Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Day 7 - Tuol Sleng And The FCC

We got up and had breakfast by the pool of our French villa-style hotel. As we ate our bread & jam and our fruit I noticed a couple sitting a table away from us. They both had laptop computers open and were typing away. The guy would get on the phone every once in a while, he was obviously doing some sort of business. From what I could gather, he was some sort of young American businessman and she was his foreign girlfriend along for the trip, as whenever they spoke to each other it was in some other language but when he was on the phone it was English with an obvious American accent. There would not be a time that we went by the poolside bar, either in the morning or evening, that they were not at that very same table with their computers open. I don't think they ever left the hotel grounds. How very colonial.

I often wondered who the heck these people were that could go someplace like Jamaica and spend their entire time in a Sandals Resort, their only contact with the native population being the ones who bring their drinks. Now I know. Blond, yuppie businessmen in khakis and sandals.

After breakfast we made our way to the National Museum. Continuing our theme of Lisa having her picture taken in front of elephants, there happened to be a statue of one in front of the museum entrance.

The museum had lots of ancient Khmer art that was really cool to see. It also had a collection of more contemporary art and some of it was really nice. The sad part was that most of the contemporary Cambodian art was done by artists who were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

The museum building itself was quite beautiful. It is an open-air building with tall, traditional looking rooftops. The four main exhibit areas are arranged in a square to form a lovely courtyard.

After the National Museum we walked down the block to go to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. But, as seems to happen in a lot of countries that are not the United States, they were closed for the midday break.

We decided to go and find a store that Lisa had read about. It is a retail store run by the National Centre of Disabled Persons, where they sell items made by disabled people. In Cambodia, of course, a great number of the disabled people are victims of land mines. They had some really excellent stuff to buy as well. We walked out of there with several scarves and more than a few handmade silk toy elephants (back to our trip theme) among other things. I think they were the most expensive souvenirs we got on the whole trip, but it was the happiest we were about spending money. If we had even a little bit to do with the nice girl, missing half an arm, who rang us up keeping her job in the store instead of having to beg for money on the streets, or much worse, then it was money more than well spent. A great organization, doing the great work that their government seems to not want to do. You can even order items from them through the NCDP website (click on RO Project then click on handicraft catalogue ) and they'll send them to you. They really do have some great stuff, especially for kids, (check out the great elephant mobile) and the money goes to a really worthy cause.

On one of our walks too or from the NCDP we saw a monkey on the street picking through garbage. I wanted to get a picture of it but Lisa thought we should let the poor guy have at least a little semblence of his dignity.

We then went to the Foreign Correspondents Club for lunch. The FCC is somewhat of a famous place in Phnom Penh. It really was started with the aim of having foreign journalists as its main clientele. With its third floor restaurant/bar (with another bar on the fourth floor) having sweeping views of the river and the streets below, and its international menu, it obviously attracts all kinds of white people. In the evening it is full of tour groups.

Not the kind of place we usually like to go when traveling in a foreign land, but seeing the balcony tables from the street below the day before really made me want to go eat and have a beer at one of them.

After a lunch of a Cambodian curry and some french fries with garlic aoili, washed down by an Angkor beer, we made our way toward the Royal Palace.

Along the way we sneaked another picture of monks.

The Royal Palace was closed for the day, so we only got to see the Silver Pagoda area. Funny, that didn't seem to make a difference on the ticket price though, as we had to pay full price even though we weren't going to get to see half of the place.

Either way, the area around the Silver Pagoda was very cool.

And there were more elephant statues.

As well as an exhibit of a traditional Tonlé Sap stilt house, complete with musicians inside the house, who we tipped but didn't take a picture of, and a woman outside the house weaving cloth, who's picture we also didn't get.

We decided to instead go with a picture of me acting like a dork in the window.

After the Silver Pagoda we figured it was time to finally go see the infamous Tuol Sleng Museum. We got a tuk-tuk driver to take us there because it is a little farther from the center of town and we didn't have much time left.
Tuol Sleng was a former high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into Security Prison 21, or S-21. It became the largest detention and torture center in Cambodia during Pol Pot's insanity. We read that between 1975 and 1978 more than 30,000 people (according to former staff at the prison) were held and tortured here before being shipped off to execution, which took place at what is now called the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, which we saw the day before.

