Siem Reap ~ Roadside Houses and People Viewed from a Tuk-Tuk

I’ve spent a lot of time on the day buses here in Cambodia. I’ve seen the indescribably extensive amount of trash littering every single inch of dirt along the roads, in the cities and sometimes in the restaurants. Papers, wrappers, cans, bottles, tickets, plastic, socks, shoes, shirts, food garbage, leaf clippings, composting itself under the feet of the oblivious locals. I see them sweeping up the dust in front of their shops or houses more than I see them pick up the rubbish. It’s not like the ground has become trash, but it seems to be moving in that direction in certain places, especially markets, or roadside stops. Despite the trash situation, it isn’t completely without charm. Some of that trash gets burned in random fires, producing a not-unlikeable, but definitely polluting smell. The smell is comforting in an unpleasant way. Smoke surrounds the road in some places, not the seemingly edible smoke of BBQ’s, but a mixture of plastic, palm leaves and cardboard. The houses are all on stilts, giving an extra room, that is purely shade, usually with a few hammocks. Small shops wait with supplies of strange chips, and always Pringles, sugary or salty treats, squid jerky and selected beers. Trotting along in my Tuk-Tuk at about 30 mph, I caught pictures in a bouncy manner, so they are purely glimpses of the street.

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Top 3 Temples at Angkor Wat Complex

1) Banteay Srei:

This 10th century temple dedicated to Shiva and called the “temple of woman” because the carvings are so delicate and intricate, that supposedly only a woman could do it. The rock was a special pink sandstone and looked beautiful. It was very well preserved and smaller allowing a better chance to see everything. It was such a great place to end, after seeing the big ones, this was a nice change. Recommended for the carvings and the amazing 40 minute tuk-tuk ride through Cambodian countryside.

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2) Baphuon:

Approaching this ancient pyramid also dedicated to Shiva, moving down the pillared walkway, a thought struck me. People’s faces would have been right at my feet if I were the king going home. I walked taller and felt regal after noticing this. There are three steep levels of stairs here finally culminating in a dazzling view of the dense jungle around. It was fully renovated in 2011. This place was BIG, and the original capital of Angkor Thom. Recommended for pictures under the stone walkway among the pillars, and for a hard climb to the top!

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3) Bayon:

This was for me the biggest highlight of the three days’ tour. Bayon was the central post of the immense Angkor Thom area. It has 56 towers with four faces on each, adding up to 216 faces, some better preserved than others. They all look peacefully stoked on life while presenting the calm features of the Buddha, for whom it was dedicated. It is the youngest temple as well, having been built almost 100 years after Angkor Wat. Recommended for silly face pictures contrasted with the solemnity of the stone visages.

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Honorable Mention: Angkor Wat at Sunrise–because being present in such a simple moment in such incomprehensible beauty makes for a powerful memory.

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Ta Prohm: Tomb Raider was filmed here, trees overtook the rocks, surreal atmosphere and cool to see nature will always win.

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Do not do less than 3 days at the temples. Some of the people bail because of the heat, or hangovers, or repetition. But, the repetition is the point. They cared so much they even carved the stones they walked on. I’ll bet the toilets were carved from only the softest sandstone and adorned with the satisfied faces of those with functional bowels.

For me, it was a never-ending buzz of temples appearing out of nowhere, touching rocks from a different millennium, imagination, exercise in the sun, eavesdropping on tour groups, and plenty of photo opportunities! A big check on my list of must-visit places. Awesome!

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Siem Reap ~ Pub Street Dining

The aptly named Pub Street in downtown Siem Reap glows neon red in the hot jungle air. Street hawkers beseech you with their cries about the food quality and with bargain prices. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in which to eat offering Khmer, Thai, Western and Indian cuisine. Of course I couldn’t resist a place which proclaims to have “The Best Mexican Food in Asia.”

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At Viva, they serve pretty authentic Tex-Mex style dishes. I had the chimichanga with green chile sauce and was pleased with the results. Quality meat and cheese fried up with a cool sauce. They also offer 2$ tequila shots and Corona bottles.

