating wholesale market.   Another boat offers us a burst of color along with its wares (somewhat like a 7/11 on the water).   A good indication we are entering the market.  

Each boat has a long mast that has, instead of a flag, the fruit or vegetable they are selling waving at the top.

Here’s the coconut boat.  

Want to guess what this one sells?

   

We leave the market with another blast of color from a boat.  

A few minutes later we arrive at the fish farm. 

I try to pay attention, I really do, but the smell from the fish paste so commonly used in almost everything here is so overwhelmingly nauseating that all I’m thinking is getting on our new boat that will take us to Cambodia.  Not that I haven’t smelled it before but it was always intermingled with other scents.  Alone, and in mass quantities, it is hard to breathe.

Relief as I take a huge breath upon boarding the boat that will take us to the Vietnam exit border     and the Cambodian immigration.  I had wondered this morning how it must feel to live on the water and I’m getting a taste of it now.

I have learned to be patient and smile my way through every immigration process but the Cambodian immigration control is unique.

A curious local (as usual it is the people that draw my lens).    

After leaving the boat and walking for a bit there is an immigration control like no other.  

I get the usual “Paraguay?” question but with it comes a smile and a look.  And just in case you don’t believe it actually is a border crossing here are some officials to prove it as we head back to the boat.   This is not the plank we take back to our boat… 

  Back on the boat our trip leader entertains us.  

I relax for we still have about two hours till our arrival to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.       

My stomach growls, my eyes blink open, and I spot land.     

Thaly, our local guide, and our first and only female guide on our journey, welcomes us at the dock.  This is a bustling, metropolitan city.  We check in at the Almond Hotel where we have lunch.     At this stage of the game most have a hankering for familiar tastes so they serve us ice cream for dessert!  We are all like little kids verbalizing our delight with many “yummms and ahhhs”.

Off to the Royal Palace.      

As we cross the gates the sounds of life outside seem to decrease to nothing.  Isolated perhaps by the tall walls that surround it.  What it doesn’t isolate us from is the brutal sun.

The king is in residence, indicated by his flag waving high.  

I know I should be most impressed by the Throne Hall

-that we are asked not to photograph even from the outside looking in.  In fact, today we can’t go inside at all.   But aside from the Baccarat crystal chandeliers that are certainly captivating, it is the Moonlight Pavilion that holds my eye.     

We head towards the Silver Pagoda set of buildings.  The walls are painted with the Khmer version of the classic Indian epic, the Ramayana.  

I sit and contemplate how manmade beauty is framed and enhanced by nature.  

Life outside the walls has not stopped.        

We go back to the hotel to freshen up and go back out for our ride in a remok (the Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk) along the riverside to our restaurant.  We are served Cambodian food which, as in all of Asia it seems, includes curry something.  We taste fish amok (steamed fish with herbs in a banana wrap).  I am not warming up to Cambodian food as much as I have to the rest of Asian food.

Tomorrow we will have a somber morning walking through The Killing Fields.

Categories: Cambodia, Chau Doc, Phnom Penh, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

8 Days to Departure. But, Who Is Counting? Oh, I am!

It is 12:30 am and I am awake. Calmly… well, maybe not so calmly but meticulously… yes, carefully making arrangements to… oh gosh no, I will not paint a picture that is not! I sit in front of my trusted Mac with my eyes tired of reading through countless blogs/forums/mails/photos that the wonderful Internet provides me with just a few clicks. I am on information overload and I am seriously considering just going back to my old procrastinating self. After all, how bad can it be to get to my Thailand portion of the trip and have all my hotel reservations done but no flights to get to the wonderful places I will go within the country? Probably really bad! I punch in my dates again. A scheduling nightmare ensues. Why was I so confident that there were going to be flights every 15 minutes?

  My passport has returned. That is a story all in itself, but I will choose to tell it later. I am just relieved that it has come back to safe harbor. It was a thrill to leaf through it and see the colorful visa stamps. For what all this process cost me I would have expected a lot more vibrancy to those colors though! Though Laos has one with a hologram that’s pretty cool.

