Today we visited Cambodia. Our tour was entitled "Town and Village Cambodia" and there were seven different buses that did the same tour. That's a lot. Usually there is anywhere between one and four buses doing any particular tour. The ship was docked at Sihanoukville which we were led to believe had not much of anything which I think helps to explain the number of passengers choosing to do a shore excursion. Actually I found Sihanoukville to be bigger than I had imagined and it offered some shopping though I suspect (and perhaps I am totally wrong here) you would have to be pretty desperate to find anything worth buying.
We didn't need to worry about that because we were whisked away in another couch that was decorated very similarly to our last bus in Vietnam. Must be the same decorator! Our first stop was a pepper farm. At first I wasn't sure whether it was peppers as in peppercorn or vegetable peppers. Turns out it was peppercorns and it was interesting to see the pepper growing from tall, sturdy vines. I would have liked to have learned/seen more of the production process but we were the last of several buses to arrive and therefore the place was already crowded when we got there. We had time just to learn some basics, buy some pepper if we wanted and use the toilet (such as it was).
Peppercorn vines -- apparently Cambodia is well known for the quality of its pepper
Stop two was at an intense market. It was very large (a city block) with narrow aisles, lots of tripping and hitting you head hazards. The air inside was quite still and it goes without saying also quite hot and humid. And the odors -- my goodness the smell emanating from the fish vendors truly almost took my breath away. Many, many items were sold at the market including clothing, pots and pans, fruits and vegetables (of course), meats (dead and alive), prepared food and gold jewelry. There was even a fair bit of manufacturing going on in the form of women sewing, boys soldering jewelry and food prep. It was truly an experience I will not soon forget. I smelled my first durian (sp?) fruit which is a southeast Asian fruit that smells like stinky feet but supposedly tastes delicious. We also saw live chickens and ducks, live fish, lots of offal and ... well, I could go on but I suspect you don't want me too.
Our guide was very good. His English was exceptional I would say and he offered us an interesting perspective on his country and its history. He also explained the many uses of a simple scarf/wrap that traditional men and women in Cambodia sport. Among its many uses are: head covering, papoose, bag, pad to soften the load of items carried on the head, swimsuit, privacy screen for going to the bathroom, chest cover for women when bowing and headband to catch sweat. Who knew?
Our guide demonstrating proper head scarve tying
Third stop was at a town with French colonial architecture and a large English speaking population it would seem as there were many signs in English including one that said "Broken English Spoken Perfectly"! We walked through the streets and saw several cafes, garnered a lot of stares and visited the town's original bridge across the river which someone in our tour group declared "the ugliest bridge" they had ever seen! I laughed and secretly concurred. You look at the picture and you decide.
Third stop was lunch which for us consisted of a coconut broth soup and some stir fried veggies with rice. R made an interesting faux pas at lunch as there was another gay couple at our table. We were under the impression that they were father and son! Hah. So Russell says something, I forget what, and the one guy says, "He's not my father." Oops. R recovered well but later it turned out that they both are the same age. Oops again. Oh well guess we won't be their new besties.
After lunch we visited a fishing village. This might have been the most difficult stop of the day as the villagers were very poor. The houses they were living in were makeshift and ramshackle. And the children all came out and many of them were looking for a handout (which they received from some of the cruisers). I was sorely tempted to give them money because they were quite cute and obviously in need but I didn't do it. Now I wonder if perhaps that was a mistake. Of course I couldn't have given all of them some money and I am sure that as soon as I gave something to one they all would have descended on me. It was probably good practice for what we are likely to experience in India. It certainly made both Russell and myself feel awfully self conscious and conspicuous.
Our final stop of the day was a Buddhist temple. This featured a statue of dead Buddha -- I kid you not. Don't worry he looked quite serene. We also met and talked briefly through our tour leader with an eleven year old monk. He seemed so young. Of course I can understand how being a monk might be a good thing for a poor youngster but there is something about indoctrinating a child so young with a heavy dose of religion (any religion) that doesn't sit well with me.
Back on the ship we had some time to relax before our dinner which featured a view of the coastline and the setting sun. I am not going to say how fortunate we are because of course you and I both know that but after today I feel that I have a special apprectiation for the good fortune that has surrounded us both during our time on earth. Lucky doesn't even begin to describe it.
It was a challenging day but a good one too.