Ancient Places and Vain Faces: Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Air Asia flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia lands safely (you know….the airline that lost a plane a few months go). It is a budget airline, but the planes are new and clean. I paid only $170 for a month long ASEAN pass that allows you to fly to 10 different cities, so you can’t beat that for a bargain. I do have to pay the airport taxes and fees, but they are fairly nominal. They even allow one carry on piece for free plus a handbag.

When we arrive in Siem Reap ours is the only plane at the airport. I quickly realized, however, that I should have arranged for the visas online. We have to wait in line for awhile. The visa agents seem to be pretty jolly. I can’t make out if the jovial visa agents are laughing at us or with us, but I have been laughed at before….. Soon enough I plop down $160 and we have visas in hand. Now I know why they are laughing…..they are raking in lots of money from the tourists…..

First order of business after checking into our hotel is dinner. We grab dinner at a questionably clean open air restaurant.  What attracts us to it are the low prices. Only $16 to feed the whole clan until we are like stuffed pigeons.   
I am happy with the cheap meal, but I don’t look at the dirty tablecloth. I also pretend that I don’t mind that the cloth cover on the menu is so dirty I scarcely dare to hold it in my delicate work averse hands. No, those are not wrinkles or bags around my eyes….my neck is wrinkle free, too. 

After dinner we find these smoothie carts everywhere. You can get fruit smoothies for $1 each, but I have heard that everything is negotiable, so I negotiate an even better deal….six smoothies for $5. I am not sure that the ice is safe, but what the heck, we are here for the experience, and maybe diarrhea and vomiting is something every traveler should experience. Man oh man! The smoothies are delicious! All except the durian smoothie, which tastes like human exhaust – if you can imagine what that tastes like. The mango shake is a killer, and the one they called “stop berry” (strawberry) is Kristoff’s favorite! 

The next day the Passagio Hotel puts out a pretty good breakfast and we enjoy the French baguette…..they serve American breakfast here….no noodles for us, thanks!

Later we walked through the meat market….this is not a Scottsdale “meat market”….this is a real one! That liver looks huge….I wonder if it can be transplanted into a human. Just think, all this meat hangs out unrefrigerated all day in the heat.

Ish….flies on your hot dogs? Yummy…..I realize that all the meat that we consume in this lovely country of Cambodia comes from this type of market…so lord knows how many fly eggs we eat. Hopefully the cooking kills any offensive organisms, the fly eggs and any maggots that may have hatched! Suddenly I regret the cheap dinner we had last night at the restaurant with dirty tablecloths. I almost miss my American meats that are highly processed and chemical laced and dyed with Red 40 to make it look fresh, and where the animals are raised on factory farms in cages that they can’t move around in; meats that have Best Before Dates smartly stamped on the packages with the little styrofoam tray and plastic wrap ensuring the utimate purity of the meat …I won’t eat this sausage for sure! It looks too funky even without the flying ornaments. 

It’s raining on our first day in Siem Reap. We are glad because it’s not so hot today, which means that the meats in the market will spoil slower….maybe we will be safe after all.  

We decide on a tuk tuk tour of the temples, and David searches for the perfect one long and hard. Finally we have the best one in town and we overload it with six people, until the fender is scraping against the tire.

We pony up $160 dollars for tickets to the temples, and the tour is on! The twins are free, thankfully! The agents have a hard time believing they are only 11 years old, since they are almost adult sized in Cambodia, so we show the passports to every ticket checker along the way. We make sure to call them babies for extra emphasis.

The first temple we visit is Angkor Wat. We are extra glad for the rain, since the temple is not very busy. A local man approaches us and asks if we would like a guide. David loves history so we hire him for probably too much money. I think he had versed his sales pitch really well, because once he started the tour we discovered his English skills were a bit lackluster.

We did our best to figure out what he was saying. At least he made a good photographer, although the first time he asked if he can have the camera to take a photo of us I immediately went into a hyper alert state. I figured he was going to quickly run off with my camera that is worth more money than most people in this country make in a year. Ended up he was just trying to make an honest living and is not a thief as I falsely suspected – shame on me.

