March 31, 2003

angkor wat, phnom penh, and future plans

Greetings from the land of endless summer!

I guess when you think of it that way the hot weather might not be such a bad thing. If you like having hot weather all the time, then Cambodia is paradise.

As usual I've been keeping busy over the last few weeks. After I last wrote I traveled back from Pursat to Phnom Penh where I spent a couple of days working in the Admin office. On Saturday night we played games and visited until way too late at night, especially since Sunday morning I had to start traveling at 6:00 am.

The first leg of the journey was a quick motorbike ride to the passenger ferry dock on the other side of town. The "ferry" I took was a long narrow speed boat with air conditioned indoor seating similar to that found on airplanes, but with much less leg room. The ferry travels to the town of Siem Reap, which is a prime tourist destination so a good number of foreigners are usually traveling on these ferries. Many of the foreigners (myself included) prefer to sit on the roof of the ferry where the view is much better and the wind serves as natural air conditioning. The one downside to sitting on the roof is that you will get sunburned without proper protection, but with a little sun block it's a nice way to travel. For the first couple of hours villages, rice paddies and fishermen flew by as we sped up the Tonle Sap river, but for the second half of the trip the river opened up into the Tonle Sap Lake. The river is unusual in that the direction of it's flow actually changes depending on the time of year. During the wet season it flows into the lake, causing the lake level to rise, while during the dry season it flows out of the lake towards the ocean. They actually have a big festival to celebrate at the time of year when the water flow changes direction. The lake is very large and provides food and a living to many people in Cambodia who fish in it. The lake is so big that at times on the trip you can actually lose sight of land completely. Since I made this trip in the dry season our ferry wasn't able to travel all the way in to the usual landing area. Instead we were dropped off at a floating pier and then ferried to shore through a floating village in smaller boats. The floating buildings (and they do look more like buildings than boats) house restaurants, government offices and of course people's homes. On the way to shore we passed several houseboats that were being towed out to the village through a narrow canal/river with the family happily cooking dinner in their version of a mobile home. The area where we actually unloaded onto dry land was still several kilometers from the wet season ferry landing, which itself is several kilometers outside the town of Siem Reap. So, naturally the next step was to hire a motorbike taxi to take me the 40 minutes or so into town for the outrageous sum of $1. The road was pretty rough so on our motorbike we were able to pass most of the big tour busses, cars and pickups that were also making the trip. Upon arrival in Siem Reap we asked where the ADRA office was and nobody seemed to know. I had the address in Khmer but most people don't do well with those here. We managed to drive directly to the office though since we got on the right road and I spotted the sign just as we were about to make a wrong turn. At the ADRA office I met the Australian adviser for the two ADRA projects in that province and he showed me around the office. They have a couple of guest rooms right there in the ADRA office so I got settled in and then enjoyed relaxing for the rest of the afternoon. The total travel time from my room in Phnom Penh to my guestroom in Siem Reap was about 8 hours.

I ended up spending the next 9 days working in the Siem Reap ADRA office. My main goal for the trip was to help improve the computer skills of a few key staff members, although I also spent much of the time solving computer problems and working on the network and server. A couple of the people I helped hadn't heard of email before so I started with the basics of how to send and receive messages. Others had used email but needed a few tips in other areas.

In the evenings I enjoyed exploring the town of Siem Reap. It is a very touristy place with all of the souvenir sellers, restaurants and sidewalk cafes typical of such places. I enjoyed some great food including burritos ($3.50) and pizza (small $4). I also had the more typical rice with vegetables for some more economical meals ($1.50). Two nights I went to restaurants that featured Khmer traditional dance shows and one night I went to a restaurant with a shadow puppetry performance. The puppets were pretty interesting; they are made from leather and are used in combination with a backlit white screen.

