“Lady, you live in village…” said the tuk tuk driver while turning another corner as directed. You know I’m in my hood when taxi drivers ask me for directions and Siem Reap and I, have acquainted pretty well in this past one week.
He wasn’t wrong. Far from the infamous Pub Street, in the middle of rice paddies and lotus farms, I found a quaint little property to call home for a week. Siem Reap is the gateway town to the famous Angkor Temples and its tourist hub, Pub Street tries to come close to its Bangkok neighbors. And while ideally it’s nice to stay close to the center with food and transport in walking distance, I really didn’t have the energy to put up with drunk backpackers and loud music. And this little place was exactly that.
Wasn’t till I got off at the bus depot in the middle of nowhere at 3.30am. in the morning when it clicked that I had been cheated. The guesthouse in Phnom Penh sold me VIP bus tickets but they put me on a cheaper, slower bus. A kind, kind Cambodian woman traveling on the same bus called the owner of bungalow. A disgruntled tuk-tuk driver came roaring down the road with bulging eyes telling me he had been waiting at the bus station, where I was supposed to arrive hours ago! Yeah. In his disgruntlement, he takes a short-cut. With no street lights and houses 100 meters apart, I swear if he had killed me there and took all my money – they would’ve never found my body in them rice paddies! (Sorry, Suruj) But he got me home and became my best friend for the rest of the stay.
When not exploring the temples, mornings were spent drinking coffee on the front verandah and writing blogs at this beautiful, inspiring worktable in the bungalow. Afternoons walking around the rice paddies, peeping into schools and people’s small workshops. Even a bicycle ride was attempted.
Not to be confused with Thai at all, Khmer is food is in a class of its own. I wish I had the stomach for the delicious sizzling BBQ’s on the street side that had my mouth watering every time I went past! But I made to do with the restaurant serves which wasn’t too bad at all…
With the Khmer rouge and Thai invasion, a lot of Khmer artisans and performing arts culture was lost and Cambodia is slowly trying to build up their heritage again. So if visiting, drink all the Angkor beer as you can but invest in some local art. The back streets have some budding Cambodian art galleries. (not the pretentious ones in The Alley)
An amazing, Ahmazing work is done by Samatoa producing natural fibers out of lotus stems! I have a video too…just as soon as I figure out how to upload it.
The hustle of leaving on a trip, the running around in Phnom Penh for visas and just operating in a different time zone had me gaping for some time out and Siem Reap simply gave me that.
I came to Cambodia…lightly. In slight ignorance. All I wanted to see were the temples. I didn’t know its recent history or that it was one of the poorest countries in the world. First week here, I kept thinking these Cambodians seem a bit clueless. Little did I know this country went through a horrific genocide and mass slavery only as back as 1979 while the world stood watching. Cambodia now has the one of the highest human trafficking statistics. And had I not turned away and chosen to stay here, I would’ve left thinking about Cambodia of just that.
But here in my little Cambodian village, smiles are healing and they leave you indebted forever. Very few places, I have left and got teary – this was one of them.