Adding to our ever growing list of countries visited, our next destination was Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our first observations was that Cambodia, as expected, was quite poor in comparison to our previous few countries. To get learning, we checked out the Angkor National Museum. At $12 to get in, I wanted this museum to be different, and not simply show me statues of Buddha gardening, relaxing, looking at things etc etc.. My hopes were dashed. There were a million depictions of Buddha, which, after seeing so many in country after country, it really loses its impetus. But we did learn a pretty fun story:
Kasyapa (let’s call him Dan), had two wives Kadru and Surbhna (who we’ll call Tracey and Sally). Trace and Sal decided to have a competition to see who Dan thought was his hottest wife, and the forfeit was decided that whoever lost, had to become the other woman’s servant. Dan knew that Trace was a jealous person, so picked her simply on that basis. As the victor, Tracey’s first order as the winner was to banish Sal to the mountain. Sal cried, and said ‘if Dan was lying with his answer, then my kids will come back to your kids, and eat them’. Dan heard about Trace being a bit harsh to Sal with the whole banishment to the mountains, and so was like, ‘Nah, not allowing it. Pick something else as punishment.’ So, Tracey instead made Sal go and get some water from the lake of immortality (Amrita).
On her travels, she bumped into Shiva, and after a bit of praying, he gave her a kid who took the form of a bird, called Garuda. Garuda went and collected the immortal water, and as he was flying it to Dan and the crew back home, he only went and bumped into Vishnu, didn’t he. Vishnu wanted a bit of action, so they fought for 21 days. After Vishnu couldn’t be bothered to fight anymore, he said that Garuda was a proper good fighter, and that he is now king of the birds. Garuda said cheers. He then asked Garuda whether he wanted anything,
‘Nah,’ said Garuda, ‘do you want anything?’
‘Yeah, the immortal water, and I want you to be my slave.’
‘OK,’ said Garuda, merrily. Vishnu took Garuda back to Dan’s pad, and upon flying over the palace, they saw that Tracey had given birth to several kids, but they were in the form of snakes. Vishnu instantly told Garuda to kill those snake kids, which he did.
That’s the completely bonkers story, and why, in Angkor Wat, there are hundreds of depictions of Garuda holding snakes in his talons, who are technically his half brothers and sisters.
That night we went out with a fine British gent, named Ross, who was a financial ombudsmen, who then went on to tell us he smoked opium the week previous. Who would have known.
The next day was spent at Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, a giant, ancient city intertwined into the forest. It was truly mind blowing at how large it was, and would take days and days to walk absolutely everywhere. It is the place to go in South East Asia. King Jayavarman VII was the guy in charge of this huge spectacle. He built it in dedication to his father, at the height of the Khmer Empire. Thousands of people lived within the city, all working to support the temple, which thrived as a centre for Buddhist learning, and possessed immense riches. I think it’s important to appreciate a huge chunk of the population forgotten about because of their low status, but without them, this Kingdom would not have had a chance of being built to this size. I doff my cap to those poor slaves. Rather than try to describe each crevice and crack, we have, instead, compiled a list of words we think best describes the experience:
This lady opted for the wedding dress to explore Angkor Wat.
That evening we visited the hospital. No, not because we needed aid, oh thoughtful reader. We were here to see an orchestra performance led by Beatocello. A self-titled cellist and qualified doctor, Dr Beat Richter, who has overseen and raised millions for the children’s hospital in Cambodia. We discovered some interests facts:
The World Health Organisation have never helped with the children’s hospital in Cambodia because it has never been profitable. They disagree with the fact that people do not pay a fee to access the medical care. He said that they actively encourage hospitals to charge patients because free hospital care is not considered an economically viable method of keeping people alive.
85% of donations are from private donors, not public organisations or governments. The people you expect to help, do not help.
80% of Cambodians earn $1 a day, or less. Meaning that if their child was sick, without that hospital, it could be fatal.
He showed the kind of people he has met and appealed to, including world leaders, and claims that there is an unbelievable amount of money in the world, easily expendable, but he still has to beg for it. He says he hates the East-West divide.
The average cost of nursing a child from sickness to full health is $260. When the representatives from the UN came to visit, they stayed in a hotel costing them $360 a night. The world is the wrong way around.
We later checked up on this guy, an incredible man, and there are calls for him to receive the Nobel Prize.
Battambang was a quaint and sleepy town. We went for a stroll and watched some serious games of boule. We hired some bikes and headed to the bamboo train, which was fantastic. We sat on a small wooden platform and a makeshift engine turned the detachable wheels resting on the track. As you race your way along the rickety, single track, through a tight avenue of trees and bushes, twigs flick at you as you shoot past. If you had another ‘train’ coming in the opposite direction, you had to jump off, watch them remove the train off the track, let the other train pass, then like a jigsaw, put your train back together again.
Cruising around Battambang.
The bamboo trains.
Letting traffic pass through.
We took a mini-bus to Phnom Penh. En route we met a Cambodian gent. He appeared eloquent, interesting, interested, and even owned a business card. He offered us to meet his family for breakfast the next morning at his house, an invitation we accepted. Near the end of the journey he asked whether we had arranged any accommodation. We answered in the negative. He said he could sort us out with a discount for a hotel. He made a few calls, and like magic, there was a tuk tuk driver to take us to the hotel. As we got closer, we noticed the streets were getting increasingly red. We soon worked out that we were in the heart of the red light district. We walked into the Flamingos hotel, checked in, then called for the lift. When the lift opened, a lady exited, and by observing her scantily clad attire, and the crisp dollars she was counting in her hands, assumed her to be a prostitute who had just done a bit of business. But this may have been an unfair assumption. We got to our room and a sign on the wall read, ‘ NO FILMING OF PORNOGRAPHIC MOVIES IN THIS ROOM.’ Our assumptions were turning into fact. We were in a sex den. I foolishly suggested that they had not provided us towels, but then Ednora pointed out that there was no way she was having a towel in this hotel touch her body. As we left for dinner, another lady of the night met us at the lift, this one more rotund, and wearing an entire bottle of perfume. That night, we were woken up at 4am to the intense sound of spanking, and a woman screaming, ‘Yes, yes, yes, more, more!’ We sat up in bed like the cranky old couple from down the hall, ruing the moment we took this man’s advice. The next morning we were up early, and got the hell out of there before he came to pick us up for breakfast. We left him a thanks but no thanks letter, and laid low for a while. We later learnt that the notorious club, The Heart of Darkness, famous for picking up prostitutes, was opposite our hotel.
We spent the day checking out the post office, which was surrounded by old colonial buildings, considered HQ during the French era of dominance. The Indochina bank was built in 1923 which was now a swanky restaurant, in which we treated ourselves to a three course meal. There was an old police station, bank, and the post office was still used today. We visited the library, and an old geezer snuck up to me, shook my hand forever, then asked if I drank beer. I said I did. He then showed me a couple of cans stashed in his pocket and asked whether I wanted to knock them back with him. He was completely hammered. I declined the tempting offer. That night we went to a nice, cosy cinema, where you can lie out on the floor on cushions and sheets. We watched the Killing Fields. A movie about the Khmer Rouge, to learn more about this devastating period in the country’s history.
Old colonial buildings.
The old prison, now a bank.