Thursday, November 10, 2016

Khmer noodle curry, temples, and night buses: 7 Cambodian highlights

Last month, the first semester of school finished which means one thing: time off! How have I already completed an entire semester? I'll never know. Taking full advantage of this time off meant it was time to travel yet again. This time to Phnom Pen and Siem Reap, Cambodia. For 10 days, I crisscrossed the country and absolutely fell in love. Going to Cambodia was, without a doubt, one of the best trips I have ever been on; it was that good. Instead of a big, lengthy post, I'm trying a format where I post seven highlights from my travels.

1. Khmer noodle curry
      In Thailand, rice is the starch du jour. Now don't get me wrong, I love rice but a really love noodles. Back in Cleveland, one of my favorite restaurants is a Cambodia place called Phnom Pen so I knew I was in for a treat, and Cambodia delivered. More than once, I indulged in Khmer noodle curry which is a noodle curry and it's bursting with flavor like spicy chili, sour lime, crunchy bean spouts all resting on a bed of rice noodles and broth. It was amazing and the best part--it was $1 per bowl. It can't get much better than that.

Khmer noodle curry with fresh lime, bean sprouts, and chili pepper

2. The Temples at Angkor
     Angkor Wat, a UNESCO site, is the world's largest religious location, located in Siem Reap. Essentially, it is a group of temples scattered over 162.6 hectares that allow visitors a glimpse into the ancient world. In one day, I saw every temple on the small and large circuit which required getting to the temples at 5 a.m. and staying until 3 p.m. to see it all. It was intense, but totally worthwhile. Most people recognize certain temples, like the one featured in the film Tomb Raider. What is pretty amazing about the temples at Angkor is that people can climb on almost everything and completely explore the temples without much supervision, safety precautions, or limits. I have to say, climbing around an ancient temple was a pretty cool experience.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at 5:30 a.m.

Climbing on some temples; I know I look small compared to the temple!

At the temple that was in Tomb Raider

3. Night bus from Phnom Pen to Siem Reap to Phnom Pen (again)
     While I have taken trains, planes, and automobiles, I have never traveled via night bus. To save money and time, my travel buddy and I chose to take a night bus from Phnom Pen to Siem Reap and back to Phnom Pen because our flight was round-trip out of the capital. On these particular night buses, we shared the equivalent of a twin bed with a curtain for privacy. Needless to say, people can just reach into your "bed," which might cause you to kick someone in the arm when they reach into your "bed" (Not that I would know anything about kicking a random arm on a night bus. I would never do such a thing). You can hear everything and feel every bump in the road. While it might not have been the best mode of transit considering I did not sleep much, it saved time and money and gave me an interesting experience that I can cross off my bucket list, which is what traveling is all about.

4. The Killing Fields and Toul Sleng
     While it wasn't the most uplifting day, one of the best parts of Phnom Pen was learning more about the Khmer Rouge. From 1975-1979, Cambodia suffered from a genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and their dictator, Pol Pot. In order to educated future generations about the horrors of dictatorships and genocide, the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng stand to serve that purpose.
     The Killing Fields is the location where Cambodia people were killed for being a threat to the Khmer Rouge regime. Now, it serves as a grave and memorial for those killed and as a way to teach about the history of Cambodia. Toul Sleng, also known as S-21, was a school turned prison for those opposed to the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed. Of the 17,000 prisoners of Toul Sleng, there are only seven known survivors. Much like the Killing Fields, Toul Sleng serves to teach about the history of Cambodia and hopes to prevent genocide in the future through education.
     Even though going to sites associated with genocide might not be everyone's cup of tea, I enjoyed learning about the recent history of Cambodia. Every single person alive in Cambodia today is related to the genocide in some way, either as a survivor themselves or as a family member of a survivor. It is was incredibly informative, humbling, and moving to learn more about this dark time in Cambodian history and what they are doing, as a country, to educate others about the pains of genocide and how to prevent something like this from happening again in the future.

5. Pottery
     After taking a night bus, some special activities are in order.  I took a pottery class in Siem Reap the morning after "sleeping" on the night bus that was really enjoyable. The teacher and her two young daughters, one with the cutest mop of curly black hair, helped us to throw three pieces on the pottery wheel: a bowl, a cup, and a vase. Even though we had not slept much the night before, the pottery class completely revived me to take on the rest of the day! I took pottery classes in high school, so this brought be back to my previous art classes and reminded me how much I enjoy creating. A few days later, the pieces were fired and delivered back to us and now I have two cool souvenirs that I made myself!

Trying to channel my throwing knowledge from high school. Spoiler alert: it didn't really come back to me!

One of the teacher's daughters took this amazing photo of my hands throwing a bowl

6. Puppies
      I spent time with two perfect puppies in Cambodia. The first was a teeny, tiny puppy at the pottery class. When I say teeny, I mean he could fit in one of my hands. He made the pottery class especially worth it. At one of the hostels we stayed at in Phnom Pen, the owner had a little puppy, Keno, who lived at the hostel. Since I don't get to play with may dogs in Chiang Mai, playing with these cute little puppies reminded me of my dog and how much I love spending time with sweet animals.

The face of pure joy holding a teeny, tiny puppy!

7. The people
     When I say the people in Cambodia were hospitable, that would be an understatement. Every single person, except for one strange tuk tuk driver went above and beyond in giving us incredible service, giving us great advice, and through showing us the most -spectacular hospitality. I felt so welcomed in Cambodia. The people we met were some of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. It is amazing to me that a country with such a tumultuous recent past has people that are so kind, giving, and happy. Seeing how the Cambodian people interact with others inspired me to want to be a better person by going above and beyond what is necessary; it was that powerful. The kindness I witnessed in Cambodia made it hard to leave and has me itching to go back!

Street side stop in Siem Reap

Vegetable sellers at a market in Siem Reap

So there you have it, seven amazing things about Cambodia! An just you wait, my next tow trips are good ones: Bangkok and then Bali! I cannot wait to explore these new places and tell you all about them. Until next time!

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