Hanoi is cold in January and February. 60° F. Gray, windy and damp with 90% humidity. Locals call it moldy season. Down jackets are the chosen attire when outside.
This photo was a location reminder for the clock shop, since a friend was looking for a clock. This is how we find things and remember them. Most signs list the address. And see, down jackets!
After spending Tet holiday last year in the deserted city, this year for Tet we made use of our multiple-entry visas and went exploring in our neighboring country, Cambodia. Which had daily temperatures between 85-90° F. and only 40% humidity. Better.
Getting from Hanoi to Siem Reap is easy. 100 minutes flying time. Upon arrival, getting a Cambodian visa was a pleasant experience and involved a short form, $30 US each, and 15 minutes of rubbing elbows with the efficient and jovial visa/passport stampers who were entertaining themselves by trying to guess our nationalities before returning the passports. There was a lot of laughing. No one was hurried or cranky.
I had found a locally owned inn away from the city center (which is akin to a giant frat party, aptly called Pub Street) and accepted their airport pickup offer. Daughter #1 met us outside customs with our names on a piece of paper. She said it’s the first time she’s ever done that, since she’s typically away at pharmacy school in Phnom Penh, but was home helping her family during her spring break. She wasn’t sure what names to use on our sign. Their family name is first, the given name is last. Was ours? She shyly revealed the crossed-off attempts on the backside of the paper and we all laughed together. A car drove up. The driver? Dad. Happily we got in and were swallowed up by this endearing family, as we drove through the red dusty landscapes of Siem Reap. We met Daughter #2 when we arrived at the inn and they proceeded to help us, joke with us and steer us in all the right directions, while asking a million questions and answering ours.
People ask what Cambodia is like. From a visitor’s standpoint, we were charmed. Nearly everyone we met was friendly, curious and shy, full of questions and eager to interact. We found this to be true in all the cities we visited and stops we made.
How does a country recover from genocide 40 years prior? The Khmer Rouge mass murdered a quarter of the population, trying to create an agrarian utopia, free of money, family ties, religion, education, property and foreign influence. The entire city of Phnom Penh, 2 million people, was forcibly evacuated, marched to labor camps, starved, tortured and/or murdered. Ultimately, the entire middle class was killed. There were no more teachers, doctors, monks, artists, or anyone affluent. The infrastructure was demolished and rebuilding takes time. Consequently, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Read First They Killed My Father by Luong Ung for a personal account. A new movie of her book is also to be released early 2017 in the USA.
Add to that, how to deal with 5 million unexploded bombs and landmines? Don’t walk where the cows don’t walk. It is not a country for hiking. Be wary if a bush is growing in a rice field. Farmers don’t plant bushes in rice fields, so it’s from a bombsite disturbance, and potentially other ordinances remain. Farmers create square ponds to fit the rice paddy layout, so if a pond is round, it was created from a dropped bomb; don’t go near it. We saw these grim modern markers everywhere, while traveling in the southern portion of the country.
Tourism is a large part of the economy, and continues to grow. To accommodate, Siem Reap has exploded in size. 5 million visitors a year come to see the UNESCO world-heritage temple complex. And with good reason. The (400+) temples are fascinating. Beautiful, mystical and magical. I’m sure they’re loaded with Khmer spirits; the workers and those who lived within these complexes. There are thousands of professional photos online of the temples, so we focused on the details, which, in the context of the number of temples, was phenomenal.
We traveled with our friend Douglas, here in the tuktuk enroute to our first day of temple visits.
The Angkor Wat complex is over 400 acres.
Some temples are left to crumble back into nature.
Stunning carvings everywhere, inside and out.
The drivers would sling up a hammock in the back of their tuktuks and wait for their riders.
Water in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is treated with huge amounts of chlorine so it tastes awful. Nearly everyone drinks filtered water.
After 4 days of temples and town, we left Siem Reap for Phnom Penh on a boat, which we later discovered was nicknamed The Silver Floating Coffin. 6 hours on the Tonle Sap River, joining the Mekong, then into the big city. We rode on top most of the time. No ladders. Self-hoist to the top and hope you don’t tumble, especially when hitting a sand bar and lunging suddenly forward.
Family-filled fishing boats casting nets were all along the Tonle Sap.
One quick night in Phnom Penh. Happy herb is a thing. Smoothies, shakes, cakes, pizzas. I tried to order an herb drink and with a headshake by the protective waitress, was told I wouldn’t like it.
During the 4 hour bus ride south to Sihanoukville, we went through many small towns.
Rest stops are being built on the highways to accommodate the surge of travelers. Fruit, pastries and crisps (pig skin) are common snacks.
We had one night in Sihanoukville, on the SW coast of Cambodia, on the Gulf of Thailand. The beaches are crowded with small motels and people but the water and sunsets are glorious.
We departed on a 3 hour boat ride to a small island (in the distance) for a week of laziness.
Our Lazy Beach cabin for the week. West side of Koh Rong Samloem.
Good drumming spot. See how close the water is? I spy 2 hammocks.
Hiked up for this beach view. 20 cabins are down there in the tree line, and one family-run cookhouse/bar/hangout building.
A 20 minute walk through the jungle to the east side, Saracen Bay.
Never enough sunsets. What you can only see at night is the magical phosphorescence in the water.
We didn’t want to leave. But we were lucky to land in Kampot for a few days on our way home. Colorful, laid-back river town in SE Cambodia.
KAMA Kampot Art and Music Association. The musical and artistic pulse of Kampot. Coffee house extraordinaire.
Daily life and graffiti walls.
Smiles and questions.
It is hot.
The Preaek Tuek Chhu River runs through the city.
Now do you want to come visit? We’re moving to Hoi An when we return in September, and we’ll have a guest room!
And maybe a gecko.