01.09.2012 - 01.13.2012 32 °C
Cambodia is very much worthy of it's official name: Kingdom of Cambodia. I like it even better in French: Royaume du Cambodge. My first stop in the Kingdom was it's capital, Phnom Penh via bus from HCM; I would have liked to enter by boat to have a different perspective, but the e-Visa that I had prepared online was restrictive of my point of entry. After a 6.5 hour bus ride from HCM and a fairly smooth border crossing I had arrived. Not much stood out (initially) to differentiate it from the neighbouring Vietnam. Streets are a still chaotic, and oddly enough perhaps due to the wealth of the capital I found there was an abundance of cars on the streets. Smiles are still quick and easy to appear and instead of being asked for "motorbike?" (which still occurs but much less frequently), you're being asked for "tuk-tuk?"
The 2 biggest stand outs for me were the unique architecture and it's equally ornate written Khmer (pronounced Khe-my) language. I am utterly hopeless when it comes to deciphering the scribbles, and my eyes constantly scanned for recognition of either the alphabet or Chinese characters (which surprisingly there were quite a bit). Honestly? How do you decipher the following? It's just pretty swirls.
As for the Khmer architecture I'll let you see for yourselves.
A beautiful ornate gate, with peeps of elephant statues inside.
I don't know what this building was, I believe it was possibly a hotel or something privately owned. At first I couldn't stop taking pictures, because it felt like I fallen down the rabbit hole and everything was a feast to my eyes; the colours, the structures! After an entire day of walking around, you become bit less in awe (not much) and stop clicking away like a dead give-away tourist (not much here either).
This was along the wall of a building which stretched for at least a block.
I was walking all around and saw these dominating red peaks from afar and was obviously drawn to it.
I discovered it was the National Museum, it had an immense collection of Khmer arts, bronzes, ceramics which was interesting but more than anything I appreciated the fact that it brought me much needed shade for 2 hours.
This was the inside courtyard.
This was the single photo that I took while inside the museum, as there was a policy to not take any photos. Thinking back, this was very loosely adhered to by both the tourists and the security guards themselves. I have no idea what this was, but I enjoyed the pretty reflecting colours against the muted wood.
I love these pedestal temples, nearly every household have one, even the families that live in wooden huts.
This one is a bit like "Where's Waldo?", the temple blends into the backdrop but I promise you it's there.
Here's another gem that I visited, the Royal Palace. It took me a good 30 minutes to find the entrance as the entire compound took up probably 4 or 5 square blocks.
I kept seeing these beautiful ornate doors but couldn't get in, but in the end you can never go wrong when you follow the train of tourist buses. A lot of these sights do not allow you entrance unless you have covered arms and legs, so no tank tops and no shorts above the knees... obviously I'm covered head to toe and any skin I bare have been caked in sunblock.
This is Pentacme Siamensis. It protruded flowers off the trunk of the tree rather than off the ends of branches. I found it both beautiful and ugly at the same time.
Here are some of the exquisite buildings once I found a way into the Royal Palace grounds.
Prior to entering the many temples inside the Royal Palace we were asked to remove our shoes. Let me tell you what more people MUST do - take care of their feet! Seriously! I don't think I'm easily repulsed, but after visiting all these temples I now have a fear of feet.
Inside the temples they were strict on not taking pictures of these sacred spaces. So I can only describe that they were always adorned on every surface with tall voluminous ceilings, giant golden buddhas, murals, painted columns, decorated ceilings and floors. Smell of incense filled the air (thank god, for there were a lot of bare feet!)
I found the 4 sided faces on the spires a bit unnerving, it felt like you were being watched.
He was one of the many royal kitties I found lounging about in tall nooks and crevices, this little guy rather than lounging was guarding the premises.
I was explained just the other day that boys (as young as 7) and men can join the monastery, but they are not expected to take a perpetual vow to remain monks. I was also informed that monks are prohibited from eating after noon, so they only have 2 meals a day. I have fallen in love with their bright orange draped cloth, I guess you can say it's my new fascination in Cambodia.
Decorative iron door.
This one of the walls enclosing the the Silver Pagoda, the entirety along the premise were paintings of tales & legends.
Here is it close up
Another glimpse along the same wall, there were 4 outer wall murals in total.
The Eastern grounds of the Silver Pagoda.
Such intricate details.
This is another well known sight of Phnom Penh, the Independence Monument. It was located in the heart of the city that was a round-about with barricades and a police guard as you are meant to view it from afar. It's shape was inspired and modeled after a closed lotus blossom.
Here's the aforementioned chaotic traffic, during rush hour in busy intersections without traffic lights, they station a traffic cop. Can you see him in the traffic?
Here he be.
One of the oddities I keep forgetting to ask locals about is why the lower portions of trees trunks are painted white; this was also the case in Vietnam or at least I recalled in HCM
Here's Wat Phnom (Hill Temple), which the city was named after. As with most touristic sights, it's free for the people of Cambodia but a small entry charge for foreigner visitors.
