05.31.2011 - 06.02.2011
we had a free day in siem reap on tuesday. sharon and i rented bikes for $2/day and set off to see the city! we rode along the river, not realizing til halfway through our ride that it was a one way street the opposite way, oops. we came across a center for physical rehabilitation which was mentioned in our tour information as a possible tourist spot. supposedly they let you come in and learn about what they do there. but i popped my head in and it was more than awkward. they told me they no longer offer the tourist program and the organization is now run by the government. but they said i could just walk around and look. so i kinda stood around watching a therapist work with a man with a prosthetic leg stand on a basketball and another person in a wheel chair who's front end was basically just bike pedals. some therapist nearby finally talked to me and asked me what i did. i told them i was an occupational therapy student (at least soon to be, close enough) and he introduced me to a girl who was a physical therapy student there. he wanted her to talk to me about their program, but she really didn't want to talk. she awkwardly excused herself. all i got out of it was that the school program is 3 years there. so we rode on our merry way, passing through definitely some of the poorer areas. one thing i noticed was the petrol stations consist of a big barrel/drum of petrol with a small glass container on the top. if someone needs to fill up, they attach a rubber hose to the glass container and siphon it into their vehicle (most likely a motorbike). then some stands sold just the bottles of petrol. the bottles were all reused glass bottles of various sizes.
we had breakfast in town at a western style bakery called blue pumpkin. i had some delicious yogurt covered fruit that included dragonfruit and watermelon and i think mango or pineapple. and the most amazing ginger honey tea ever at the end of our bike riding extravaganza, i stopped at an internet cafe which was beyonnnnnd slow. it was only like 50 cents/hr. so can't really complain. but then the power went out, everywhere. i went back to the hotel and the power was out there. so i ate my leftover dinner from the night before and decided to join sharon over at this really nice hotel across the street just to swim in their incredible salt water pool with huge waterfalls. a few others from the group were there too. so we just lazed there in the pool and laying out til the sun descended below the buildings. at that point, i decided to make a shopping trip to the lucky mart grocery store down the street for some snacks for our day long bus ride to phnom penh the next day. i bought some mangosteens (yum!), pringles ha, and some little biscuits with chocolate. i also bought some lychee juice and this really yummy green tea with honey.
i joined allison and her brother rich (from australia) in a tuk tuk over to the orphanage for the khmer dancing show they put on there every night. the show is free, but obviously donations are accepted. an australian lady who is a volunteer there gave us a tour and introduction of the place before the show started. they are trying to start up a productive farm to make more money and to help the kids gain skills. but that is just starting. otherwise, the org is pretty basic: they have two rudimentary classrooms for the kids (70 kids in total!) the kids are not always orphans - they can be from really impoverished single family homes, or have some sort of disability. the wore the cutest costumes for their performance which was really impressive. they danced traditional dances like we'd seen the night before at our dinner show in town. some kids accompanied on instruments and 2 kids even sang. they were really good too. afterwards, they let us jump in and take photos with them and just talk to them and play games. they were all so cute and funny and really friendly. one little boy was my favorite - he had painted a fake soul patch on his chin for the show. i played some clapping games with a couple little girls, and took tons of photos. sadly my camera battery was dying, so i had to ration photos, but allison and rich got a bunch of good shots. i'll have to get them from them. it was sad to leave the grounds cause the kids all followed us out and waved good bye and would tug on your shirt sleeves. they weren't really sad looking, but you could tell it's not easy for them. overall though they seem well cared for and really happy. they're like a biiig family.
the next day we spent most of the day on the bus to phnom penh. we stopped at a market on the way that sold not only fried grasshoppers/crickets, but fried tarantulas! they even had a bucket of live ones just in case i guess someone wants one that is extremely fresh. they weren't the biggest tarantulas, but that doesn't really matter. they're still hairy beasts. gross.
last night in p.p. we had a quick walking orientation tour with our leader, then several of us were starving so we headed to the waterfront to sit at a restaurant and get drinks and appetizers before our group dinner. for dinner, we ate at a pizza place that was actually not too bad. sadly everytime you're sitting at a restaurant, kids and adults too will come right up to you at your table and solicit you to buy things they are selling. usually books, hammocks, or little bracelets and things. the restaurant owners don't shoo them away or anything, so it makes dining here a bit difficult at times. earlier on the bus at the tarantula market, i was swarmed by kids trying to sell me things. i said no thanks and headed to the bathroom. but this one boy followed me and kept talking to me. basically saying when i came out i would then buy from him. he sure enough was there when i came out, and followed me back to the bus. when i got back on the bus, he kept sticking his head in and looking right at me saying, "if you don't buy from me, i cry." then i think i even heard him fake crying. i feel bad, but c'mon. that's a bit too much.
today we spent our morning on a guided tour of the killing fields and genocidal museum and s-21, the site where cambodians were interrogated, tortured and killed during pol pot's regime in the mid to late 70's. there were some very graphic photos and descriptions of the torturing that was carried out there. everything seems to have been left almost as it was, making it very eerie inside as you walk through the cells. the killing fields were just as somber - there were umpteen pits in the ground that were once mass graves. many of them have been excavated and the bones and skulls are places on display in a tower on the site, another gruesome site. what was the most disturbing was a killing tree which served as a place where khmer rouge officers bashed the heads of babies before throwing them in the mass graves. even more disturbing was that in several of the sectioned off parts of the mass graves, and even just on the areas you walk around, you see white things in the ground. yes, they are bone fragments and teeth. they rise to the surface of the soil when it floods. our guide said that awhile back chinese tourists would pick up things like that and put them in plastic sleeves as souvenirs. so wrong. now they have more or less a deposit box where if you find any you can place them there. so atrocious the things that went on there, for no reason. it was very eye opening and distrubing, but all the more important to see.
on a more lighthearted note, after that we visited the royal palace and silver pagoda. it's nowhere near as good as the grand palace in bangkok, but it's still quite extensive and impressive in its own right. back at the hotel now for some down time. several of us are heading to a charity restaurant for dinner. tomorrow we're off to hcmc vietnam! my tour leader laughed at me taking photos of the crazy amounts of motorbikes here, but he said vietnam is insane. i have a hard enough time crossing the streets here, so hopefully i'll survive vietnam where you are supposed to just counter-intuitively just walk into the traffic and they flow around you...hmmm.
p.s. people always talk about thai food being so good, and i don't disagree, but surprisingly (sorry sokphal) i am liking cambodian cuisine the best so far! who knew?