Same Same But Different

As much as I’m annoyed by that phrase above, one that you can’t help to bump into in Southeast Asia, it has a point (still no need to print t-shirts out of it!). Time after time, country after country, it’s true. All the countries here are somehow so similar, but still different. We’ve had a quite a week, and a possibility to view three countries. Week ago we left Thailand for Cambodia and after five nights in Siem Reap, we’ve already made our way to Laos, to Vientiane. It feels like we’re in the same place all the time, but there’s all these little diversities: like there are tuk tuks in all these three countries, but the style is different in each country. I also should have learned by now, that when it comes to food, everything does really mean everything (and anything) here in all the countries. Like yesterday, I was recovering from a nasty tummy-bug and hadn’t eaten for two days, so I thought maybe I could have a little bit of soup already. So we went to eat beef noodle soup with everything, thinking the “everything” means the spices etc. It’s not so easy to try to feel better when there are cow tongues and I-don’t-even-wanna-know-what-that-is -parts of animals sticking out of the plate…

The two border-crossings this past week went pretty smoothly, even though there are always some little things that we forget to think about or doubt, when we should. In the end, we let the bus company arrange our visa on Thai-Cambodia border, so we paid a bit extra, but the border in Poipet was so crowded that it still took a while to get across. And the Cambodia-Lao border was even more smooth. We got the visa on the border, and we had again heard stories like that it might take two hours to get it. But the border was really quiet and we we’re done in 15 minutes. But oh boy, on our way to Laos, did we get tricked by the travel agency from where we bought the bus tickets! We bought a direct sleeping bus from Siem Reap with toilet to Vientiane, only to find out there aren’t any direct buses, ever. And since I had been feeling sick, the only reason I left Siem Reap in my condition, was the expectation of getting a good bus.

Angkor Wat

Well, when a cranky bus was waiting at the station in Siem Reap we should have turned back, but it was five in the morning and they said we would get to the VIP bus after five hours (they’ve got nerve!). The trip was supposed to take 22 hours all together, we got here in 50 hours and with 7 different buses… Well, at least the last one from Pakse to Vientiane was a sleeping bus with toilet. 🙂

I’m excited to explore Laos since I’ve heard it’s one of the nicest places in here, but  this far Cambodia has been, to me, one of the most charming countries. I can’t really explain why; maybe it’s the mixture of Asian and French culture. Walking down Siem Reap’s Pub street feels like you’re surrounded by Parisian cafe’s. Or maybe it’s the people, the happy smiles, though there’s a dark history, not so long time ago, and I bet every Khmer remembers the civil war too well. I read the Killing Fields in the beginning of our trip to get a hint of the events in Cambodia in the 70’s, but I just can’t understand the cruelty. In many ways, being in Cambodia was heart-breaking. There are a lot of mine victims and poor people, and it’s just impossible to help everyone. Like what can you say to a boy, less than ten years old, when he’s begging for food, not money? When I said sorry, because I didn’t have any food with me, he replied: “but sorry is not food”. The problem is, that giving money or food, or buying a souvenir from the children would serve them only once. They need to be helped in long-term, and I just hope the money from different children’s funds and foundations get there.

A poster on the Thai-Cambodia border warns that children are not a tourist attraction. However the Cambodian children know how to conquer a tourists heart with a smile.

Besides poverty and mines, Cambodia is however rich in many ways, for example it’s saturated with temples! There are soooo many temples in Angkor, near Siem Reap including the most famous Angkor Wat, which is the largest temple in the world. We took a two-days tuk tuk tour around the temples of Angkor, and visited an interesting land-mine museum too. I think we’ve seen enough temples for a lifetime, but still didn’t see even nearly all of them! For the future travelers: It’s not an idle warning to remember to dress up properly for the temples. I thought covering knees and shoulders would be enough, but shoulders had the be covered with a t-shirt. I learned that the first day, when I had only a scarf for my shoulders and that’s why I missed the most sacred and highest spot in Angkor Wat. I didn’t mind it though, ’cause I had a nice chat with an elderly thai-gentleman who spoke only little English instead, while J climbed up there.

There's an amazing amount of details in the temples of Angkor.

Banteay Srei is a bit far from the other temples but worth a visit.

It's a long walk to some of the temples. I think it's nice how the temples are still somehow mystical, even with all the tourists.

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