Archive for May, 2012

2 Weeks in Cambodia

May 20, 2012

After a 23 hour night bus/small bus/shared taxi/tuk-tuk trip from southern Thailand, I arrived at the Vipassana center in Battambang, Cambodia. The entrance gate is pretty fancy for this tradition but in line with other Buddhist centers in this part of the world. Not what the Buddha had in mind I suspect when he instructed “build no statues or monuments to me…” More later on this topic…I feel a sermon working it’s way up from the depths of the mind 🙂

The setting was very nice, lots of trees and such but the center more closely resembled a county jail than the other Vipassana centers I have visited. A real working gate with razor wire on the top, heavy metal doors on the rooms and locks which is something I have never encountered at a meditation center before. I will learn from my brief stay in Cambodia that it’s not really a “high crime” country so far as 3rd world countries go so I figure it must be some residual from the horrors of 30 years ago and/or a reflection of the man who donated the property and covered most of the building costs. Who knows what he experienced in his youth when all the killing and other craziness was going on. I would have liked to have explored more of Cambodia, visited the killing fields and some of the museums and such but the intense heat sent me racing for the mountains of Laos before I could see very much of this country. Maybe another trip in cooler weather someday soon?

This is one of the ladies who live at the center, cooks some interesting and tasty food with her wood-fired pots. These folks eat a lot of veggies that we don’t recognize as food and have a wide range of fruits hanging from the trees around them. One can see how we in the west have lost touch with the process of connecting with the natural world around us and the ability to live off the land. No Publix in this neighborhood 🙂

Here’s the dining hall, pretty primitive as was much of the rest of the facility – squat toilets that flush with a bucket of water, cold showers rigged from plastic pipe wired to the roof of a tiny room. Quite a contrast to the “spit and polish” I found in the 4 centers I visited in Thailand. Interesting experience though, meditating here for 8 days and living with these folks, virtually no English and even my well-developed hand gestures and body language failed me much of the time.

This is one of the several other Buddhist centers that shared this little valley with the Vipassana center. In contrast to my expectations of deep silence, the 3 or 4 non-Vipassana centers seemed to compete with each other with their high-powered PA systems to see whose chanting and announcements were the loudest. I was amazed at how loud it would get at times. Haven’t these guys heard the Buddha’s teaching on not disturbing the peace of others 🙂

Then I spent a night in the town of Battambang before heading down river on a small, crowded boat to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat, my second reason for making this swing through northwestern Cambodia. Here’s a shot of the main market.

Just one of many examples of how Cambodia is far behind Thailand, they haven’t figured out a good garbage-handling system yet. They also don’t have electricity much beyond the larger cities (at least in the areas that I traveled though). Did have a fiberoptic line though connecting the towns and cities, gotta keep that internet going 🙂 I had wi-fi in my hostels in both places I stayed and it seemed like the world was passing the rural folks by and the cable and wi-fi were obvious symbols of this process. The gap between the “haves” and the “havenots” showing itself once again.

Here’s what the tuk-tuks look like in Cambodia, a regular motorbike with a trailer hooked up behind the seat with seats for 2 to 4 people (or 6 or 8 if you’re a local or someone who likes to travel like one).

I’m heading down river now in this little boat that functions as a taxi and pick-up truck for the locals. Here a woman is getting off at her stop which as you can see is another boat. It’s amazing to see how creative these folks are with getting the stuff they need from the cities back to their remote villages. Who needs roads and cars anyway?

This young girl got on the boat with her mother and little brother midway along the 7 hour trip. What must her perspective of the world be? How will she live out her days? How many options can she realistically choose from? Maybe I just ask too many questions 🙂

Local fishermen in a type of small boat one sees a lot of along this river. Living much like folks have lived for so many years an yet the TV/internet world is creeping in. Anyone can access the internet via cellphone with coverage just about everywhere I traveled in both Cambodia and Laos. The world it be ‘a changing 🙂

A few examples of the housing options along this stretch of river. Looking for a weekend place or a cheap fixer-upper?

These shots are from Siem Reap, a very nice tourist-friendly city with lots of attention to keeping everything clean and appealing to the eye (so long as you don’t drift away from the ‘tourist areas’ too far). An easy place to visit for anyone who is interested in getting a taste of Cambodia with a minimum of suffering and inconvenience common to the backpacker/low-budget crowd.

Then I’m off to tour the vast Angkor Wat ruins. I especially enjoyed climbing around inside some of the buildings, getting an inside view of what it must have been like to live and work in such places. My favorite spots were the smaller, less visited ones and the ones where the carvings were more detailed, a lot of variety in type of construction and attention to detail. I wish I had more understanding of the Hindu gods depicted in the carvings and the history of this place, would have made for a more interesting trip. Guess I shouldn’t have slept through all those history classes 🙂 After a couple of very hot days, it all begins to look like piles of rocks 🙂

Here’s my tuk-tuk driver who picked me up at 5am both mornings and carried my around this vast compound. A good deal for $15 a day.

Shots from Angkor Wat, I suspect you who are more into these types of things will recognize some of the figures in the carvings.

These guys were a neat surprise, cooling off as they gather food for an afternoon snack.

I’ll be working on a blog on my experiences in Laos once I get back to SC and have my Mac, maybe do some slideshows with music if the techno gods allow it 🙂 Take good care! John