After several delays, this next gallery contains my favorites from a weekend trip to Cambodia. Having finished up my main travels in Vietnam, I retired to Saigon where I rested up and hung out a bit. Ready for more, we boarded a Vietnam Air flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Arriving at the airport I got a quick and dirty example of how this trip was going to turn out. We had done the research that indicated that we could buy visas upon entry to the country, so we headed in prepared to do just that. Our first impression of the airport, was that it was amazing, filled with live plants and covered with wood and bamboo accents, it was a hypermodern terminal for sure. Still, the immediate question was how could a country as poor as Cambodia afford this kind of transit palace? We were soon to find out....
We got in the line for visas, and the official indicated that it would be around 20 USD. Fine we thought, no problem. Then he indicates to me that he can't issue me a visa because I don't have a blank visa spot for the full page stamp. I open my passport and show him a blank page, and he indicates that it's not the right "Type" of page...hmm...I'm sure you can see where this is going. So, after much discussion they decide that they can issue me a visa, but it will have to cover an older full page visa somewhere else in my passport...oh and it will cost an extra 30 USD...20min later I enter Cambodia fresh visa covering an old one and $50 in the hole.
Cambodia was the poorest place I visited in SE Asia by far, and it showed, both in the difficult everyday lives we witnessed and in the institutionalized attempts to scam or ripoff foreigners. What is an amazingly cheap country would often surprise us, in that while we should have been able to eat massive quantities of food for 3-4 USD, and often did, we just as often found ourselves surprised with 60 USD bills, certain that these establishments had 5 different menus to give out depending on who walked in the door. Now, I wouldn't say we were overly cautious in that regard, but I do think as the country develops its service industry has to get away from trying to take advantage of visitors during their stay, and instead try and insulate them from the worst of scams.
Our driver was a great example in that we hired him for a daily rate, and sort of implied that if he took care of us, we'd take care of him in the end. Even still, he took us to every overpriced food establishment he could (no doubt to his friends' places where he got a cut), and where we often were forced to pay New York CIty equivalent prices. The odd thing was that some of the cheapest prices we found, came on the most touristy backpacker street, where real market forces seemed to be in effect, and where one could get a beer for 50 cents or a bucket of Red Bull Vodka for 4 USD! Anyone going to visit who cares about these things would do well to research prices beforehand so as not to walk into a minefield without good information. Obviously, these are the same types of issues that confront any traveler, but having been all over the world, I've never seen this level of organized extortion from entry of the country to exit.
In the final analysis though the trip was really amazing. The temple complexes, the unbelievable Khmer architectural prowess, and the detail that went into their construction is truly incredible and rates up there with the Pyramids for the effect on visitors. Overall, the Cambodian people we met were very friendly, everyone drives Toyota Camrys for some reason we never determined (I assume not related to unintended acceleration), and the Khmer legacy is exceptionally impressive. These are a few of my favorites from the trip, and if you like them click on the link below to see more and to read a bit more about the crazy issues we ran into:
Past galleries from SE Asia