Most of us got up at 4.30 to go and see the sunrise over Anchor Wat. This was fun, good watching the other tourists fight for prime reflective position. It wasn't the best of sunrises but it still was nice, Narum is very good at pointing out good photo spots.
Back to the hotel for breakfast to find that there were four sickies. it seems that I am the only one not to get the bug. Mind you the trip isn't over yet. I have been so impressed with the maturity that the students have shown with the issue, no complaints just get on with it sleep as required vomit as required.
After breakfast back to the Temples. When they were built they were pretty much the biggest cities in the world at the time. We checked out a Temple that had over 700 Buddha faces, I even have a photo of me rubbing noses with one, and then onto our Elephant ride. This was fun Kerren and my elephant was 30 years old and lovely, We walked around the perimeter of the Temple stopping for good photos, This was much more fun than riding camels in Egypt.
Next Narum took us on a back way to the Temple near where he was born. We walked through the forest and saw some great Spiders and lizards. Some of the boys even climbed trees and swung from the vines we saw a lot of trees growing through the stone work which was amazing.
Finally we reached the Tomb Raider Temple this was fun a maze of crumbling rooms and lots of great photo opportunities. Must watch the Movie to see if I can recognise anything!
Finally we left the precinct and headed back to an after noon at the Hotel, where Kerren and I had a lovely massage and swim followed by a final trip to the markets.
After dinner we all
met upstairs and had a swim and watched a meteor
A LOVELY END TO A GREAT
Today we wandered off to Anchor Wat. An amazing place made more interesting by our guide Narum who has suddenly come to life He grew up in a Village that was located where the car park for Anchor War is now, and talked about playing in the ruins and growing rice and feeding his buffalo in the moat, and also seeing several people blown up by land mine that had been placed throughout the ruins. Anchor Wat was impressive, a vast temple complex with terrific Carvings telling the Hindu story. Lots of Dancing Ladies and of course the Gods. Although its origins were Hindu It became a Buddhist Temple and every eight days they close the top floor so that the Monks can worship there. We had a great wander taking interesting photos. Narum took some great group photos that i am hoping i can attach to this email.
At 12 minutes past 12 on the 12 of the 12 I was watching Buddhist Monks chanting in front of Anchor Wat. What were you doing?
Narum showed bullet holes from the fighting between the Vietnam soldiers and the Cambodian. He had friends who
served on both sides, as the armies raided for volunteers in the village and if you didn't look excited you would be shot. He talked about not having enough food to eat, 25 grains of rice supplemented by crickets Ants and any thing else he could scrounge. When the Vietnamese were around they could not fish as the fish was only the Army were allowed the fish. This was not much different to when the Kumear Rouge were in Power but the Kymer were far more Random. When Anchor Wat got World heritage listing the Village was forcibly removed and they received a small area of land in Siem Reap. They had to Physically remove their house and set it up in Town.
After lunch we went to the farthest flung Temple to see some more ruins, this was a fun place as we scrambled all around the Temple peering into nooks and crevices. It was great fun! Back to Anchor Wat to see the sun set. This was really beautiful as it lit up Anchor Wat and it glowed.
Out for dinner and a show of Cambodian Dancing it was good to see these dances again, apparently one of the Royal Dancers survived Pol Pot and has passed on what she remembers.
A quiet day with a visit to the Green Gecko project. This is an inspirational project devised by an Australian to help street kids and their families and boy are they getting results. It seemed very well organised and controlled so that the students
don't become tourist attractions. They were very happy to receive the gifts that the students had bought at the hotel. Some of the kids are talking about a fund raiser for the project. Next an artisans village for the deaf, lots of
wood and stone carving and Henry and I talked each other into buying a beautiful stone box. We reckon that in ten years time when we meet each other we will ask if we still have our stone trinket box.
Lunch was at a training school and it was beautiful, we felt like we were at a very posh restaurant.
After lunch we visited another primary school, this did not seem so well organised and in reality we have not been very impressed with our current tour guide. Narum. Students at the school learn everything by rote and classes size is about 35. The students attend school in two shifts and I was pleased to learn that the staff did the same.
