Cambodia

Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

Circus. A total circus. That is the only way to describe Angkor Wat at sunset. It was an amazing show though! Winding through hoards of camera wielding Japanese tourists, gum chewing Americans (with bumbags) and British tourists with security belts poking out of polo shirts we found a lovely quiet spot and sat to view the sunset.

Angkor Wat is only part of this massive temple complex. It is the biggest part, built by a guy called Suryavaram II at around the same time as the Europeans were busily building the Notre Dam cathedral in Paris. Suryavaram II was something of a megalomaniac, he extended the Khmer influence right through Asia and it would seem when he built his temple was trying to compensate for something (like those guys who drive around in lowered Skyline cars with the lights under the wheels). Angkor Wat, unlike the other temples in the almost 20km square area dotted with temples of various vintage, has been in constant use since it was built. Every block was cut and dragged from a quarry 50km away.

grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

Just as sunset began to light the clouds and just as I had the tripod set up to capture some photos of Jette and I a disagreeable little man wearing a sweaty green guards uniform came puffing up to tell us that we had to leave. The temple was closing. I looked at him in disbelief. We slowly packed up our things and dragged ourselves away, dawdling, we were the last to be shepherded out of the inner temple complex. Not before the guard offered to let us climb the currently-being-restored main temple, for $20US. We declined and slowly made our way out of the inner temple.

grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massageInto a throng of other visitors, children selling bracelets, adults selling guidebooks, tuk-tuk men offering rides and Japanese watching it all through canon viewfinders. Phirun met us and took us away, efficiently and politely to our hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massagegrey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next thing I knew I was somewhere down a dark alley in a disused hotel, lying facedown on a hard bed with a man holding my hand. I had left Jette behind to return to the hotel alone. Sounds dodgy? ‘Seeing hands’ is not a charity but a business. Blind Cambodians are offered board, food and massage lessons free for three years. When they graduate from school they work at the massage parlour for one year to repay the loan, after that they get to keep the money they earn. Not only does this keep motivated blind people from needing to beg on the street but it also gives them dignity and a sense of accomplishment. As his thumbs tried to penetrate my lungs through my back, Dale, a short Cambodian man in his mid twenties, was excitedly telling all about his plans for the future now that he has paid back his loan, a future which now extends beyond one day to the next.

 

The name “Seeing hands” is so apt. Throughout the massage which Dale so deftly performed I was constantly thinking it is amazing how confident he was. The only indication that he was without two eyes, (literally, to empty sockets) was that he started by gently tapping over my back to get his bearings. At one stage for one particularly stubborn bus-seat knot Dale climbed onto the table and dug his heel into my left shoulder blade. I got up off the table one hour later feeling like he had taken my back completely apart, every nut and bolt, polished and oiled all the bits, then reassembled it. This was the first time since I started being assaulted by awkward bus seats three weeks ago that my back had been completely knot free. I gladly left a hefty tip on top of the $7 charge and walked away wondering how this knot-whisperer knows what the different dollar notes are.

grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

 

 

Siem Reap – Dodgy tuk-tuks and temples

This is a conversation I had in Siem Reap after a long commute:

“Wrong hotel mate”

“This is the one I was told to bring you to”

“No, we definitely said the Mandalay Inn”

“Well, we are here now, do you want to look at the rooms here anyway?”

“No, I want to go to the Mandalay Inn…like we agreed”

“Just look at the rooms”

“No” *grabbing bags*

“Do you have reservation at Mandalay Inn?”

“No”

“The rooms here are nice”

“No”

(Jette) “Can you just take us to the Mandalay Inn please?”

“Mandalay Inn is much further away, please pay extra”

“No, we agreed on $4 to the Mandalay Inn”

“I was not told this, you need to pay more”

“How about, we walk to the Mandalay then, you miss out on money”

*Both tuk-tuk man and I grab Jette’s bag*

“No, just look at the rooms here sir”

“I want to go to the Mandalay Inn, that is what we agreed on, any confusion is your problem not mine! Make this happen”

(Jette) “Just take us to the Mandalay Inn, and we will pay you $4 as agreed, why did you not take us there to begin with?”

“Customers I take to the Mandalay Inn are never happy with it, this place is better”

(Jette) “So you agree that you were told to go to the Mandalay Inn”

“Ummm, yes, but it is not good”

(Me) “We want to go there, NOW please”

“This hotel has a pool”

“Mandalay Inn, as agreed”

“Mandalay Inn is so far out of the tourist centre though sir, you will need to pay more”

“$4 to take us to the Mandalay Inn, as agreed” “$5”

(Jette) “How is this a discussion?, we agreed on $4 to the Mandalay Inn, that is what we want”

“But I do not get work from the Mandalay Inn, can you give me work tomorrow and I’ll take you there” (Me) “$4 to take us to the Mandalay Inn, as agreed” “Can you give me work tomorrow?”

