This weekend, the two other girls on my WATER team, and I traveled to Siem Reap. Here are some highlights.
Thursday night we traveled seven hours by sleeper bus, after spending some time at the night market. Sleeper buses have lower and upper bunks. One side is double and the other single, but each person’s seat is separate, even on the double side. We had a top double and single right beside each other. Than we covered up with the pink bunny and sheep blankets and little blue pillows provided for us and tried to sleep as best as we could. It was a little awkward as my feet we stuck through the straps of my black backpack to keep it from getting stolen, a real fear here.
Friday morning we stumbled off the bus at five o’clock, grabbed a bathroom, and were shown to a tuk tuk driver. We were told that if we hire a tuk tuk driver for our stay, we can negotiate a free ride to our hotel, which we got. We first went to the motel that Krista had stayed in before. It smelled weird. We asked our tuk tuk driver if he knew of a guest house in our price range ($30). He drove us to a really nice one with a pool.
We slept for a few hours, got dressed and went to the market. We bought delicious $1 smoothies and looked a bit for souvenirs. We had been told to look for a roti stand, a kind of crepe. Since we didn`t find one, we ate at a sit-in restaurant instead. I ordered Eggs Benedict, and to be adventurous, I had it with smoked salmon. (It cost the same as bacon here.) Note: smoked salmon is only smoked, not cooked. I ate over half of it, but the idea did not sit well in my stomach.
After bartering a little more at the market, we returned to our motel where we met our tuk tuk driver.
He took us to the floating village, which is exactly that. The houses are mounted on barrels. They can float anywhere as the river rises in rainy season or falls in dry season. The people there are poor fishermen mostly.
We stopped at a small crocodile farm, but it seemed more like a tourist trap than anything else. The few crocodiles there slept peacefully.
I enjoyed the cool breeze off the river and trying to capture the beauty among the rubbish with my camera. We stopped at a floating school. Our guide had told us that we could stop and buy food for the poor children. Some of whom were orphans. It didn’t feel quite right to us. He was really pushy. When we got there, we found lots of healthy looking children who barely glanced at the tourists as they came past. A couple girls, about eight years old, pointed to the white thing on my head and said, “Nih?” (This?) I told them with motions that I wear it to pray to God. Then they crossed their index fingers over each other and talked excitedly. I finally realized that they were saying “Yesu” and making a cross. I nodded and tried to tell them that, yes, I pray to Yesu. I gave them and the few other children right around them candy.
We found a stand that made pizza for supper. We watched them roll it with their bare hands, put on scarcely any sauce and bake it in their open oven on their cart. We sat at a kids size metal table and little blue plastic chairs that they had brought with them. The pizza was decent, bland, and lacking in sauce. Then we found roti. I had mine with banana fried inside and chocolate sauce. I enjoyed it, as any dessert is scarce in Cambodia.
We went back to our motel, played in the nice and empty pool and went to bed early. (I said it was a vacation.)
Friday we got up at 4:00, because our tuk tuk driver was coming to pick us up at 4:30 to see sunrise at Angkor Wat, one of the seven Ancient Wonders of the World. The view was not as spectacular as expected, but it was enchanting to be out in the cool mists and listen to the peepers in the morning.
Angkor Wat was coated with tourists. While there, the camera I was borrowing died. I hadn’t realized that it was a rechargeable that I should have been recharging over night. So, I didn’t have it for most of the day. Touring the temples among the green trees and moss made me feel like I had stepped into an enchanted other era. We were able to climb most of one (the top level was off limits) that was called Baphuon. The stairs were very steep but at least we had a railing, as we climbed about six stories up. What a view! We were in the treetops.
My other favourite was one that I climbed alone. The other two girls were tired out. This one was not as tall, only 101 steps. Yes, I counted them on my way down to keep from getting afraid. The scary thing about this one was that only the first flight of steps of about fifteen had a railing. All the other stairs were as they were when they were first built. The most extreme were steps only four inches wide, but over a foot high.
One of the more famous ones has massive trees growing in it. Because of this, the walls are really tumbling down. If I had wandered it alone, I might not have found my way out for a while, but they had signs to guide you.
By the end, we grew very hot and tired. The camera bag I was carrying was soaked at the back with sweat. Cambodian music serenaded us as we walked to the last temple. We quickly walked through pillared court yards and returned to the tuk tuk for food, rest, and our motel pool.
In many of these temples, there is a chintzy Buddha and incense burning. As I stood at the top of Baphuon, the words “You are not a God created by human hands” danced through my mind. I am so glad to know my God made the hands that built even the seven wonders of the world.
Refreshed, we found noodles and rice for supper along the street and another roti. I tried plain chocolate. Then we went to the night market and I found a souvenir for everyone on my list. Bartering is fun once you figure out what is a fair price for things and realize that the people say, “only for you lady,” or “then I will not have much profit” or “last price” to everyone who expresses interest in their wares. I have a greater appreciation for Canadian retail after this experience.
We bought smoothies and walked back to our motel, where we chatted for a while and went to sleep. This morning we ate breakfast at our motel and took a day bus back to Phnom Penh. As I watched villas, shed-sized houses on stilts, grass fields with palm trees, red-brown ponds and water buffalo whiz past, I thought about how Phnom Penh is so much dirtier than Siem Reap, but I was glad to return.
I realized that Cambodians value community over space and beauty over productivity. I think I could learn from that. I wonder what would happen if you would put Canadians in Cambodian climate and Cambodians in Canadian climate. Who would survive? We can learn so much from different people who have had different experiences.