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Cambodia has a way of making you feel guilty
Thursday, January 18, 2007

I'm going to slowly recap my SE Asia trip since I'm bound to forget everything within a year. It was an experience and was very eye opening.. some Law and Order shit going down at times.

We flew from Hong Kong to Bangkok on the 22nd of Dec. There was a layover of 2 or 3 hours so we were lucky enough to chill in the Bangkok Airways lounge. Before going to the lounge, we wanted some grub and took our chances at dining at a finer ramen place. Thai people must not like my sis or I because we were (not) greeted by the worst waitress. She just stood there, no words, just with her pencil and paper, impatiently waiting for us to order. (I knew then.. that Thailand wasn't going to be good)

Anyways, we took a pathetic propeller plane to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Home to their national pride, Angkor Wat.

We had a personal Tuk Tuk driver during our entire stay in Cambodia. It was weird because we would tell him approximately how long we wanted to stay in an area. I dunno, the whole idea of having someone wait on me was a little awkward. On our first day out to see the temples on our own, our driver, Mr. Vandeth, was very much interested in chatting with us. He lives with his wife's family and owes his brother-in-law a shitload of money for buying a tuk tuk. Basically his wife's family makes the money and he has a lot to repay. Mr. Vandeth was very nice though and showed us his home and his brother-in-law's stash of alligators (worth $5k each. he had about 15). His tiny little room which houses his wife and two sons compared to his bro-in-law's massive house.

Cambodia has a way of making you feel guilty.

So the first day we set out temple hopping, we didn't have a tour guide. Basically roamed about temples with our Lonely Planet, not really caring at all about the history and just sightseeing. It was enjoyable until we got to the 3rd temple and we were just thinking "ok.. and i have 2 more days of looking at temples...hmm." Besides that we just chilled on our own, took lame photos, made fun of tourists, and avoided begging children.

Oh the children of Cambodia. They are smart, that's for sure. As adorable yet sad these children are, they are intense when it comes to begging. They know how cute they are, they follow you for blocks asking for candy, money, or to buy their postcards. Some make more than their parents from begging. You help one but you cant help them all and it's a serious problem. It leads to other issues like sex with children thanks to tourists. A retired American couple who now lives in Thailand told us that prostitution of children was bad in Thailand but very much worse in Cambodia. I mean besides seeing old white men with their young Cambodian ladies, we saw old men with Cambodian families, possibly buying the whole family of young and old. You'd think this stuff only appears on Dateline and would never cross your path but once it does, it is some traumatizing sight to see.

The history of Cambodia starts off on a high note but continues to fall. It is trying its hardest to develop and keep up with neighboring countries but gets much of its help from other countries like (South?) Korea, France, USA, etc. Even the paved roads to some temples are only 3 years old and provided by the Koreans. It's good that the country is getting help but during the whole trip it felt like their culture was very much exploited and nothing was really the people's anymore.

The entry fee to see the temples go to some big hotel management. Who knows why they seem to "own" the temples. There isn't much preservation of the temples, very minimal; we've seen that many pieces were broken just from tourists/locals touching them too much or worse picking pieces up and accidentally breaking them. Our best tour guide, Sam, brought us to see Angkor Wat and thankfully we learned about the culture, how temples were built piece by piece, the stories carved on walls, why Cambodia is the way it is present day, etc. He was pretty much the only highlight of Cambodia because otherwise I would have felt just completely overwhelmed by everything I saw. Though the stories often were kind of guilt-ridden, it provided a backbone as to why you see the things you see today.

I probably will not go back to Cambodia because it's one of those "once in a lifetime" experiences that does not need to be revisited.

Other moments worth noting:

-Our hotel did not provide blankets.. so I slept with bath towels.
-Angelina Jolie is like their national pride. They love Tomb Raider like it's god-given.
-Naked children run amok.
-There are flies in restaurants/everywhere. (only noted b/c there was nothing of this sort in Laos)
-Our 2nd tour guide sucked.
-Nobody can comprehend us being from the USA, likely because they don't understand immigration.
-The Siem Reap airport was 99% filled with tourists. Local Cambodians don't travel much or will probably never be able to afford an airplane ticket.
-Don't wear Converse Chuck Taylors if traveling in South East Asia.

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Jane Tam has moved to a different domain. Please forward your links to Jane is a 21 year old Photography student placed in Syracuse University but originally from New York City. She enjoys all sorts of music but you can classify her as the stereotypical indie kid. Slightly offensive and bitter sometimes, this blog is a place to vent frustrations but also a blog to display current photo/art projects as well as encourage new talent from music to art to films; basically whatever tickles Jane's fancy.



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