Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Changes in Cambodia

After returning from the 25 month world bike trip with Rick in 2000, Cambodia stood out to me as one of my favourite countries.  As we approached the border of Cambodia from Thailand on this trip with the family now in 2018, I wondered, “Will Cambodia still hold its charm for me?” I had heard from other travelers a not-so-rosy description of modern Cambodia.  I’m happy to say that the genuine goodness of people in Cambodia remains the same. 
In 1999, Siem Reap (the town closest to the temple complexes of Angkor) was a busy little town with mud streets, we felt lucky to find a single guest house.  The national highway from the Thailand border was solid dirt and mud, and had continuous giant round holes filled with water - results of  war that was now in the past.  We visited Angkor Wat, the World Heritage site completely on our own.  We didn’t see another soul there.

Now…2018…Siem Reap is the Las Vegas/Disneyland of Southeast Asia.  Everywhere you look are high rise, high end hotels, eateries, shopping and tourist prices across the board. The national highway is now paved and smooth, though the chaos echoes the roads of India. The Angkor Temples are crawling with tourists –every one of them.  I would say a million tourists are on the vast complex at any one time.

The good…we got off the main road and took the slow rugged one, staying at a tiny village school and buddist temple.  We took a river boat for a day to complete the journey to Siem Reap. The Cambodians we interact with are genuine, kind and seem to value us as people.  The food is still a gamble, there are amazing French baguettes filled with pickled and fresh vegies and what we call “pig face”, it looks like chopped up pig rind…and that’s the best of the choices of the available “meat”.  Don’t think we will be trying the grilled rats that have replaced the grilled chicken we were able to find roadside in Thailand.  And now, the big silver soup pots lined up at the lunch table aren’t even an option in my mind (we’d struggle through the unknown contents in 1999, but now that I know they likely contain rat…hmmmm).  Pineapples are ever so sweet.  Sweet sticky rice riddled with black beans and stuffed into thick bamboo cylinders is a special treat.  We can still find the Asian noodle soup that is a solid (can’t avoid the intestine/tube chunks and chopped organ meat sometimes though.)  It’s a different world here, and the McFerrin boys want to utilize the 30 possible days allotted by our visas. – I guess that’s the magic of Cambodia.

Attire:  awesome, styling hats on Cambodian men and women alike.  Many are made in a thick yarn crochet style with some kind of brim.  Women wear matching floral pajama-style leisure suits for all activities and women in towns usually have on lipstick.

Lots of kids.  Lots of kids riding bikes to school.  Waiting tables.  Helping prepare your dinner. Helping their parents at work.  Kids are always present.

Weather is still hot and sticky but we’ve had a bit more cloud cover and wind.  Nights cool down to the twenties.  Next stop (more than a week away) is Phnom Penh, where we get to visit our friend Maria who works at a school there.
Rick taking a selfie with kids at the school on the temple grounds.  We camped here the night before.

A delicious nutritious (?) sweet sticky rice treat.  Nice to see natural packaging that still exists.

Early morning on the roads of Cambodia. No one is going anywhere fast!

So many kids.  They clearly know how to entertain themselves. These ones spent the day on the school grounds while their older siblings were in class.  We camped here this night and they all slowly returned to their homes as the evening wore on.

Angkor Wat -  carvings on the walls behind the columns surround the inner towers,  an incredible pictorial history of Angkor culture.

An entrance to the Bayan Temple complex.  After a full day of "temple-ing",  including fantastic jungle single track, we arrived at a great time for taking pictures in late afternoon sunshine.

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