So we spent a couple of days in the capitol city of Phnom Penh. I have nothing to report except that we went to two LDS branches on Sunday, including a local one and the international (English-speaking) one. It was great to go to church, and I was quite impressed with how many members there are out here. The local branch was eerily similar to Russia: an elderly woman nattered on for about half an hour about nothing in particular, and the District High Council speaker was left with about two minutes. It felt like being back in the womb. Most of the people in the international branch were visiting from either BYU or BYU Hawaii, so that meeting was quite packed, though not quite as fun as the local one.
You well may ask: Why my egregious omission of our visit to the Killing Fields just outside Phnom Penh? I don't quite know what to say about it, at this point. I will definitely get around to it. But later. It was extremely sobering.
Monday evening we hopped a bus for a ride up to Cambodia's 2nd-largest city in the north-central part of the country. After a review of our various options for adventure, we settled a tour of the region. I thought that we were buying a bare-bones little excursion, since the price was only $8 for the whole day. We were pleasantly surprised to find 3 motorbike drivers waiting for us at the crack of dawn, this morning. We each hopped a bike and off we bounced in to the Cambodian bush. As one of our drivers pointed out, many of the area is still littered with land mines, so they were careful to stick to the dirt roads.
We stopped briefly at a little village elementary school. The wee younguns there flocked and oggled Tonya and Whitney. They inexplicably always seem to ignore me. Perhaps it's my swart and glowering looks. Anyway, our first main stop was at a place called Phnom Sampeuo (Boat Mountain). This is a place with some old temple ruins. The Khmer Rouge also used the temple to house some of their soldiers, and an old cave that was once (pre-Khmer Rouge) used as a theater has been renamed the Killing Cave. Again, more on the skeletons and torture in a later posting. We hiked to the top of the mountain (750 steps!) and gazed out at the lovely view of the scenery around Cambodia. It's interesting how flat this land is, with a few conical mountains rising seemingly randomly out of the rice paddies.
Did I mention the rice paddies? A veritable sea of them meets one's gaze throughout this lush country. One could probably walk the length and breadth of Cambodia without ever stepping on solid ground. My driver explained to me as we drove along how the rice is planted, harvested, replanted to space it out, and finally harvested for consumption/selling. He was an extremely helpful driver who answered my myriad of stupid questions about Cambodian agriculture, lifestyle, economic conditions, political landscape, motorbike market, and on and on. He did such a good job, in fact, that when the trip was finished, I upped his fare to $10 plus my sunglasses. They proved more effective in keeping the dust out of his eyes than his hand. What good will they do me? I don't even own a motorbike.
Anyway, we stopped at another spot where we climbed 350 steps up to 5 old Angkor Empire temple ruins. As we hiked, a cute little Cambodian woman and 3 kids walked along with us and fanned us to keep us cool. Try as we did, they stubbornly kept to their fanning, all the while providing valuable advice on where to take the best pictures. A couple of the kids asked me whether I wanted to see "boom boom". I responded that I don't know "boom boom", but wouldn't they be so kind as to introduce me? They showed me to the back part of one of the temples that had been completely blown away, apparently by artillery shells. The culpable party? You guessed it: our friends the Khmer Rouge. So I'm apparently getting all free and easy with my hard-earned money, because I gave Mom 500 riel (about 10 cents) plus 100 riel to each of the kids for their fanning services. They seemed satisfied, so I was too. What a softy.
To finish off our trip, we arrived at what the locals call the "bamboo railroad". "A railroad made of bamboo?" you ask. Almost. It's a small rickety metal railroad track on which the locals place two sets of metal wheels. On top of this they attach a bamboo scaffolding with a 5 hp sideshaft lawnmower engine. They run a rubber belt to the rear wheels, and for the tidy sum of 10$ invited us to climb aboard. Throwing our hard-earned money to the wind, Tonya, Whitney, I, plus our three drivers and their motorbikes all hopped on. With an imaginary toot toot, off we went. The ride was pretty jarring as the rails were not laid exactly evenly, but it was remarkable how fast that little bamboo deathtrap on wheels go going. I'm guessing about 30-35 mph. We motored along for about half an hour to a little railroad "stop" not far from town, and hopped off. It was all great fun.
So it was all in all a great day. Plus, we made it in just before the rain really started to fall. It's pouring down right now, and I've got nothing better to do but write in this here blog. So everyone wins.