Posts Tagged ‘Indian influence’

Cambodia travels: cyclo trip and more

April 11, 2013

051045048043The colors of the museum building are bright and the entrance looks ornate and beautiful.  Once we go in, it is easy to see the prevalent Hindu/Indian influence in Cambodia: statues of Vishnu and Brahma scattered around along with the Apsara and other fixtures of Cambodian art. I remember our trip to Thanjavur, South India and marveling at the bronze statues of the gods and goddesses, such precision, grace and style!  These are different yet majestic and massive sizes. South-east Asia was definitely influenced by the Hindu kingdoms and had several Hindu kings rule there as well. I remember seeing a stone structure depicting the story of the Ramayana in my Cambodian friend’s home in the US.

Yet with all these Hindu influences, the message of Buddha reached the far east and converted a lot of them to the religion of Buddhism and left few in India. Sol hustles us outside the museum and we see these green-shirted men waiting in cyclos (what we call cycle-rickshaw in India) to take us around the central park area. Gingerly I sit in one and when I feel comfortable, I start taking pictures of my cousins and uncles in other cyclos.  The streets are very clean and I see big hotels and buildings as we go around and women are getting ready to start their evening fast food sales. Malaysia was similar, people love eating tit-bits and snacks on the street. Street vendors abound here.

The cyclo ride takes us around the park . It is a slightly elevated park and is named for a woman  called Lady Penh . “Phnom” means hill so the capital is named after a woman:Lady of the Hill.Apparently , a Cambodian legend talks about an old woman named Penh who found four images of Buddhas and housed them on a hill near the Mekong river. Ok, I learnt something new today.  We get back to our hotel and sit around chatting before dinner. Dinner is special tonight, Sol is taking us to a lovely restaurant near the Tonle Sap river for Khmer food. We sit near a bunch of dancers and have fish amok , vegetarian stews and soups that are incredibly tasty.  The fish amok has lemongrass and a special flavor of galangal with lots of vegetables and some coconut milk. The flavor reminds one of Thai food, but it is not so spicy and yet so tasty.  All the dishes are just so good, I think I can live here forever! Soon the  music starts and the dancers in white move around gracefully and show expression in their hand movements. They wear  along pointed gold-like crown on their heads and the movements are slight and precise. It is a wonderful end to a long day for us.

We then walk over to the Night Market which is colorful. I see lots of Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese fabrics along with the famous kramas of Cambodia.  I have seen a lot of Cambodians, men and women move around the city in their motorbikes and their faces are covered with these checked cotton scarves they call kramas. The vendors cry out a few words in English, “Madame, madam, look, I give you good price!”  I have no idea if ‘my head is being shaved’ (I am getting ripped off) here. I see a silk-cotton mix scarf and buy it.  My cousin is horrified that  I did not bargain much. We take tuk-tuks back to the hotel.

Cambodia travels:Phnom Penh

April 9, 2013

036The flight from Malaysia to Cambodia was a crowded one and I am sitting next to this young beautiful girl from Ethiopia. “Are you visiting Cambodia?” I ask her and Tina tells me that she has been living there for over two years and her mother is a doctor. She lives near the capital and her brother owns a well-known restaurant here. She says,” Cambodia is over run with NGOs ( non-governmental organizations) some doing great work and others, well, others just using money to do their own things.”  I am eager to know more. I tell her about my Cambodian friends in USA who came in the 80’s from Thailand. This was a mother with nine children, the youngest being a new-born baby in her arms. Today the youngest is married with her own little baby and the mother has gone back to Battanbang to take care of her mother. ” Ah , but they are all Americans, here you will see Cambodians are gentle, loving people, but they hardly run businesses here. Even though the country has been free of the Khmer Rouge days of the 80’s they are still not owners of businesses.” I want to tell her more about the Cambodian family that I know, but I also need to get some first-hand idea about Cambodia from Tina.  She has a soft, French accent when she speaks to me about the people, the food, etc. Finally, as we get ready to depart the plane she adds, ” Form your own opinions here. I hope you find it a great trip for you.”

I land in the capital, worrying all the time if my e-visa will work. My group (mostly family members) join me and we sail through customs and immigration.Phew!  Our tour guide is delayed and I see a Cambodian family waiting for their relatives coming from abroad.  The grandma in the crowd is hugged by all the westernized family members who arrive. The grandma looks regal in her silk sarong even though she is petite. This is  a young country, having lost almost 50% of its population during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Her face is lined, yet she looks charming.

We go to our hotel after going through broad streets and narrow alleys, all looking clean. Our guide states, “The King is going to be buried soon, so the streets are filled with Buddhist monks.”  We see  saffron-colored robes everywhere on the way.  We get to our hotel. I go up to my room and lie down exhausted. The phone rings” Hello” I say crossly not wanting to get up with a ringing headache. ” What’s up Chobs? We are waiting for you in the lobby” Already? I come down and my cousin is not happy to see my tired face. I think I am hungry and the guide stops on the way to the palace area to let me eat something. Munching on my pear and sandwich I feel revived and ready for everything. My camera is there and I am eager to soak in the capital.

Sol, our guide, is a friendly  person who is willing to answer questions. He seems to know a lot about his country and  has a smiling face and that is reassuring. He teaches us a few phrases in Khmer, the language of the Cambodians and we promptly forget it except for one of my uncles who has a razor-sharp memory. ” We go now to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, please no pictures inside it, OK?” Sol says.  The Royal palace is the residence of the King and most of it is closed up.  There are a lot of saffron-colored Buddhist monks along the way and it takes a little time to get to the area.

There is a beautiful garden around the palace area and we spend time admiring it. Next to the palace are these grey structures that look so elegant, they look like little shrines. Then we take our shoes off to get in and see the Silver Pagoda.  The floor is of silver and we see beautiful gold and silver Buddhas, and a beautiful Buddha in crystal. ( Sol tells us that many of the treasures here were stolen by the Vietnamese  but the richness of the Khmer period is obvious still.)  We admire the Buddhas and someone talks about the Buddhas in Thailand. Sol says they were probably stolen from Cambodia! 037040041We notice a lot of tourists mostly from Korea.  “Cambodia is now the place to visit” says Sol, “We have a lot of tourists and January is busy season”.  It is a sunny day and we still need to go on cyclos and see the Museum which is close by.