Back to the hotel where the kids swam had massages visited the market and basically had a nice relaxing day. I am writing this on top of the hotel watching the kids swim. The sun is setting a huge red ball over Seim Reap. There is a cool breeze blowing and the smell of wood smoke is starting to waft which must mean that we are due to
wander off to our next meal, followed by the night market.
Tommorow Ankor Wat!
PS Every one was really well
today! (I am touching wood!)
A quiet day today. Lots of driving through beautiful country side. First the kids went to a local market where they had $10 each to buy goods for the Green Gecko Project. It was a challenge and many of them bartered successfully and bought heaps of Shampoo shoes etc. The market was fascinating live fish snakes random bits of animal with eyes and all sorts of stuff we couldn't work out what to do. Kerren and I wandered down the road a bit and came across a clinic where a child was being given a drip out in the open. The parents had obviously been told that he could go off home So they loaded the boy onto the motor bike attached the drip to a pole the mum got on behind him the dad got on in front, and off they went into the distance. Amazing!
Next was the local school where the kids helped the students to read a book. It was great to watch all of our students were engaged in what they were doing and then they taught them Duck Duck Goose, Simon Says and Peter Says.
We had a great time and I have lots of great photos of lots of happy faces.
Back to the home stay for our last meal. Then onto the bus and off to Seim Reap. The closer we got the better the road. and I noticed that we got up to 80 km an hour. Very fast!
We eventually detoured off the road and ended up at Lake Tone This is a vast lake that swells to over 3000 km in the wet season. There are a lot of houses built there on stilts and in the wet season they are very isolated. &0% of Cambodia's fish come from this lake. We went on a boat and travelled past the fishing village then into the Lake where there was a Vietnamese floating village. These villages have
every thing, sort of and need to move four times a year with the Lakes rise and
Fall A beautifully fascinating Boat trip.
We travelled onto our new
Hotel in Seim Rip where joy of joys there was a pool on the roof and it is only
200 M from the market. We are all very happy!
We left Phnom Pen at 8 am and headed off through the countryside toward Siem Reap. Kim told us all sorts of interesting information, e.g Theunemployment rate is 35% Tourism is Cambodia’s biggest industry, She has worked 21 different jobs in her life making incense sticks , constructing walls, cooking for others cleaning, in other words she took whatever opportunity there was and went with it.
The countryside was different to what we had travelled through before. Lower lying with houses built over water. The speed limit in Cambodia is fifty but I noticed that we rarely got above thirty. Kim stopped and bought some lotus fruits from some vendors and we all got a taste. The seed tasted a bit like macadamia nuts, yum!
Saw dried fish skun ducks and all sorts of other things for sale on the side of the road. There is no public transport system here no trains or buses instead they have motor bikes towing a trailer with up to 30 people, there are lots of Tuk Tuk’s as well.
We stopped at the village that sold fried tarantulas, Sophie and Kim were the first to eat them, Mitch following soon after and many of us tasted the odd leg or two. Tasted crunchy with a savoury flavour. Quite the experience. The tarantulas were quite large and their feet felt quite sticky as they climbed on you.
We travelled on through beautiful country side to our home stay.
We were shown our accommodation, the girls upstairs under mosquito nets in rows all in one room. A pretend mattress on the floor you should have seen their faces. The boys didn’t even get the pretend mattress and pillow but at least were on the planks of beds!
We hung around a while and then off for a pony cart ride. This was fun four to a wagon except the big mama wagon which only had three, Kerren, Kim and myself. We visited a house where the owners made noodles the old fashioned way. It was interesting to see how they lived, pig’s ducks people all together. We then went onto a Buddhist temple where we saw a Dragon boat and watched children and young monks cleaning up. Back on our carts and a fast trot back to the bus.
Next an Ox ride into the paddy fields to watch the sun set over the water in the fields, as Kim our guide said it was a Kodak moment. The Ox was a beautiful white and the country side gorgeous.
Dinner at the home stay was great Chips fried and Chicken, Kane, James, Ryan and Henry polished of four bowls of chips and three bowls of chicken.