(Jette) “It is too bad for you as before you took us to the wrong hotel we were saying that you seem nice and that we might hire you for two days exploring Angkor Wat”

*Sad tuk-tuk man* “Oh”

(Me) “Pays to be honest champ”

(Me) *spotting transfer assistant* “There is your manager, I’ll ask him”

(To transfer assistant who for some reason arrived at this hotel) “We have been taken to the wrong hotel”

“Oh, sorry sir, I forgot to tell you, all hotels but this one close after midnight”

“Bullshit” *Walk back to tuk-tuk man* “Ok, we did not get what we agreed on, we are not going to pay, we will walk”

*making to leave* *sigh* “Ok sir, I’ll take you to the Mandalay Inn”

*Paying tuk-tuk man $4 at Mandalay Inn, which is quite open, close to the centre and wonderful*

That is close to the conversation we had at 1:30am in Siem Reap after eighteen hours on a bus. Tuk-tuk drivers get a kickback for recommending tourists to particular hotels, they get quite aggressive in their recommendations.  I will not bore you with details of our commute. In short we had a 6am start in southern Laos, a dodgy border crossing, three bodged bus changes, two bags of chips, a Japanese student sleeping on my shoulder, annoying sunburnt British man with the gay wheeled suitcase and eighteen hours sitting before we were arguing with this tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap. Tempers were strained. Notwithstanding, the following day we enjoyed a lovely sleep in, followed by a slow wander through town.

Every step is punctuated by a question; “Tuk-tuk” “Massage?” or “Mariguaaan?” I even once got offered; “Opium?” with which I was particularly pleased. We drifted into the big Angkor National Museum where we set about cooling off in the air conditioned halls while learning all about the history of this amazing area. Full of new information we went in search of the Sunrise Childrens Village.

This is an orphanage where I was planning to donate half of my Baby Teresa clothes. Baby Teresa is a very cool charity set up by my friend Kirsty Dunphey. It is an online baby clothes store where for every item of clothing sold, one is donated. Donations are ferried around the world by willing volunteers on holiday. I have already made a donation while in Ecuador and have another drop off for Kathmandu later in the month. The security guard took down our details at the gate and checked our identification. Obviously they cannot let just anyone wander around the grounds amongst the kids.

The Sunrise Orphanage was set up by an Australian lady by the name of Geraldine Cox. Following a visit to Cambodia Geraldine, through her circle of friends, organised regular monthly care packages to be sent to children in Cambodia. She then applied for a grant through her employer the Chase Manhattan Bank who supported the orphanage project with $20,000 annually over five years. Now the orphanage is a well established not for profit organisation and receives donations from all over Australia.

The group has expanded and now have a second orphanage in Phnom Penh. The facility in Siem Reap cares for over sixty children providing housing, schooling, consistency and most importantly safety and love in its large enclosed grounds. They mainly care for school aged children but have an active program which sends social workers to out lying villages to give education, support and care packages to young mothers. This is where the Baby Teresa clothes are destined. Despite not being the poorest orphanage, due to its strong connections with local villages and other orphanages I figured that the donation will get to where it is most needed. A worker gave us a tour of the orphanage and told many desperately sad tales about the children milling around our legs. Their newest resident, a tiny four year old boy with old eyes, was originally living with his mother after his father left. His mother worked as a prostitute and was an alcoholic. His mother would regularly bash him to within inches of his life. He ran away from home one year ago and was taken in by a kindly old monk. The monk was too old to look after the boy properly so he was taken to the orphanage a week ago and is starting a new life.

I was amazed at the resilience of these kids. Despite his sad eyes and beaten dog look, the boy showed great interest in my fake grass thongs and kept on insisting I help him with his drawing while the worker spoke to us. Due to strict regulations on photographing the kids I was not allowed to take any photographs with the children. We spoke with the worker for a while, gave him the baby clothes, which he assured us will be very gratefully received and went to meet our pre-arranged tuk-tuk man. We first met our tuk-tuk man on the way to the orphanage by chance.

We initially ignored the call of “Tuk-tuk” but a few steps later we both stopped and simultaneously said “He seems nice” We were right, our man (whose name I have forgotten, let’s call him Phirun) had bought his tuk-tuk on a loan agreement only hours before and was just starting his career. Phirun has a wife and a new born baby to support and had just finished painting his new wheels when we walked past. He quoted us a very reasonable fee of $5 to go to Angkor Wat for sunset. Phirun was sat excitedly in his new tuk-tuk outside our hotel waiting for us when we arrived.

We jumped in and set off to see a sun setting over Angkor Wat.

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