There is also a trendy rooftop bar called The Triangle whose lights were too dim for pictures. They offer a very chill atmosphere and a bistro type cuisine. Live music every night here with plenty of balcony seats. The band actually covered The Doors’ version of “Backdoor Man.”

Charlie’s reminds me of Austin, Texas. Cold beer, good food and bar stool seating. I ordered the sliders, which were tasty but under-cooked. When will Asia realize you must cook burgers all the way through (without drying them out)?

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Temples of Angkor ~ Workers and Hustlers

The ancient Ruines d’Angkor are awesome. They give a glimpse into the past. They also give a glimpse of the Cambodian present. The ravages of a brutal Civil War and genocide, the collateral damage of the Vietnam War, the century long suppression under French colonialism, the never-ending feuds of territory with China, Thailand and Vietnam have produced a very poor country with a rich history and booming tourism. The tourist dollars are pouring into the main cities, but this mostly agrarian country still works hard for its money…or begs for it. Even the kids selling the ubiquitous postcards, “10 for a dollar mister. Look, 1,2,3,4…Come on. Help me out” sound like they’re begging even though they are offering a “service.” The middle aged ladies hawking the same scarves, the same dresses, the same bags, the same magnets, the same trinkets, the same t-shirts, the same same, not different have the same routine, “Buy for your girlfriend, your mother, your sister. Very cheap, very good, made in Cambodia silk.” It’s like they are all given a supply from the same store and sent out over the huge grounds of Angkor like some poor roving salesman with a tattered suitcase full of “amazing” cleaning supplies. I’m sure some people buy it. Some people might give money out of sympathy. Some people just shake their head in varying shades of disgust and annoyance. I started to look at them instead of the traditional, “No thanks, it’s okay.” I looked at their eyes, their clothes. I talked to them. I asked them questions. They speak better English than they are aware. As soon as I told a young boy he has special golf hat on or a girl that she was pretty, they smiled and forgot to see me as money on legs. They talked to me also. We didn’t discuss important things, we just commented on the situation. I quizzed the kids on world capitals. I asked the girls if they were all friends. I asked them if they like Angkor, and all said yes. I smiled and felt important with all their attention lavished upon me because I might have a spare dollar in my wallet meant for them. It’s a big job to squeeze all the money out of tourists while they are here at these mighty ruins. They give that big job to the smallest people.

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“You come back here and buy from me mister, not her, okay?”

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They were lined up for pictures and donations.

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Lying in a hammock, she popped right up to show me her daughter.

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They were making jokes about me in Cambodian I think.

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The girl on the left has such an old face. She’s ten going on forty. Look at the troubled smile compared to her friend.

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“One picture, one dollar mister!!”

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This young guy had such a whining approach. “Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuy one, eeeeaaaaaa.” He started crying eventually. He followed me for ten minutes even when I sat down to get a rock out of my shoe.

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I understand the salesman’s need to A.B.C. (always be closing). I can pretend to understand how hard it must be for some of these kids and parents. I don’t understand where they came from or where they’re going. Perhaps things will work out for them and it won’t be a never-ending cycle of begging/selling.

Angkor Wat ~ A Different View

The largest religious building in the world, Angkor Wat, contains intricate stone carvings, wide vistas of the surrounding jungle, beautiful symmetry, peaceful gardens, a creation of immense proportions. The pictures are famous. Perhaps you’ve seen the sunrise, or the crumbling rocks, the dancing nude ladies or the growling lions, but, I bet you never saw these pictures! I decided to surprise tourists with impromptu portraits during a break in the shade. Some are happy to be involved, others not interested, some don’t notice, others skeptical of my intentions. I didn’t ask where they were from, but that might have been a fun test to see what country in this random sampling was most represented, but my guess is there may not be any repeats.

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I had a great time with this little project. Some people asked me, “Why?” I replied, “Everyone knows what Angkor Wat looks like, not everybody knows what you look like!” They are all on vacation, some fulfilling a life-long dream to stand and gaze at the magnificence of these 11th century sandstone towers. Some are making a religious pilgrimage. Some are just sweating profusely. But no one was rude or curt. I thanked all who participated in this little lark.

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And here are some actual photos of the temple in case you don’t know what it looks like!

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