Here is a really good article on the history of Cambodia and a decent explanation of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cambodia/history:
“The good, the bad and the ugly is a simple way to sum up Cambodian history. Things were good in the early years, culminating in the vast Angkor empire, unrivalled in the region during four centuries of dominance. Then the bad set in, from the 13th century, as ascendant neighbours steadily chipped away at Cambodian territory. In the 20th century it turned downright ugly, as a brutal civil war culminated in the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975–79), from which Cambodia is still recovering.”
I should mention that we have been in the middle of Cambodia’s New Year as they follow the Buddha lunar year: “It is called “Khmer” New Year because Khmer are the dominant ethnic group within the nation. Ninety-five percent of Cambodia’s 15 million people follow Theravada Buddhism, which is also the official religion. The calendar they follow is deeply steeped in their Buddhist religious traditions. The Cambodian New Year falls on either the 13th or 14th of April, depending on the dictates of an ancient horoscope reading called “Maha Sangkran. Khmer New Year arrives just after the harvest has been gathered and safely stored, which is significant since the majority of the population are still involved in agriculture. In fact, an earlier lunar calendar was abandoned in favour of the present solar-based one in order to ensure the holiday fell just after harvest time and before the rainy season. The celebrations begin on New Year’s Day, but they last for three consecutive days. On the first day of celebration, Cambodians dress in fine clothes, go to family shrines with lit candles and incense to burn, and thank Buddha for his teachings by bowing to the ground to his image three consecutive times. To bring good luck on this day, the Khmer wash their faces with holy water in the morning, wash their chests at noontime, and wash their feet just before going to sleep.
On the second day, great attention is given to helping the poor through charity. A special dedication ceremony to family ancestors is also attended at a monastery. On the third and final day, the images of Buddha are washed in a mixture of water and perfume, which is meant to symbolize the washing away of evil deeds. Elders are also washed in this way, and doing this is thought to bring good luck, happiness, and long life. Good advice is also sought upon washing parents and grandparents in this manner.”
That afternoon after leaving Phnom Penh we cruised for a few hours to Koh Chen which specializes in silver and copper items. It was a delightful tour of the small village seeing how river people lived. The silver and copper items were lovely but Kathy did not see anything she really liked…..yea….oops, I mean, darn:)))) There was a game being played…..blindfold an adult or child and see if they can hit a ball high in the air……no one we saw managed to hit the ball but it was hilarious to the crowd. Everywhere we went in Phnom Penh through Siem Reap we witnessed many parties, but not many religious ceremonies. The ship threw a big party for the crew late onshore one night but we did not make it…..like around midnight……sure we will be there…..:)))) It seems it is a family holiday and the cruise director said they had to work hard to secure all the reservations before too many people left the cities to go back to their families in the villages!!! Our favorite bartender left one night around 10pm to go to his wife’s family home about 1 hour away so they could celebrate as a family. He was back by 6am the next morning!!!
The next day the pace slowed a little….and, oh did we need it…..I actually had my first nap in over a week…..now that was manning up for sure:)))) We toured Oudong and Kampong Tralach in the morning and then had the afternoon off. At Oudong, we had a monk Buddha blessing at the largest monastery in Cambodia, VipassanaDhura…yep, try to pronounce that one!! The temple was very much like the one in Lumbini Nepal…..large paintings covering the walls. We then toured the monastery and nunnery. At the age of 64 many of the adults come to the monastery……I’m not really sure why……peace, support, food, study, care…..we found it very curious and never got a good explanation. Sean, our guide, stopped to ask an older monk some questions…..he took an instant liking to me claiming he was better looking……we took some pictures so you can see for yourself…..he said he is celibate, sees his family only on occasions, studies……he especially missed his grandchildren…..but he is the happiest he has ever been!!!
After the monastery we took a 45 minute bus ride through the country side and then went on an ox cart ride….yes, really. Ok, this was never on my bucket list nor I think should it have been. I’m really not sure why this was on the itinerary…..but, Yee, the tour director, said we could not take a bus all the way to the ship and it supported the local economy as many rural people use ox carts…..that thought was sort of lost on me as cars and motor bikes whizzed by us and every mile or so was a new cell tower!!!
This is Buddhism country so no Easter celebrations. The night before we decided to participate in their specialty restaurant…..IndoChina…..specializing in Vietamese food…..it was great, pretty good French wine and a 5 course dinner. There were 16 people and we all had a raucous time!!! After that there was a talent show put on by the crew….hilarious…then the party went out of our heads and lots of dancing commenced. Well, sometime that night I got violently sick…..I’m sure it was a virus….but Kathy was not easily fooled and just knowing nodded that wifely grin…yep, man wine flu……suck it up big fella…..but, nope, nothing doing:((((( I stayed in bed all morning blaming the French and missed the Kampaong Chhnang village tour. Kathy went and said it was ok…saw a floating village and a good size market…..but it was very hot!!!
We had the rest of the afternoon off but did attend an afternoon tea and a talk/movie on the history of Angkor Wat!! That night was our final farewell cruise dinner…..I only had one beer…..no red, red wine:))))
Next up….3 days in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat!!!!
Hope all is well!!
PS: Pictures on the website: http://www.mysticmoonvoyages.com/photo-gallery/nggallery/main-album/Mekong-Delta-Cambodia