The Cambodian Countryside

This place is gorgeous! Around Siem Reap it’s very flat, but the farther north you go, there are significant mountains and lots of awesome cliffs. This morning we woke, got breakfast, and hit the tuk tuk running. Literally, Zoe loves the tuk tuk more than anything, and Pearom thinks it’s too cool that she comes running for him. We had an hour long drive ahead of us, which was great. We drove through the local countryside past fields of rice and lemongrass, flooded yards, homes on stilts, naked kids and dogs running around, cows-chickens-water buffalo wandering, and lots of Cambodian people going about their day. The homes here are quite basic compared to ours, but truly amazing. They are typically on stilts (it floods alot) and seem to have half the building (maybe one or two rooms) enclosed with walls of wood or palm leaves, while the other half is simply an open air room with a roof. The kitchen is a woodburning kiln on the ground; alot of homes have signs indicating that their water well was donated with details about who sent he money, and what country they were from. Do a google search for “cambodia water well”. Also seems that everyone has at least one cow, some chickens, a few hammocks, and a mini buddha temple that I mistook for birdhouses at first.

Our drive led us to Banteay Srei – a beautiful small ‘female’ temple with amazingly intricate carvings in a pinkish sandstone. It was more crowded than anywhere we went yesterday, so it was tough for Zoe as she was weilding a lovely stick (fishing pole) the whole day. We enjoyed the monkeys, Hindu gods and goddesses, elephants, and floral carvings. Unlike the temples and palaces we hit up yesterday, this one is mostly Hindu…I guess there was a lot of Buddhist/Hindu/local religion mixing that resulted in the Angkor culture. We got our fill of crowds and ‘do not touch’ carvings, donated a bit to sit and listen to some traditional music played by victims of landmines, bought a book and a sprite, and mounted our tuk tuk.

We drove 20 more minutes down the road through a random deluge of rain; the tuk tuk has canvas sides that roll down, and Pearom insisted we continue as he had a poncho even though I offered they we could all just wait in the trailer for it to pass. The clouds parted when we arrived at the trailhead for Kbal Spean. This is the ‘male’ area – a streambed full of neato Hindu god carvings plus a few hundred ‘linga’s’ or penises that seem to emerge from the water. weird but cool. The hike in was 2km; Zoe rode on my back and fell asleep. It was a nice trail with lots of uphill boulder-strewn patches followed by nice flat trail. The water was flowing fast and furious, creating an awesome waterfall which would’ve been worth the hike regardless of the carvings. Zoe woke as we were checking out the last of the carvings – a man riding a bull – but she wanted to stay in the carrier. The trail is so well marked, that I know she decided to walk when we had 1.5 km left to return. She loved it! We got wet and muddy as another storm blew through, and then filled our bellies with a noodle dish and some juice at the trailhead food huts. The drive back was sunny and fun.

This afternoon we ventured out again to see some of the modern wats (temples) in town; they are exquisitely painted in bright orange and gold. Afterwards we had a special night out. We went to the massage place across the street where I got an hour long Khmer massage for $6. Zoe spent the time jumping on the other futons in the room and unpacking our bag…the massage girl thought it was hysterical. Then we wandered to a nails place and got pedicures; again Zoe was a hit with the Cambodian girls who did her nails. She picked purple. We rounded out the evening with a special dinner and show at La Noria restaurant where the local nonprofit kids traditional arts school does a shadow puppet show and apsara dance. The young kids doing the show were great, and Zoe was enthralled the whole time. We ate an amazing fish Amok. Now Zoe is crashed out on the bed with the AC cranked after a nice hot shower.

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