On Sabbath I went to church a few kilometers out of the main town area where Tim Maddox lives. He is running a supporting ministry there where he trains lay church members for outreach work among other things. There was a good sized mission trip group from Australia there for church as well. They had just come from working in Thailand and were also doing some work with Tim's project. After church we enjoyed a Khmer food potluck and some visiting. In the evening a few of the Australian visitors and a visitor from Guam (Wayne Ward) joined me for supper at an interesting Thai restaurant. The restaurant had platforms set up at different levels with lots of trees so that it felt like you were sitting and eating in the trees. They also had low tables and lots of pillows so you sat on the floor to eat. The food was great and it was a nice place to spend the evening relaxing a little.

On Sunday I broke the bank and splurged on one of the most expensive things in Cambodia, a 1 day pass to visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding ancient temple sites ($20). During the previous week I got to visit a couple of temples and got a pretty good overview of the area by exploring it in hours just before dark when they don't really check for tickets anymore. It was nice that I got to do this since Sunday would have felt quite a bit more rushed otherwise. It's pretty much impossible to adequately describe how impressive and extensive the temples are in this area. Spread over many kilometers are literally hundreds of stone temples of varying sizes. Most of them were built around the 12th century and have lasted quite well over the years. Some of the temples have been restored while others are only partially cleared of jungle growth. I met some people who spent an entire week just visiting various temples and they still hadn't seen anywhere near all of them. When I try to think of something to compare the temples to I think of Greek and Roman ruins, although the Pyramids in Egypt also come to mind. One major difference between Angkor Wat and those places is the number of visitors. Right now it is still pretty easy to find yourself alone as you wander through the mazes of twisted tree roots and crumbling stone. The number of visitors is increasing rapidly though so it probably won't stay that way forever…

After finishing up some work in the Siem Reap office on Monday, I traveled back to Phnom Penh by bus on Tuesday ($4, 7-8 hours). The road was fairly bumpy, but I've seen worse and the bus was new and air conditioned so it was a pretty nice trip. I also got to see a little more of the country side along the way.

The last couple of weeks I have just been here in Phnom Penh. I've been keeping busy in the office with work. In the evenings I've done a few fun things with friends. One night we went to watch a movie at the French Cultural center. On the good side they had a nice projector with good sound, aircon and nice seats. On the down side the movie was in French with no English subtitles. A couple of weeks ago we also celebrated Ann's birthday (she is the Associate Country Director for ADRA Cambodia). On one of the Sabbaths I visited with a friend here who got to see my parents while attending a conference in Cyprus and on another evening several of us went out to eat and then visited a roller skating rink but didn't end up skating. Some of us weren't sure about finding any skates that were big enough while a few others had to get up too early the next morning, but it was still interesting to see the skate rental 'system'. They basically just have a huge pile of skates and you dig through them until you find a pair that you like. They also have a big pile of socks you can use if you didn't happen to bring your own. It's been nice to be in town for a little bit spending time with friends here and actually going to the same church for three weeks in a row.

This last weekend was also spent here in Phnom Penh and it was pretty packed with various get-togethers and outings. On Friday after work I went to a cultural dance performance with the ADRA Admin staff. One of the hotels near our office invited us all for free to the 'premier' of their new program. They probably wouldn't mind hosting some of our upcoming workshops and guests of course too…

On Sabbath we had communion with both the English and Khmer congregations together. They first had the foot washing ceremony, then the usual bread and grape juice. The one major difference was that they moved all of the chairs out of the church and we sat on mats on the floor for the service. They also made a large cross in the middle of the room out of some plant life and had a bunch of candles set up in it as well. At the end of the service everyone got a candle and they lit one candle at the front and then passed the flame around the room showing how we as Christians should spread the light we have to others who spread it to others and so on. Most of the more rural churches in Cambodia sit on the floor every week and it's a normal thing to do here. I've even seen cases where people from rural areas didn't start eating food that was on a table until we moved it to the floor for them. Anyway, we had a really nice communion service and then afterwards Jonathan and I had lunch with Hernan and Carina (friends from Argentina) who just found out they are pregnant. Needless to say they are very excited and we had a nice time visiting with them. After lunch I joined a group of young people from the church on a motor bike trip a few kilometers out of the city to an island in the river. If it is a true island it is big enough that I didn't see the water all the way around it, but we did have to take a ferry to get to it. On the island they have lots of traditional silk looms and they make some very nice material. We visited a church member's house there and then went to a nice little beach area. After sundown worship we stopped and ate corn on the cob at a small roadside restaurant before coming back to town. We stopped by the church to drop some people off and then ended up watching a wedding rehearsal for a little while. After that I went to play games before finally heading to bed.