After dinner we all danced with the locals mostly Ganga style, and then were treated to a rendition of traditional dancing that was quite beautiful.
Then off to bed in our nets on the floor hopefully to sleep.
We are having such an adventure
We left early and visited the royal Palace seeing the Silver pagoda. This was amazing it sparkled with Silver diamonds and even an Emerald Budda. The King died in October so we could not visit his palace, but we saw plenty of the gardens and the Stupa, where they store the ashes of the deceased. Hazel was very sick today and left us and headed back to the hotel via a Tuk Tuk. Bb was not well but soldiered on. We think that it must be a stomach bug as it is wandering fromperson to person. The kids have accepted it as part of life and there is no fuss. There was time when I asked some on how they were feeling and were told (much better now I had a good chuck a few minutes ago).
Next was the national museum where we saw artefacts that dated form pre Anchor days. This was followed by a visit to a
Buddhist temple built on a hill that had been built by a very rich woman. On the way up the temple we came across a lady asking $2 to release two birds from a gage needless to say the cage was soon emptied and the lady went away with a smile on her face. The temple itself was quite beautiful with lots of Buddha’s in all sorts of poses. And some very graphic and beautiful paintings. Then off to yet another lovely meal.
I was surprised that the Khmer Rouge did not cause a lot of destruction to these places but I guess since they had emptied the city of people there was very few around to destroy things.
Next stop was The Killing Fields.
On the way Kim shared her story.
She was 15, for some reason the day the Kymer Rouge emptied the city she was separated from her parents. She was sent to the Vietnam side of the city. She told us that they had to just leave their homes and take nothing. Anyone who tried to close the door of their house was shot.
They evacuated in fear. She walked for seven months through rice fields and jungle eating whatever she could find. Snakes snails frogs crickets spiders plants toads, you name it she ate it Rats were the tastiest although they were bad for the skin and toads the worst. She arrived in the refugee camps and ended up in one near the Chu Chi tunnels. They were only give rice and oil for food and supplemented it with anything they could find.
She met her husband there and like her he could not find any of his family. They ended up having four children. When they eventually closed the Refugee camp by luck she was able to reconnect with her mother and brothers and sisters. Most of who had married local Vietnamese. Her father and a brother were killed by the Kymer Rouge. Her husband was located by one of his sister in laws so they both ended up with some family. Only two of her children have jobs as they are so hard to find. Her eldest is 32. Unemployment is at 35%so she supports many people. She came back to her home town but was too late to reclaim her house so has had to start right from the bottom learning English from the radio until she was good enough to become a tour guide.
The Killing fields were out in the country side at the site of an old Chinese cemetery. They found over 100 massed graves there. Graves filled with baby’s old people young people and even headless bodies in Khmer Rouge uniforms. (Probably the heads were taken some where as an example. We saw the tree where the bashed the babies to death. And in the pits you could see bits of bone and cloth that had risen to the surface. Ryan asked Kim how she felt the first time she visited the Killing Fields and she broke down. In fact many of us cried at the pointless loss of life. However the sound of children’s voices from the school next door and the dance o the butterflies amongst the graves gave us hope that in Cambodia at least this would not be allowed to happen again.
They have placed the remains of the victims in a stupa stories high. A sobering sight.
We left in silence and for some it was too much and they chose to go to the Russian markets which specialise in Silver jewellery whilst 11 of us went on to the prison that the victims of the Killing field had come from.
This was a school in the suburbs of Phnom Penh. It looked pretty much like any three story school built in the sixties with
three wings. The class rooms had been divided into about 10 to 12 tiny badly built brick cells. The prisoners were manacled as there were no doors. If you talked to someone else you were tortured, not killed as that was too easy. Many of the cells still had blood stains in them. They have chosen to leave it exactly as it was as a lesson to humanity. The prison had taken photos of everyone who had come through, including one Australian whose body was found at the Killing fields. The photos were stark you could see the fear in their eyes and hopelessness.
There was a photo of the deserted Phnom Penn it was derelict.
