Cambodia...where the poor still smile!

Trip Start Aug 24, 2010
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35
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Trip End Sep 01, 2011


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Where I stayed
Diamond Palace Hotel

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Watch Out for that DUMPTRUCK!!! AHH...that's what we were saying as our bus from HCMC to Phnom Pehn swerved left, then right, almost going on two wheels and tipping off the small dirt freeway....we made a quick stop to make sure all the tires were still on, then carried on...faster this time as we now have time to make up for! haha. The border crossing was interesting...grab all your luggage off the bus, hand your passport in to the driver, then wait in a mob of people while the immigration officers randomly call your name out (or make the sounds of the first letter of your name...mine sounded like Bliney Hute)...then you go, get your passport, have someone else check it...or actually read through it page by page....before letting you leave. Then you head out to the rows of buses, guessing which one might be yours! We found ours because we were the last ones through...and the driver was yelling at us to hurry up...as if we had control of the illogical process of passport checking. Bye Bye Vietnam...welcome Cambodia!! It's a good thing some other travelers had warned us about the scams for changing money. They try to get you to change your money to local Cambodian Riel; however, everything in Cambodia is based on US dollars...so we knew better and took our chances with only American funds! Good call! Everything is in USD.

Driving through Cambodia was a real eye opener. I've talked about the poverty that we've seen in various places...the Philippines, Vietnam....but never have I seen such a poor country. The distinction between rich and poor isn't very noticeable in Cambodia...everyone is poor! The kids run around with no shoes, the schools are empty buildings...doesn't even look like half of them have any books...everything is so dusty from the dry land....the houses look to be tossed together with whatever wood is available...they don't bother to cut the boards the same length when building the house, which I don't understand. The clinics...geez...as we drove by them, I swore to myself that I wasn't eating anything that wasn't prepacked from a notable company...Potato Chips...that's all I'd eat...because there is no way that I would end up in one of these "clinics"!! We felt bad for the locals in the Philippines because of the hospital and care that I received in their government hospitals!! WOW...that has nothing on the one room, open door clinics of Cambodia! It's just like you see on the Save the Children infomercials back home. Scary stuff. But the people...every single person has a HUGE smile on their face! They wave as you go by...be it on a bus, tuk tuk, or just walking...they smile and wave. The people are amazing.

As soon as the bus dropped us off, we had no idea where we were, we were swarmed by tuk tuk drivers! We pushed our way through, grabbed our bags, and moved off to the side...when this super timid, quiet spoken, guy approaches...with manners...and asks politely if we need a ride to our hotel. Surprised at his approach, so nice compared to the others, we accepted. This was the highlight of our Phnom Pehn stay! We got to know our driver fairly well, and hired him for a day to take us around. He picked us up in the morning, from our superbly fantastic hotel....with a sofa!!....and took us to the killing fields, where we learned about the history of Cambodia and the recent struggles that the people have survived. There's not much to say about it....just horrific. The Killing Fields was exactly that...the site where thousands of people were innocently murdered. We continued on our way to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where I expected to learn more about the genocide...but it wasn't as informative as I had hoped. The museum is in the "torture prison" where all the prisoners were held, tortured, and killed. There isn't much to the museum...it's an old school which was turned into the prison during the war and is now a museum, showcasing the faces of all the prisoners and the workers. It is interesting to read some of the stories...although there aren't too many displayed. We finished our day with a late lunch along the river, stopping in front of the Palace for our awesome tuk tuk driver. He wanted to have a picture taken with us for a souvenir! We spent some time talking to him about his life and his family. It's so interesting to speak with people who have been through so much. We take our lives and our Country for granted....they appreciate the smallest of things. We paid him $20 bucks for the day, which was almost enough to cover his rent for the month.

We walked the streets...to see what we could find. First find...a HUGE casino. Gambling is illegal in Vietnam, so everyone goes to Cambodia. Even at the border crossing, there are 5 or 6 casinos. My grandma would love it here! haha. We didn't gamble, just took a walk around. Outside, we ran into our first street kid. He wasn't asking for money...he only wanted food. What kid doesn't ask for money??!! So we ended up buying him $1 worth of fruit...we tried to buy him some corn, but we couldn't figure out how much they were saying it cost...and figured 5 ears of corn might not do the tiny, starving kid much good...lol. We settled on some fruit, that we don't even know what it is. The kid was ecstatic though! The biggest smile I've ever seen. He walked with us for a bit...then headed on his way. Later that evening, we saw the other side of things...walking through the park, which is packed full of people, eating, doing aerobics, and....apparently huffing. there were some teenagers who tried to talk to us...but they couldn't even speak...just slurs as they continued to sniff their bags of gas. It was heartbreaking...I know kids at home get caught up in that too...but here...it's so out in the public...right in the middle of a public park full of people.

Did I mention our awesome hotel?? The Diamond Palace...what a fantastic place to stay. It's right beside some shady, slumy, apartments...but it was great. The people are fantastic, the service is great, and the food was excellent! Tomorrow we leave on the Mekong Express Bus to Siem Reap....hopefully we don't run into any dumptrucks!!
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