On Sunday I visited a new shopping mall that opened a couple months ago here. It's really quite nice with many shops. They even have elevators and escalators. According to the newspaper people go just to ride the escalators since they are the first ones in Cambodia outside of the airport. One major difference with this mall (compared to the US) is that there are many shops selling every cd and dvd that you could think of for prices ranging from $1 to $5 depending on the quality and format. In the afternoon I visited a nice garden/nursery a few kilometers outside of the city. They grow orchids and many other tropical plants there and have a nice place to picnic or just relax away from the city. In the evening I met up with Ann and some of her friends who came to visit from Russia. I was reminded of just how poor my Russian language skills are, although I did understand some of what people said to me. We ate out at a Khmer style restaurant on stilts above a pond area covered with lily pads. The food was good and it was fun to practice a little Russian again.

This morning I was invited to a typical Russian breakfast involving sour cream and crepes, which was excellent. Today I have been tying up lose ends in the office and getting ready for another trip.

Many people have been asking about what exactly my plans are. Well, officially my 1 year contract with ADRA Cambodia expires at the end of March so today is my last day. However, I do not have tickets or firm plans to leave Cambodia just yet.

Tomorrow I'm leaving on a trip within Cambodia to visit friends in Mondulkiri Province (where I rode elephants several months ago). I'll be riding up there with them in their truck along with Hernan (my friend from Argentina). Originally we were going to rent motorbikes but we decided against that option after being faced with the choice between bikes that were either too old and unreliable, or too expensive. The reliability issue isn't normally all that important here in Cambodia since you can generally find a repair shop along the way or in the worst case load your bike onto a passing truck. Our goal on this trip though is to travel from Mondulkiri to Ratanakiri. These are two of the most remote provinces in Cambodia and the 'road' between the two sometimes deteriorates into just rice paddies. There isn't much if any traffic so an unreliable bike would be a bigger problem than usual. Tim Maddox and Gary Rogers (works at the mission) are doing this stretch of road on their own motorbikes and we had hoped to tag along with them as they're traveling around to visit global mission workers in several remote areas. We have now changed our plan and will try to hitch a ride on an old Russian truck or perhaps on a motorbike, we're not really sure. If we don't find a way through we can always catch a taxi back to Phnom Penh instead, but we're at least going to give it a shot.

After I get back from the above trip I'll be heading out on another trip, this time to Vietnam and Laos. We have Khmer New Year holidays in the middle of April so a couple of other volunteers are planning to travel with me for the first 10 days of the trip, and for the second 2 weeks the group will be reduced to three of us. We debated about trying to squeeze in a quick visit to China as well, but after a bunch of research it's not looking likely now. Although the details aren't all ironed out yet, the main idea is to do a big loop through Vietnam, returning to Cambodia via Laos. I'm definitely looking forward to it!

I'm planning to arrive back in Phnom Penh in early May and will work a bit more with ADRA Cambodia then, mostly doing some training of the new IT person. After that things get a little more fuzzy, so stay tuned for details. Probable ingredients include attending July weddings in the US and sailing in the Mediterranean with my family.

Well, I think that's about it for now. It's getting late and I still need to pack and get some sleep so I'll be ready for our 5 am departure tomorrow morning!

Until next time,


Posted by andrew on March 31, 2003

Hi Andrew,

I realise it's a few years now since you were here in siem reap but i'm looking to contact tim maddox who you visited during your time here. can you give me the name of his place or even which side of SR it's on?
thanks a million

Posted by: Susie on January 8, 2006

Susie--I already emailed this info to you when you first posted the comment but in case others look for it later here is the web site for SALT Ministries which is the place you are looking for:

Posted by: Andrew on January 22, 2006