Back in February I had the chance to go to Cambodia. I hadn’t planned on visiting Cambodia originally. I wanted to, because one of my grad school professors strongly recommended I visit while I was in the region. So I was delighted when one of my closest friends from the US offered to pay for my flight. I wouldn’t pass up the chance to see her after not seeing her for almost four years and meet her husband.
She is no ordinary close friend either. I met her when we were living in Shanghai, we shared a hotel room in Thailand, she came to visit me when I lived in the Gobi Desert, we lived together for two years in Boston, and I bought a new dress and woke up at 3 AM to Skype into her wedding from Laos since I couldn’t make it in person. To be honest, my favorite part of Siem Reap was her. But, Angkor Wat wasn’t so bad either 🙂 Although it was a pretty short trip, I really enjoyed it.
The first morning we went out to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise over the temple. Walking around in the dark was a bit disconcerting, but, in the end it was worth it.
The temple grounds were awe-inspiring but after a while all the temples kind of blurred together.
On the tuk tuk ride back, I learned to count to 10 and discovered something really interesting. I was actually looking for similarities with Lao (there weren’t any) but noticed that after five, part of the numbers repeated—sort of like you get after twelve with the teens repeating. So, 7 is 5+2. 17 is 10+5+2. Had I asked to learn to count to 100 though, I would have noticed something else: 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, and 90 are the same as Lao and Thai.
Over the remaining days we saw a few more temples. We had a 3 or 4 day pass. I don’t know if temple fatigue is a real thing, but I think there were moments when we all felt it.
Another really interesting thing we did was see floating villages. Now, before I moved to Laos I felt indifferent about tourism. Despite living abroad, I don’t actually consider myself much of a traveler. I mean, there are people who go on holiday from the States to these places overseas, I only see them if I’m already in the area. After living in Luang Prabang my feelings about tourism changed and I came to really dislike it. People seemed to get off on seeing poor people or they showed little regard for local culture or it effected the local economy in ways I thought were unsustainable and contributed to the dwarfed ambitions of young people. All that to say, tourism became much less glamorous to me after living in Laos.
Back to the floating villages—you take a boat out onto the middle of a lake where a whole village lives. Their homes, schools, and even a church are floating directly on top of the water. I felt conflicted. While it was interesting to see people living so differently than me, I felt like I shouldn’t be photographing their living conditions. There seemed to be something wrong to me with finding it cool. We seemed intrusive and I wasn’t sure if my being there would bring any good to them. I did ask our guide about where the hospital was and he said it was back in town. It had taken us over an hour to get out there. I couldn’t believe the nearest hospital was an hour away. Suffice it to say, the experience was a little depressing—fascinating—but still kind of sad.
Textiles and Handicrafts
We also visited a delightful social enterprise, Artisans d’Angkor. They have a workshop where you can see artisans at work doing a number of different crafts as well as a showroom and shop. It was so well done and everything appeared to run at the highest level of professionalism.
We went to the night market which I couldn’t help compare to the LP night market. There were neon signs everywhere and it was hard to tell if there was a real town buried somewhere beneath all the tourist stuff. As a tourist though I guess I can’t really complain. It was that way in part because of people like me. I stocked up on scarves, because you know, a girl can never have too many. One of the nicest ones I own came from Artisans d’Angkor. The others from the night market were really nice as well.
I bought some artwork while I was there. This piece was less expensive than the one I got in Indonesia. I can’t wait till I have walls to put it on.
Odds and Ends
What little I saw of Cambodia outside the city of Siem Reap was lovely. I’d love to go back and spend more time in different parts of the country. Khmer language sounds really fun and I hope I have reason to learn it in the future. The people were also wonderfully hued as well (what? I like dark Asians alright!). The hotel we stayed at was nice and comfortable (at least, my room was) and we had a really great guide from the hotel that took us around.
Until next time, Cambodia!