Welcome to Cambodia

I was running out of time, so last week when I sat down to count out the days I had left it soon became evident that I needed to catch a flight out of Vientiane if I was going to get to Cambodia for any length of time. As luck would have it there was one seat left the next week to Fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia, but the bad luck stated this flight would leave at 630am.  I almost audibly heard the guesthouse owner’s friend the taxi driver laugh with glee at the thought of what he was going to charge me for the 430am ride to the airport, as he really had a monopoly at that hour.

Anyway, here is the Lao Airlines plane, aka the first turbo prop plane I’ve taken in memory-

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Now I have to say, I am left without conclusive evidence as to the safety record of Lao Airlines from my experience.  They sort of mentioned at the beginning that there were exits somewhere and seatbelts were a good idea… I started idly wondering if the plane was as old as everything in Laos until I realized this was one of those “thinking too much” moments people keep warning me about, so I decided to nap.  My favorite napping position on a plane involves elegantly sleeping while leaning on the tray table until the stewardess tells me to put the tray table up as we’re landing, so I was busy napping happily until… my body received a jolt from landing wheels.  Which has never happened to me before on the five continents I’ve been to.  Who would have guessed international airline regulations are subject to cultural relativism?

But anyway, Cambodia.  As an introduction, I should tell you that I was a touch paranoid about visiting thanks to Mr. McGee, my favorite teacher in 8th grade science who joined the Peace Corps in Cambodia after teaching me.  His descriptions of Cambodia around the year 2000 were, I must say, pretty grim, and knowing the recent history of the country with the Khmer Rouge wasn’t helping my perceptions either.  I needn’t have worried though- due to the influx of tourism Siem Reap is the sort of place even my dad would call “nice.”  It’s more French than Laos was to the point where the riverside area could almost pass a town in that country, there is lots of development, and it’s the first place I’ve been where the average age of tourists was over 25.  Who would have guessed?

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The best night shot I have of “Pub Street,” which technically has a Khmer name  but no one knows it anymore.  Pub Street is actually filled with more restaurants than pubs.  It should also be noted that it is typically more expensive to eat here (ie Cambodia, not just Pub Street) than even Bangkok, which doesn’t make sense because Cambodia is overall cheaper.  The reason, it turns out, is twofold: first of all due to cheap prices it’s much too tempting to “upgrade” your lifestyle a bit, and second Cambodia de-facto uses the US dollar as its currency (its own, the riel, is used as change- 4,000 riel= $1USD).  Right now the USD is doing quite good against currencies like the Thai baht, so Cambodians are definitely benefiting.

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View from my guesthouse window which I took one afternoon when it suddenly got so dark and windy I excitedly began thinking it might rain.  I haven’t seen the stuff since an hour-long downpour on Ko Samui about six weeks ago and I’m starting to miss it- heck if it’s somewhat cloudy I feel it’s so dark I can hardly see- but it’s not scheduled to rain for another few months yet so sure enough it didn’t this time either.

It should be noted by the way that after two months of rain I’m beginning  to think the concept as far-fetched.  You mean water falls from the sky?  Shenanagins, next you’re going to tell me there are some places in the world where you can walk on water and drink it from the tap and not die!

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Speaking of water, I saw this little commotion at the market and fell in love with it- it’s the iceman!  Remember how a century ago in the USA you had a guy who’d come around with blocks of ice every day? (Ok, you don’t remember, but you’ve heard stories.) Apparently they still do that in Cambodia.  And he has got to be one of the most popular guys in town because it’s always a million degrees here.

So that is my introduction to Cambodia.  Now to get onto the main stuff and reason I came here, the magnificent Angkor Wat…

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