**Complete Cambodia photo gallery below**
The railroad system in Cambodia has largely languished in disrepair for the past few decades. The tracks were originally laid in the 1930s and 1940s when the country was still an imperialist French colony. After the civil war in the 1960s-1970s, and during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, the train system was dismantled in many places. In the 1980s, train tracks were a target of guerrilla attacks, so much so that the front cars on a train acted as a sort of “minesweeper.” Riding in the front train car was actually free, and the second train car was half price, because of the danger of going over landmines or explosives. Meanwhile, villages that bordered isolated stretches of train tracks would still utilize the tracks by making improvised train cars with two axles, slats of wood, and powering the car with a small engine. These cars would transport passengers and goods between villages. The improvised train cars are called “norry” and are often referred to as a “bamboo train.” Continue reading The Bamboo Train
“Thunder Ranch Shooting Range” is definitely on the tourist circuit in Phnom Penh. It’s in all the books, guides, and sample itineraries. And why not? In the USA, (and for that matter, many other countries) you can’t very easily (and legally) go and fire off fully automatic weapons unless you’re in the military or law enforcement. Well they seem to have recognized this in Cambodia and have quite the niche offering for tourists. It’s actually illegal for regular citizens to own guns in Cambodia at the present time. Despite this, they manage to legally offer a few ranges that allow for (mostly tourists) to fire the hell out of a wide assortment of weaponry. What you can shoot there depends mostly on how much cash you’re willing to part with. They have Tommy guns, Uzis, Belt-fed Russian machine guns, Anti-aircraft machine guns, Anti-tank guns, and loads more. They basically sit you down with a menu and let you pick. Hand grenades? $50. Shoulder fired rocket launcher? $350…. ouch. I actually wanted to throw a hand grenade, but all of the mortars and grenades and rockets and such require a 40 kilometer drive to the side of a nearby mountain. We opted to just shoot an AK-47 and an M-16 (both full auto). It was on the must see/do for us for sure, but we didn’t want to empty the bank account on explosives and ammunition or spend the whole day there. It was pretty fun, albeit brief. In addition to the targets, they put up a green coconut and I managed to completely explode that thing with the M-16. Continue reading Holiday in Cambodia
Six hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh left at 0730. The bus and bus station should be familiar to anyone who’s taken, say, the “Chinatown buses” in the U.S. like Fung Wah or Lucky Star. Same Same. The last bus ride we took on this trip was from Delhi to Jaipur, and despite the fact that we were riding through utter pandemonium, it too was Same Same. One thing we remember on the bus in India was an elementary school-aged girl a few rows back that was puking and retching for hours before we had a mid-trip break. When the bus stopped, she skipped across the parking lot to get some greasy street-cart food with her family and chowed down before getting back on the bus. A few minutes after the bus got going again, she was back to puking and dry heaving. I did think at the time that it was strangely fortuitous that, unmedicated, I didn’t seem to have any motion sickness issues on that bus ride. Anyhow, the India bus did come back to memory when today a cute little asian boy maybe four years old, dressed in a little button up SE asian outfit, started puking his brains out as soon as the bus got going. Like the Indian girl, he wasn’t crying or causing any trouble, just puking and puking and puking. His mom would rub this menthol stuff on him and lay him flat across the seat. Continue reading The Deluxe Aircon VIP Emesis Express
I thought this was only a Thailand expression, but it seems to really be a SE Asian expression. Well, the first part, that is. It gets used all the time by locals and the expression is well known and funny enough to find it’s way onto T-Shirts and all other sorts of souvenirs. We saw them everywhere in Thailand, and in Cambodia it’s no different. It’s perfect for today though…. more of Same Same…. But Different.
