Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Adventures in Cambodia

My journey begins in Kerala- the land of coconut trees and beaches, rubber estates and elephants. When the plane took off from Nedumbassery, I must say it looked beautiful and green. We traveled by Air Asia, a pretty neat airline if you ask me. It's economical and they can take you to several destinations across the world like New Zealand and Australia apart from most South East Asian countries. These are Airbuses and not at all rickety as someone asked me. Since the distances are short, you really don't need any of the frills. But you can book your meals in advance or buy them if they have any left or choose not to eat on the airplane. We had booked our meals. I think it was BBQ chicken with grilled veggies. After about 4.5 hrs we landed in Kuala Lumpur. I don't know what it is about KL, but I simply love it as a city. It's beautiful by night or day. In the night, if you are perched real high like on the 14th or 17th floor terrace you can see the city lights twinkling all over. In the day, the green everywhere will refresh and relax your eyes. It's a well planned urban-scape. And of course shopping is lovely and the weather mostly pleasant. I found it slightly drying. So it's not a bad idea to carry around some moisturizing lotion.

Some of the malls we visited in Kl are the Tropicana Mall (small), One Uttama (medium) and Mid Valley (big). You have the huge retailers like Jusco and Carre Four in Mid valley. Mid Valley is where you will get the best dim sum in the world it just melts in yr mouth. I think the place is called “Dim Tai Fung".
We went to the aquarium in the Petronas. It was a magnificent sight. We were lucky to see the feeding of the fishes at about 1. There are sting rays, giant turtles, fishes of all kinds, sharks etc here. You can also walk in the garden which is landscaped and maintained very well.
Getting around in Kl is not difficult either. You can take the metro rail which has escalators going up. Usually they don't have ones coming down, but if you get down in a mall like Mid Valley, you can just take the elevator going down. The cabs all have meters, so no issue of haggling.

From Kl, we flew to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia formerly known as Kampuchea. The people here are simple and nice. We stayed at the Blue Lime- it's a cozy place, more like a huge renovated bungalow. They have a swimming pool and meals are served around that. They also have easy and free access to the internet. This is placed in the lounge so you can check whenever you want to. They also serve breakfast as part of the package for each day.
We went to the Killing fields (and the Genocide Museum) where the Pol Pot regime massacred about 3 million. I felt sad seeing all that. They have erected a stupa of 17 floors where the bones of those who were victims are on display.
We also went to the wat Pom temple and the Royal Palace which is awesome.
Most shops close at 5.Even the Russian market. Some shops do remain open till 8. The Sarpino's pizza shop was good. KFC is also there, near the Russian market.

From here we traveled to Siem reap, another Province. It takes about 4.5 hrs by road. I din know what to expect. On the way we stopped at a small place for food which can be compared to a saravana or an Aryas in South India. A meal for 2 generally costs you about 12 USD anywhere in Cambodia. There was street food which maybe cheaper, but we din want to take a chance with our tummies.
The day we arrived we went to see the Apsara dance. Their culture is steeped in Hindu mythology so it was easy to relate to Hanuman when he came on stage. I liked their folk dances and their music. It's soothing. They have an instrument similar to the Santoor- only it produces muted tones. They use more props in their costumes. In one dance, the main dancer had a tail attached to her dress.

We stayed at the Ankhor Riviera which is on the banks of a river. It is scenic and very beautiful. One block away (roughly) is the King's summer palace and the Raffles hotel. All vehicles travel at about 40 km\hr. This adds to the serenity of the place. The river bank has benches for people to sit on and a walk for people who want to jog or walk.Travelling in a tuk tuk is very pleasant here as the air is fresh.Siem Reap is simply beautiful.

The next day we left for the Ankhor Wat temple complex. Again I went without any expectations. We were in the tuk tuk for about 15 or 20 mts when we suddenly found ourselves transported back in time- by a few centuries perhaps. (You need a pass to visit this - for one day it's 20 USD. You can take a 3 day pass if you want to.)On one side were trees and on the other a moat. On the other side of this vast expanse of water lay the Ankor Wat temple glistening in the sunlight. Made in stone, this temple dates back to the 11th or 13th century. By God's grace I was wearing a white T shirt. It's hot and tiring. But exhilarating!!!!I also had my sun-glasses. I, who always carry an umbrella din have one. Thank God for the water and the wet towels we had.
The murals are about the Kouravas and Pandas and other characters from Hindu mythology. You cannot enter certain areas of the temple wearing shorts above the knee or sleeveless T shirts- regardless of gender. At one point we reached the highest point in the temple. It was a steep climb. Centuries had worn out the steps. They had made a wooden staircase just above that. I initially felt I could not, but ultimately did. The climb down was scary. I focused one step at a time and felt grateful I made it. I avoided all further such steep climbs. You see, it would be difficult for a helicopter to fly in,to get you down. Also, the stairs do not allow for full placement of the feet, so hard for someone to carry you down either. You need to be fit to do this. If you don't feel confident, don't do it, is what I say. We also saw the Ta Prohm temple well known as the Tomb Raider temple where Lara Croft was shot. Many govts have collaborated in the conservation and restoration including the Indian Archeological Society. Each time we moved to the next temple in a tuk tuk, I relaxed and enjoyed the fresh air blowing in my face.
There are small places to eat here and there. You can also buy stuff like water and souvenirs from here. Everything costs at least one dollar. The only time u will see an exchange of local currency is when u need to get change back.
At the end of the day we were tired. I discovered I had muscles in my legs- it ached. So we went and got a foot massage at the Night Market. The previous day we had gone for a fish massage.
We saw a lot of back packers on bicycles. You can rent them for 1.5 USD, if you have the stamina. The following day we went to the floating village where again the entry fee is 20 USD. This is a boat ride and you can take a picture with a python around yr neck and you can also see a crocodile farm. There is a school on the water where you can make donations like food and books which u can by from a shop on the water. These people live on the water all the time. In the rainy season they anchor the barges in the river and once the weather changes they move back onto the lake tying all the barges together. We came back from there and visited the Artisan's village where we saw the artists at work making lacquer paintings and sand stone carvings. You can even buy these if you want to. Prices range from 66 USD upwards and go onto 5000 USD and more. But they are beautiful.
By the way if anyone is interested you can eat crickets, rats, snakes etc. I din try any so no idea how any of it tastes.
We were tired and since we had a morning flight to catch retired early. There is a KFC in the city and plenty of places where you get Italian as well as local food. The Pub Street is active at night and seemed safe as well. On one side is the street food and on the other, a variety of food and beverages. We tried the place where you can BBQ yr own meal- they give you a small stove on which u can place a variety of meat and veggies and cook as well. It was a novel experience.

The next day we left for the Siem Reap Air port. It was small but very nice and very green; the kind that leaves a good impression on someone. It's a 2 hr flight from Siem Reap to KL. Some of the other things we did in KL was to try out the bowling alley and catch The Green Lantern at the multiplex there. The theatres are very grand I must say and a bit cold as well. But most people seemed well prepared and put on jackets and shawls.

I love KL and Siem Reap. If you get a chance, you should try to go there.


Anonymous said...

Uma,thanks fr taking me to KL & Cambodia,very very well compiled,i could even feel the breeze against my face on the tuktuk....& i could even feel the comfort fr my aching muscles by getting them massaged...wonderful experience,hope to go there someday!!

Umsy said...

I am glad that -o liked the post. shold go there