Yet another place we’ve read about, seen news about and never quite dared to dream of visiting. Yet another killing field, this one marked with the bones of many of the deceased in a stupa for all to see. This is a country where we never quite knew who were the good guys and who the bad. Prince Sihanuk seemed to be unable to decide either and in his desire to stay neutral he caused as much misery as he wanted to prevent. Khimer Rouge v the government forces. Pol Pot v everyone. As we repeatedly learned, independence is only 15 years old. People are killed and maimed by leftover land mines every day. Unexploded munitions are rusting in farmers fields waiting for inadvertent contact to ruin another life. On the streets of Siem Reap the more visible hazard is traffic gone wild. There are five traffic lights in the city and drivers consider them a recommendation not a requirement. Stop signs seem to be totally ignored. The approved method for entering traffic flow is to keep moving assuming there will be an opening when you get there. It seems to work, mostly. Traffic is a mix of tour busses and vans, motor bikes in the 100 cc range and tuk tuks – a motor bike with a hitch in the middle of the seat pulling a cart. The cart can be for passengers or for cargo. At least traffic generally flows and distances are minimal compared to China. Our hotel is in walking distance of central Siem Reap and only about 5 kilometers to Angkor Wat, the main tourist attraction.
I suppose I could regale with details about the sites we’ve seen from Angkor Wat to the “ladies temple” and several more temples including the one where Tomb Raiders was shot with trees draped over the walls. Maybe I’ll get back to that. We have experienced a couple of new modes of transport including a long ride in a long tail boat on Ton Le sap, the largest freshwater Lake in Asia and a ride in a cart drawn by water buffalo. The cart is as what one would imagine with no suspension and the track was not smoothed for us. Since we were sitting on mats in the carts, we were all grateful when we reached the end of the ride.
Food varieties became another significant adventure. On the day we visited Angkor Wat, we went in the morning which is not the best time for photography since this temple faces West unlike all other temples and the view was into the sun. The reason for doing this was to face smaller crowd. It worked, the crowds were large but manageable. Later in the day as sunset approached, we returned to see the facade lit by the setting sun. Seong, our tour leader arranged snacks and drinks for us. The Cambodian wine, called Wrestler, was not great but at a fortified 20% alcohol I was able to drink some of it. The snacks included silk worms, snake jerky and waterbuffalo jerky as well as frog legs. I tried it all to Carol’s distaste. That was just the beginning as it turned out. The next day, today as I write, we stopped along the road to Ton Le Sap to sample deep fried crickets, grasshoppers, and rice frogs (maybe we had the silkworms today not yesterday). Once we got on the lake John, the other guy in our touring foursome, continued to pester Seong about findng him a live snake. At the floating village, we indeed found a live water snake and Seong handed it to John. A bit later Seong escorted us to a table and served us a lovely soup with water snake in it. Carol absented herself while the rest of us tucked in and tried it. The skin was too tough to eat so we peeled it off and sucked the meat off the spine. It wasn’t bad, but I won’t go looking for it either. Although we leave Cambodia in the morning, I am sure we will have more surprises as we go to Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam through the month of December.