Today Leah would come from Pursat to meet in Prahos Kbal and would be travelling with us to see a family whose lives have been changed by a well from HOPE. HOPE it turns out has supplied thousands of wells in Pursat. At $1,000 per well that is an astounding contribution to people's lives.
After visiting with the family, we would be stopping in Pursat at the hotel to pick up whatever items we needed and then onward to Siem Riep. A well deserved and exciting trip. We all couldn't wait to see Angkor Wat. I felt bad as I had no idea that Angkor Wat even existed. It is in the backdrop of my Cambodian Barbie box. I knew it was some sort of ruins but really had no idea about it. I am so very grateful that I will be lucky enough to see this amazing wonder of the world.
Currently it is planting season in the rice fields and the children are not in school as the teachers are also hard at work in the rice fields. All available hands are involved. Behind the school in the village where we are staying are rice fields and the workers start working some mornings around 4:00 am due to the heat. This of course is also the time that the dogs start to howl big time.
We went shortly after breakfast to meet a grandmother and her two granddaughters. The parents were both working. We were shown the family's crops of eggplant, beans, papaya and more. The grandmother explained that the entire family used to live in this one house which I think is now only occupied by her. Since they have the well from HOPE they no longer have to travel far to the river to get their water, people come to them to buy their excess vegetables, they have been able to buy a motorcycle as well as bicycle. They have another house built on the land and it is a basic simple thatched roof house. Leah explained that the family decides what to do with the profit that they have and that many choose not to improve the house but to invest that money in other things such as a motorcycle. Having transportation is very important as the villages are quite far from the city. I have since learned that the nearest medical clinic which is for just very basic care such as a cold or diarrhea from Prahos Kbal is a 40 minute motorcycle ride and that if something more urgent is needed, then it is 1 hour 20 minutes by car to Pursat.
After spending some time there we headed to Pursat where we would stop briefly to get what we needed from the hotel as well as pick up lunch and then start our long 5 and a half hour trip to Siem Reap. We would stop twice for bathroom breaks. There are quite a few gas stations here and also a lot of roadside stands where they sell gasoline in glass pop bottles. There is a chain of Bonjour gas stations and it was at one of those that we stopped. All the gas stations here seem to have a store attached like they do back home.
During our trip we travelled through many cities as well as Battambang http://wikitravel.org/en/Battambang which is the second largest city in Cambodia. We also saw in many cities large figures such as a Buddha, a large world with a bird (I am sure it was a seagull but couldn't get a picture as the angle wasn't right) with something, a fish I assume in it's beak. Awesome figures. All were quite large and some magnificient.
There is an expression "Same Same but Different" which is common here and in Thailand and Vietnam. This aptly describes the vendors at the markets as well as the stores that we see along the roadside. Some of the things that we have seen by the roadside are bamboo that is smoked and is filled with rice and other things and it is a sweet dessert. This was something that Kailey loved to eat in Thailand. Other shops sold very large cement Buddhas, some of the worship stands which look like a very ornate bird cage house on a stand. They are brightly painted and seem to be in the front yard of almost every home but sometimes not in the poorer homes.
During our trip we talked, sleep, snacked and slept some more. No one wears seatbelts here including the drivers. Not once have I seen a road accident here despite having logged a lot of mileage. While driving down the roads there is a lot of honking by the drivers. You are always aware of the vehicles behind, in front and on either side of you. It is a mix of vans, cars, dump trucks, other trucks, motorcycles and bicycles.
Finally we rolled into Siem Reap. We saw some very luxurious hotels. We had read in one of the guide books that Siem Reap is the poorest city in Cambodia despite the tourists. Some hotels go for as much as $1,000 US per night. It was pointed out to us as the hotel that Angelina Jolie stayed at. Luckily someone like her with her money and compassion has done so much good for Cambodia. There is such a disparity (check definition) between the poor and the rich.
Before we knew it we arrived at our hotel, Sonalong Boutique Village & Resort. It is absolutely gorgeous. Can you say "Eat, Pray, Love"? The place was absolutely beautiful. There was a bar, small swimming pool and lots of lounge chairs around the pool. The dining room was open air of course and decorated very nicely with orchids and other exotic flowers. They also had a little lovely bridge with a pond filled with koi fish and water lillies. There was a huge amount of beautiful trees, many of the trees were labelled to identify the types, such as jackfruit, coconut, betel nut trees and more. There was also a beautiful cement Ganesha and a Buddha without arms, at least I think it was a Buddha. It may have been the former King Jayavarman VII http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayavarman_VII (who allowed both the Hindu and Buddist's religions to co-exist), as there were also wooden and cement forms of his head. True bliss for me as I love the Buddhist beliefs.
In The Essence of the Heart Sutra, His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote,
"According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It's not passive -- it's not empathy alone -- but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering. Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and lovingkindness. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is lovingkindness)."
We checked into our rooms. I had a ground floor room to share with Lily. I booked a body massage for an hour for $7. Unbelievably cheap here. I had a quick shower as I was sticky and didn't want a massage until I showered. I had a lady named Rompan who spoke almost no English. She arrived on a motorcycle with two others.
It was like a Thai massage and it really helped to get the kinks out of me. If you opt for an oil massage it is $10 and has to be in your room as you would remove your clothes. My massage was with clothes on and poolside. Some massages were better for those of us that got them and some were terrible. Just luck of the draw I guess. Mine was quite good and she did what was expected.
After my massage I headed straight for the bar. I felt drunk I was so relaxed. My right side had been tight from sitting so long in the van. While getting my massage Lily and Clark came by to say hi and continued on to the bar. I heard Clark ordered a pina colada and decided I was going to get one too. We enjoyed our drink and as the rest of the group arrived we were seated at a table in the dining room for dinner. By the way the pina colada packed a punch and cost $5.
Food is very reasonable and quite cheap in Cambodia. A fried noodle dish with vegetables and your choice of chicken, pork or beef would run you $3.50 US. Mind you the noodles are just Mama instant noodles. Breakfast at the hotel in Pursat averaged about $4.00 US. After we finished our dinner the group except for Vi headed off to the Night Market. We walked over there as it wasn't too far from where we were staying.
This Night Market was surprising compared to the one in Phnom Penh. It was definitely to our benefit that it is the low season right now. I had expected it to be more expensive and that there would be less bargaining as it was in the big city. (There was also another market located close by which closed earlier so it was definitely good for us.) Less bargaining was needed and oftentimes the vendor would lower the price quite readily to get the sale.
Many of the vendors had very small spaces and limited inventory and I also learned that each had to pay for the electricity that they consumed. Because of that some of the spots were dimly lit and the light only brightened when necessary. I would say that 90% of the vendors are women.
After the market we took tuk tuks back to our hotel. We didn't go to bed right away. The adrenaline was flowing pretty fast in our veins and we decided to use the pool for a nighttime dip before bed. Spent some time playing in the water and then back to our rooms. I tried to make sense of who was going to get what from the items I scored from the market and got too tired with that and switched to blogging. Before I knew it the time was 1:00 am which was foolish as we were going to Angkor Wat tomorrow and I should have gone to sleep earlier but I was just took happy being in a hotel room where I had my first hot shower since leaving Vancouver. The showers at the other hotels never had really hot water. This was paradise. Even Cambodian Barbie was stoked.