What you learn by visiting here is that the Khmer Rouge seemed to take a lot of their modus operandi from the Nazis. They kept very specific records of the prisoners, which included mug shot-style pictures of the victims.

There were rules for the prisoners written on a big board in the courtyard (English translation is a little messy):

1. You must answer accordingly to my question. Don’t turn them away.
2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
5. Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
8. Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
9. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire.
10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

Most of the museum was all of the different rooms with metal beds set up like they were when prisoners were chained to them for torture.

That was nothing compared to when we hit the rooms with the photos. There must have been three or four full rooms covered in the pictures the Khmer Rouge took of the prisoners. So many of them were so young. There were several of young mothers holding babies. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see. Everyone in the pictures we saw were tortured into "confessing" crimes against the regime, which was documented by the Khmer Rouge and I believe involved forcing the victim to sign.

They were then shipped off to Choeung Ek to be executed or were tortured to death right there at the prison. We know this was the fate of every person in the pictures we saw.

Couldn't really talk much during the tuk-tuk ride back to our hotel.

I went for a swim in the pool while Lisa wrote in her journal and the yuppie couple typed away on their laptops in their fashionably casual clothes.

We then walked back to the FCC for dinner. The place was absolutely hopping in the evening. There were groups of people at just about every table, including huge tables pushed together in the back rooms for big tour groups. The pool table seemed to be taken over by guys who looked like they might actually be genuine foreign correspondents. It kind of looked like the tables were where the tourists were sitting and eating, and the bar was where the journalists were drinking. They seemed to be regulars in any case.

Since it was evening the geckos were out in full force. They were all over the walls of the FCC. Big ones, little ones, baby tiny ones. I pretty much lost all attention of my wife for the evening, as when there is a cute animal around she got stop looking at it and smiling. And the baby geckos were damn cute.

I felt kind of guilty about going to the FCC for dinner, rather than supporting a smaller business owner. But Cambodia was a little more tricky when trying to be sure you are getting actual vegetarian food and the FCC had vegetarian specific items.

It is the only time on the whole trip that I had pizza.

Next - The boat out of Cambodia and my impressions of the country

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ooh! My Back

I had every intention of writing another SE Asia trip post today. Unfortunately for me the job I was working this last week involved some lifting, so today I woke up with my back a complete wreck. I just can't sit at the computer long enough to write a whole blog post.

But I'll try to write it tomorrow.

In the meantime, I am looking for some feedback on my vacation posts from my regular readers, all three of you that is.

Besides the fact that it is taking me forever to do, I know I've been home for over two months now and have only gotten up to day 7, what do you think of the stories? Too long? Too boring? Are they interesting at all to you?

One of the things I wanted to do was put in some specific information for people doing Internet searches on traveling to these countries and might find some useful info in my blog (i.e. - getting place to place by boat, hiring drivers, vegetarian eating, etc.). Do you think I am accomplishing that? Is that also making the stories a little dry?

I'm committed to finishing them (eventually) anyway, but I'm interested in what everybody thinks so far.

I'll try to get to day 7 and (maybe) 8 tomorrow, wrap up Cambodia and move on to Vietnam. And I'll try like crazy to move it along. The amount of time I get to write is just not very much these days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Clowny Clown Clown

I won't have time to write much this week because of work, but I had one quick thought to share.

A study that I read about recently shows what a good number of us have known for years.

Kids hate clowns.

I would hope that this now settles the issue and we can have clowns banned forever. Seriously, who are all these idiots that think clowns are a good thing anyway? I'll tell you who, it's these sadistic parents who think that kids are there for the amusement of adults.

Nobody ever asks the kids what they like or want before shoving whatever the parents want at them do they can get a "cute" picture for their Christmas cards.

While we are at it, can we please stop this silly mind-game we play with children about a fat man from the north, a magic rabbit and a denture thief? Other things that are also only there for the amusement of adults at children's expense.

