Reflections on my visit to Cambodia

Sunday, August 31, 2014

It's been two months since I last visited Cambodia and I had some time to reflect on my experiences and have everything sink in.  It's hard to encompass all the emotions I felt while traveling in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh but I have to say my interaction with the locals was truly inspiring and at the same time devastating.

It's a country that's suffered from the Khmer Rouge regime and its aftereffects are still fully present.  Most recently, Verdicts from Cambodia Tribunal were issued on August 7, 2014.

We stayed at the Château d'Angkor La Résidence which is walking distance to Pub Street and the Old Market.  However, on the first night, we took a tuk-tuk which only cost $3 USD.

Château d'Angkor La Résidence exceeded our expectations since we booked it through  There were 4 of us staying so we rented an apartment and based on the prices that were published online, renting an apartment would be cheaper.  The apartment came with a large living room with a multi-language TV, dining room, kitchen stocked with free water and a washing machine which was extremely helpful after trekking for around the sites for half a day and we came home drenched in sweat.
-Château d'Angkor La Résidence french doors
          The French doors open to the balcony of Château d'Angkor La Résidence 

The hotel also provided a free breakfast and it ranged from exotic fruits like dragon fruit to staples like cereal, croissants and scrambled eggs. Coffee was served black and I would recommend taking it with milk and sugar since it was strong!

Concierge was very accommodating from offering to pack us breakfast when we left early to see the sunrise to allowing us to dip in the pool past 8pm.  They also assisted us with booking a Jeep since it would be faster to travel to Phnom Penh by car than traveling on bus for 7 hours.  Booking a Jeep with 4 passengers was about $100 that included tipping our driver.

Château d'Angkor La Résidence swimming pool with Happy Hour from 4-7pm 
Siem Reap's only attraction are the Angkor Archaelogical sites so most of the area is underdeveloped with dirt roads that can wreak havoc on a car.  We met our driver at the airport who actually introduced us to another driver the next day who spent the next two days driving us around to the sites, recommending restaurants to eat and introduced us to the children of The Sok School and Orphanage.

My family and I visited the Ankgor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm, and the Elephant Terrace. We each paid $40 for a three day pass to the site which contributes to the preservation of the archaeological sites however countries like Germany and Japan have also contributed to the preservation.

We visited Siem Reap in late June during the sweltering heat.  An early start is recommended however, when you are climbing or walking around the sites, it's helpful to have a backpack with bottled water and maybe an energy bar.  My cousins were in t-shirts and long pants but it actually helped that I wore a long skirt and a light long sleeved top to prevent a sunburn.

Walking around the temples gave me sense of awe and wonder since these temples have been around since the 12th and 13th century and it makes me wonder if people who lived during these times knew about the other civilizations.

We encountered a boat tour while walking between the temples and although we didn't go on it, there was a family nearby where we talked with briefly and rested under the trees.

While we rested under the trees, we learned the family lived onsite in a one room house.  The mother and father had two small children, a girl and a boy and the boy was only two years old.

They spoke English very well despite the isolation they had from center of town but I guess they had to learn since so many tourists pass by on their way between the temples.  They also sold cold drinks out of a cooler to earn some money but I wonder how many tourists do they interact with on a given day.

The area was quiet and serene and I wondered what it was like at night with no lights but just the sounds they heard from insects. 

I wondered what they thought of us with our funny accents and our smartphones and cameras.

It was such a great disparity between where my family and I stayed and the one room house they inhabited.  We expected a nice, cold shower and dip in the pool when we drove back to the hotel but what was their reprieve from the heat?

Did they dip in the lake or quench their thirst with the bottled water or was that only reserved for the tourists.

Were their dreams the same as ours?  Did they yearn to see the world or were their dreams much more grounded such as completing school and being able to find work?

We didn't get into these topics much because how would we broach them?  We asked about the food they ate and how old were the children.  What was even more interesting was they didn't really have the concept of birthdays but the mother estimated that the little boy may be two based on the season he was born.

In essence, they have dreams and they make offerings so their wishes can come true.

From our perspective, their situation can be dire but we have become accustomed to luxuries like running water and air conditioning.

Despite their living situation,  I found Cambodians to be extremely kind and happy.  The country is beautiful and I hope people will appreciate what it has to offer.  There's so much history and culture and I wish we had more time to explore the other parts.

I heard there was an elephant sanctuary in the northeastern part of the country and maybe I can return and see what it's like to see elephants in their natural habitat.

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