Cambodia Trip

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					(Sorry for my bad English  )


                        Cambodia trip
        At last, it was time to start on our journey. Seven of us departed for
Cambodia at 5.30am. We arrived Khanh Binh border crossing (An Phu
district – An Giang province) and complied with all the necessary formalities.
We set foot on Cambodia at 8am. We were met at the other side of the
crossing border by an old acquaintance and he drove us to Phnom Penh. Our
first stop was the Chrey Thom church which was about two kilometers from
the border. We also stopped at some churches on our way to visit some
Parishes of “Viet kieu” parishioners. There was almost nothing different from
churches in Viet Nam but the priests took Masses in Khmer and parishioners
who attended Masses sitting on the ground. The Kok Tieu church touched me
deeply. I couldn‟t even imagine that there‟s such a small simple poor church
and people have been living in such grinding poverty…

       After being entertained to a good lunch (with a kind of salted fish – a
speciality of Cambodia - but I only tasted a little for politeness ) at Saang
District, we continued our trip and arrived Phnom Penh at 2pm. We came to
Francisco church to visit the priest in charge, this place was also the guest
house for us to stay all the days we were in Phnom Penh. It was a nice
afternoon when I joined in a discussion was held by a Singapore group for the
purpose of heightening the youth‟s awareness of their roles in their families,
their expectations for parents and conversely, parents‟ expectations for their
children, standards/ criterion that girls or boys need to have when they get
marriage… One boy said “I don‟t like genius girls (?)” (I think he meant
brainy types and I‟m sure I‟m not the type that he‟s looking for ), “I don‟t
like sexy girls” (!!)… Girls said “I don‟t like guy with long hair”, “I don‟t like
drunk men”… So interesting! I highly appreciated the great enthusiasm of the
group. Oh, I forgot to relate earlier that some people from the group asked me
if I were Japanese!! Didn‟t I look like a Vietnamese girl?

      Later, first time in my life, I attended a Mass which was taken in three
languages: beginning with Vietnamese (undoubtedly, the host had a deep
respect for us) then English and at last, Khmer.

      Center of Phnom Penh by night was gorgeous with its crowded streets.
I had the feeling just like I were in the Center of Saigon save everything
seemed to be a little more orderly and at least it didn‟t make me feel stressful
like Saigon. If somebody tells you that it‟s hard for you to find a taxi or you
would never see any kinds of cars such as Innova, Ford… (i.e. they are IKD
cars - Incompletely Knock Down cars) in Phnom Penh then you should
believe him. The days I was in Phnom Penh I saw most of locals had private

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cars, just some of the cars were Camry or Land Cruiser, most of them were
Lexus!!

       We also came Nagaworld. I think it‟s the most luxurious casino in
comparison with Grand Dragon and Crown Casinos that I saw on the way
from Khanh Binh border to Phnom Penh. It is said that this place is for
foreigners only, the locals are not allowed to enter. I wonder if the Cambodian
Government want to show their hospitality by let this place be special for
tourists or they don‟t want their citizens fall into heavy gambling debts    ?!
I noticed that there were few Western tourists here, most of people were
Asians: Chinese, Japanese, Korean… and of course Vietnamese who were
concentrating at gambling-machines. I spent nearly fifteen minutes for
watching a middle-aged woman who was sitting alone with her gambling-
machines. I was not sure where she came from because she said nothing but
pushed the buttons of the machine and every two or three minutes, she
inserted the US$ 5 bill into a small slot of the machine. On a count of her
sixth bill then my brother called me to see another game which its name was
unknown to me but it was exactly what I have ever seen in Hong Kong films
that I used to be infatuated before (i.e. when I was a little girl ).

       There‟s a park outside Nagaworld which was crowded with locals and
tourists. They were sitting there taking some fresh air. This made me miss the
park outside “Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon”. About five-minute walking
distance from Nagaworld we saw on the pavement hundreds of people
gathering and chatting in sedge mats which were spread in close proximity to
each other. The only food was served here: dried cuttlefish. Our Vietnamese
carousers must feel very pleased to come here.
       We also visited Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. There was a stall that
selling T-shirts for tourists wore “sexy clothes” by mistake. It‟s obligatory to
wear seriously to be allowed to enter. That‟s right, when in Rome, do as the
Romans do!

      The moment at Toul Sleng has left strong impressions about evidences
of the bloody regime, the oppression, anguish and suffering caused by
“Khmer Rouge”. I was particularly interested in stories of survivors‟ and
victims‟ relatives. These were stories about mothers or young wives who had
never seen their sons and their husbands again after these men were taken
away. I couldn‟t continue to read all of the stories because I felt like crying.
      Well, the most meaningful thing to my daddy was he at last could come
back his birthplace in Phnom Penh. He kept talking excitingly about some
places and relatives or stories in his time that my brother and I couldn‟t
understand and memorize all. There‟s no vestige of our grandparents‟ former
house (that was what he said – certainly I didn‟t know how it looked like
before!    ). We found an oldest woman in this residential quarter to ask for

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information but she knew nothing about our grandparents because she came
here in 1980 while my grandparents left Cambodia in 1975. The time of thirty
years can obliterate everything.