Have you ever seen a kid under the age of three who doesn't cry when made to sit on Santa's lap? But parents do it anyway. Fuck the kid's feelings and get the picture so Mommy and Daddy can have some sort of cherished memory to look back on.

It is never for the child's fun. That same kid will finally start to appreciate, even love, Santa at a little older age. That's when the parents rip it away, tearing out the child's heart and smashing it on the floor. Same thing happens with the Easter Bunny.

And don't even get me started on the whole Tooth Fairy thing. Just a way to indoctrinate children into the capitalist mindset that everything has its price. Even selling off your body. Not really something I would want to teach a young daughter.

And parents get a big kick out of seeing their kids duped or terrorized. Mom and Dad laugh at the poor kids while duping them with the Santa myth, knowing that they will bring their world crashing down in due time. While clowns are terrorizing their children at a birthday party, parents will snap away with the camera, capturing forever the frightened looks on the small faces of children who were never even asked if they wanted a clown at their party.

It always reminds me of our dog as a kid. My little sister would dress the poor dog up in doll clothes and throw her in a baby stroller. The dog hated it. But, just like the way we treat our children, nobody cared what the dog wanted.

I suppose there is one segment of the population beside these sadists called "parents" that love Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and clowns.

Child psychiatrists.

Clowns must get royalties.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Day 6 (Part 2) - Eating Indian In Cambodia With A Man From Oz

We arrived at the boat dock in Phnom Penh around 1:00pm or so on November 14th, about five-and-a-half hours after leaving the boat dock south of Siem Reap. As we pulled up to the dock, dozens of tuk-tuk drivers gathered at the railing above the landing. A couple of them even managed to jump on the boat and make their way through the cabin asking if anyone needed a tuk-tuk. We kind of got corralled by one of them. The guy was pretty persistent, and we did need a ride anyway. We told him we had big bags and we might need an actual taxi, but he was sure he would be able to take us. So after giving a 10,000 riel note (unloaded another one!) to the guys that carried our bags off the boat, we loaded up in the tuk-tuk.

The driver asked for $5 for the trip to our hotel, which was $3 or $4 more than I heard from people that it was supposed to cost, but he did load our bags for us and we aren't really talking about a lot of money. Like I said in earlier posts, I really don't like the whole bargaining thing. He also came across as a little slick, which made me a little nervous.

On the way he of course wanted to see if we needed to go anywhere else that day, and he suggested the Killing Fields. I knew that the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek site was a little ways outside of town and I thought we would be doing that the next day, but Lisa agreed with the driver that we should do it this day since it was already afternoon and too hot to walk around the city. I asked him how much to go to the Killing Fields and he told us $15. Again, he wanted about twice as much as I heard it cost other people. But we knew it would be a long ride, about 30 minutes each way, on a hot day so we didn't really want to argue over a few dollars. Besides, even if he asked a lower amount we would probably end up paying him that much or more anyway because we always tip really well, especially in poor countries.

Despite our tuk-tuk driver assuring me he knew where out hotel was when we hired him, he had no idea. He turned around several times and had to stop to look at the address again, which luckily had printed out at home before we left and also had it marked on our map. Eventually he found it. He dropped us at the front door of what turned out to be the walled compound of our hotel and told us he would meet us back outside for our trip to the Killing Fields.

The bellhop took our bags and led us into the Pavilion Hotel. I couldn't believe my freaking eyes when we saw this place. Inside some walls in the middle of the city was this little resort villa, complete with a pool surrounded by tropical trees.

And with a poolside bar/cafe where breakfast was served in the morning.

As well as secluded lounging areas in the middle of the little jungle.

The whole design of this place made me feel like I was in one of those old black and white movies featuring rich white people hanging out at a resort in one of their country's colonies. I felt like I should have been wearing one of those gray safari outfits, speaking with an English accent and sipping Cognac in the library.

We checked in with the manager, a French woman with a complete lack of personality, and we were shown to our room. The rooms at this place are actually separate cottages, we even had our own secluded seating area outside of our room door.

This was costing us $50 a night.

We headed back outside the walls of the compound to meet our driver and we were off to the Killing Fields.

