Cambodia – more than Temples

I expected an endless amount of temples. I expected to come home and say: “Wow, there were a lot of temples!” I thought of saying this because, quite frankly, there are a lot of temples. But there is much more to Cambodia than temples.

The most famous sight in Cambodia – or probably in SE Asia – are the temples of Ankor. Even though the word “temple” covers mostly the type of building we have encountered, I never knew that they could be so different. With a three-day pass, we took our time to explore Ankor intensely and saw a variety of majestic, moss-covered, detailed and well-planned temples. A true wonder of this world, which was hard to process in such a short time.

Some temples are overrun by tourists, which does not make it a peaceful experience when you get pushed through. Tourbuses pull up, release their hounds and wait for them to come back with their trophies. There are many locals (mainly children) trying to pitch a sale, which is both heart breaking and exhausting. I am not sure if I have ever said “No thank you” so many times. A little escape was our Tuktuk with our driver Vothy. He drove us around and took his time showing us rural Cambodia, leaving more authentic impressions than during the first few days at Ankor. Next time I will go to Cambodia I will definitely explore this area more.

Cambodia went through a lot in the last few decades and a lot is still visible. There are obvious left-overs of the Khmer Rouge in the mid 70’s, including corruption and a damaged economy as a whole. We visited a Swiss pediatrician who set up five children’s hospitals, because the government is not taking responsibility for this. He offers a cello concert every Saturday evening to raise money, which we gladly attended.  We also saw a lot of people volunteering to help Cambodians in different ways, where the local government is not contributing.

I truly hope that Cambodia will not reduce itself to the temples in Ankor, forgetting where the real attractions are hidden. Only then they can develop into a stable and secure place for its citizens, where not only the current generation can benefit, but all the generations to come.

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Hanoi – an uncut diamond

It was Tuesday early afternoon when I’ve met my parents in Hanoi, to enjoy a 7 day trip together, after they visited us in Singapore for several days. We started off visiting Hanoi’s sightseeing spots, like the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Temple of Literature. On Thursday morning, we left in direction of Halong Bay where we joined a cruise for one night. Halong Bay is protected by UNESCO and therefore a very pretty, but also very touristy spot. After visiting the amazing cave, a short kayak tour in a small isolated lake and a sunset party on the deck of the boat, we were amazed with delicacies from the junk kitchen. The next morning started with a short hike and swim in the ocean. A cooking demonstration followed, where we were introduced into Vietnamese Kitchen secrets. And of course, we made some spring rolls. After lunch, we headed back to the terminal, where we decided to wait going back to Hanoi, but drove to Hai Phong instead. We found a city with a raw beauty, which was way less hectic and also more authentic than its neighboring big city. After some sightseeing, we enjoyed great food in a restaurant close to our hotel. After lunch the next day, a real journey awaited us. A train trip for 3 hours and 3 USD showed us how close you can build a house to train tracks and also, that traveling in Vietnam does not have to be stressful. Our arrival at the train station in Hanoi was clearly to early, as it seemed like it has not been finished half way. Our hotel awaited us with open arms and we even got the same room again. On our second last day in Hanoi, we visited the Ethnology Museum, where we learned more about the Vietnamese Culture. Later, we visited a small city outside of Hanoi, which is famous for silk production. As we arrived, we found a restaurant where we were amazed by what we were able to order without even speaking one word in the same language as our hosts. It was absolutely delicious. Silk was buyable in all types of size, colors and quality, which surely amazed my mother’s curiosity. 🙂 Later on, we went back to the city for a delicious supper. Our last day did not start as we imagined: We ordered a driver who spoke English for one day, but our driver could not speak, and more importantly, had no idea where our destinations were. But thanks to his uncountles turns, and wrong side streets he took, we saw a side of Vietnam which was hidden from us. People, so friendly they invite you into their homes, willing us to show us their business and just happy, with what they have. It deeply impressed us and gave us a sense of what the “real” Vietnam looks like.

Vietnam is still very simple in a lot of ways, but also very advanced in others. So many things seem to unrattle, getting ready to blossom and I am excited to see what will happen to this uncut diamond in the future.

The trip with my parents has been enriching. It was absolutely amazing being able to travel with them, seeing their energy and curiosity to discover the unknown. Thank you.