Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Royal Temples and the Three R's

OK, I lied. I thought I would create 2-3 posts from the Mekong River cruise and be done. But once I started looking at the pics I took on my mobile phone - still haven't downloaded the better pics from the camera - I realised I wanted to document this a bit more properly and extensively.

Today's post focuses on the Imperial Palace and a visit to a village in the countryside, in addition to a Buddhist compound on the top of a hill where we received a water blessing and visited a local school. Best part of the palace tour, hands down, was my cyclo driver. He spoke very limited English, so I did a lot of smiling and head nodding when I didn't catch it the second time I asked for a repeat. I distinctly heard the names Clinton, Trump and Obama, so it appears this guy keeps up with US politics. He chattered on and on about Trump, so I figured he either loves or hates the guy. Which mirrors how most Americans feel these days. 

Above is a pic of the obligatory temple/ruins cat we always notice on our travels. Below is a restored fresco on an exterior wall. And beneath that is a royal stupa, aka Cambodian mausoleum.

Here is a little side story I gotta share. When Mr Cyclopedaler asked me where I was from, I responded Texas and he got very animated. It seems he has some family living in Port Arthur, part of the Golden Triangle of Southeast Texas where I grew up. It's a popular area where Vietnamese and Cambodian fisherman have settled. More proof it is indeed a small world. Although we were told the river cruise company would be tipping all of the cyclo men, I gave him a nice tip because he was so entertaining. He broke out in a big old grin and shouted "God Bless America!" as I walked back to board the boat.

In the afternoon, we visited a Buddhist temple sitting atop a hill where we visited some local school children at class after receiving a water blessing from the monks.

The colourful and intricate architecture was incredible. All of us cruisers had purchased school supplies that we gave to the children after they practiced reading in English to us. Their school has only 1.5 solid walls - the rest was chain link fence to keep the critters out - but you could tell education is a priority. Many of the kids were asked what they want to be when they grow up and at least half of them said teacher since they're highly respected professionals in this culture. Another popular response was tour director. Seriously - our tour director on the cruise was AMAZING. Phiem was well spoken, solicitous and knowledgeable. He went out of his way to make sure we had a wonderful cruise experience.

Finally, I want to add a pic of my travel heroes. About half of the 24 folks on our cruise were from New Zealand, just like Gill and Bruce you see in the pic below. He's 87 and she's 84. They've traveled all over the world and are still making plans to see more. I want the husband and I to aspire to be just like Gill and Bruce when we retire. Do some touring, then come back to the boat for a G&T followed by a nap. That's the way to do it, I'm thinking.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Setting sail in Phnom Penh

Our Mekong River cruise kicked off in the capital of Cambodia on a brand new boat that launched last year. It was our first experience on a vessel this small and I must say I'd highly recommend it. We visited the Tonle Sap Lake via a cruise down the river. It reminded me of the mud gumbo waterways where I grew up in Southeast Texas. The poverty was pervasive, but the adults and kids we saw were hard at work making the most of the circumstances they were dealt.

Above you see a family planting rice by hand in the paddy. The great thing about this itinerary is that we got to see a mix of big modern cities and the local villages in the countryside. En route to the river, we passed by some interesting sights. I asked our guide about the liquor and soda bottles I saw displayed along the side of the road. He said it was a "drink" for the motor scooters that were a popular means of transport in the country, filled with gas for the tank on these back roads where you couldn't just pull into Buc-ee's. Folks back in Texas know what I'm talking about. The net and light rigging below that is all about snacking. At night the lights attract crickets and they fall into the water filled area beneath the plastic tarp. They're collected the following morning and fried up as a tasty treat.

The electricity poles were quite entertaining, weighed down with dozens of lines running to and fro.

I knew little about the Khmer Rouge, but got an earful on this tour. We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school where prisoners of this sadistic regime were tortured and killed them in a bid to wring confessions and family member names from them. One of only a handful of prisoners that survived of the almost 18,000 housed here was onsite and I purchased his autobiography. I don't even want to think about the things he witnessed.

Next we toured the Killing Fields Memorial, where the you walk past the shallow pits where they executed and buried approximately 1.3M victims of the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror.

Friends and family know that I have a fascination with cemeteries. It's not ghoulish, but rather an interest in cultural rituals and art that memorialise the dead. The SE Asian version of mausoleums are called stupas. Many of them were quite colourful. 

Lastly are two final animal moments from our time around the capital, involving oxen and a dog. The dog in the pic belonged to a local silversmith we visited. He was chillin' while we learned how to tell the difference between solid silver vs silver-plate. The oxen were used to take us on a cart ride. The tour guide joked it was the local version of a Mercedes Benz.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Summer Travels - Angkor Temple Complex

I know, I know, I'm waaaaaay behind with my posting from our Mekong River cruise in the summer. Probably a big part of my hesitancy in tackling this task is because I have a zillion pics and it was all so impressive that I feel like I need to create a bunch of posts that includes a lot of pictorial editing and recollection of what we saw. At the risk of coming across like a slacker, I've decided to just give you the 2-3 post highlights of the trip because seriously, y'all, I've got a lot on my plate right now. I don't want to splash it out on social media just yet, so I'll get back to you with more deets later this month. 

In the meantime, here are some of my favourite pics from our visit to the Angkor temple complex when we kicked off our cruise tour in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The tour guide was fabulous, the temples were incredible and the weather was Southeast Texas icky - heat and humidity that had me dripping in sweat. Literally. I could feel it running down my back and legs. This trip was definitely a two shower per day undertaking. But so worth the soap and water because it was breathtaking. 

The carving was intricate, most from the 10-12th centuries, so I as surprised it was in such good shape considering the climate, wars, etc. You can see how mother nature is making inroads to take it all back. 

My favourite pic en route to Cambodia was taken in the Bangkok airport when we changed planes. Mom slept while the kiddo sat atop her with his electronic game in hand and entertained himself for about an hour.