       The highway from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was a decent way. It
made me feel sorry to think of the narrow dirt and gravel tracks littered with
potholes and craters in Mekong Delta       . I noticed many blue boards with
white lines “Cambodian People‟s Party” (CPP) which were located almost all
comunnes, wards or districts… (CPP won 64 of the 123 seats in the National
Assembly in the 1998 elections, 73 seats in the 2003 elections, and 90 seats in
the 2008 elections, winning the popular vote by the biggest margin ever for a
National Assembly election with 58% of the vote!!). Another Party which was
not as famous as CPP (I think) was “Funcipec Party” and some party that its
name was unknown to me at that time (with only the symbol of a white candle
and no letters, it was called „White Candle Party‟ or „No Electricity Party‟ by
me      ). I knew its name later by doing some researches and it was “Sam
Rainsy Party”. I know there are more than three parties in Cambodia with
different policies for restoration and development of the country but I think
these three parties are more popular and have more effective public relations.

       I found it interesting that all of the boards in Cambodia were in two
languages: Khmer above and English below. So I think there‟s nothing to
worry to travel Cambodia even if someone travel alone. To my surprise, the
skill of speaking English of Cambodian was rather good.
       I prefered Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. The days I was in Siem Reap
were my most favourite time in Cambodia. The town of Siem Reap, the
provincial capital, was a pleasant sleepy backwater serving as a base for
visitors to the ancient capital of Angkor. I was very impressed by fabulous
Angkor with many great ancient temples. I wandered from Angkor Wat to
Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Phnom Bakheng to get a feel for priceless
heritage sites. I think Angkor remains an enduring monument to the people of
Cambodia, their past glories, their hopes and aspirations.

       There were many vehicles to go for a tour round Angkor: tuk-tuk,
motorbike taxi, bicycle - most of Western tourists‟ choices, car and even hot
air balloon - someday I will come back Cambodia and I‟m sure I‟ll take a hot
air balloon to visit Angkor.

       At Bayon I saw two Cambodian kids who were clearly very poor but
they had bright eyes and bright smiles. They kept following me to implore me
to buy some of their incense sticks but I refused to incense then they kept
asking me just one question “You have candy? You have candy?”. I honestly
felt sorry that I didn‟t have any candy or biscuit or anything for children at
that time; lesson learned: I‟ll always take some candies for children anywhere
I come. We also saw a Cambodian guy who could speak English fluently.
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After a long time following some Western tourists to palaver he at last noticed
us when we took a rest. When I was reading a book about Angkor and making
some notes in my notebook, he came to strike up a conversation with us. He
said he was a student and he was on his vacation and at last, his purpose: ask
for US$ 1!

       On the way to Ta Prohm, I saw a group of Cambodian people who were
sitting on the round playing their traditional music. They were bombs and
mines victims according to some lines was written in English carelessly on
the blackboard in front of them. They played music to sell their CDs or to ask
for money from tourists. I found it interesting to see a collection of traditional
musical instruments of Cambodian. Well, you can guess, they said hello to us
like this: “Ni hao. Ni hao”. Now, we were Chinese people          !! And when I
was wandering I saw a Korean guy. Strangely, as you may know, after some
small talks, he asked me “Are you Japanese?” (NO, I‟M NOT and I‟m going
to be mad about this question!        - Of course, this was just what I thought
inwardly). When he knew I was Vietnamese he said “Oh, Vietnamese women
are number one (!), they have strong minds!”. These days, more and more
young rural Vietnamese girls want to get married with foreigners somehow,
especially Taiwanese or Korean men without love. They want to escape from
living in poverty. They have illusions about a more comfortable life in foreign
countries (?!!). Marriage of this kind, to me, of course, can‟t be successful,
it‟s just marriage of convenience. So I didn‟t know if this guy was saying
honestly or he was joking with a satirical implication. He could speak
Vietnamese: „Tôi là Jang‟ (I am Jang)

       There was a problem. When I was at a temple at the top of Phnom
Bakheng waiting for the sunset then my camera was out of battery        . I felt
as if my heart died within me because I knew I would miss the chance of
taking great photos of a spectacular sunset scene at Angkor which I have
never seen before. I resigned myself to sitting there just looking at hundreds
of other tourists who were reaching the top, many of them took telecameras -
looked very professional - promising wonderful photos. Almost tourists
concentrated here to relax after a day wandering in Angkor. I was looking
forward to hearing some Vietnamese but no one. A Western guy sat next to
me suddenly sang a song. Oh my god, why he made me miss someone
significant who sang nice songs for me in significant atmosphere!