My rambunctious inner child is still jumping up and down and going “Yay!” (I think she is eventually going to take over and will have me smiling, skipping, and dancing throughout BLT+.)

It was worth every penny, however, not to have to trek to every embassy or to have to FedEx it to one and then to another or keep track of where it was or make sure all the info was right, or… well, you get the idea. No doubt it would not have had a good outcome. When I sent my passport in December my heart was still hurting and my mind was not into details. Now I have absolutely no excuse for not getting all the pieces of this puzzle together.

I don’t usually worry too much about itineraries –I have a backpacker mentality with a gentrified execution to travel- but being it the first time that I am alone on a trip this long I am not leaving too much to chance. Or at least I’m trying not to.

I go back to booking my flights and am sort of soothed by the fact that I am making reservations towards the latter part of March. That’s really far away. The first flight on Asia Air from Bangkok to Chiang Mai seemed really cheap until it directed me to the extra charge for my bag and then more for my seat (yes, really) and then to the meal –I’m not eating- and then to insurance –no again- and then to a place where it tells me that should I not use their internet check in, at the airport they will charge me extra. Once I added an additional $55 in fees I click again and I have at least one round-trip ticket taken care of. Fortunately, Asia Air doesn’t charge you for oxygen since I am hyperventilating and using a lot of it now. Then I have to find a way that when I return to Bangkok I can just go ahead and jump on my next flight to Koh Samui. This island better be worth it ‘cause there are no cheap flights and I proceed to pay what I was not expecting. $320 dollars later I am booked on a barely 1-hour Bangkok Airlines flight.

I have a false notion that I have all the time in the world till departure until I look at my February calendar. Eight days. Only a week-and-a-day before I leave? I still have to stock my antique stores/booths in Orange, CA. My will and my health directive have to be done. I have to meet with friends. Will I manage to do it all?

My new camera lies next to my bed. I swear it stares back and says in a very snooty way “You better get to know me. I’m not that simple you know.” If we don’t get acquainted really fast I will not be able to take all those amazing photos that I promised you I’d post. Time is running out.

Will keep you posted. It’s now 2:30 am and I am going to bed. Sleep is next.
Hypnos, Somnus?

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Uncategorized, Vietnam, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Immunization = $$ = Needles = :(

I am good at procrastinating.  If it were a class and I were in school, I’d be getting an “A” with no effort at all.   But they say change is good and this is a facet in me that I must make an effort to abolish.  Well, maybe modify.  Perhaps just alleviate?  You see how good I am at procrastinating?  Because I feel uninspired, I am using words to stall (at times I  equate stalling to procrastination) and not communicate what I have come to say.   But, no more.  Here goes.

I have a strong aversion to needles and side effects so I have… yes, you guessed it: procrastinated in going onto the Center for Disease Control website to find out what immunizations (ie: needles) I will need to go to Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong.  I promise I will find a pseudo-acronym for this trip.  I got it!  BLT+ (B for Burma –actually Myanmar- but for this purpose it will be Burma; L for Laos and T for Thailand and the “+” for Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.)  Phew, no more repetitive typing!

As I have lunch at The Black Cow in Montrose I pull out my trusty computer and get on-line.  Victor, the best server ever, knows exactly what I order so he greets me with a hug and asks “The usual?”  This feels like home.  So I am on the site.  Lazy me can’t believe that she has to go to each country one by one.  No cheat sheet.  I find a link to a Global Travel Clinic Directory that “know all about traveler’s immunization needs.”   So here I am.  I call the first one in Glendale and they are closed.  I leave a message.  I call the next one in Pasadena.  Also closed.  I leave a message.  I try another.  Ditto.  So now I have nothing left to do but wait.  And enjoy my steak salad.

