Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Siem Reap, Cambodia: Day One

Siem Reap is famous for Angor Wat, which is why we came, but there are over 500 temples in the Siem Reap area alone.  For this reason we booked a three day private tour package with Kris ahead of time.  There are two options:  one, you hire a driver to take you to the sites, but they are not allowed to enter any of the sites with you, for that you need an official tour guide.  Which brings us to option two, hire both a driver and a guide.  I felt to really see the city, understand its history, and appreciate all we would be seeing we needed a tour guide.  I was not wrong, best decision ever!

Jet, our tour guide met us at our hotel at 8:30 am.  The waiting van, like the ones we came in was very clean and air conditioned, a huge plus I this crazy humid heat.  Our driver was Sveit.  He didn't speak much English , but compared to the driver we had last night he was amazing!!!!  We did not go to Angor Wat on the first day, but instead went to Beng Melea, about an hour away.  It was beautiful, big, and crumbling, due to the trees that were growing through it.  Beng Melea is over 900 years old.  We walked and climbed around and then went back to the city for some lunch.  We went to a nice restaurant where a lunch entree was about $4-$6 drinks around $2.  What I found so interesting about this country is that not only do they take american dollars, every menu only has the price in dollars.  Even people from other countries use american dollars when traveling here.  They will give you change in american dollars except coins they convert to riel.  

The best part about having Jet as our tour guide was learning about Cambodia history from his perspective and hearing stories about his life.  As we were driving out to the floating village I asked Jet where he grew up.  It turns out that Jet is from a town that borders the jungle where the Kmehr Rouge  was pushed too.  Every night after dinner around 4pm his family would get in their foxhole, because that's when the fighting would start.  He said with the bullets and grenades and constant 
fighting you could not hear the person next to you talking, it was so loud.  Every night he did not think he would live, but he would fall asleep and the next day he was fine.  As a child he and his
friends would pick up the bullets and walk past dead bodies and this was normal life for him.  This is 
one of many stories that Jet told us during our three days with him.  

He also told us how he wanted to be a tour guide and learn to speak English.  It used to be against the law to learn but after the defeat of the Kmher Rouge things changed.  His father had been a doctor and spoke French, but he died in 1997.  One of his brothers also spoke French, but he was killed by the Kmehr Rouge as well.  Because of them he said he had a passion to speak another language.  He told the story about how he went to school to learn English and they learned lessons 1-5.  Then classes ended, but his teacher opened a new class so Jet followed him since he was the only teacher who taught English.  Again he learned lessons 1-5 and then classes ended.  A third time Jet took lessons for. Him and again the lessons ended at level 5.  Jet finally asked him why they didn't learn lesson six, he was bored with lessons one through five.  His teacher pulled him aside and said he was sorry, but he didn't know lesson six, only one through five.  Jet is laughing when telling this story.  So he ends up moving to a different town where they have a very good school for learning languages.  

We arrive at the floating village and we must pay a fee $12 a person to take a rickety boat to and around the floating village which sits on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Southeast Asia.  We have our own boat along with Jet and we cruise down the river and see people living in tiny house boats, which apparently they have done for hundreds of years.  We see mothers cooking, babies crawling, children playing and swimming, men fishing and just glimpses of everyday life.  We ask Jet if the people mind all the tour boats that cruise by their homes daily, but he says they love it because the money we pay helps them when they need it.  Not sure what that means exactly.  We got off the boat for a pit stop and saw the crocadiles that they raise.  We also climbed to the top of this boat store and had a great view of the river and lake.  We cruised around for about an hour and then parked the boat
 up on the land, we jumped off the front of the boat into some mud and walked up the steep wooden 
steps to where we started.  

We returned to our hotel around 4:30, just enough time to play in the pool, shower off and meet our driver at 6:30 so he could take us to watch traditional Aspara dancers and eat a buffet dinner.  The
dancing was interesting, but most people didn't seem to be watching the show.  There were many food options and it was fun to try new things.  Even the kids got into the spirit.  They've actually been doing grat with eating new dishes.  We try to stick to noodles, chicken and shrimp for them, which is not too hard.  Plus they love all the fruit!!!

Our driver was waiting for us when the show ended and drove us back to our hotel where once again lizards roam the outside corridors otherwise known as our hallways.  We wrapped our mosquito nets around us and drifted off to sleep.  Okay, so maybe drifted isn't the right word, more like sweat dripping, air conditioner barely working, exhaustion taking over kind of sleep.  Whatever. 

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