One of the many faces at the Bayon

Here we are, back from Cambodia and trying to slot back into the rhythm of Singapore life. We were only away a week but it feels much longer; we crammed a lot into that week and had an amazing time. Mum enjoyed every minute and the kids coped tremendously with a lot of walking in very hot weather. Sorting through the hundreds of pictures we took brings back some happy memories.

Climbing the steps of Pre Rup, Ben's favourite temple

Cambodia is a beautiful country. Flying into Siem Reap was a good plan (our Jetstar plane the only one on the tarmac) as it is still a relatively sleepy town with a rural feel and the people are very welcoming and friendly. In fact I was blown away by the warmth of the people there. The smiles and laughter were infectious, and I wanted to take home each one of the children who followed us around trying to sell us bangles and guidebooks.

Maya with Mai and Nga, two children in Siem Reap who befriended us. We bought them a 'school bag' each at the market and they wrote a sweet thank you note for us to keep.

Everything has been written before about the temples of Angkor Wat and the surrounding area, so I needn't write much here, except to say that the children loved stomping around the temple complexes and even Ben, who is six, didn't grumble too much about the heat or sore feet. We had a three day temple pass, and hired a lovely tuk-tuk driver, Li, to driver us around the temples. We all loved the tuk-tuk as a means of transport and the kids now want one in Singapore! We also saw plenty of backpackers on bicycles, which would be a lovely way to see the less visited areas and really explore on your own, but that was beyond us with children.

Maya and Ben with our tuk-tuk driver, Li.

We tried to break the day up with a lunch somewhere and we made sure we stayed at a hotel with swimming pool so we could relax after all the temple visits (Day Inn Resort and Spa). This was a perfect choice; a well run, quiet hotel in beautiful grounds. The swimming pool was more like a bath, as the water was too warm to be refreshing, but it was a treat all the same to have a swim.

I would highly recommend Siem Reap for a holiday with children from the age of 5 years. The Khmer food was delicious, if a little limited although there is the French influence cuisine as well so we tucked into some delicious crepes towards the end of our stay. There is always fried rice and noodles for fussy eaters, and all the fresh seasonal juices including the hugest coconuts I've ever seen. In Siem Reap a meal was around US$3.50 and in Phnom Penh more like US$5. We did find the happy hour rather tempting, with two Margaritas for US$3.50 we couldn't go wrong!

Wat Nom in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a whole other ball game. The poverty is more evident, and as we had noticed how clean Siem Reap was, the opposite could be said for Phnom Penh. We did all the sights in a day and a half, so there's not a huge amount to see there, but it is an interesting contrast and an eye opener for the kids. We all missed the friendliness and charm of Siem Reap, which of course you don't get in a big city, although the faded glory of many of the buildings still shone through.

I tried to imagine what it would have been like in 1976 when the population was ordered to evacuate by the Khmer Rouge. Reading Stay Alive, My Son (which was for sale everywhere in Siem Reap) gave me an understanding of the torture the people were put through. Martin and I also visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was quite distressing. This is not a place to bring children but I'm glad I went. It is a place full of ghosts of the poor souls who were tortured and killed here.

It is hard to forget the dark chapters of Cambodia's past when you are in the country. The disfigured beggars, the orphans, the poverty, the ruined buildings, are all reminders, but what really struck me was the optimism, courage and beauty of the people. Just like in Vietnam the people don't seem to be bitter or hostile, they just need to get on with their lives and build a brighter future for their children. And make sure nothing like the genocide of the Khmer Rouge even happens again.

Highlights of our trip? Of course the temples, the US$6 one hour 'foot' massage at Island Khmer Foot Massage in Siem Reap (the whole family had a massage including Ben) which was actually an amazing full body massage, boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake through the floating village at sunset, margaritas on Bar Street, riding the tuk-tuk, fish Amok, fried tarantulas, Khmer scarves, lots of Tin Tin, and the warm hospitality of the people.


Lily Pang said... @ July 18, 2009 at 9:44 PM

Excellent introduction about Cambodia! I learned a lot from what you wrote. Optimism, no grudging and courage, the spirit of Cambodia people inspires me a lot.

WaveSurfer said... @ July 19, 2009 at 6:29 PM

Thanks for sharing about your trip. Cambodia does sound like an interesting country to visit.

Jinghui said... @ July 23, 2009 at 10:29 AM

I am planning to visit Siem Reap for photography (mainly) & relaxing, nice to read about your adventures here, thanks for sharing !

Need to execute serious planning for my Siem Reap trip !!


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