One of the structures adorning the 4 corners of the temple.
Upon closer inspection I found this little guy snuggling with the divine.
This gives you an idea of what an interior of the temples look like, albeit beautiful, it's 1/10th of the decadence of the temples found inside the Royal Palace.
Offerings to the Buddha, flowers & fruits are most common and often times, they are removed after the prayer.
Charitable contributions are often made, I like how these are weighted down with flower buds
The back of the buddha
Lotus bud pedals in water, so pretty it doesn't need to be scented.
The following are for you dog lovers, as you know I'm on Team Kitty.
This was something I've never seen, raw meat offerings to the Gods and how it was placed in the mouths of these statues. I also like the little egg placed at the foot.
This was a small roasted pig being offered, I think the strangest part was the positioning of the pig. But I guess logically you present the head to the Gods, rather than this view that I snapped.
This gentleman initially caught my attention because he was stuffing all the birds from 4 cages into one. I don't know if he had true logic behind his actions but it created a lot of attention from a passing tourist group whose guide then explained that you can pay a dollar to free 2 birds. Cambodians believe upon their release and flight to freedom they have absolved their sins. Oh you should have seen how many of the tourists jumped on this band wagon. Perhaps this man knew exactly what he was doing after all. I'm more intrigued on how the birds were trapped, they looked like your common backyard sparrow.
I found this along a side path to Wat Phnom, it's still exquisite even with its exterior location. Perhaps it was recently restored, I wasn't able to read the squiggles.
And there goes the roasted pig after it's been offered to the Gods.
I witness this little boy's struggles and finally succeeded on his 4th attempt.
Yes, there are many children that are put to work in Cambodia, I'll have more to add to the subject in another blog.
This sight is not uncommon, most modes of transport are heavily packed with locals. These are refered to as minibuses and consists of 4 rows behind the driver and are "intended" to seat 4 across, for a total of 18 passengers including the driver. Ha! Most minibuses that sped past me had so many faces looking out at me and on quick count I wouldn't be surprised if they squeezed in 30! I felt for them, the heat, the cramped space and the long distance on badly paved roads (they're improving I'm told). Little did I know, I would soon be experiencing this first hand.
Two things to note:
1 - market on old tracks
2 - local outfit of Cambodian women
The older generation of women tend to dress head to toe in loud prints that look like they are wearing PJs, while the young are heavily influenced by the Western culture and do not quite stand out to me.
This is the beautiful Art Deco New Market of Phnom Penh.
The colourful roof tops.
This one still boggles me a bit, why so many shoes? And why on the roof top? I get the feeling that the gentleman is also contemplating the meaning of these shoes.
One of the staff at the hostel I stayed at told me that he's only ever seen his home town and Phnom Penh, a distance of 50 km. He was probably in his late teens or early 20's and said that he first got a job in a restaurant for $60 a month and was able to get 1 day off a month. But he was happier with his job at the hostel because he earned $70 a month but had to work everyday; unless he was really sick. Let me just re-emphasize: EVERYDAY. This made me feel very awkward and spoiled upon receiving the information, as here I was parading around and visiting his country, not being able to speak the language and living large at $8 a night. He told me that in his village, everyone was a farmer, and everything was done by hand or with the aid of animals. He added that there was one farmer who was quite wealthy and was able to purchase a machine to help him in the fields. He eagerly shared that his house had 6 cows, but one recently died and that they were like family members to them. I could see it in his face how he felt. He said that they celebrated cows in a holiday late in October and everyone prays to their cow and provide them with delicious fruits and food during that time. A good cow can be purchased for about $500 US, he noted that you want them strong and preferably more white than brown. Everytime I see a cow, I think of that young man. I think he would have thought these cows were worthy of $500 each.
I'll wrap up with the one thing that was an initial culture shock for me, but am now more or less desensitized. Public urination. Everywhere. At all times. This was right by the corner where the traffic cop was placed.
This little guy also did the deed, but he's a toddler, he barely has control over his balance let alone his bodily functions.
I first took a picture of this woman because I wanted to show you how most Asian woman dress and let you see that I'm not considered weird because I cover myself up in the sun.
Then I was like, dear god, she's putting on another layer!
DEAR GOD, she's peeing. You know how when you're finally introduced to something and then you notice it everywhere because now it's part of your consciousness? I witness 2 more urinations that same day from women using this exact method of what I've coined as "vanity cloth". Afterwards, she climbed back up the stairs while folding up her vanity cloth, business as usual.
But the best way of ending any kind of day, full of surprises (both pleasant and not) is with the best surprise of all. Rainbows! (Oh imagine if it was a double rainbow?) To you my friends - I wish you all "Double Rainbow All The Way!"