      Luckily, the sky clouded over and it looked as if it was going to rain .
There was no lovely orange sunset. Also there was no regrets about not taking
any marvellous photos. My camera would be certainly very pleased to not to
be accused “mission impossible”

     We were sunburned by the blazing sun in the morning when wandering
in Angkor but we really had interesting and enjoyable time in the evening.
Siem Reap by night was great with night market at the center. I found it very
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interesting to buy and bargain with Cambodian sellers for souvenirs. What I
enjoyed was when they offered a price, while their customers were still
thinking they said “I will discount for you”, “What price can you pay?” . I
did buy some souvenirs with the price US$ 2,2 for one - which at first the
seller said firm price was US$ 5 for one!

       Almost all of tourists concentrated in the Center Market at night. It was
a pedestrian precinct with many coffee shops, bars, restaurants… which were
in close proximity in one another. We came to The Red Piano - the bar where
Angelina Jolie had come but it was full of people. I just took a picture and left
to find another coffee shop and I had a very tasty pizza an a big chocolate
mint ice cream.

       I really enjoyed to travel by tuk-tuk in Siem Reap. It just cost US$ 1 for
4 people to travel from my hotel to Center Market. There‟s one thing I think
taxi drivers and motorbike taxi drivers in Viet Nam should learn from tuk-tuk
drivers in Cambodia. They welcomed us warmly and offered a reasonable
price (may I was lucky because some of my friends didn‟t meet so nice tuk-
tuk drivers when they were in Cambodia). I liked the way they drove carefully
and slowly enough for us to relax as well as to enjoy the streets and taking
photos. So sad when thinking of our taxi or motorbike taxi drivers, they drive
as if they fly down the streets, weaving in and out of traffic or take a longer
distance on purpose to ask for extra charges. They‟re always successful in
scaring me to death!
      Back in Viet Nam and I thought I‟d share a few more observations:

        1. Cambodia is really a destination should not be missed. People are
friendly, seems that they‟re always ready to give me their happy smiles
whenever they see me. The currency is very flexible, US dollar is as popular
as riel; if you pay in US$, sellers can give back US$ or riel.

       One interesting thing: in altars of Cambodian people - similar to altars
of God of the soil of Vietnamese people, I can always see a plate with a gourd
or/ and a pumpkin?!

        2. There are several places of interest for tourists in Cambodia but
locals always have priorities over tourists in payment for entrance tickets that
our Vietnamese people are absolutely jealous! The most expensive cost in
Cambodia is ticket for visiting Angkor. While foreign tourists have to pay
US$ 20 for a one-day visit, US$ 40 for a three-day visit and US$ 60 for a
seven-day visit then Cambodian people are completely free! The same at
Royal Palace, while foreign tourists have to pay 25.000 riel (US$ 1 = 4.000
riel) for an entrance ticket then locals just pay 1.000 riel. A very clear point:
every Cambodian can enjoy or be entitled to enjoy their country‟s famous
landscapes, tourists who want to visit their sights have to contribute to the

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preservation or the maintenance of their Angkor Archaeological Park or other
historical monuments. When will we - Vietnamese people, especially our
students and people who have low incomes have such priorities when visiting
our sights in our home country?

      3. In general, restaurants in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are clean:
spoons and forks (they usually do not use chopsticks except in “hủ tíu”, a kind
of noodle soup) are soaked in a big pot filled with hot water. Food is diversity
(but some food was not my taste or I had a poor appetite?), some restaurant
served soup with a jar of salted lemon juice and we were recommended to
flavour our soup with that juice (actually, I couldn‟t finish my soup after I
followed this advice, it was awful to me). A good dish you should try is a mix
of steamed glutinous rice and coconut cream, well-kneaded steamed green
beans and some fresh fruits as longans or lichees.

       4. About Vietnamese tourists (so sad to tell about this): it was easy to
recognize them at public places. They were often noisy (some other Asian
tourists as Chinese or Korean… did not yield to some of our Vietnamese
tourists in this field!), some climbed or touched the relics though there were
signs showed that it‟s strictly forbidden to touch…(I thought the reason just
was for the purpose of taking „unique‟ photos!). When we were at Royal
Palace we met a group of Vietnamese people and they did exactly what I said
above, they were even eating while going around. I was so tired of them that I
didn‟t want to start any conversation. I certainly didn‟t like them in
comparison with other Western tourists I met there. They - Western tourists –
kept quiet, had light steps, and when they found that I was taking photo of
some scene, they immediately stopped and waited until I finished taking my
photo and never forgot to smile when I said thank-you. The only things I saw
they used were bottles of water and travel books. It was worth learning for my
next trips.




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