So about that yellow brick road we were on…
The shadier characters would surely be found in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Tuk-tuk drivers swarmed us as we exited the airport walkway shouting prices and following close behind in case we changed our minds. We eventually chose the driver pushing the Corolla, but as the sedan navigated through the narrow streets, we could only hope we were still en route to the Blue Dog Guesthouse! Then we got there. The torrential downpour help to set the scene, no special effects necessary. The less-than-appealing hostel had a garage shed for an entrance and three pad locks coupled with fear on each of the bedroom doors.
I reckon, like the Cowardly Lion, we didn’t have enough courage. My mate and I booked our bus ride to Siem Reap and nine hours later, we arrived at the Golden Temple Villa. I’ve slept in about 12 hostels, but few this lovely—the décor inside and out, the lotus blossoms on our beds, the private balcony, and the cleanliness to name few of what I admired. Nearby were Old Market, Night Market and Pub Street as well as tuk-tuks and cars bustling about, sending a whirlwind of dust into the city streets. Clearly the antithesis of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap is alive and welcoming.
Our trusty tuk-tuk driver took us anywhere our little hearts desired. He was so proud of his country and eager to hear our thoughts when he picked us up at day’s end. We began with one of the surrounding temples where we watched the sunset. Only thing that stood between a visitor and the view were steep stairs that you had to literally climb, on all fours. Sweaty, but not defeated, I enjoyed watching the sun set over the temples. The next two days were spent exploring Angkor Thom, Bayon, Angkor Wat and all those sites in between. Angkor Wat is the largest Hindu temple in the world. Suryavarman II chose Vishnu as his patron and built the religious complex as a symbol of his power. Here’s another fun fact: The masons used a technique that didn’t require mortar or cement, yet the temple has survived the past 1000 years! I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the girls who chased us down selling bracelets, chanting "One dollar, one dollar". I'm all for charity, but we were forewarned that it may be a scam—that while the girls are selling the bracelets, our dollar(s) won't stay with them. Eventually, we learned to tune them out. And don't you dare make eye contact!
Cambodia has more to admire than Angkor Wat, such as the Floating Village and the Apsara dance. Our boat had three stand-alone wooden chairs and started with the clip of a safety pin. A young boy—and by young, I mean about 6 years old—drove most of the way while the older gentleman sat on the edge of the boat. The good news is I made it back to tell you about this adventure! In the village, wooden boats are the only mode of transportation and fish farms reign supreme. Children dove from their porches into the murky waters for their baths or for leisure, while others tended to chores. On our return, the boat began to smoke furiously, but we managed to visit a Pagoda. Again, more children begging for money. That warning didn't seem to be situational.
I was also fortunate enough to experience the Apsara dance on two occasions, once at a local restaurant and second, an orphanage. The dance form is said to have Thai influence after dancers were sent to assist in the royal court. Yes, that was another fun fact. I had to catch my flight to Beijing, China in couple of hours, but I couldn't imagine missing the show at the orphanage. Without family, they were left to hand out pamphlets and hope that locals and tourists would visit. Though they had very little, the orphanage prepared dinner for their guests. I even got a quick lesson on how to count in Khmer. Many giggles erupted at my pronunciation, but they appreciated my efforts no less. After seeing the dancers at the restaurant, I had such an admiration for the orphans’ performance and their precision.
My friends haven’t nicknamed me Chunky in vain, so only right that I save room for food! See what I did there? Besides the fact that we were able to dine on $5 USD, the meals were absolutely flavorful. I’m sure this is what it felt like when Tin Man finally got oiled up, bliss! My two favorite dishes were the Khmer Amok (fresh coconut cream, onion, cauliflower leaf, egg and Khmer traditional spices with Jasmine rice) and the Happy Pizza. Note to Mum: I even ate some fruit, Rambutan being my favorite. To eat the fruit, peel away the spiky outside and finish off the job as you would a ginep. Nom!
Photos below, y'all know the drill.
[Bus ride to Siem Reap, I'm not a morning person.]
[My humble Cambodian abode.]
[Angkor Wat in all it's glory.]
[Floating Village, Pagoda, Apsara dance.]
[Khmer Amok and Happy Pizza.]
Let Google be your guide for Rambutan.
We're almost to China!