This weekend with Chris’ family in Sihanoukville and Siem Riep, I spread my white wings as the tourist I was destined to be. A beautiful getaway from the dust and heat of Phnom Penh, we escaped (slowly, by bus) to these tourist hotspots, where we white folk are plentiful and the sites- remarkable.
In Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s most popular beach town, the gang and I (Chris’ aunt has adopted me) ingested mountains of seafood. Six pounds of crab in a single sitting. This was done right on the beach, and though it was raining, the ocean was warm and inviting. The day was finished with a pool in a local bar, where I led my team to hopeless defeat. On a more victorious note, I must also mention that I tried both snail and frog for the first time- not bad, but I still prefer the crab.
However, the mix of wealth and poverty, beauty and hardship, continued to shock me. This is the case though out much of Cambodia, but was strikingly obvious in the city as we drove the smaller streets and later throughout the countryside. During the 9 hour van ride to Siem Riep (we had to drive back through Phnom Penh), we passed scattered shacks and tiny towns along the riverside and rice fields where people lived amongst the skinnest cattle I have ever seen.
I hit you guys hard in the last post, though- so gonna keep it light this time.
Siem Riep is undeniably the tourist Mecca, home to the world-famous temples and hoppin’ nightlife. The angelic echoes of Adam Levine and Beyonce sounded through many a restaurant. Though there are hundreds of miraculous temples nearby, we visited as many as our fragile bodies could handle in the heat: 4. The walls of each were covered top to bottom with intricate Buddhist carvings, housed beneath impossibly incredible architecture, complete with infinite staircases- all built by hand. At my favorite temple, Ta Prohm, massive tree roots spilled over the stone walls and crawled across the ruins (portions still left crumbled by the Khmer rouge). Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s pride and joy, was a site not to be missed. Built atop of a man-made lake in only 40 years, this temple certainly deserves its awe-inspiring reputation .
Shout out to the best businessman I have ever met. This 8-year old knows how to get a girl to shop. His name is Way and he smoothly approached me with impeccable English asking, “How long are you in town? Do you plan to visit Thailand?” before slipping a “free” bracelet over my hand. “Just come visit my shop afterwards,” he said, and I did. I have tried to resist business with children, as some parents send their kids to do this work instead of enrolling them in school. But this guy was just too good. Well done kiddo. Well done.
In a quick by powerful visit, we stopped by silk farm that works to keep artists employed at fair wages. I learned that I takes 2 months to produce one scarf by hand- after raising the silk worms, gathering the silk, treating, dying, and weaving. 2 months for one single, beautiful product. The focus and commitment of these workers is incredible. When you pay a higher price for a handmade product, you are contributing to reasonable wages for these dedicated individuals.
To end the weekend- FOOTMASSAGE and a charming Cambodian dance show. Massages are a must in this country, inexpensive and everywhere and beautiful and great. The girls in the shop swooned over Chris, and more importantly, believed that I was half Khmer! The transformation is nearly complete. I could not compete, however, with the grace of the Cambodian dancers- one of which barely managed to hold a straight face up as a the son of the cousin of Chris’ father (or something like that) sat with his chin on the stage, tossing back flowers and dancing to his own stylish routine.
After hours of driving, on a road composed more of potholes than drivable concrete, we are home and again ready to pick up work.
Lastly, one monkey photo: