|A Khmer woman selling fruits in Angkor Wat.|
In March 2012, I had the opportunity to visit my friend Frannie in Cambodia. During our years together at Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame, we explored Rome and London together and we were also roommates. Upon graduation, Frannie accepted a teaching position at an international school outside of Siem Reap for Cambodian children.
|Frannie and I exploring the wonders of Angkor Wat!|
While in Siem Reap visiting Frannie, I enjoyed the wonders of Angkhor Wat and floating villages, as well as relaxing strolls through the quant and seemingly familiar city center.
|The remains of an old temple corridor.|
Frannie and I sat in the back of a tuk tuk, as we explored the wonders of Angkhor Wat on a beautiful, sunny day. A tuk tuk is a taxi of sorts with a riding cart attached to the back of a motorbike. Bump, bump, bump we went in the cart as we were maneuvered through the rocky road. The wonders of Angkor Wat, as well as the tuk tuk, kept my attention for the entire day. In fact, Angkor Wat is the largest Hindu temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. Frannie and I climbed up the rocky temple ruins. We glided our hands along the ancient texture of the structures, and I was amazed. The carvings, the layout, architecture – it blew my mind. As my curiosity led me through the corridors of the ancient temples, the sun would shine down upon me and then hide again as I climbed into another opening or crevasse in the stone wall. I appreciated the historical significance of the ruins, as well as the art. However, I could not get Indiana Jones nor Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider out of my mind either. With sweat dripping down our faces after hours of exploration, Frannie and I bought coconuts and let the cool, refreshing milk rejuvenate our energy while we laughed and chatted.
Although Frannie is a vegetarian, she did not hesitate to take me to breakfast cafes around Siem Reap with pork delicacies like bacon and sausage. Oh, how I had missed pork! Frannie also took me to a nice hotel that was home to ‘her pool.’ We laid in lawn chairs in a beautiful, landscaped pool area as we read books and drank ice cold Heineken.
|Store fronts of Siem Reap, Cambodia.|
Spending five days with Frannie in Siem Reap gave me a tiny taste of her life in Cambodia. She was so generous to introduce me to her friends and the places that she had come to call ‘home.’ While Frannie was at school, I spent the days strolling in and out of the little stalls and shops along the streets of Siem Reap. I also enjoyed café mochas at the European cafes that could be found in the city center. Doing some exploration on your own can be really neat, because it allows you the opportunity to meet people. For example, I met a guy named Sam from Gold Coast Australia who was doing some film projects in Southeast Asia, and I met Ly Hour an ambitious tuk tuk driver who aspires to start his own business.
I also met a Khmer woman and her daughter who owned a shop with bags and wallets. The nice lady spoke English very well, so I asked her about her shop. She explained that people from America (Peace Corps & NGOs) go into the rural villages of Cambodia and teach the people there how to make goods from resources they do have and/or skills that the people in the village possess. After the villages produce the products, representatives come into Siem Reap and sell quantities to the shops. This kind lady explained that her products came from a particular village that specialized in hand stitching and embroidery. In addition, she had bags that were made from the same material used for making baskets in the local villages. The village used the same material to produce bags that could generate a profit. After spending an hour chatting with her and looking at the different products in the shop, I treated myself to a gray cloth bag with hand embroidery, as well as a brightly threaded and stitched wallet. The vibrant colors and textures of that little shop in Siem Reap will forever remain in mind.
|A Khmer man fishing. Fishing is the|
way the floating villages of Cambodia
|Homes along the river and children playing in the water.|
|A typical floating village in Cambodia.|
|A woman with her baby, as well as her son who had a snake|
around his body.
As our boat neared a floating shop, I climbed up onto the dock into the shop. As I looked down, I saw a canoe with a Khmer woman, a baby and her young son. The woman wore layers of fabric as clothing, and she had a large, round hat to shield her dark facial skin from the sun. Meanwhile, the son, who could not have been older than 3, had a python snake wrapped around his body as he held the snake’s head. I am still unsure about whether or not this was a trained “family pet” of sorts or what… All I can say is that it was incredibly alarming and I took a jump back as soon as I saw it. As I jumped back, I looked down below the other side of the dock and saw a large group of crocodiles with their eyes glaring at me above the water. My nerves were a little shaken to say the least. The floating villages still intrigue me, in terms of how the people thesupport themselves and go about their day-to-day lives.
After 5 days in Siem Reap, I said farewell to Frannie, and I headed 5 hours south by a van to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Looking back, I cannot believe I took that trip by van all by myself. I was meeting up with my four Fulbrighter friends in Phnom Penh, and I was also assured that there would be other tourists in this van. However, to my surprise, I turned out to be the only tourist in the van. It was a long ride, and on more than one occasion, I thought, “What did I get myself into?” – particularly, when we stopped at a restaurant for a break in a chaotic little Cambodian town. As we traveled down the undeveloped roads, I marveled at the endless, bright green rice paddies that stretched out as far as the eye could see. Every so often, we would reach a small village where I saw small, thatched roof homes without running water or electricity. And, every so often we would stop in villages for the driver’s cigarette breaks. I would sit in the van and try to soak in everything I saw. I had seen commercials and shows on television about the undeveloped world. But to see it, is something incredibly different. To be honest, the poverty I saw along my ride to Phnom Penh made my host community in Malaysia look drastically developed.
|Sarah, Chen and I enjoyed food at the Phnom Penh stalls!|
Phnom Penh was quite different than Siem Reap, and most of my time spent in Phnom Penh was learning about the tragic Khmer Rouge of the 1970’s. The Khmer Rouge was an organization that instituted ‘social engineering,’ which resulted in widespread famine and genocide in Cambodia. When I was not going to see sites relating to the Khmer Rouge, I was at my hostel getting to know fellow backpackers such as Sarah from the UK and Chen from China. Meeting new people on trips is perhaps one of the most rewarding aspect of travel. Eventually, I also did manage to meet up with fellow Fulbrighters Jordan, Nick, Adeel and Jacob. We enjoyed delicious street food (although it later gave me food poisoning), and we also celebrated Jordan’s half- birthday! It was great to have them with me for the final stretch of my trip!
Cambodia was my first trip to an undeveloped country. Consequently, I learned a lot and absorbed a lot of information in a short amount of time. I would love to return to Siem Reap someday to once again explore the wonders of Angkor Wat, as well as engage in more meaningful conversations with the people there!
|Ancient temple of Angkor Wat!|
|The remains of Angkor Wat are home to brilliant art and a|
plethora of history.
|Every view in Angkor Wat provides new scenery and angles!|
|The scenery is breathtaking, almost as though it was a painting.|
|A small village along the river in Cambodia.|
|A store front in the fishing village.|
|A Khmer man fishing with a system of nets.|