After a few days in Ho Chi Minh City Noah and I flew to Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia, home of Angkor Wat and many other temples from the height of the Khemer period.

Although Cambodia is poorer and less developed than Vietnam, it felt more modern and western in some respects: most people knew at least a few words of English in order to interact with the tourists, and I spotted both a Dairy Queen franchise in the airport as well as a Mexican restaurant in the market area. The latter never made any sense to me.

About to land in Siem Reap.

Downtown Siem Reap.

After landing we met a cab driver, Thi, who agreed to take us to our hotel and offered to drive us to the nearby temples for the following two days. We agreed, and he charged a quite modest fee of only $25 or so per day. Most of the sedans that we saw were Toyota Camrys and Corollas from the early/mid 90’s, and it felt a bit strange to be driving over Cambodia’s dirt roads in the same cars that I grew up riding in.

Shortly after arriving at our hotel we set out to explore the nearby old market area, where we saw numerous people selling books, postcards, and some lovely traditional Cambodian kroma scarves that I bought for my family. I think that the Cambodians were actually much more aggressive than the Vietnamese were in trying to sell us souvenirs—likely due in equal parts to the competition between different sellers and the country’s poverty.

Shrimp flavored chips are all the rage.

The old market area.

Dried fish. It smelled terrible.

After the market we went to the Angkor museum, which was surprisingly modern and large. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many buddhas in my life.

Noah recalled reading a passage from some long forgotten French colonist who said, “in Kampuchea, it is impossible not to bathe at least twice a day.” That adage is just as true now as it was before the days of air conditioning. Although it was the rainy season, we saw very little rain; it was sunny, humid, and in the upper 80’s most days with only a few clouds. Not dissimilar to DC in the summertime. Consequently, I found myself showering every morning and then again before dinner after a trek to the temples. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated air conditioning and clean sheets as much as I did during my time in Cambodia. As much as I appreciated Noah’s and Stefan’s hospitality, their couch in the un-air conditioned back room of the dress shop was not the most comfortable accommodation I’ve ever had.

A tuk-tuk, the favored means of transportation.

View from our tuk-tuk.

Angkor museum.

The next day we woke up early to meet our guide, Sam, who in conjunction with our driver showed us around the different temples. Sam was an impressive fellow: he was pursuing a BA in a local college while working as a tour guide, and also worked to teach English to young people.

After a day of temples Noah and I went back to the market area. It began raining, but we found a theatre that was showing documentaries on both Pol Pot and landmines, as Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. After all, what vacation is complete without films on destructive ordinance and communist genocide? No vacation that I would want to go on, that’s for sure. Despite having a strong interest in Vietnam when I was in middle school it didn’t carry over as I got older, so I was glad to fill in some gaps of my knowledge.

The food was very similar to Thai.

The view from the top of our hotel.

Angkor Wat

During our last full day, we went to yet more temples—by this time I was really getting templed out. But “when in Kampuchea…”, I suppose. There were more really young kids trying to aggressively sell us souvenirs. Noah, hardened after living in Southeast Asia for over a year, managed to resist all their attempts until one enterprising young boy, no more than 7 or 8, came up to us and asked us where we were from. After telling him that we were from the states he proceeded to tell us our capital city, who our president is, the president’s daughters names, and so forth. Once he got to Obama’s dog’s name Noah’s chill finally thawed, and he handed over a dollar for some more postcards that we didn’t actually need.

Khemers and Chinese betting on a cockfight.

Cambodian is a pretty cool script.

Face to face with...someone. Most likely Buddha.

Pretty standard breakfast.

We were solicited for prostitution once more the next evening when walking through the market, this time by a fellow asking us if we want “boom boom lady.” I wonder if they know how ridiculous this sounds in English? Apparently “boom boom” means sex while “yum yum” means oral sex. They really do have a word for everything over there.

Some temple.

Some sort of meat and egg stuffed, dragonfruit colored bun we bought from someone on the side of the road.

Entrance to the landmine museum.

Pretty sure this temple was used in one of the tomb raider movies.

Buddhist shrine. These were all over the temples.

Kids fishing.

"Father King" Sianhouk and one of his wives. Truly an interesting chacarcter. Installed by the French in the early 50's and was eventually exiled at various points to Thailand and China. Helped the Khemer Rouge gain power before they kicked him out. I think he lives in North Korea now.

Cambodian Coke!

Cambodian BBQ. We had snake, beef, chicken, crocodile, squid, and probably a few other critters.

Mini bananas, and Dragonfruit.

They can really pack 'em in.

Goodbye, Cambodia!


One Response to “Cambodia”

  1. jim Says:

    I love fishing and I enjoyed reading this article. Keep up the good work!

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