Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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.

Guatemala diaries: postscript

April 5, 2013

After that experience in Antigua, which made us feel violated, I thought about all the different countries I have visited over the years.  I lost almost everything in Prague many many years ago. I find that it always happens when you are distracted or focusing too much on taking photos. We as tourists do stand out with our unique behavior and need to be cognizant of that. Even the best and cautious travelers can have their belongings stolen. But I still think one should take a few precautions:

1. make copies of all your documents including credit cards, passports etc and put it in a different place.

2. Carry a smart phone so you can communicate with family back home.

3. Use pick-pocket proof attire to secure your documents and money/money bags around your waist and around your neck but tucked inside your clothes.

4. Try not to take your pictures without being aware of your surroundings, and above all, be very careful when there are crowds.

Ok, there might be more ideas but I want to go beyond the tourist talk and make some general observations about travelling.

I find that tourists in general are voyeuristic beings, almost like the way we behave when we go to the zoo: ” Hmmm.. interesting, wow, how strange/exotic they are.”….Very few of us show empathy, respect when we visit. We are eager to buy, consume, devour the knowledge and go home and put the trophies in our living rooms or elsewhere. I get irritated when I see tourists in Chicago staring at things and clicking away mindlessly as they take their boat tours and climb Sears Tower etc.  But I also know that the very nature of tourism only allows you to see what is beautiful, picturesque and exotic. I am guilty of a lot of the things I abhor about tourists.

Yet, I say we are intelligent human beings who can show sensitivity and should learn more about the country before visiting. I do not just mean about the places we will visit but also learn about daily life for the ordinary person in that country. After returning from Guatemala, I heard a radio documentary about the environmental degradation in Northern Guatemala, an area that is hardly seen by tourists. Guatemala is a very poor country and has gone through many years of terrible civil wars.  I am talking about being aware of the intricacies of the politics and economics of a country especially after having had the wonderful opportunity to see it. Because even as a tourist, you can see with different eyes.  I shall be writing about my trip to Cambodia earlier this year and the history of that country is even more horrific.