Traveling in Siem Reap, Cambodia is an eye-opener for anyone from a western society. I have visited many poor countries in this world, but this has to be the most “under-developed” country I have ever experienced (although it’s not the dirtiest or the most over crowded with people…India takes that honour!).
All photo credits: A.L.Wiltse, M.Charbonneau and Adam Bun (Siem Reap)
This was a trip that I had planned on my own many years ago when I was traveling extensively for business, but initially was not able to complete. I’m very blessed that I was able to experience this country and its people with someone who was familiar with this region. My travel partner has been volunteering in this area for the past 6 years, and has developed many close relationships in this community. To start with, our tuk-tuk driver, Adam, was amazing. He is living with the villagers that we work with, and is now a considered a close friend. Should you ever need a guide/tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap, Adam is your main man: firstname.lastname@example.orgThe best part of Siem Reap is the coffee – especially iced coffee to start a very hot morning! And you receive a generous full cup of coffee (as opposed to the oh so small Vietnamese coffee – more on that in another post!) And, of course, a cold Angkor beer tastes incredible on a 35C day 🙂 WiFi is available freely in most restaurants and hotels, though some sites appear to be intentionally blocked by the hotels and/or governments (e.g. YouTube, Gmail, etc.) And this is not consistently applied. As you keep trying different places, you’ll experience different levels of service and access. Our favorite spot was at a gas station / variety store that always seemed to have great service! (This is actually a real gas station with the WiFi … and not just one of the “do-it-yourself” cheap siphoned gas you can purchase off the side of the road!!!)There are also some fabulous markets to wander around; one for the locals and one that’s also locally focused for food, but has a little bit more for the tourists (like wonderful prices on silver jewelry, ornate boxes, cheap clothing and other trinkets!) And what draws the tourists most to this small town are the magnificent temples in the grounds of the Angkor park. You can check out these temples in separate posts here: https://passporttochange.com/2015/03/22/the-majesty-of-angkor-wat-in-siem-reap-cambodia/or https://passporttochange.com/2015/03/29/the-other-angkor-park-temples-bayon-ta-prohm-banteay-srei/Also not to be missed is an evening show of traditional Cambodian dance – Apsara dancers. These dancers graced the Khmer court in many centuries past, and the ancient dance form is emulated by Cambodians in today’s modern dances by men and women alike. If you want to try this form of dancing yourself … be forewarned – it’s kind of like rubbing your head and patting your belly for our awkward Western bodies. Even when you’ve studied other traditional dances, this is still a challenging form to learn 🙂 And the hand-bending is something that takes years to train your hand joints & muscles to perform! Check out these links for more information on the Apsara dance form: http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/apsara-the-cambodian-dance/
All this travel information is interesting to hear about, but I’m almost at a loss for words to try and describe my overall experience of working, playing and eating together with my traveling companion’s friends from the village just outside of the Angkor Wat grounds. I will try my best here to convey through our photos the overwhelming sense of love and compassion given freely from some of the poorest people I have known in my lifetime.
The smiles and hugs shared are pure and real. Even though these people have practically nothing compared to our western standard of living, (they live in the jungle, have physically demanding jobs out in the hot sun, etc.), they have a wealth of happiness in their spirits – that’s lightened by the ability to hope and dream through their children being sponsored and attending school (public school, English school & even three students now in University with one ready to graduate in April of this year!!!). This is the reality of life that 5/6ths of the world’s population lives on a regular basis. Their concerns are simple: clean water, a roof over their head, shelter from the weather, insects and snakes, food to feed their family and the need of every parent to hope their children experience better lives than themselves. And even with this day-to-day struggle, their doors were opened to us, we danced, we laughed, we shared gifts from home & their tables were full of food (and beer :-)) for all to enjoy.
Surprisingly good was the red ant sauce used to spice up the dishes … actually had a slightly sticky texture like crunchy nuts and a citrus taste! My travel companion and I believe that every young adult born in western society should do a mandatory year long volunteer program in a poor, struggling country. They need to live together with these wonderful people to get an “ass-kick” of reality. Perhaps then having the latest version of iPhone won’t be so important anymore? Btw – these folks were absolutely thrilled to receive donated iPhone 3’s and 4’s … even an old iPod brought the joy of music.I may be traveling through other countries now, but my heart has been captured by these amazing, strong, loving people in Cambodia. I’ll leave you with my “broken” Khmer saying: “Akun tom tom, sum nang la all & so ben la all” (Thank you very much, good luck & good night)!