Cambodia is filled with amazing temples and cool things to do and see, but what’s really cool about traveling to a new place is seeing the people, just doing their everyday life. The people of Cambodia are certainly no exception.
Motorcycle Tour around Siem Reap, Cambodia
I used to ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle every day, until a kid fell asleep behind the wheel and nearly hit me head on and put me in the hospital for a while back in 2005. Since then, I’ve only been on a bike a few times. When I was looking for something to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia, one thing that caught my eye was a motorcycle tour. There were a few choices, from a couple hours to multi-day excursions. I decided to select a full-day trip that was 8 hours long and 125 km (78 miles).
I spent the previous two days trekking around temples all day, being driven from temple to temple in Cambodia’s version of a tuk tuk, called remorque, which is actually a bit different from other tuk tuks from around the world. They are two-wheeled covered carriages that can seat 4 people (or more) and pulled like a trailer by a motorbike. The weather in Cambodia in September was quite hot, around 90F/32C every day. I enjoyed the wind generated by the open air tuk tuk, and sweat my butt off every time we stopped. So I thought I’d welcome spending a bunch of time cruising around on a motorcycle without many stops.
It turns out it was probably the absolute best day/adventure of my entire three week trip. We got out of the city and managed pot-hole filled roads to view the beautiful countryside. The destination was the Beng Mealea temple, which is a stunning, heavily overgrown temple complex.
Banteay Ampil Temple
On the way back, we took even more remote “roads” (paths?) and went to the Banteay Ampil Temple, which was tiny compared to the other temples I’ve seen over the last three days (even Google doesn’t have much on it). We drove the motorbikes on a tiny trail through the woods, and in a small opening was this temple. No parking lots for bus-loads of tourists. No parking lot at all. We drove the bikes right up to the temple, and I even got a video of me driving around the entire temple. We were the only two people there. It was awesome.
The floating village of Kompong Phluk
There was one other tourism thing I did while in Cambodia, partially from the suggestion of a friend. I went to see the “floating village”. The one near Siem Reap is in the village of Kompong Phluk, an hour or two overpacked tour bus ride from the center of Siem Reap. After traveling down the village road, you suddenly come to a water flooded section of the road, and all you see is water all the way to the horizon down the straight road. The buildings and power poles and power lines continue down the road, but everyone just parks the buses and cars where the dry road ends and gets out. You then hop aboard a tour boat pulled right up alongside the road. You take this boat for a ways, dodging trees, shrubs and even some houses.
It’s interesting to observe people who live in these houses surrounded by water. While it’s called a floating village, maybe houses-on-stilts village would be more correct, but less romantic. Their daily commuting vehicle is a boat. Their bathing is done right off their front porch. I’m not sure, and I probably don’t want to know, what’s done with their bathroom waste. It probably goes in the same place they get their cooking and drinking water from. And this isn’t a river with flowing water…it’s stagnant.
While Cambodia is quite poor in general, it seems that this area is even more poverty stricken. Most everyone seems to be in good spirits and friendly, it’s quite apparent that their livelihood heavily depends upon the tourists to their village. Young mothers and/or young children paddle tourists around for a few minutes for $5 USD, which would have been much nicer if their sole purpose of the “tour” wasn’t to paddle you to a hidden flotilla of other women on boats filled with food, drink and other merchandise. You raft up with these sales pitch boats and hang out there for a while, a captive audience. And if you politely refuse to purchase something for yourself, then they ask that you purchase something for the lady paddling your boat. “Food for their family…she’s working hard.” “How about some school supplies for their children?” Even once you are out in the wide-open Tonlé Sap lake, away from the houses, the boats still paddle up to your tour boat every 2 minutes asking if you want something. They were polite, and they are just trying to make some money. I get it.
One of the benefits of living in China is that it provides pretty easy access to much of Asia. I’m currently living in what they call “East China”, near Shanghai. East China is loosely defined as the Eastern coastal area of China. Very nearby is “South China”, which includes Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau. And right next to South China is a bunch of countries in the region called “Southeast Asia”. A few of the countries include Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore (which are all islands), and non-island countries of Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and others. It’s those last three I mentioned that were the focus on my vacation trip.
Some people talk about bucket lists, but I actually have one written down. In case you don’t know what a bucket list is, it’s a list of things you want to do or see before you die. You can start as early as you want, but some people may kick it into overdrive if they know the end is near. It was also the name of a good movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman back in 2007.
My list isn’t very long, currently only about 35 items. Some are relatively easy to attain, while others may never be within reach. I guess some goals that are out of reach are called dreams or even aspirations.
