I find it funny that I was chosen to be “the blog person,” yet I’m the only person who didn’t bring any electronics with me. So here goes me trying to catch everyone up on what has happened so far on Tessa’s iPad.
Friday/Saturday: 14 hour flight. Uncomfortable seats. Movie. Baby crying. Uncomfortable seats. Airline food. Movie. Sleep. Uncomfortable seats. Free wine. Movie. Korean airport. Cleanest bathrooms in the world. 5 hour flight. More sleep. More movie. More wine. More movie. More uncomfortable seats. Filling out Cambodian travel visas with a golf pencil on a fold out table during turbulence. We land. Sleep deprived and zombie like we file through the visa lines while choking from the insanely hot and muggy climate. I quickly realize that I am going to need to buy a lot of bottled water to stay alive here.
As we walked out of the airport straight into the wall of heat waiting for us, we were greeted by the yell of locals waiting to pick up passengers and take them back to their hotels. Our van driver was late so we got to sweat profusely or “acclimate to local climate” as we waited. When he arrived, our little group split up into our two vans and we got introduced to the controlled anarchy that is the Cambodian roadway. Our eyes bulged as our driver weaved between the left and ride sides of the road, dodging oncoming traffic, passing tuk-tuks and speeding through stop signs. The red clay flew into the air with each twist, as a cacophony of horns alerted us of other drivers presence. When we finally pulled in to our quaint little bed and breakfast in the heart of Siem Reap, I went straight to my room, watched a little Cambodian Idol and the Voice Cambodia and passed out.
Sunday: This was our first experience trekking out into Cambodia. Our first stop was Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat. This huge temple was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Massive blocks of sandstone, lava rock and limestone comprised the massive complex. There were manmade moats and pools that expanded for kilometers, intricate stone carvings into the walls that told stories of the Hindu god Vishnu, and lots of people.
Led by our guide Sopheara (which translates to handsome) we explored for hours; taking pictures and asking questions along the way. We then went to Ta Prohm, the highly wooded temple that was featured in Tomb Raider. Ta Prohm was much less trafficked by tourists, and was incredibly serene with giant spung trees growing up from the temple walls and roofs.
After Ta Prohm we finally got our first taste of Khmer ( ka-mai ) food. From curry chicken to fish amok, the flavors and colors were similar to Thai and Chinese cuisine yet completely different. The subtle uses of coconut, basil and cilantro made each dish completely unique and incredibly tasty. It has been an adjustment as the only utensils for eating are a spoon and fork, and the fork is forgone by most locals.
We finished the day with Bayon, the temple with a thousand faces. This was by far my favorite temple. Everything from the layout of the temple grounds to the faces carved everywhere left me in awe of how much work was done and how skilled the ancient Khmer truly were.
Once we returned to the hotel, it was dinner time which meant weaving our way through hoards of people on the neon lit Pub Street to find a place to eat. Dodging really eager hosts we made our way to the Red Piano for some fantastic Lok Lak – a Khmer dish of beef, onions, and garlic served with a fried egg. Topped off with a fruit shake, the food was absolutely incredible. After dinner I sat and watched the hustle and bustle of the night. The brightly lit nightlife proved to be stark contrast of the modern world to the ancient we had seen earlier.
Monday:Sopheara led us through the jungled and ruined temple of Bangaleer which was featured in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was pretty awesome, but the highlights for me were seeing the locals.
On our way to Bangaleer we stopped in a local village that had never seen foreigners. A local merchant showed us around her rice wine distillery behind the market front and let us sample some of the incredibly strong rice wine. After visiting the temple we had lunch with a local family in a truly Khmer restaurant. We sat at a low table eating fresh chicken, rice and vegetables. I was fortunate enough to try a couple chicken brains, eyeballs and feet. It was a much different experience, but not bad by any means. The pepper sauce was incredible – black pepper, salt and lime juice, a Khmer specialty. Sopheara translated as we asked the local family questions and got to learn about the impacts of the genocide, and the recent deforestations around Siem Reap. We gave the family gifts from SU – a bag, umbrella and a few lanyards and they were incredibly touched and gave us a blessing.
After lunch we hung out at the restaurant in hammocks or in the giant pond in the local village until it was time to go visit a local monastery. Driving through the sandy country roads around Siem Reap, we arrived at an old Hindu temple that was converted to a Buddhist monastery a few hundred years ago. The monks were napping when we arrived, but we trekked up a hill to their shrine. It was a small , insignificant looking building at the top of the hill, but the inside was incredible. A myriad of colors and stories were painted all over the walls, pillars and ceilings. Each story told a different tale of Buddha’s life and gave examples on how to improve our own. Stepping out of the monastery we explored the ruins of the ancient Hindu temple that once stood there. The feeling of casually walking down steps that were 1000 years old, offered a moment of reflection on how young our own nation is and how incredibly powerful the ancient Khmer truly were.
We hopped back in our vans and headed to the Tonle Sap to see the floating villages. We boarded a small boat and sped through the waterways in a manner quite similar to navigating the anarchy of the
Cambodian streets, until we popped out of a tributary and into the largest lake I have ever seen. As we sped into the horizon, we saw houses, churches, markets and schools all floating on the river. The Craftsmanship of each building was simple – wood and aluminum siding – yet it boggled the mind to imagine a completely independent society on the water. We stopped a market, docked our boast and hopped off. On this floating platform there was a crocodile farm, a shop and restaurant for visitors. We watched the sun start to set as Michael wrestled with a snake before disembarking back to the sandy streets of Siem Reap.
Seeing advertisements for Cambodian barbecue with 14 different types of meats including kangaroo, snake and crocodile Vonte, Caleb and myself went to go check it out. Our server set a giant metal bowl in front of us with a raised dome grill in the center. She poured chicken broth in the ring around the grill and instructed us to add noodles and vegetables to the broth to make soup while we grilled our meats. The food was incredible and kangaroo and crocodile taste amazing. After stuffing ourselves, and haggling at the local night market we headed back to the hotel to prep for our flight in the morning.
Tuesday: After a very short flight we landed in beach spotted Sihanoukville. After settling in we walked around the boardwalk, grabbed lunch as a group at a local Italian cafe and registered for our snorkeling trip. After lunch a few of us slipped off to the beach and tried to relax. We spent most of the day at the beach or pool until eating dinner on the beach. At dinner we befriended a local boy selling bracelets to help pay for school. He spoke English very well and told us jokes and hung out for a long time. Between Venny our newfound friend and many of the locals we encountered we noticed a difference in life between Siem Reap and the coastal Sihanoukville.
Wednesday: We departed our hotel at 6:30 for a day and a half of snorkeling on the water.
Will finish update in Pnohm Penh.