Up to this point in our trip we had managed to avoid taking tuk-tuk rides, and now here we were doing it in the middle of some of the craziest traffic I'd ever seen (at least until we would get to Vietnam). The only real way to describe the way people drive in Phnom Penh is to imagine what it looks like when you see a colony of ants on the ground zig-zagging all around with no real semblance of order. Yet somehow they manage to not kill each other. Intersection were just massive groups of motorbikes and cars criss-crossing, all coming within inches of hitting each other. There were times I had to make sure to keep my knee away from the edge of my seat because it would be able to touch the side of a car that was next to us!

Going through a large roundabout intersection on a tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh was more exhilarating than riding the Cyclone at Coney Island

The road to the Killing Fields was dusty and busy. My mouth was pretty gritty by the time we got there. Most of the places to buy gasoline along the way were roadside stands with glass bottles full of fuel. Often sitting in the direct sunlight.

We got to the Killing Fields and spent about 45 minutes there. A place where mass graves were found with thousands of victims of the Pol Pot regime. It consist mostly of large pits where they found bodies with signs stating the numbers of men, women and children found there. There are still a lot of bone fragments scattered about. An eerie place.

Obviously we didn't really take any pictures while we were there. It seemed like it would be both distasteful and disrespectful. The only shot we took was of the Memorial Stupa, and we only felt OK about doing that from a distance. Inside here were about 8,000 skulls, piled all the way up to the top on all four sides behind glass panels. There's not really much you can say about that.

We made our way back to town and had our driver drop us off in the downtown area by the waterfront. He kept wanting us to commit to more rides the next day, but we said we would be walking around the rest of the time. We weren't actually sure that was going to be true, but we didn't want to commit to this guy as our driver the whole time.

We told him that we needed to go buy our tickets for the boat to Vietnam and he offered to take us there, but we declined. I wanted to find the place to get tickets on my own instead of trusting a tuk-tuk driver to take us. He did tell us that the boat left everyday at 12:00 noon, which was different than I heard, so we were concerned about that. We thought the boat left in the morning and were a little worried about it leaving so late.

Anyway, we walked up the waterfront and saw a little tourist shack with signs for bus and boat tickets. We walked up and started talking to the guy sitting there, who turned out to be a German ex-pat. Lisa got to use her German with him and we asked a bunch of questions about the boat and eventually bought the tickets from him for leaving Phnom Penh two days later.

We then went to find food. We went to an Indian restaurant a few blocks away that was in the Lonely Planet book. They only had two vegetarian items on their menu and they were out of one of them, which happened to be the curry. Not being in the mood for just sauteed vegetables, we left to find another place.

Their lack of anything for us to eat turned out to be the best thing that happened to us that day.

We went to another Indian restaurant, probably the highest rated one in Phnom Penh and one of the most expensive restaurants there. I wanted to go there originally but it was a heck of a lot farther away, that's why we tried the other place first. We walked in to this very fancy looking place and got shown to a table. It was still pretty early so there was no one else in the place except for one guy, seated all the way on the other side of the dining room from us. He had a buzz-cut and a really long gray beard, like down to his belly.

At one point I looked over his direction and he said hello. We started chatting across the room about where we were from and where we were traveling and Lisa invited him to join us. We were in the small table next to the front window with no room to slide another one next to us. We moved to the table next to ours with the intention of pushing it up against another table. Seeing what we were about to do, the waiters ran over and slid the tables together for us and moved all of our stuff.

The man was from West Australia and his name was Roger. Roger was on a two-and-a-half month trip throughout Asia. He told us he was 56-years-old and recently divorced after 34 years of marriage, and this was the first time he had ever been outside of Australia. He was hitting a ton of great locations while he was traveling, Nepal, Tibet, Vietnam and many others. He had already been in Vietnam and was going back the next day to spend three weeks doing volunteer work in a village north of Ho Chi Minh City.

Roger is a Tibetan Buddhist, which had a lot to do with his choice of itinerary for his first ever international trip. He was in the Indian restaurant for the same reason we were, a place where you know you can get vegetarian food when on the road. He's a full-on vegan. Over the course of the night we learned that he had been an organic farmer for years, though he had recently sold his farm.

