National Museum and Silver Pagoda

We spent last night watching telly in our room. Simon went to the shop and bought some chocolate and the stupid romantic comedy that we watched with Jennifer Anniston made for some well needed light relief after the days activities.

Today we have planned to visit The National Museum and Silver Pagoda. We have been trying to make up our minds whether to leave Cambodia within the next few days and spend longer in Vietnam or stay here. We even briefly discussed not going to Australia and staying in South East Asia but in the end decided moving on has so far, always proved to be the best option.

We have some breakfast, I can’t face fruit today and have a pineapple and honey pancake, as the calories pile on I console myself with the excuse that it is Saturday after all. We walk out to the main road and up towards The Royal Palace and The Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace turns out to be closed until 2pm, so we make our way in a musical tuk tuk to The National Museum.

The museum houses many beautiful sculptures and includes pieces from the pre- Angkorian period as well as many of the Hindu Gods. There are also some wonderful Buddha images and we were particularly interested in the photographs that showed the restoration of one large statue. The galleries exhibits also include lots of iron work and we show Maisie the elephant bells. A bit like a bell that goes round a cats neck but we don’t think Saffy would be able to move with that weighing her down!

After a drink over looking the Tonle Sap River we walk to The Royal Palace. The palace is very ornate and similar to The Grand Palace in Bangkok and Simon takes some good photos. Me and the kids are too heat exhausted to do much though which is a shame as I would have liked a good look around. We sit on the steps in the shade bickering over who is the hottest. When I looked back at the pictures later it just looks like a lovely sunny day and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the absolutely draining heat.

From there we wander round to The Silver Pagoda, it was inspired by Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and also houses a beautiful little green Buddha image said to be made of Baccarat crystal. It seems to glow in the afternoon sun and is semi translucent. The pagoda’s floor is made of 5000 silver tiles although most are covered up by huge rugs.
In front of the small Buddha is a life size gold one decorated with over 2000 diamonds, the largest of which weighs over 25 carats.

We spend an hour watching an excellent film about the history of the temples of Angkor and then head off back. The kids are a bit hot for schoolwork and take some persuading but in the end write 2 really great pieces of work about Cambodia. They include as many facts as they can about The Angkor Period and The Khmer Rouge. I’m surprised and pleased that they have retained so much information and proud that they can write about difficult subjects so well.
In the evening we walk up the road to a bar called The Cambodian Cafe. On the way we pass a small market, there are lots of families milling around and it actually reminds me of home when the firework competition is held on The Hoe in Plymouth. One thing that you don’t see there though are the piles of deep fried insects. There are some massive spiders, tiny birds with beaks intact and duck eggs complete with duckling foetus ready to eat straight out of the shell. Horrible!

We have pizza and a few beers for dinner instead and eventually make our way back to The Okay Guesthouse. I lie on the beds listening to Joss Stone; we bought 3 new CD’s today and also got the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and The Kaiser Chiefs. Only a quid each- excellent. Tomorrow we are leaving for the border town of Kamput and The National Park area of Kep. We want to see a bit more of rural Cambodia and think this will be a good opportunity to be a bit more adventurous.

Tuol Sleng (S-21) and The Killing Fields

Following years of civil war and bombing by the United States, that was largely kept secret from the rest of the world, in April 1975 the Khmer Rouge overthrew the Lon Nol government. As their tanks rolled into Phnom Penh they were greeted with celebrations from the Cambodian people hopeful that they would at last see some peace in Cambodia.

This wasn’t to be the case and within days almost the entire population of the city had been evacuated out into the rural countryside and set to work in labour camps. The year was proclaimed Year Zero and nothing before then was deemed to have been of any importance. The streets of Phnom Penh were closed off, shops, schools and markets were all banned and thousands of educated people were executed within the first few weeks of the Khmer Rouge taking power.

Children were hailed as the uncorrupted as they had not been tainted by what went before Year Zero and many children and young teenagers became Khmer Rouge fighters. They were taught that Angkar (The party name) was all they needed and were encouraged to participate in murders.

