May 26, 2007
The border crossing from Poi Pet was ok, but the town itself is something out of the wild west. Dirt roads and shabby buildings. We payed $50US for a taxi to Siem Reap. The roads are in terrible condition, and I felt every bump along the 150km route. A very forgettable 4 hour ride.
I would say this country is about 100 years behind NZ in terms of infrastructure. Siem Reap has a lot of foreign investment — there are hotels everywhere — foreigners use a ready supply of manual labour.
It’s stunning to see human lawn mowers cutting the grass outside a major temple in the middle of the day.They used long machetes and were stooped over. Four of them cutting something the size of a football stadium.
Most things are very cheap. You can easily pig out on less than $5US. Although the currency is the Riel, everyone uses US dollars. The pain is when you get change. I have several thousand Riel in pocket which equates to about 70 cents.
All around Siam Reap are beggars and victims of land mines. It really does put a dampener on your meal when eating outside when a middle-aged Cambodian comes up to try to sell you a book and he is missing both fore-arms. Apparently he picked up a land mine as a child: ka-boom. No more arms. Poor man.
According to the land mine museum that I visited, there are about 4 to 6 million mines laid or aerial scattered from 1975 onwards.
When visiting temples there is always an area for sellers outside where they push water/food/clothing sellers. As soon as you get out of the tuk-tuk : “hey Mister uwe wan cod drink?” or “Sir, sir uwe buy from me t-shirt.” or “Buy flute from me, only $1! Ok, ok, I wait for uwe wen uwe get back (from visiting the temple).”
They use young children about (8 – 10 years old) that tractor beam in your wallet with their puppy eyes. Sam and I have given very small donations of annoying Reil to them, but we have no need for postcards and flutes.
You can see many of the sellers are on the bones of their butts. As there is no government help, they do it tough. Us New Zealanders have nothing to cry about when you compare these poor people.
I am completely ‘Templed out.’ I’ve seen about 10 or so now in Cambodia, and unfortunately I don’t seem to get to blown away now when we “go to yet another temple.” Yeah, sure there was one in particular I liked—it was the same one they used in the movie Tomb Raider. The jungle has retaken the temple so trees have intertwined with the buildings, pretty neat.
Visiting one temple we had an ‘illegal’ tour guide show us around. At the end of the tour the guide spun around and said, “that will be 2000 baht ($100NZ). Help me out, I need the money to be a registered guide.”
Sam, Ben, and I were thinking giving him only $3US (the standard tip we work by). Then he became surly. I got a bit annoyed and started walking. I was watching the trees and bushes for his mates to jump out and mug us. I was of course over reacting. Nothing happened.