We wrapped up our final day of temples a little further afield from Siem Reap, with some long tuk-tuk rides in between sites. We saw Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean, Bakong, and Preah Ko. We also visited the landmine museum in between. Briefly, Banteay Srei is known for having the best preserved figures and bas reliefs, and while it wasn’t a huge structure, the carvings were very intricate and worth the visit. Kbal Spean is an interesting site that probably has just as many locals visiting as tourists. It’s at the end of a 1.4 kilometer hike and has carvings into a creekbed as well as on a few rock walls that have water flowing over them (at least, after the rainy season). There’s a large waterfall near the top of the hike, and a lot of locals were having picnics and children were swimming there during our visit. The hike was definitely tougher than it needed to be with the sweltering jungle heat, but it was still a pretty cool place to visit. Continue reading Same Same… But Different.
Ok, actually it’s The Floating Village. Even though we’re a month into the rainy season in Cambodia, things remain really dry. And while the river is a lot lower than usual for this time of year, there are still plenty of “floating” homes along the river that leads to lake Tonle Sap.
Since the only “floating villages” remaining in Thailand exist primarily as tourist attractions, we hoped to see one of these during our time in Cambodia. The place we visited today is Kampong Phluk, a fishing village south of Siem Reap on the banks of a river leading to lake Tonle Sap, The trip was about an hour drive by tuk-tuk, most of which was through scenic farms and rice fields and small villages. Lots of random oddities on the way there. Cambodia is the first place we’ve been that in many areas there aren’t conventional gas pumps for refueling. What you see while traveling are multiple roadside stands with shelves of gasoline-filled bottles. Gasoline is dispensed in a variety of bottles, including soda two liters, but the bottle of choice for gasoline in Cambodia seems to be Johnnie Walker “Red Label” whiskey bottles. I wonder if you can haggle over the price when you’re buying gasoline like that. Continue reading The Levitating Village
We’re not the first to observe that Cambodia is kinda like a giant “Dollar Tree.” Seriously, everything here is $1 US. Ok, maybe not everything, but nearly everything. If it’s not $1, then it’s 2 for $1, or 3, or 4, or 10. And if it’s more than a dollar? It’s almost always some tidy sum like $2, or $5. In the very occasional instance that you might need change for some amount less than a dollar… well, you’ll be getting it in Cambodian Riel. The Cambodian currency exchanges at 4000 Riel to the dollar, and it’s all paper money, no coins. That is, no coins seem to be regularly used. It’s really kind of an interesting and surprising setup. I mean, the ATM’s actually dispense USD, and everything is priced in dollars. Not sure of the dynamics on a national level that have them using U.S. currency, but it sure makes for easy calculations of value.
The shopkeepers in the Angkor complex and the people touting souvenirs and drinks at the temple entries and exits are REALLY entertaining. They mostly use the same lines, but there’s really a lot of competition so occasionally they come out with stuff in English that is absolutely hilarious. Being able to distinguish yourself definitely will help with business, so I totally get it. Whether we’re interested in what they’re selling our not though, it can be pretty entertaining at times. Continue reading Everything’s A Dollar in Cambodia
Before arriving in Thailand, Martha and I received some suggestions from family members who had previously traveled there for things to do and stuff to buy. The thing is, the family members with suggestions had visited in the 1970’s. Well, obviously things have changed there since the 1970’s. The ways that they’ve changed are kind of interesting though. One suggestion from family was to visit a floating market. Those are amongst the classic Thailand postcard pictures. They do still exist. However, they only currently exist as a staged destination for tourists. It seems that tourists keep wanting to see them, and even though their practicality has mostly ceased in Thailand, they still stage them to draw tourists. Tuk-tuk’s are another classic tourist thing in Thailand. Tuk-tuk’s are aggressively touted to tourists, and there is a whole cottage industry of tuk-tuk related souvenirs. The issue is that for tourists at least, tuk-tuks are rarely going to be cheaper than an air-conditioned taxi in Bangkok. Tuk-tuks will drive up and quote a ridiculous amount of baht for a short drive, say a few hundred baht or $7-10. A taxi (if you insist on them using the meter) is well under 100 baht ($3-4) for a decent drive across town. Bottom line: tuk-tuk’s in Bangkok are mostly for tourists. Continue reading Sunrise at Angkor Wat