Two excursions today in Cambodia. First to Ream National Park for a boat ride. A couple of stops before getting to the river. First was a school and temple. The kids were at recess, playing marbles, volley ball and following us around. We went into a first grade class room which had the standard looking calendar and alphabet, but not a book to be seen. Next door was a temple that the kids wandered back and forth to. Didn’t seem like they had to be in the class room. Saw our first monks in the orange robes. The Temple complex had a couple of different buildings. Most striking was the paintings on the walls and ceilings. Next stop was at a pepper farm that grows Thai pepper corns that are popular with foodies. We picked some up to bring back.
The big adventure was the boat ride. The 22 of us split into 2 boats for the ride down the river. Lots of people fishing, some in boats with nets and others just walking around in the 3-6 feet water. We are stopping for a brief walk in the woods, our guide tells us. The people from the previous two boats come walking back down the dock saying its worthless, don’t bother going. Turns out, its a 200 yard boardwalk to an observation tower in the jungle. The board walk was the adventure as about every 4-5 boards were mostly rotted out. Each board was unique as some were planks, other cut up signs and thirdly, round logs just sawed in half. Each step had to be carefully placed. I went up in the tower to the second of 4 levels. About as far as I was willing as the steps were tall and there was LOTS of space to fall through into the swamp. Mel and I both made it back without mishap. It was the highlight of the day.
Afternoon excursion was a Sihanoukville overview that started with a quick stop to the beach. The sand was beautiful sugary, soft. I took a shoe off and put my toe in the sea. Couldn’t wander too far as it was hotel owned, for hotel guests only. Next door was monkey’s hanging out on the wall. The bus stopped for a few minutes so we could watch and take pictures. We bought peppercorns and a t-shirt in the local market which had people sitting in the middle of the walkways selling fast food or begging. We went back to the bus quickly as the heat and smell were both high. We watched from the bus as Cambodian life went on about as. The chicken truck came up next to us, stacked with live chickens and a row of ducks sitting on the tailgate. I tried to get a picture of the ducks but didn’t get my camera out fast enough.
Last was a temple with a large reclining Buddha and several other pavilions. Dogs ran around, in and out to the temple. Two dogs had a puppy fight next to me as I was trying to have a quiet moment. Chatting was going on in another pavilion. Lots of teen age kids were sitting and chanting with the monks. The Buddha statues had neon halos, Vegas style. May be that was attracting the teens.
Overall, Cambodia was very depressing. It’s a poster child for why plastic bottles, bags and Styrofoam should be banned. Filthy trash was everywhere. School yard, temple yard, road ways covered with all types of trash. Mel watch a fisherman on his docked boat, eat his food and just toss the Styrofoam contained over the side, with all the other stuff. Tomorrow he will try to catch fish in that same sea.
Dogs roamed in and out of the Temple, rolling around on the prayer rug. I watched a 5 year old girl check the locks on the Lucite donation box. When that didn’t work, she walked over to the broom near me, picked off a long straw blade and went back to try and fish one of the bills out. Shrugged when it didn’t work. Worse was our bus driver on the way back. He gave us his story of being 8 years old when the Khmer Rouge told everyone to go into the jungle for 3 days to get away from the USA bombing. They were never let back in, he was assigned to labor camps, walking 60 miles to work in the rice paddies dawn to dusk with only rice porridge once a day. Whipped with electrical wire and put in a dark room alone for a month for eating a chili from a plant. 4 years later, when the Khmer Rouge was chased out, he walked the 60 miles back to town and found his mother, who had just returned. Most of his Aunts, Uncles and cousins were never found. Cambodia had almost 7 million when the war started, 2 million were outright killed and another estimated million starved to send rice to China.
The people we met were nice and seemed to be surviving but obviously something fatalistic in that survival is to live today, and hopefully live the next day. That is what is has come down to after 75 years of war. As a fellow passenger summed it up. There is no health care or social services but at least the current government is not actively trying to kill them.
We are glad to be back on the ship and out of war torn countries.