It’s now 6am and I have been awake since around 5 listening to the noise outside as Phnom Penh slowly wakes up. I have read a lot over the past few days and the stories have touched my heart. It’s hard to imagine how terrible it must have been for families to have been torn apart and turned against one another. At 8am I wake Simon and the kids and after breakfast we get in a tuk tuk and head off to Tuol Sleng (S-21).

Prior to the Khmer Rouge years Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was a highschool. It is in the centre of Phnom Penh and was discovered by 2 Vietnamese journalists when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 and liberated it from The Khmer Rouge.

As we arrive I am struck by the ordinariness of the place but did expect this. The school buildings are bathed in the bright sun but the walls are still made of corrugated metal and topped with barbed wire. We pay 2 dollars entrance fee each and set off around the 3 storey buildings. The bottom floor of the buildings held more high ranking or political prisoners. There are iron beds in some of the cells with leg shackles and photographs of the cells as they were found by the 2 Vietnamese journalists. The upper floor cells were mass holding cells.

In the second building are hundreds of black and white portrait photographs of the prisoners taken before they were executed. It is estimated that 17,000 prisoners were held at S-21 and none were freed or escaped .Everyone except 12 were exterminated, either here or nearby at The Killing Fields. It is, as expected a profoundly depressing place and although I know its complete fantasy I imagine I can smell blood as I stand on my own in on of the cells looking at the pictures of torture and horror that took place here.

The kids are very subdued by it all and Ali says it has upset him a lot. We don’t spend as long there as we expected. Once we have looked around we are all eager to leave and get back into our tuk tuk. We head off for Choeung Ek. This is the site of The Killing Fields and we want to see the memorial tower that was erected in memory of the 1000′s of people murdered there.

It is 16 km out of town and we can’t help but think about the people who made that journey from S-21 rammed in tightly together in a truck. They were executed almost immediately that they arrived, often beaten to death to save precious bullets. We arrive at Choeung Ek and sit and have a drink first. Then we make our way to the memorial tower. It is made of glass and houses 8000 skulls that were exhumed from the mass graves. We light some incense and have a few moments reflection.

We walk slowly across The Killing Fields, there are 126 mass graves and the sides are still littered with bones and scraps of clothing. I’m overwhelmed by it and stand staring around. Such a small area and so much of the ground scooped away. There are two large trees. One “the magic tree” held a loud speaker that drowned out the moans of people as they died. The others trunk was used by the executioners. They beat children to death against it.

We knew today would be hard but seeing evidence of such inhumanity is sickening. I wonder why they did it and what would I do, kill or be killed. Many of the Khmer Rouge leaders were school teachers. How did normal children get turned into monstrous, unfeeling, hateful machines? Lastly what has become of them now? Most only my age or a few years older and never brought to justice.

Am I glad we went? – Not really. Would I go there again? – Definitely not. Would I advise other people to go? – Yes I think so.

Phnom Penh

We were all awake by 8am and slowly repacked our gear. We have arranged a taxi to Phnom Penh and it will cost us 60 dollars. We did consider going on the bus but as it would have cost 40 dollars and take quite a lot longer we opted for the easier option. The road is ok, a very good road that has been surfaced and only has a few potholes. This makes a huge difference to the comfort of the journey and the 4 hours it takes seems to fly by. It gives us a really good opportunity to look at the Cambodian countryside.

As we had heard such mixed reports about Cambodia I was perhaps expecting it to be obviously poverty stricken and dirty but nothing could be further from the truth. It is a beautiful place. The wide, flat , straight roads are lined with trees and palms and hidden behind are small wooden houses on stilts. I think this is because the land is prone to flooding in the wet season. The land is very flat and we pass rice fields. In front of the houses are huge hay mounds and I see people wading through the waters of the massive Mekong River.

