I’ve slacked a bit on the weekly updates, and I’ll try to make it up with this post. It features the most incredible temples of Angkor Wat (aka the world’s biggest jungle gym), a little slice of paradise on a river island, and one great idea.
Working back from the end, I’ve spent the last four days in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the base to visit the Angkor temple complex. Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building, is the most famous and quite obviously the jewel in the crown, but the whole area is littered with amazing structures that take days to explore. It’s actually the world’s largest pre-industrial city (home to a million people at its zenith in the 12th Century), stretching to 1000 square kilometers. My tuk-tuk driver Narat zipped me from location to location which saved me a lot of exertion in the 37 degree Celcius, 80% humidity weather. I didn’t think I’d ever drink four liters of water in a day and still be thirsty.
The jungle has taken its toll on all structures, with massive trees growing under, around, and right on top of the rocks. It’s the strangest sensation to make your way through the thick brush, strange birds and bugs screeching and yelping everywhere around you, only to stumble onto an overgrown temple, glowing green with moss. And although Angkor is massively touristy it was still quite easy to disappear and appreciate its beauty by myself. The highlight for me was to watch the sun rise over Angkor at 6 in the morning, the colors slowly changing from black to red to orange until the red sun appeared right above the towers. It won’t give you chills because it’s already 30 degrees and you’re starting to sweat, but it’s a magical sight.
Two weeks before, I had an idea to keep moving a little quicker in order to have more time near the end of my trip (instead of taking more and more time away from India, as I’ve been doing so far). That plan lasted exactly one day. Things were looking on the up and up when I left Vientiane, the capital of Laos and not that interesting, a day early to head for the Cambodian border. But then I ended up in Don Det, a perfect little place.
Right on the border, the mighty Mekong river fans out into a delta and thousands of islands rise above it. I spent my days hopping from island to island, enjoying barbecues, sunsets, floating down the river on a tube, keeping a steady diet of Lao beer, gin & tonics as well as the local whiskey ($1 for a bottle!), mapping out where all the kittens and puppies lived, riding my bicycle, spotting one of the world’s most rare dolphin species, and generally chilling out completely.
Outside of the social hustle & bustle in the ‘center’ of the main island, I found peace & quiet & a very good time with a lovely South African couple who had a bungalow on the other island, literally the last house before the rice paddies, who loved playing the card game shithead and relaxing. I didn’t know there was another gear below ‘complete Zen sanctity of spirit and peace’, but it’s there and I was happily enjoying it for as long as I could.
One thing I’d like to share with you is that in Don Det they have some truly bizarre roadsigns. My favorite I’ve included a photo of below, and my top three would be:
– (besides a bridge) DON’T JUMP! IT’S FUCKING SHALLOW
– (on a restaurant) WE HAVE NUTELLA
– (on a house) PUNCTURE YOUR TYRE – $1
Now all that’s left to tell you is my great idea. Traveling through Laos and talking with locals and expats, you notice just how poor the country is. Not in terms of starvation or disease, but economic and educational poverty. On Don Det an average person makes $30 to $50 a month. Schoolteachers are relatively well paid with $50. To go to school costs between $1 and $1.50 a month, not a huge sum but when you make only $30 a month it’s a burden (and imagine if there are three school-going kids, that’s 10% of the monthly income gone).
As such, school is not mandatory here, and most kids only get to stay until they’re about 12 (girls usually until 10, 11) if they go at all. Now let’s do some basic math: $200 a month would pay the salary of two schoolteachers as well as the tuition of 70-80 children. It would make a huge difference there while only being a small burden to any employed Westerner. Now I’ve had this idea in my head for a few days now, and the biggest thing will be that I’ll have to set up my own organisation and ensure the money doesn’t get hung up with authorities, but I really think it’s a feasible plan and I look forward to work it out more and confront whatever difficulties, frustrations and sagging motivation come along with it. If anyone has a suggestion for the charity’s name, I’m all ears.
And in case you think I’ve lost my marbles, this will push you over the edge. In my tuk-tuk on the way to Angkor Wat I would pass a children’s hospital every day. There’s a sign outside saying ‘outbreak of hemorrhagic dengue fever – blood donors needed’ so today I gave them a pint of my blood. In return I got a free T-shirt and now I know my bloodtype: A+. Good times!
Other strange things are also happening. I’ve added a new page to my diary called ‘Places To Visit Next’ – so far there are three entries. I guess that’s what they call the travel bug. For now it’ll suffice to head over to Phnom Penh and then get some beach time in Sihanoukville.
Here’s some photos!