Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Mysteries of Cambodia – Sihanoukville.

We spent the day today in Sihanoukville, our stop in the Kingdom of Cambodia. It was an interesting day – our guide was knowledgeable, informative and had pretty good English so enjoyed.

As usual, the day started off with the embarkation of the local pilot, the assignation with the tug boat and the course into our Berth. Took a picture of a fishing boat from the balcony because the Gulf of Thailand (which we have been sailing for the last 2 days) is packed with these little ships. When you look out at night they are dotted around everywhere, lit up to a greater or lesser extent but apparently an absolute nightmare on the radar. They are tiny ships yet they travel hundreds of miles, set their nets (which are marked at the surface by buoys) and stay out until they have their catch.

Prince Norodom Sihanouk – King of Cambodia – made a mark in this area – Sihanoukville is the port for Phnom Penh and was created by him from the 1950’s because Cambodia needed a port once the Mekong Delta was assigned to Viet Nam with the breakup of French IndoChina. It is situated in Sihanouk province and the Wat (temple or pagoda) we visited is on Mt Sihanouk!!

Our tour started off at Wat Krom (the lower pagoda). It was built in the 1960s and is a place of Buddhist prayer, education and home to over 200 monks. The pagoda itself is the center of an area that includes a school, a library, a number of monuments celebrating Buddha and local deities and mausoleums built by local families to house the ashes of their departed members.

I didn’t get the significance of all the statuary – especially the boys peeing into the pond but we were there to see it all!!
We are now getting used to the large numbers of kids who flock around to sell you stuff. They are pretty well trained in the appropriate English to gain the attention, interest and pity of the tourists. 

What was fascinating was the fact that the same kids selling the same stuff recurred at our every stop in town – they traveled by scooter!!!!!!
The monks live like religious students of other religions (think Yeshiva) – they study, teach and pray, for food they depend on the generosity of their neighbors – they beg; and they work in the compound on construction and the fields.

From the Wat we went to a public junior school where we visited with the teachers and in the classroom. 

This was a village school and runs two sessions a day – the morning class was there when we were. While we were visiting they were learning music on these little pianos (they played Happy Birthday for us!!) in the one class and writing in the other. We brought gifts for the school and the kids and left them with the headmaster. 

The school depends on donations too – the fence was donated by the American Navy, the gate by an Australian donor.
Took a picture of the school playground for you!!
From the school we went into town and visited the market – how I loathe these places. Same kids begging plus extras, crowds and smells. 

Funny, actually, its probably way more real that anything else we see and it’s the part I find the most depressing. I do feel the same way or even worse though about WalMart, K-Mart and Target so I am not a good judge. Merle of course made some purchases at prices that pleased her increasingly as the day wore on.

After all this we went for an hour and a half to the Sokha Beach Resort – much more my style. Lovely white beaches – which seem to be kept pristine by this man who sweeps them (????????) warm water cold beer and entertainment by traditional musicians and dancers and, peculiarly, a folk music quartet (Joan Baez stuff, Simon and Garfunkle etc – go figure).
Beware of Falling Coconuts – a sign that should be posted far more regularly in places I visit

From the resort we returned to the ship. And late afternoon sailed off for the port closest to Bangkok.

Why do I title this piece “mysteries” – it is to do with the unspoken and the unseen. I love the bus tours because you drive through the countryside What do you see? In Sihanoukville you see innumerable walled half-acre or so lots. The walls are old, they are decorated, sometimes built-in light fixtures, they have gates but no houses. The lots are overgrown. Maybe you see cows grazing. Sometimes a tin shack. Where is the construction that should be in the middle of this piece of land – the house? Gone. Erased. The guide wont answer the question. Why is the average age of the country 23 years? Its all about the killing fields; the Khmer Rouge, the eradication of the educated and professionals that came to an end in 1985. Beautiful place. Sad hidden history – like Angkor Wat


  1. Looks like an amazing place, even with all the falling coconuts

  2. More chicken with raisins.. and feathers. While remarkable to see some of these places, truly seeing how others live day-to-day is heart wrenching at times. That said, how else can we learn to appreciate the benefits we enjoy. Now, back to simon and garfunkle....

  3. In regards to falling coconuts - more fatalities per year by the coconut vs shark attacks