Tag Archives: Cambodia

Candy corn!

Candy corn is sacred in the United States. And it’s also something that people seem to really hate or really love.

When I was in Cambodia, there was a Halloween party for a mix of ex-pats and Cambodians. A gentleman from the States had enough foresight to buy a big bag of candy corn during his recent visit back home. It was perfect for our Halloween party and made it actually feel like Halloween.

During the weekend following Halloween, there was a parade of tuktuk trick-or-treaters through downtown Phnom Penh. My friend and I made our way through PP and laughed at the traffic jam we saw ahead! So many tuktuks packed with little witches, Elsas, and pumpkins making a set loop to American businesses around the city. Their candy bags stuffed full of yummy treats. I can only imagine what the Cambodian tuktuk drivers though of our crazy holiday! (Sorry no photos it was too crazy!)

Ode to the shrimp temple

On the way to a silk manufacturer in Cambodia, we came across a temple with large statues of shrimp outside. While yes there are frequently statues outside of temples, they typically are not statues of shrimp……

However considering the role of small dried shrimp in a majority of Thai dishes, it surprises me that I had to go to Cambodia to see a shrimp temple.

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Silk worms

On my last day in Cambodia visiting my friend, we took an adventure out to a silk making place across the river. The ferry crossing was a little interesting as most are in SE Asia but we made it across safely with our tuktuk driver so we were happy.

They showed us a back area with silk worms all nestled into their cocoons. Cambodian silk is more yellow (thus yellow cocoons) whereas Vietnamese silk is whiter. But to get “bridal white,” chemicals are needed.

They take half of the silk worms/cocoons for silk and the other half for mating. They have to get to the silk before the worm bites a hole through the cocoon or else the silk cannot be used. Each cocoon contains 300-500 meters of silk. The cocoons are boiled and the end of the silk is located. It is then gathered and a strong fiber is created as the cocoons are unraveled.

It takes two weeks to setup the looms for weaving the garments!

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Cambodia Landmine Museum

The Cambodia Landmine Museum was created by a Cambodian man who has worked to dismantle landmines his whole life.

Facts I took away from it:

– 1/250 Cambodians are affected by landmines.

– The U.S. killed 600,000 people during the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail from 1965-1973.

– They think there are still 3-6 million landmines that have not exploded.

– The landmines were placed to keep people from leaving and entering the country during the time of the Khmer Rouge.

– The purpose of the landmines was to maim versus kill because you had to care for the inured versus burying a body.

– The U.S. refuses to sign the landmine ban (Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines) because there isn’t a “Korean exception.” The U.S. thinks that one million landmines on the North/South Korea border are crucial to preventing North Korea from attacking South Korea.

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Siem Reap – Home of Angkor Wat

After a very, very, very bumpy ride to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, we made it in time for sunset. We purchased a 3-day pass that allows you into the park at sunset the night before it starts. To get around the city. People typically hire a tuktuk or ride bicycles. We went the tuktuk route and had a great time with the air blowing through our hair as we went to nearby places and also explored some of the farther out temples.

First stop – Angkor Wat. It was probably the largest temple by land mass and had a large moat around it. There were multiple entry points and walkways. During our stay, we saw both sunrise and sunset. While it was wonderful to experience these, I wouldn’t necessarily consider them mandatory. Although it is pretty funny to watch hundreds to thousands of people all holding up their cellphones to take photos instead of experiencing it for themselves and not through a screen.

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Angkor Wat is the national symbol of Cambodia and is on the flag. It is a symbolic representation of Mt. Meru, the Mt. Olympus of the Hindu faith. It represents heaven on earth.

The Bayon temple was by far my favorite temple of all the ones we saw. It featured 216 faces and was very fun to explore.

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Baphuon temple had a very long walkway leading up to a temple that looked like the Mexican temple of Teotihuacan.

Nearby was the Terrace of the Elephants which had three elephants side by side. It seemed to be inspiration for the t-shirts with the three elephants on them that are all over Cambodia.

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The East Gate of Angkor Thom was used in the movie Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie, as was Bayon and Ta Prohm temple. Due to its prominent role in the movie, Ta Prohm is typically referred to as the jungle temple or simply Tomb Raider temple. It was wonderful to see and very interesting as the jungle took over parts of it.

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In doing the restoration of these temples, they had to work with and around nature. It’s fascinating to see the temples where nature has taken over. It gives them a wonderful dynamic.

We chose to do a tour of some of the more distinct temples. We started out at Kbal Spean aka “The River of a Thousand Lingas.” We hiked into the jungle a few kilometers and came upon the river. Lingas represent phalli and yoni represent vaginas. See below for a picture.

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This river bed only had Lingas but there were a lot of depictions of both in the other temples. The in gas seems to have diminished in size a bit due to water erosion but it was still quite an interesting site to see. A waterfall nearby only added to the beauty.

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Banteay Srei is another temple, whose name means “Citadel of the Women.” It is thought to have been built by women as the stone carvings have been deemed to elaborate for the hand of man.

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The Khmer Rouge – Killing Fields and Tuol Seng Genocide Museum

The history of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is horrific. I hope I can portray it accurately.