So in a nutshell, Roger is a Tibetan Buddhist, vegan, organic farmer from West Australia.

There can't be too many people that can claim all of those terms at once. Roger might very well be the only one.

We talked all night with Roger about just about every topic you can think of - religion, politics, poverty, travel, philosophy - and had a grand time. We had been the only three people in the restaurant when we started, the dinner rush came and went, and we were the only ones in the place at the end of the night. We had been talking to Roger for something like four or five hours. The best night on the trip so far. We were having such a great time just gabbing away that we forget to get a picture with him, which is too bad.

We did give him my email and we finally heard from him right before Christmas. He was back at home but getting ready to leave again to go back to Asia, staying with friends in Chang Mai, Thailand. This time I think he is spending something like six months over there, staying for a while in a monastery in Kathmandu and seeing a bunch of India before going back into Tibet.

He is certainly making up for all those years of staying on his farm.

I know Lisa and I both hope we get the chance to see Roger again. He is one cool, fascinating man.

Next - Tuol Sleng and the FCC

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Day 6 (Part 1) - Life On The Tonlé Sap

Another early morning on our trip. We had to get down to breakfast right when they started serving at 6:00 because Mr. Ya was going to pick us up at 6:20. We had learned over the last couple of days that he was not one to be late either. This is one of the travel arrangements I was pretty excited about since we first planned the trip, taking the boat down the Tonlé Sap to Phnom Penh. I love any time travel involves something besides a road or a plane.

We climbed into Mr. Ya's car and he drove us down the dirt road toward Tonlé Sap lake, the main body of water in Cambodia, in fact the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. We passed through villages along the way, as well as dozens of kids in uniform on foot and bikes on their way to school.

We loved having Mr. Ya as our guide in Angkor. A gracious and friendly man who, like many living in Cambodia, lost family members during the Khmer Rouge rule. We didn't want to pry too much, obviously, but we know that he at least lost his brother during that time. He had been a school teacher before Pol Pot took over and now seemed to be someone who would do whatever he needed to survive and thrive. We know that one of his previous jobs was selling motorbikes in Phnom Penh, and now he was a driver/guide and probably a little bit of a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy.

He also seemed tuned into everything that was going on in the area. He knew what was being built where and the nationality of who owned it (French, Korean, etc. - rarely Cambodian).

We pulled up to the boat dock area and we were, again surrounded by people wanting to sell us stuff. A couple of guys were going to grab our bags and Mr. Ya stopped them so he could ask us if we wanted to have them carry our bags to the boat for $1 each. Our bags were heavy so we had problem to that idea. Good thing too, when we got to the boat there was just a flimsy plank to get on, which was hard enough to cross without carrying anything except my shoulder bag.

We said goodbye to Mr. Ya and boarded the boat.

On the boat there were several young girls selling various food products - bananas, cheese wedges, little baguettes, water soda, etc. - before we departed. Their selling tactics were the same as what we had been seeing the whole time, keep asking you until you agree and then ask some more.

Granted, it can be a little frustrating to say no to buying some bananas only to have another girl ask you five seconds later, "Bananas sir?"

But that really didn't excuse how rude some of our fellow tourists could be to them, especially the French ones on the boat. One would think that with the history of how our two governments (French and American) royally fucked this country for several generations, we should be the last ones to be rude to the Cambodians. They are poor and this is their country, goddammit. And its not like they were begging. They were offering decent goods at a fair price, all of it stuff you might need for a five hour boat ride.

And this is their country, goddammit. Guests should act like guests.

I'll speak to this a little more, and a couple of other things, later. After I get through my Phnom Penh posts I plan on adding an afterword on Cambodia before moving on to Vietnam.

Anyway,Lisa and I bought some of those wonderful tiny bananas while we waited for the boat to leave.

Now the boat itself was a pretty decent size, about 100 seats inside the cabin. What they don't tell you is that they will sell many more tickets than that. So for many of the people that came later, like the ones that took the ride in the back of the pickup truck that was included in the ticket price, there were no seats left inside. That meant they had to sit on the roof of the boat.

