A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.


"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Monday, February 1, 2010

Siem Reap, Cambodia

As one would expect, we spent many a morning touring the temples around Angkor Wat which is the main attraction of Siem Reap and indeed Cambodia. I promise to write soon about their grandeur in detail, when I can give them their proper blog space and corresponding photo opportunities.

The city of Siem Reap is vibrant and bustling yet maintains a small-town, if not quaint, feeling. The main tourist street and cornerstone of nightlife is Pub Street, and it is home to many popular restaurants placed strategically between bars offering 2 for 1 cocktails and cheap beer. After which there are no doubt hundreds of tuk-tuk drivers all vying for your business to drive you home after your swervy night out. They have certainly worked out how to cater to the millions of tourists flowing through here in a constantly increasing stream.

After trying several restaurants, our vote for Khmer food was at Temple, a restaurant off the alleyway bedecked in orange and advertised with the simplest tagline: “Traditional Khmer Cuisine“. It was also pleasantly unpretentious and reasonably priced so we became something of regulars.

Khmer food is pretty tasty, less spicy than Thai (some say “subtle“ or worse, bland) and extremely well priced. Even in smaller restaurants you can get dishes for $2-3, and less at the street vendors. Naturally, I was bonkers for the fresh spring rolls, always my favorite appetizer. And for a light, crunchy lunch or dinner, the banana flower salad was a novel taste. One of the most traditional dishes is Amok that comes with fish (usually) or chicken or beef. We found a few types, one with more sauce (my Mom’s requirement) and another drier version, both served up in a cute banana leaf bowl. The beer of the land is not surprisingly called “Ankgor” and runs for fifty cents per draught, which is splendid after a hot day at the temples.

Lined along Pub Street with all the other massage parlors is a unique offering called “The Fish Massage”. This entails dunking your bare feet into a huge tank of starving fish who then proceed to nibble away voraciously on your dead skin like it was their last meal on earth. And you have to pay for this wacky spa treatment, some $3 for 20 minutes. Ok, so I did it because my Mom dared me, and she did it because I dared her right back. And this is how we found ourselves, giggling uncontrollably with our feet in a giant tank of fish. I have to admit it was ticklish (and a little creepy) at first, but loads of fun and afterwards my feet were smoother than a baby’s bottom. Better than a $50 spa pedicure any day. And au naturelle!

It made me think for a split second of bringing this back to the States, until I thought about the waiver forms and the sanitary issues, the impending lawsuits and the Peta fanatics crying mistreatment of our little finned friends. The thought vanished into vapor where all the “wouldn’t that be cool” ideas go when you are touring the third world, a veritable Disneyland of dangerous ideas. Back in the US where we are cordoned off from danger by velvet ropes, under the watchful eye of rent-a-cops and video surveillance cameras, forever burdened by the fine print, cautionary language, and the moronically obvious safety warnings that tells us that, yes, coffee is indeed a hot liquid substance and no, its not a good idea to blow dry your hair in the bathtub. In our effort to protect everyone from everything, we have lost the ability of everyday life to kill off the stupid. Poor ole Darwin is rolling in his grave. And on top of it all, we’ve become hopelessly un-fun. Boring, really. Okay, okay, rant /off. I really enjoyed the Dr. Fish Massage, it made me squeal with delight.

The next day, on (my Mom’s) Ron’s birthday, we had a special night out at The Apsara Theater. First they served us a 3 course meal from our table on the balcony, and we celebrated with a sparkling bottle of champagne, toasting the birthday boy.

Soon the show began, and we had great seats overlooking the stage where we saw five separate styles of Khmer classical dance. The glittering Aspara dancers had slowly subtle and graceful movements, most notably with their hand gestures called kbach. Some were quite painful to behold, as they bent their fingers backwards far past normal. Like ballet, they train from an early age to gain super-human flexibility.

The last day my parents spent in Siam Reap was a Mothers-Daughters day. We had not had that much alone time so we enjoyed touring the city, chauffeured in our own private chariot.

First we went to Artisans D’Angkor a business that trains and employs villagers to work as weavers, sculptors, and metalworkers to reproduce classic Khmer artifacts. We didn’t buy much but enjoyed the tour of the workshops full of artists absorbed in their craft.

We went shopping for souvenirs at the Old Market and amazingly I couldn’t find anything to buy! Even with a free delivery home, I think I’ve successfully snuffed out my ingrained consumerist bent. A beneficial side effect of our world journey.

We had lunch at Café de le Paix and I had a make your own salad with chicken breast, black olive, blue cheese, and honey mustard dressing (on the side). What a treat! Next, we couldn’t pass up Gin Daisy’s served to us in bed, in the spacious modern interior of Hotel de le Paix. We laughed and gabbed like girlfriends would drinking mischievously in the afternoon.

The day wouldn’t have been complete without some massages. Just off Pub street, we stopped in one of the ubiquitous massage spots for a $6 foot massage. Ahhh, bliss!

Before we knew it, the day was over as was the visit. It went way too fast! It was amazing sharing our travel journey with my parents. We packed a lot in to two weeks: from beachcombing, cooking lessons, and snorkeling trips on a secluded island in Thailand, to corrupt overland border crossings taking us to the national museum and royal palace of Phnom Penh and then to the ancient wonders of Angkor Wat and her surrounding temples. Not to mention the food: the fresh spring rolls, fish amok, and fifty cent Angkor draughts. Followed by dozens of massages (fish or otherwise), dazzling aspara dancers, and crazy tuk-tuk rides. Lots of great memories. Sending our love to our new travel partners-in-crime: Mom and Ron!

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