“You have to set goals that are almost out of reach. If you set a goal that is attainable without much work or thought, you are stuck with something below your true talent and potential.” —Steve Garvey
Angkor Wat and the Angkor Archaeological Park
One of my bucket list items was to visit the amazing temples of Ankor area near Siem Reap, Cambodia. The most well known one is Angkor Wat (Angkor Wat means “temple city” in the Cambodian Khmer language), but it is only one of many in the Angkor Archaeological Park, which is over 40,000 hectares (nearly 100,000 acres) and contains more then 37 significant archaeological sites!! While there are 37 significant sites, there are over 1000 temples in the area. So I started my 3-week long trip to Southeast Asia with 6-days/5-nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia in order to cross off one of my bucket list items.
Many of the large temples were built in the 1100’s, but some dated back to 900 AD. Not nearly as old as the Pyramids of Giza, but far older than anything in the USA. While my European friends are surrounded with old architecture near their homes, I’m still amazed at things that are 900 years old or older. Excluding anything built from the Pueblo Native American’s (only a couple left), the oldest buildings in the USA are from the 1630’s-1640’s. That’s 500 years newer than these temples. Of course these are all babies compared to the Pyramids of Giza I saw last year, which were built around 2560 B.C., making them around 4500 years old. Insane!
This area has become popular only after the 1990’s. In 1993, there were only about 7000 visitors for the entire year. In 2004, it was a half-million. Over 1 million in 2007, and over 2 million in 2012. Crazy growth. It sure would have been nice to see this place 20 or 30 years ago when it would have been nearly empty, and no deterioration due to so many visitors.
Anyway, here’s a few of the 2000+ photos I took in Cambodia in 5 days. Click on any photo to see it much larger.
We ventured out to the famous Jichang garden, located in Xihui park. It’s another beautiful park and garden in Wuxi, Jiangsu, China. Beautiful buildings, stone walkways, bridges and arches, and temples. It was one of the hottest days and most humid days, at 97°F/36°C, so hot that even Priya was sweating. Speaking of hot, in the last 7 weeks, nearly every day was always 95°F/35°C. I can remember two separate single-days that a cold front came through because of a typhoon passing nearby. Those two cold days were 89°F/31.5°C. At midnight, temperatures are still around 90°F/32°C, and when I ride a bicycle to work at 7am, it’s usually cooled off all the way to 86F/30C.
Okay, enough about the hot and humid weather. Enjoy a short video and some pictures.
One of the things I was looking forward to on my assignment in China was to learn more about the culture. Live life a little more like a foreigner in a foreign land, but also a bit more like a local. I wanted to stay longer than just a few week long business trip in a hotel, eating hotel food. I specifically wanted to rent an apartment, and deal with things like a local. So, we went apartment hunting in Wuxi, China! Join us as we look at a few, and a tour of the apartment we now live in.
Keep in mind that these apartments may not be completely typical of an average local person’s place to live. Due to being on a work assignment for my USA company, my budget was higher than an average local person’s housing budget. That said, in the complex where I live, I would say 95% of the occupants are Chinese locals. So it’s definitely within budget for many.
As mentioned in the video, nearly all of the housing here is high-rise apartment complexes. People can either rent, or they can buy their apartment. They do not call them “apartments”, but rather their “house”. Housing prices throughout the cities in China have doubled in value, and doubled a few more times after that. Some people’s homes or housing investments have increased ten-fold in about as many years.
A somewhat typical home in Wuxi, China, is 2 or 3 bedrooms, and is labeled as 100-130 square meters (about 1000 – 1300 square feet). I’m told that the measurements are somewhat inflated. Our 3 bedroom apartment is 130 sq.m., but really seems more like 100 sq.m (1000 sq.ft.). To purchase a 2 bedroom, 100 sq.m. apartment here costs approximately 2,000,000 Chinese RMB, or about $300,000 USD. While it’s typical in the USA to have a 20% (or less) downpayment and finance 80% (or more), in China you typically have a 75% down payment and only borrow 25%. Since young couples rarely have $200,000+ USD for a down payment, they borrow money from the wife’s parents, the husband’s parents, and even siblings in order to make the down payment.
Most apartment leases are 12 months, and I’ll be breaking the lease after 5 months. The landlord knows this, and the company will be paying a one-month penalty because of this. Our apartment is located about 1/3rd of a mile from a small shopping mall that has a supermarket and several restaurants. Most evenings we will walk to that mall to have dinner, as I don’t cook much back in the USA, and most of the foods available in the grocery store here are unrecognizable to my culinary talents. While many expats live in a different part of the city, I picked this place due to it being quite close to work. Many days I bicycle to work, which is about 3 miles (5 km) away, but that may be the subject of another upcoming blog post.
Priya and I recently visited Nanchan Temple, in our temporary hometown, Wuxi, China (pronounced woo she). The Buddhist temple was built around 500 AD. It was a short walk to the subway station, then a very short subway (Metro) ride ($0.30 to ride!) two stops away to a station right at the Nanchan Temple. We were greeting with some pretty weird things immediately before entering. Check out the video below to see all about it. (Click here to watch it in YouTube at full 1080p resolution.)
Here’s some photos from Nanchan Temple.