I listen to The Rolling Stones on the way and gaze out over the fields. We also pass lots of roadside sellers with little carts and tables piled high with mangoes, pineapples and a type of flat prickly fruit that looks like a cactus. As we get nearer to Phnom Penh the road traffic increases. The driver is fairly careful and I feel reasonably safe as we all have our seatbelts on, however the law of the road here seems to be that everyone uses the entire road and dodges what ever is coming. I worry about this as the decision on who will move is often left until the last moment and it feels like we are in some crazy arcade game at times.

At last we are here and drive along the riverfront looking for our guesthouse. Its really gorgeous here, not what I expected at all and we agree there is an almost continental feel to the area with pavement cafes and French style architecture. The Okay Guesthouse is a large friendly place and our room has 4 single beds in it. With aircon, electric shower and TV we agree 12 dollars is a bargain. We have some food as we’re starving and the chicken and rice soup I choose is really great. Simon and the kids watch some film and I finish my latest book.

Tomorrow we are going to visit the infamous S-21 prison and The Killing Fields. We are all feeling apprehensive about this but have decided that if we didn’t go, in some way we would be ignoring Cambodia’s terrible history. We have agreed that it s important to us that this doesn’t happen. We have spoken to a lot of people about going, some have advised not to take the kids and some say we definitely should. We want Ali and Maisie to form their own opinions but I don’t want to give them nightmares or upset them.

It’s a hard thing to make up your mind about and we have given it a lot of thought and maybe after tomorrows visit I’ll wish we never went. But at the moment hard as may be, for us we definitely feel it’s the right thing to do.

Siem Reap

Today has been so hot. We decided to lie in and eventually got up around 10. Unfortunately due to the heat we don’t have much motivation to do anything and spend most of the day lazing around The Jasmine Guesthouse. There is a free pool table and we have a few games but mainly spend our time reading. Simon does some maths with the kids but sitting in the restaurant even with the fans on is impossible and we end up in our rooms for the afternoon.

I spend some time talking to one of the fella’s from the guesthouse; he is from the town of Battambang and related to the guesthouse owners. He describes how he goes to school in the morning (college) and is studying hospitality in the hope of getting a job in one of the large 5 star hotels presently being built in Siem Reap. He speaks almost perfect English with a slight American accent and I would think he will find it easy to get a job once his training is finished. Siem Reap is very different to what I expected and from the amount of building work going on will be changing dramatically over the next few years.

Simon and Ali hire bikes and decide to go out for a ride. Ali has been nagging to do this since we arrived and I am a little nervous as the roads are fairly busy. Still they return unscathed, apparently having had a good time, albeit a bit knackered! We check the temperature at 8.30pm and as it is still 35 degrees I’m not surprised they’re a bit hot!

We decide to return to Khmer Kitchen for dinner as the food was excellent and cheap!
Tonight meal costs us 14 dollars and we’re pleased that for the last few weeks at least we seem to be staying within our daily budget. We ask the guesthouse owner to organise a taxi for our journey to Phnom Penh tomorrow and despite the fact that I particularly have done jack shit all day get off to sleep by 1030.

Temples and Orphanage

We set the clock today for 7.30 and slowly got going. Simon thought we had arranged to meet the moto driver at 9am. I thought it was 8.30. (I of course was right!)

We set off for the Bayon Temple first. It covers an area of 3km square and the main temple is at the exact centre of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. The temple has a collection of 54 towers with “216 enigmatic coldly smiling huge faces”. It is an amazing sight and we spend ages wandering around, taking photos and sucking up the atmosphere of the place. Inside there are many small Buddha images and nuns give us incense to offer to the Buddha.

The surrounding grounds are covered in huge blocks of stone. Extensive restoration work was being carried out but the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the paperwork, leaving the world’s greatest jigsaw puzzle for the experts.

From Bayon we get back into our moto and head off to Ta Prohm. It is undoubtedly the most atmospheric of the temples in the region and an example of the massive forces of the jungle. Much of the temple has been completely over run by trees and roots and the temple was especially made famous by Lara Croft. I’m so excited about going here; I can remember looking at photos of it when we were planning our route and Cambodia seemed then to be just about the most exciting and exotic foreign place I could imagine.

