Cambodia: The Temples of Angkor and NYE

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My trip to Cambodia was the first and only border crossing that I did on foot. After a 4-hour bus ride that included a loud group that having a family reunion throughout Southeast Asia (I stereotyped them as LA Persians in my head until I asked them and found out that they were indeed from LA, and were Persian. Go figure. They were very nice.), I finally got my visa, crossed the border, and took the 2.5 hour taxi ride into Siem Reap. It was a pretty tiring day-long journey.

Sometime during the 7 minutes from when I got my visa to when I crossed the border, I got taken for the $50 bill that I hid in my passport purse. Did I drop it somehow? Did someone take it from me while I was taking photos at the border? I didn’t see anyone near me while I walked! Instead of being upset, I was more in awe that someone could possibly take my cash while leaving my passport without me even knowing it. It was like magic. Someone give that guy a job, that’s some talent right there.

Darrel hooked me up with his friend, Try, who was his cab driver when he visited Siem Reap for the first time. While I was waiting for him to pick me up, tuk-tuk after tuk-tuk would ask me if I wanted a ride. I kept on declining politely, saying that “my friend was going to pick me up” — until one of the guys finally said, “Hi! I’m your friend! I’m Try!!” I looked up in surprise. He looked much younger and hella different from his photos.

The first night was chill — eating local Cambodian food (mostly noodle soup), and getting a pedicure while Try got a foot massage from his friend (I have a feeling that he took me to all the spots where his friends worked). Siem Reap is an interesting mix of local Cambodians and tourists that converge together in the same areas. Unlike Thailand, the tourists out here aren’t predominantly Western, and aren’t here to party (Cambodia ain’t exactly known as the party destination, ya know). Many of them are east Asian – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. Even Thai. When you go around to the temples, I hear a lot of guides talking in Japanese, as well as French and English…it’s amazing.

* * * * *

On the day of New Year’s Eve, Try and I went to the temples of Angkor (I didn’t realize that there were SO MANY OF THEM!!) for most of the day. We started out early so that I could kinda see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. I knew that this place was touristy, but DAMN! Hella people had the same idea as me and had been up already for hours, with swarms of them using their expensive DSLR cameras to take photos of the joint. I went inside and got lost for a few hours, taking photos of the walls, listening to other tour guide’s descriptions of the temples, and climbed some steep ass steps to the tops of the temple. Only  outside of the US (where lawsuits aren’t as prevalent) would people be allowed to ascend some scary-ass, crumbling stone stairs like these. I even took some photos of some European tourists taking photos of monks — they tried to pose them, saying things like, “move your head to the left!” so they could catch the sunlight hitting the profiles of their monk faces. Oh my.

Then we went on to the Bayon temple. Then another one. Then another one. All day, it was temple after temple. I think I got a fat headache from seeing too many temples at a time and not wearing sunglasses all day long. At one point I forgot my ticket (that everyone must get to enter the temples) in Try’s tuk-tuk and was forced to walk over 20 min around the periphery of the temple to go retrieve it. Near the end of the day, I was down to skip some of the temples – but Try insisted that I go visit them. I wearily complied, went out and took some tired-ass photos of some otherwise amazing and gorgeous historic temples, and finally I climbed back into the tuk-tuk to say good-bye for the day.

The hawking out here is especially fierce. I know that Cambodian folks have been hit hard and are incredibly impoverished due to the legacy of the war/genocide in their homeland, so when people come out here to sell stuff, they hustle like crazy.

The kids will follow tourists with their bracelets, scarves, books, (etc.) for a good while to get them to cave in. I found their pitch to be pretty much the same: they ask for a high amount. When you bargain with them, they say that it’s not enough money and that they wouldn’t be able to make a profit. Then when you bargain them again, they say that they need more money so that they can go to school (which is probably true, given that education isn’t public in Cambodia and most young women don’t get a chance to go to school at all out here). A US dollar goes a long way out here for these families.

I’ve heard a lot of tourists say mean-ass things when they get annoyed with the kids, but putting things into perspective, we are HELLA rich ass tourists visiting their homeland while they stay impoverished and have very few viable ways of scraping together a living for themselves.  We have incredible privileges.

Which brings me to another interesting point — almost everyone out here accepts US dollars. When I go to the bank, it dispenses Dollars, not Riel. It’s kinda bizarre.

* * * * *

For New Years Eve, Try and I went out into the heart of downtown Siem Reap for the street party that was happening around the bars. Everywhere you looked, rowdy ass tourists and local Cambodian folks danced frantically under glaring neon lights, going bananas to the loud, thumping techno and reggaeton music that was blasting out into the street. (Man, I don’t want to be a hater — but Asian tourists really can’t dance.) On all sides of us, restaurant patrons watched from above, tossing water and booze onto the crowd below. As the droplets hit the colored street lights, it looked like showers of green and orange tinsel raining onto the party-goers from above. It was actually kinda pretty.

As the clock ticked down and New Years finally came around, Try gave me a big hug at the same moment that someone poured their entire beer down the left side of my head. Shiieeeet. Happy New Years, indeed.

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Posted: January 15, 2012

Author: Tiffany

Category: Asia, Blog, Cambodia

Tags: , , , ,


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