The Killing Fields are about 45 minutes outside of Phnom Penh. They provide you with an audio guide that includes accounts from actual guards and workers. It is heartbreaking to hear their words and see exactly what they are talking about.

The crazy thing about the genocide of the Cambodian people is that it wasn’t so long ago – 1975-1979. The history still effects people on a daily basis.

The Killing Fields feature a memorial stupa as the central point which contains bones of bodies found in one of the many mass graves. The bones are categorized by age, gender, manner of death, and bone type. The first ten layers are skulls and you can see the way the person was killed based on the cracks and holes.

There are over 300 killing fields in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge closed all the borders and put down land mines to prevent people from leaving or entering the country. (More on this in a later post.)

At this specific place, bones and teeth continue to surface, especially after heavy rains. There was a baby killing tree where the guards would slam the babies into the tree and then toss them into the mass grave. Human matter was found on the tree. The guards would play loud music and use the sound of the generator to mask the sounds of the screams and killings.

Overall between 1.4 and 2.2 million people were probably killed by the Khmer Rouge. Some due to execution and some due to starvation.

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According to my friend, 7-9 people had a college education at the end of the genocide as the Khmer Rouge had killed anyone with education. They also eliminated anyone who disagreed with them. There is a stat I heard but did not have evidence to back up so take it with a grain of salt – there are only 30 Cambodians that have PhDs, all of which were obtained outside of the country.

On part of the audio tour, a person said,

“It’s as if spirits of those that lie here will not lie still.”

In the afternoon I visited Tuol Seng Genocide Museum. It is a former high school that was turned into a prison and used to torture thousands of Cambodians and a few foreigners. When the Vietnamese arrived to stop the killings only 7 survivors remained at the prison, known also as Security Prison 21 (S-21). A total of 13 people survived. Almost 20,000 people were tortured and eventually killed at the prison.

The leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime only recently underwent trials and conviction.

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The power of the motorbike

In SE Asia the motorbike is everywhere! It’s a lot cheaper than a car so it’s used to haul the entire family around – this includes, animals, babies, toddlers, children, chickens, and parents.

It’s not uncommon to see 4 people on one. Typically two kids and two adults. And maybe a dog too.

I even saw a large pig strapped to one in Cambodia.

I don’t think I’ve seen a children’s car seat yet.

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Cambodian Weddings!

Cambodian Weddings are quite the ordeal. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend two during a trip to visit a friend.

They begin early in the morning. Like really early. My guess is that the bridal party didn’t even sleep the night before. We showed up around 6:30am and participated in the procession by the groom’s family to present all sorts of meat, fruit, and even Coca Cola to the bride’s family at their home. The wedding was being hosted on the street near the bride’s home. It was a frequent occurrence to see streets shut down and tents erected. There is a wedding package that one can buy that includes a tent, traditional clothing for the bridal party and the groomsmen, food, lots of food, the plates for the procession, a LOUD speaker, and other audio visual components.

Everyone was dressed in traditional Khmer clothing. After the procession, we ate in the tent in the street with music blasting (did I mention it was 6:30am?) but apparently people are used to it. Fish and rice porridge was served along with other fruit and side dishes. They gave us beaded chains and little red envelopes with about 25 cents USD in them as favors. Eating is followed by a hair cutting ceremony where no hair is actually cut.

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There were other ceremonies throughout the day but my friend had to work and I went sightseeing so we did not partake. I. The evening though we joined up with them again for what would appear to be a more Western ceremony with the bride in a white dress and the groom in a suit.

In order to be served at a Khmer wedding, there has to be a full table of 10 people and we were waiting for 1! Once the food did come though it didn’t stop. It seemed to be endless!

The wedding had very LOUD music. My friend said that Cambodian people have no rhythm and they can’t dance unless there is something to dance around. We danced in a circle doing very simple hand movements and feet shuffles.

Since the wedding takes over a street it is open to outside people. It is very common for groups of kids to come and collect bottles and cans. Apparently they always know where the next wedding is and make sure to show up. Running around and diving under tables for the recyclables. Another interesting fact is that the Cambodians just throw the trash on the ground when they are done with it so that it does not clog up the table.

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The second wedding I went to was similar to the first in that there was a full day of ceremonies, etc. The main difference was that it was fancier than the first and held at a place specifically constructed to host weddings. There were easily 20+ banquet halls at this place so it was important to remember the letter of the hall you needed to go to.

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Interesting things of note:

– Similar to China, your plate, bowl, cup, and spoon all come in plastic wrapped set to ensure sterility but you still must clean them with a tissue. And of course don’t forget to throw the plastic wrap and the tissues on the floor when you’re done!

– Women only come to Khmer weddings if they can afford a dress, otherwise only the man goes. As a result there are a lot of men at the receptions.

– The men just go to get drunk.

– The bride and groom throw the bouquet together.

– Cambodia weddings would be described as “cutesy” I feel by Western standards. There is a lot of pink and over the top decor.

– For the second wedding I was given a nail clipper that had a cartoon animal around it.

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