Walking up to the temple is an adventure, the tree roots are massive and have completely dislodged the enormous stone work of the temple. Eventually we find the “Tomb Raider” tree and it is absolutely awesome as I expected, very beautiful and a really magical experience visiting it. Definitely one of the most amazing things we have seen on our trip and I absolutely loved it.

We stop off on the way back to The Jasmine Guesthouse and have some spring rolls for lunch. We had planned to spend the afternoon quietly but Simon comes down to the room and tells me he has been chatting to an English girl called Lou who is presently working as a volunteer at an orphanage just out of town. He asks if we can go along this afternoon and visit and she agrees that will be fine.

We all shower and the kids sort out their small collection of toys and games. We stop off at the garage on the way and buy a big tub of sweets and set off in the moto. The orphanage is a small opened sided building made of bamboo and rattan. Lou tells us it houses around 45 children and they live, sleep and have their school lessons all in one room. When we arrive they are playing the branch game which basically involves one child from each team trying to grab a branch from the ground without his opponent touching him.

Ali and Maisie join in and are absolutely brilliant, everyone is laughing at their efforts and Ali gains a bit of respect when he beats his opponent first time. The children range from the ages of around one to young teenagers and are fairly well dressed although a bit grubby! We join in playing a circle game and they obviously find it really hilarious as I’m running around with them. It’s good to spend time playing with them and Lou tells us that is her role in the afternoons. In the mornings they have lessons including English. The classroom is sparsely decorated with the letters of the alphabet, a world map, photographs of the children and the names of the colours.

The children give us a bit of a demonstration of their English and then Ali plays them a few songs on his guitar which they seem to like! Maisie gives out the sweets that we have brought and I’m touched by their good manners. Definitely very different to the children that we came across whilst in India! The visit to the orphanage has been a humbling experience for us all. The kids are on the whole boisterous and smiley and absolutely touched our hearts with their wide grins and sense of fun. We left Lou with the small bag of games and toys we had sorted out and before we went Simon and Ali joined in a rowdy game of Frisbee. At first the children didn’t know what to do but they caught on fast and all had a great time.

As we leave one of the older boys grabs my hand and holds it all the way to the moto. He asks me to come back tomorrow and it’s difficult to prise my hand away from his grip. His little determined face reminds me of my own lovely Ali and leaving them behind is so hard. All I wanted to do was scoop them up and take them home.

In the evening Lou joins us and we all go out for dinner, she explains that she is spending a month in Cambodia working as a volunteer. In the mornings she works with street children on a project called Green Gecko. The children’s parents have to agree to send their kids to school in the mornings where they will be taught English amongst other things to increase their chances of employment when they grow up. In return the parents are provided with a small cart from which they can sell street food etc. The condition of this is that the children must not be sent out onto the streets to beg.

Today has been an interesting and thought provoking day. Simon and I have long talked about working as volunteers abroad at some point in the future and it has strengthened our resolve. We have our meal and watch the street kids around us. Lou tells us a bit about some of the kids including her favourite, a child who was beaten by his father recently and told he must make 20 dollars a night begging. It’s hard to hear.

We make our way back to The Jasmine its 11.30 and we’re all quite tired we will have a lie in tomorrow and plan our next few days as we make our way to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

Angkor Wat and Landmines

We set the alarm for 6.30 and after a quick bowl of cornflakes each jump in our moto for the ride to Angkor Wat. It is the largest religious building in the world and was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. We have all been looking forward to our visit, although the kids are more excited about the Tomb Raider temples of Ta Prohm.

We get our passes and are pleased to see we don’t have to pay for Maisie, this saves us 40 dollars. We have decided to get a 3 day pass as it so hot and take it easy around the temples. The drive up to Angkor is a beautiful one and the temple itself is surrounded by a moat and huge expanses of somewhat dried up looking grass. As we near the driveway there are lots of small kids selling hats, postcards and drinks and they run after us asking that we buy something.