I cannot do justice to the way both of the places affected us all. It was a history lesson that should not have had to be made. Only seven people survived this prison and we had our photo taken with one of them. He was a mechanic and they needed someone to fix stuff so he survived.
On the way to pick up the others the conversations were wide ranging about what we had seen and how it affected us.
A buffet dinner was next on the list and we enjoyed the ability to choose what we ate.
An amazing day. It felt as if we had squashed a week into one day.
Bye Vietnam – Hello Cambodia
A lot of wow factor in today’s events with students leaving possibly their first international visit and entering another country – all in one school camp- wow.
We were woken up at 4: 25 am so we could all have our bags packed and down at reception by 5. All but a group of the senior boys managed it. Breakfast was a lot simpler than some of the previous hotels but still nourishing- fried eggs the top choice.
The humidity is the highest we have had and some of the students with sensitive stomachs are feeling the heat.
Mai was fondly farewelled and we boarded a smallish thirty seater boat travelling quite fast along the Mighty Mekong.
We travelled upstream from Chou Doc for over an hour. Pulled up at a jetty, deboated for a few minutes, reboarded, travelled for another 3 minutes, deboated and collected passports with visa applications and were signed into Cambodia.
Got back on the boat for the arduous river travelling ahead. Several students sitting on top and on the bow having great conversations on what they’d seen so far. Others inside sleeping off unwell tummies or getting up too early for teenagers. Spirits are buoyed along with expectations and the thought of spending more money at the markets is high on the list though for some the visit to the outreach centre today is will be exciting.
We had a sad moment when we said goodbye to our guide Mai. We sang her a special rendition of Home among the Gum Trees which she taped so she can learn the words. We also taught her “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree” and ‘I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice-cream’. She is always working on her English and general knowledge. She has been a real treasure and excellent at her job. She is a contractor guide not attached to any one company and is helping her two younger sisters by supporting them through university.
We landed at Phnom Penh and met our new guide Kim. She has quite a back ground. After a coffee at Gloria Jean’s we headed off to see some of Cambodia. Lunch was great with some real Cambodian food yum! Then off to Banteay Prieb. It took a long time to get there as the roads are so bad. The speed limit on highways is 50km an hour but the roads are so bad that you trundle along at 20 or 30. Banteay Prieb was impressive. Indon welcomed us and explained the way the centre worked and took us on a tour. The centre teaches people skills like sewing, mechanics, electronics, shoe making sculpture, fashion and agriculture.
They then take these skills back to their homes. Most of the teachers were ex-students. Indon showed us the spot where one student sacrificed himself to save the life of others by falling on a grenade. It was a healing place and had a wonderful atmosphere. We held a little ceremony and handed over a little more cash the students were really happy to have seen the place that we had heard so much about.
We travelled back to the city and booked into the hotel followed by dinner again great food, then home to bed.
Today was Sophie's 16th birthday, we greeted her with a large email from her parents and embarrassed her by singing happy birthday a few times during the day. It was a quieter day with a tour of the largest floating market in Vietnam and a visit to a noodle factory.
Unfortunately we woke up to find Steve was under the weather as was Kane, Viannah, Mae, Emily, Ryan Sigley
and Mitch all had the chuck ups at various stages of the day. Hazel came into her own and the rest of us provided support and hugs where we could. We can't work out what caused the issue but figure that it was one of the many things that we tried the previous day.
We arrived in Chau Doc which is on the Mekong River, After a cyclo ride around town we had dinner at a local hotel. Everyone had to buy a present with a value of under $1 and then passed them around the table left or right depending if you answered one of Steves questions correctly. There was a variety of very funny things bought for $1. A birthday cake followed. One of the nicest cakes I have eaten in a long time. Back at the hotel for our 4.30 rise so that we can get on the boat and arrive in Cambodia by 12.30 pm.
Hazel and I are hoping that no one knocks on our door tonight telling us they are sick.