Now I spent a lot of the trip on the deck of the boat myself, but it was nice to be able to take a break from the wind and sun every once and a while. Even with that, one of the guys I met on the deck said it was still worth the extra cost ($25 vs $4) to avoid the bus he had taken the other direction a few days earlier.

We finally pulled out, later than our scheduled 7:00am departure time, and made our way past the floating and stilted villages on the Tonlé Sap.

Once we hit the open lake the driver gave it the full throttle and we really started to move. This is where the wind factor became an even bigger problem than the sun beating down, though it was pretty bright and hot already.

Looking at the lake on the map doesn't really prepare you for how huge the Tonlé Sap is in reality. It wasn't too long before we couldn't see any land whatsoever. It was just massive. And even when we way out in the middle of it we saw fisherman hard at work.

Then we slowed up and we aimed toward a small fishing boat that made its way toward us. They pulled up alongside and one of our crew member went out and tied on to them. He gave them a plastic bag, they filled it up with some sort of fish and handed it back. They untied and away we went.

They actually stopped and bought fresh fish in the middle of the lake!

While all of us dorky tourists snapped away with our cameras, of course.

After about a good hour or so of not seeing much in the middle of the lake, we finally came to the southern end where the Tonlé Sap transitions from a lake into a river. We started to see the mountains of southern Cambodia.

As well as more signs of life and community.

Watching the people who live off the water go about their daily routine was really interesting. And hard to imagine, as someone who lives on land, what it must be like. A lot of the villages and houses we saw were not built on any kind of shore. They really did float on the water or stick out of the river on stilts. There was not always any real piece of land nearby. People got up in the morning and jumped in their boat to go to work, which I imagine for just about all of them would be fishing, spent their day on the water, and then went home to their house on the water. I imagined that it was possible for many of them to go days, or even weeks, at a time without ever touching land.

I don't know this for sure, as we didn't actually spend any time in these villages.

But we saw many boats full of children on their way to or from school (hard to know which since it was about noon), that was more than likely also one of these buildings on the river. So you could see why I would imagine that.

The kids cheered and waved every time we went past one of their boats.

Our boat actually did stop at a couple of these villages to let off the few Cambodian passengers that were on board. We didn't dock, a small boat would buzz out to meet us, the family would jump on and they would zoom back to the village.

We wouldn't have seen any of this stuff on the bus.

We finally arrived in Phnom Penh, and on to yet another mode of transportation.

Next - The Killing Fields and the coolest Aussie I've ever met

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Day 5 - Land Mines, Street Urchins And Massages

Remember how in my last post I mentioned buying $200 worth of Cambodia Riel? Well, here we were in our second day in Cambodia and we hadn't really used any of it. We were only planning on being in the country for about four-and-a-half days and I had over 750,000r to get rid of in that time. I'd been in countries before where you could use the U.S. Dollar pretty easily, but I've never seen such a huge preference for our money over their money. Usually the government agencies at least make you pay in their currency to try to keep it strong, and will even have that rule for hotel payment. Not in Cambodia, at least up to this point. Our visa fee was charged in dollars, as was our hotel and our tickets for Angkor Wat.

We stopped at a food stall one of the sights to get a bottle of water and a can of Diet Coke, I think he asked for a dollar. I asked if we could pay in Riel.

"Do you have any Thai Baht?" the kid asked.

Damn, their money wasn't even their second choice. He reluctantly agreed to take his country's money, though I'm pretty sure we had to pay a little more.

We ended up doing that the rest of the time we were in Cambodia, asking if we could pay in Riel just about every time we bought something. It was the only way we were going to get through all of it. I some cases though, the answer was no.

Our driver, Mr. Ya, picked us up in morning at our hotel for another trip out to Angkor. For our second day we were going to go a little farther out, to Banteay Srei, which means Citadel of the Women. A small temple when compared to Angkor Wat, but so much more well preserved. Carvings are more distinct and colorful than any of the other temples we saw.

We did have to deal with even harder selling tactics than the day before when we arrived at the temple. Almost a dozen kids, average age probably around eight or nine with several younger than that, surrounded us when we got out of the car. A girl about 12 or 13 wanted to sell me water, but I told her I didn't need any until I got out of the temple so maybe I would buy some then. I knew for sure she would remember that, so I knew I had just committed to buying water from her when I got out.