We make the long walk up the drive in the scorching sun, its only 8.30am and we’re glad we didn’t leave our visit until later in the day. As we enter through the gate the massive temple is in front of us. It has been described as the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of inspiration and national pride for all Khmers after their years of terror and trauma. It is quite a fantastic sight and amazingly and luckily wasn’t damaged by the American bombing campaign or the Khmer Rouge. (KR)

We climb the steepest steps I have ever climbed! Ali and I cling on like limpets as it’s high as well as steep and I try not to think about how we will get down! As we enter the inner rooms of the temple there are Buddhist sculptures and the walls are intricately carved demonstrating the life of the great Angkorian King Suryavarman II. We take lots of photos and wander around for a couple of hours before we get too hot.

We get back to our moto and ask the driver to take us to the Landmine Museum. The founder of the museum was a Khmer Rouge fighter as a child and helped lay thousands of landmines. Both his parents were killed by the KR and he was captured by the invading Vietnamese aged 13 and given the choice of fighting against the KR or death. He chose to fight and subsequently has spent his life since removing mines. (It is estimated there are still between 3 and 6 million mines in Cambodia laid by various fighting forces)

The museum is free and very interesting; a young fella called Pai guides us around. He lost his leg aged 10 and the same landmine killed his brother. There are at least half a
dozen young people with amputated limbs at the museum and it’s a moving experience listening to Pai’s story. Most of the mines are very small and innocuous looking but the sheer numbers of them piled all around make you realise what a horrible weapon they are.

From the Landmine museum we head to the local hospital. We have seen a sign at the Jasmine Guesthouse urging visitors to donate blood which is in very short supply due to such high rates of HIV infection in the population. There is a sign at the hospital entrance saying “Urgent blood donation needed due to epidemic of Haemorrhagic Dengue Fever”- scary. It seems a small thing to do and won’t cost us anything. Although we left a 15 dollar donation at the Landmine Museum it did seem a bit inadequate when you consider the cost of clearing the mines from Cambodia.

I’m really scared of giving blood and when it comes to it they won’t take my blood anyway which is partially a relief and partially a disappointment. They take Simon’s though and he said it hurt much more than when he donates blood at home. That done and he gets a packet of biscuits, a sticker, a coke and a t-shirt for his trouble. We all share the biscuits and leave the t-shirt behind. We have enough to carry!

We get back and the kids write a newspaper article about the problems in Cambodia. They both work hard and produce some really good work. We spend the afternoon quietly and go out for dinner in the evening to The Khmer Kitchen, the food is fantastic. A little bit like Thai food but simpler tasting. We have sticky rice, morning glories (vegetables) a chicken Khmer curry and a sort of potato and beef layered pie.

We watch the telly when we get back. All the stuff we had read and seen in the past few days is in some ways very overwhelming and miserable and like the kids I feel we need some time to absorb it all. A break from our own thoughts whilst watching a documentary about sharks is exactly what we need. Simon points out that we have got more TV channels here than anywhere else we have stayed on our trip. Not bad for a 3 quid room!

Cambodia’s History

We have a lie in today, although I’m sure Cambodia has so much to offer as our time here is very limited we will be spending most of the next 2 weeks divided between Siem Reap and the capital Phnom Penh. As we are still tired from yesterday we are going to buy our passes for Angkor after 5pm today. The passes cost 40 dollars each for 3 days but if you buy them after 5pm you can visit the temples and watch the sunset without using up one of your days.

Simon spends an hour doing some science with the kids which seems to go really well, they are doing the physics bit on light and sound and it is quite a large section that will take some time. I spend a few hours reading and trying to get my head around Cambodia’s complicated history so that I can explain it better to Ali and Maisie.