What an amazingly relaxing day! Up and out of the Hotel at 8 am. Then off to the Delta via a temple. Vietnam has a unique religion that is based on the teachings of Victor Hugo, a famous Vietnamese academic and the Vietnamese emperor. It was based on being good and acknowledged all Deities. Beautiful temple, and a one stop shop with the coffin maker next door and the hearse complete with Dragons ready to roll!
Then onto the Mekong and a boat where we cruised through a floating village seeing how they made various crisp breads coconut sweets, royal jelly and even a fruit farm. A taster’s paradise.We traversed onto Sampans with four to a boat. And were paddled and pushed through a maze of canals. The tide was out and the mangroves exposed. We saw king fishers, fish scooting across the land, mangroves and the local people doing whatever the local people do. It was a relaxing experience and lovely just taking things at a leisurely pace after the information overload of the past couple of days.
We rejoined the larger boat and eventually arrived at the restaurant for lunch at 4.30 pm, thank goodness for all the tastings along the way! We were served a variety of fish dishes with an elephant eared fish being the master dish. This was presented in rolled up rice paper. A local came through with a life version a few minutes later. It was whisked into the kitchen.WE had a lovely time watching the sunset over the Mekong it was absolutely beautiful! Particularly with the fishing boats.
We have started to have a challenge each day; Kym won the challenge to take a photo of Mitch Caitlyn and Hannah with every one smiling. Todays was to take a photo of Kerren with a silly face.A lot of games and singing has been happening on the bus.
Heading of the night market tonight where the challenge is to buy a gift under under $1 so that we can do a pass the parcel quiz to celebrate Sophie’s 16 birthdays tomorrow.
We headed off quite early to catch the hydrofoil down the Saigon River. We had a seat up the front of the boat and watched the houses mangroves tankers and other river craft glide by.
We alighted at the town of Vung Tau which served as a rest area for the Aussie and American service men. Next stop were some more tunnels built y the Viet Cong. These were not as extensive as the ones we saw yesterday but just as deadly. Most of us went through these tunnels as they had been made a lot higher. In one of the levels there were slits going through grass where Viet Cong waited for the enemy to walk past and then they shot them. They always aimed to maim not kill as it meant that soldiers would have to take the wounded back with them. Seeing the tunnels made me realise how scary it all would have been to walk through the forest and then gunfire comes up from the ground.
Next stop Nui Dat - The main Australian base - not a lot was left here but our .guide explained where everything had been and how it was all set up. Again it was an strange being in the place that i had heard so much about. We travelled into a near by town to collect some roses and the plaque for the Lon Tan memorial (They keep it at the local government offices it has been pinched before and keeping it safe means lots of bribes for the local people.)
Lon Tan is a Rubber plantation and has surprisingly little cover, the memorial is in the centre of it. There was a real atmosphere about the place that was unexpected. ( At least by me)
Our guide Bin (Wombat) explained exactly what had taken place and then conducted a simple service and a minutes silence and then each of us laid a flower on the memorial. The Vietnamese always had respect for the Australian Soldier as they were there with out choosing to be and after the Lon Tan battle the Australians ferried a lot of wounded Vietnamese to safety. Not much respect for the Americans though.
Last night we had driven past the memorial where the Monk had set himself on light in protest to the War. I remember seeing this on the TV in the seventies. We described it as a protest against the War The Vietnamese described it as a protest against American Atrocities. I think both versions are accurate. We changed into our bathers at a resort which was once used by the Americans and had a couple of hours swimming at the beach. The water was so warm and we constantly moved the kids backup the beach as there was a strong down shore drift. We sang all the way back to the hydrofoil. all the tour guides here sing so we have been teaching each other all sorts of things.
Back to ho chi min city, and some bargained at the night market and 8 of us experienced a hot rock massage, this was a real experience and left us all tingling from head to foot. and ready for a blissful nights sleep.
We leave Ho Chi Min City this morning it is an amazing part of the World and not as confronting as I thought it would be. Each day and every meal seems to be better than the last. Its a privilege to be sharing this with a group that are so willing to join in and to learn. We are all fit and healthy, there have been a couple who have felt a bit seedy at times but they have all made preventative measures that are working.
Can't wait to see what today brings!