As we walked down the path to the temple the younger kids were all over us, probably four on Lisa and four on me, trying to sell us these little paper figures on strings. They were colorful and in shapes of stars, fish, birds and the like.

The kids were dirty and shoeless and hard to say no to, and not just for those reasons. They kept holding them up in your face and telling you how much they were, which kept changing depending on your level of resistance. They would even say that if you bought them they could buy some shoes. They really knew how to work it.

I kept trying to defer to Lisa, since it looked like she was already buying some, by telling the kids around me that my wife was already buying some so I didn't need any. The answer would be "but she didn't buy them from me."

And if you said you would buy some when you came out they kept saying that they had to go to school soon so they wouldn't be there.

We finally got to the temple entrance, after buying several of these things already, walked up the steps and the little boy (most of the rest were girls), about 7 or 8 years old I guess, started to outright cry. Man, this was too much.

Of course none of them went to school while we were in the temple, what a shock they weren't being completely honest with us. Before we got back to the car Lisa bought a couple of scarves, and I think a shirt, as well as a hell of a lot more of those paper ornaments.

The sky then broke open and it started raining like mad, so we ran back towards the car, all of the kids keeping up to try to sell us more stuff. On the way, getting doused with rain, I then had to deal with the older girl who I told I would buy some water when I came out, which she promptly reminded me. She also tried to rip me off by telling me it was 10,000r for a bottle, about $2.60.

"It doesn't cost that much to buy water in New York," I told her. I don't think she was expecting me to do the math in my head while I was trying to rush to the car. One of my hints for international travel is to always have in your head what one of the more common bills of that country's money is worth. She lowered her price, I got the water and jumped in the car.

It stopped raining on the way and we stopped at a place called The Cambodia Landmine Museum. A small, unimpressive looking building but a really amazing experience. It was started by a guy named Aki Ra who had been a child soldier under the Khmer Rouge, as well as for Vietnam after he was captured and forced to fight for them. As an adult he has made it his life's work to rid his country of land mines, and is personally responsible for clearing over 50,000 of them on his own. The museum exhibit is basically a huge amount of empty shells he dug up and deactivated, along with information about him, the history of land mines and the wars in Cambodia

He and his wife also take in children who are injured or orphaned by land mines. Needless to say it is one of those places where you are happy to spend money in the gift shop, which includes crafts made by the children. I bought a t-shirt and we dropped some money in the donation box. You can read more about Aki Ra, his wife and the museum here and here, as I can't completely do it justice. I was moved and somewhat embarrassed about being from one of the only thirteen countries left that haven't renounced and stopped producing these evil things.

Ta Prohm was next. Probably my favorite sight in Angkor. Unlike all the other temples, when Ta Prohm was rediscovered they didn't rip out all the large trees that had started to take over the temple, so you have this incredible look of stones and walls being taken over by large roots.

I also loved it because the rain had made it flooded and muddy that you had all these Western and Japanese tourists jumping around from rock to rock trying to stay above it.

After that we went back to Siem Reap, walked down to Pub Street and the alley for dinner at the Khmer Kitchen again. Then we went back to the hotel for our scheduled massages.

We got them at the same time in adjoining rooms in the little massage hut next to the pool. I'll say one thing about getting a full body massage in Cambodia, they seem to have less hang-ups about the body than in America. Whenever I get a massage at home, you get under the sheet while he/she is out of the room and they make sure not to expose anything and are real careful about not accidentally touching or grazing anything. This guy just had me strip, jump up on the table and lay face up. and when we was giving my thighs a good rubdown he had no concern about brushing up against my junk. In fact, at one point I guess I was leaning in the way of a spot he was trying to massage, so he just grabbed it and moved it to the other side. He didn't even flinch.

I was completely comfortable with the guy, but I couldn't help but think about what kind of lawsuit this would cause in the States.

We ended the night sipping tea by the pool, wonderfully relaxed and worn out.

Next - Boat to Phnom Penh and floating villages