The guidebook describes it as the good, the bad and the ugly. The good was the Angkorian period, culminating with the building of a massive empire and the huge temples that we have come to see. Next the bad, from the 13th century Cambodia was invaded by its neighbours the Thais amongst others. Then the ugly – civil war, bombing by America and the brutality of the Khmer Rouge during the 1970′s.

Before we arrived here we didn’t know that much about Cambodia’s past but although we have only been here just over a day I think for us Cambodia will be defined by its history.

During the 1960′s Cambodia remained a place of peace whilst war raged in neighbouring Vietnam. However that was about to change, the government allowed the communist North Vietnamese to use Cambodian territory in their fight against South Vietnam and the USA. In turn the US bombed Cambodia relentlessly causing 250,000 deaths.

Between 1975 and 1979 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge implemented one of the most brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a peasant dominated co operative and within days of taking Phnom Penh the entire cities population including the elderly and the sick were forced out of the city and into the fields to work. 1975 was declared Year Zero and currency, postal services and religion were banned. Cambodia was cut off from the rest of the world. Disobedience of any kind meant immediate execution and everything important to the Khmer people was stripped away.

After a quiet day spent lazing around we get some food and sit in the restaurant, some people are watching The Killing Fields and despite seeing it yesterday it’s compellingly horrible and we sit staring at the TV again. Hesitantly one of the girls who works here starts to talk about the film and quietly tells me how scared it makes her feel. She describes how her parents witnessed many killings. She asks us to watch a film called The Bloodiest Domino and we take it and watch it on the laptop. It is another thoroughly depressing look at recent Cambodian history and gives us more to think about.

Cambodia

We set the alarm for 6am and after a very quick shower chucked ourselves into a tuk tuk for our ride to the border. The information we had read about the border crossing is very comprehensive if a little alarmist and suggests an early start to avoid massive queues. As gambling is illegal in Thailand but legal in Cambodia the town of Poipet will be besieged with Thais heading for the numerous casinos. Poipet is by all accounts a dangerous, filthy town and we want to get on our way to Siem Reap as soon as possible.

We pass a massive rubbish tip and a large graveyard on the way to the border. Other than those things there is nothing to see and I feel I will be glad to leave. As we approach the border it starts to get very busy with people heading for the market. We have read that we must watch our stuff like hawks here, ignore all children and don’t let anyone touch our gear. There is a long queue but we bypass some of it when the border opens at 7 by joining the “foreigner queue”. After a few minutes of scrutiny by the border guards we are through and walk to Cambodia. This process of leaving Thailand, getting a visa and proceeding through the Cambodian immigration is rumoured to potentially take hours and we are pleased to be done by 8.30. After all our concerns it was in the end simple and hassle free.

Our first glimpses of Cambodia are a bit like seeing Varanasi in India for the first time. The place is seriously filthy and absolutely stinks. We haven’t crossed an overland border on foot before and it’s very strange to walk across a line from a comparatively rich place like Thailand to a country as poor as Cambodia and see the difference in the way people are dressed, the roads and transport.

Eventually we reach the taxi services and we pay 2400 baht for a 3 hour car ride to Siem Reap. This sounds quite pleasant but nothing could be further from the truth. The roads are shockingly bad, no paving or tarmac and full of potholes. The laws of the roads seem to be that everyone goes wherever they want trying to avoid the largest potholes. The road surface is red earth and due to the dust the visibility is extremely poor. Sometimes down to several feet in front only. On a positive note we only go about 20 MPH so I don’t worry about accidents and feel we are safe enough.

In 3 hours we only pass through 2 very small towns. There is nothing to see on the way apart from flat green brown dusty plains, distant hills, occasional road signs and electricity pylons. There isn’t that much traffic on the way either, some motorbikes and a few buses. Several motorbikes have up to 3 large pigs strapped upside down on the back. We couldn’t make out if they were alive or dead and hoped for their sakes they were dead.