My cell rings and I am told that this is the Medical Clinic for Immunization returning my call.  So she gives me the laundry list of immunizations that are recommended.  This is not sounding good.  Well the Hepatitis A and B (a series of 3 shots) is $170, then the Rabies shot is another $100.  I become restless.  “Could you give me an approximate figure of how many and how much?”  “Well around six of them would be around $800 but that’s without the two most important ones which are the typhoid one and the….” I stop registering anything until she says:  “Those two are $1,600.”  And this is without the malaria pills.  I’m not that great at math but I immediately add it up to $2,400.  I calmly thank her for the information, hang up, and panic!  Are you kidding me?

I get on-line and e-mail, Facebook, go to the OAT Travel site and message everyone if this is even remotely in the ballpark of what others have paid.  Two of my friends whom I know well and have traveled to BLT+ say: “Noooooo, no need for any of that.  Just go and enjoy!”  I have yet to hear from the travel company’s previous clients.

In the process of checking for responses I find a post from a traveler that says that the CDC has just posted a health warning for travelers going to Vietnam due to an outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, though it seems to primarily affect children.  What the heck?

My cell rings.  I’m starting to feel real important.  My phone is ringing a lot.  This is the Healthy Traveler Clinic in Pasadena.  Me:  “Well, you are calling at a time when I am still almost speechless.  Just got a call from another clinic saying that all the vaccines I need are going to cost me roughly a third of my trip so far.”   On the other side I hear a compassionate voice saying that she understands and she hears that a lot.  She wants me to see the doctor who will go over the priorities, if any, on the shots and pills and that I am at liberty to decline or even go to another clinic to get them.  Things are looking better.   I have an appointment tomorrow morning.  But before I go to the doctor, I must fill out 9 pages of forms. Will be reporting back.

Categories: Cambodia, China, Immunizations, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Beginning!

Paris, France

I chose this photo I took of a sign in Paris to accompany this post because I certainly feel an affinity to it.  It reads:  “Please do not park.  Car exit.”  and since I have never been one to park my mind or my body in one place for too long, it just felt appropriate.  Besides, my little Baby Blue (aka: my Prius) has been the means by which I have done so much of my traveling lately.  Barely 3-years-old and it already has almost 98,000 miles on it!

However, my preferred form of travel has always been by plane. And it is on one of those that I will be, in barely 2 months time, on my way to Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Loas, Cambodia and China. A trip that will keep me away from home for over 35 days.  A trip I want to take each one of you on and have you delight -or not- in experiencing, touching, smelling, seeing, feeling and hopefully understanding and loving cultures that are so different from ours.

So, setting up the blog is the very first step in taking you with me on this journey.  Of course, considering I am absolutely technologically impaired, it may not be as easy as I had wished.  So I call my friend Carolina Groppa and merely yell (softly): HELP!!  She used to have a celebrity gossip blog and is adept in the blog world.  So here she is with the arduous task of initiating me in this blogging thingy.  We sit side by side, computers in front of us, in The Hollywood Corner while she tries not to be exasperated by my inadequacy in grasping even the basics.  I valiantly say that I think I can do this and we part with Happy Holidays wishes and my inner me thinking “Oh my gosh.  I’ll never be able to do this.” while I am sure hers is going “Can’t help her too much more on this… don’t think she can do it.”

Next frame is me writing my first post and being very proud of how poetic and funny my prose was, and pressing/clicking… the wrong button to publish it!   So my masterpiece is lost in cyberspace and I don’t seem to be able to recover it.   So I laugh at myself and rewrite, though this time in not so brilliant a manner.    If it takes me this long to post things on my trip I will be missing most of the sites due to the need to be indoors trying to get it right!

So I am left with promising you that you will see some pretty decent photos (I love photography and am sort of really good at it).  I promise you that you will read mostly my gut reactions to places and peoples and that I will write mostly from my heart rather than my brain, so I ask you to please disregard grammar, punctuation, and spelling oversights that may occur – something I am usually a stickler for.  Among my many talents 🙂 is that of editing scripts, proposals, treatments, etc.

Wish me luck… I am clicking on another button!

 

 

Categories: Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Vietnam | 6 Comments

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