At last the roads start to improve and soon we reach Siem Reap, first impressions are of a large clean city with lots of posh hotels. We pull up outside The Jasmine Guesthouse and I’m really pleased with our choice. Who couldn’t like a place with a sign on the door saying “laundry ready same day if sun shiny”. This is next to a sign saying no guns, no bombs and no drugs! We have been so rattled around in the car that none of us are in the mood to do anything other than laze around this afternoon. We check in, the cost of the rooms is 6 dollars each and sit upstairs in the restaurant. As we went without breakfast we have our lunch sandwiches, chips and salad and decide to watch a film on the DVD player.

There is a good choice of films and we definitely want to see Tomb Raider which was filmed at Angkor but in the end we choose The Killing Fields. We agree with Ali that coupled with the discussion we had about the Khmer Rouge on the way here, this will be their schoolwork for the day. We have given lots of thought to exposing them to the atrocities committed in the 1970′s in Cambodia but feel they are old enough to cope with this information. Watching the film is sad and moving and although Simon and I have both seen it before I can’t really explain too well how it feels to be here amongst the Khmer people whose country still has so many scars to show for the brutality of 30 years ago.

Later we have dinner and try to make some plans for the next few days. Ali plays pool with some fella’s and Maisie plays her PSP. I’m feeling knackered and over heated and a good nights sleep definitely won’t be far off.

Leaving Thailand

Thailand has been for me a beautiful country. Our planned route never worked out and we ended up experiencing a completely unexpected journey to almost deserted islands and the amazing Khao Sok National Park. Our few days spent in the jungle and on the rafthouses were absolutely awesome and definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Bangkok remains my favourite city in the world, with fantastic shopping centres, spirit houses, wondrous temples, street vendors, cheap taxis, rip off designer gear, excellent transport system and millions of people it is a great place and I would recommend a visit to anyone.

After just over a month here, in some ways I feel like I know and understand the Thai people and their culture even less now than before we arrived here. The majority of people we have met have been friendly but despite our best attempts some of the people we have met have been really unfriendly and rude. As we have learnt our manners in Thai and used them on every occasion I can only assume that the famous Thai smiles have maybe become a bit jaded due to the numbers of “farang” that visit every year.

The majority of Thais are deeply religious and fervent royalists and we have seen evidence of this in every single town we have visited. We have been pleased to see less of the sex tourism side to Thailand but definitely think this is because we didn’t visit places like Pattaya. (We only had one night out in Patpong!) I read some books documenting stories of young women involved in prostitution in Bangkok and their stories make you realise that even a fairly innocent voyeuristic night out to gawp at the girlie bars actually just adds to the exploitation of these women and sometimes men and children.

Unfortunately or maybe fortunately we never made it to the north of Thailand. I’m sorry about this but on the other hand we now have a great excuse to return here in a few years time.

After a 5 hour bus ride today, we have finally arrived at the Thai/Cambodian border town of Aranya prathet. We have read reports that Poipet the border town on the other side is like the wild, wild east, so have decided to stay here for the night and cross the border in the morning when hopefully the numbers of people crossing into Cambodia will be less. We will be issued with a visa at the border; if everything goes smoothly it will cost us 80 US dollars. The US dollar is the most commonly used currency in Cambodia although the riel and Thai baht are also accepted in some places. The border guards are renowned for being corrupt and apparently the taxi service on the other side is run by the local mafia.

As Cambodia is still littered with landmines, poverty stricken and a somewhat lawless society where disputes are usually sorted out by gunshot, Maisie did ask in all seriousness why are we going there? Well I think she has a point, but despite all the scare stories violent crimes against foreigners are very rare and the lure of Angkor Wat is proving too great! We researched all our trip destinations very carefully and as always when moving to a new country checked the UK foreign office website for the latest travel information last night. We’re not scared just a bit apprehensive!

We stay in our room and Simon gets some food, a basic meal of rice, vegetables and green curry. After a very short hour of literacy, we watch the new Rocky Balboa film and as we have to be up at 6am its lights off by 10.