Aundrea, Annika and I must don long skirts which we pull over our shorts. Annika is very upset about the inequality and resents having to cover up when the boys don’t have to. I am pretty pleased with myself because I brought along a 10 year old skirt and it works well – budget traveler. I had been thinking about getting a sarong, but I really don’t need one. It does have a slit in the back but no one seems to mind.

The temple is a bit gloomy in the rain, adding to the mystique about this amazing relic of bygone days. I try to imagine the people who built this magnificent temple, and those who were the mighty and powerful of that day. Who were these people, and what inspired these massive temples? I think even well learned historians don’t have an explanation for all that is here. They believe about one million people lived in the area surrounding the temples, but all we see is jungle. What happened to the people, and where did they go? I wonder what generations a thousand years from now will think about relics that are left from our civilization today? I have to wonder if they will ask themselves why all this silicone is buried with human remains…..must have been valuable, they will surmise.

The temple has many intricate carvings on the walls.  

The guide tells us that Angkor Wat contains this large baptism pool… At least that’s what we think the guide said. Wait a minute, did they baptize people here? The temples originally were under Hindu rule, and later converted to Buddhism. Well, whatever….it’s a big pool that was filled up with rain water when someone wanted a dip.


There are a few monks around these parts.

Oh my goodness! There are half dressed carvings of women all over the place in here, but I shan’t show my ankles….I mean, I know my ankles are pretty hot…..

I would have hated my life if I would have been the one who had to lathe all these stone spirals!

To liven things up a bit we play a game of peekaboo through the spirals. Oh ooh! Kristoff’s head got stuck! Call the doctor!!


David is smart….he doesn’t stick his head all the way out!


Ok, I think I would have hated life even more if I were the master stone carver! I would definitely have needed Prozac or something…..magnificent work – can you imagine how much went into this?


If I were the supreme ruler of this land I would have made people walk up these steep steps to stand before my judgement…..

Suddenly we were treated to an awesome sight! We found our long lost relatives! I probably got a bit too close, as our trusted travel doctor had warned us about monkeys and rabies….

As we leave the temple grounds we see a group of groundskeepers. They are cutting the grass with knives. As this woman madly swings her knife about her feet her child watches on. I think every day in Cambodia is a take your child to work day.


We like our driver. He seems to be a gentle soul. He takes us wherever we want to go and then waits for us to be done. We ask him to bring us for some good coffee. 

He brings us around the corner to this place where we are warmly greeted. As we examine the menu we see that coffee drinks are around $3, but in a separate section there is listed Cambodian coffee for $1. We order it, but the waiter tells us we won’t like it. We insist and order one for our driver, too. The driver tells us he has never had coffee before because in Cambodia you only eat and drink what you have available, and coffee is a luxury. The Cambodian coffees are ze best!!! We even try to come back the next day, but they are closed for the day when we get there. 

Our next stop is the Bayon Temple.

Random dancers  

This temple is full of ginormous faces like this. I think there’s over 250 of these here! The temple is massive!


Maybe seeing all these faces inspires me to take photos of my kids faces… vanity shots. Be aware, the next few photos are just of my beautiful kids and husband!


We finished off the day at Tah Prohm, my favorite temple. I love how the jungle has taken over. I am disappointed though because the rainy day isn’t the best for photography, but I do my best. It’s crazy to think how these tree roots are so huge and how they have pushed their way through the temple walls. 



Tonight we decide to eat at Khmer Kitchen. I order the traditional “lok lak” but I do not like it that much. All I can think about as I eat are all the flies at the market…..and the smell…..ugh….I feel nauseated.

We retire back into our Passaggio Hotel rooms, which by the way are pretty nice – not a bad gig for $20 per room per night, which includes breakfast. The kids use the pool, even though the water is a bit cloudy.


And the best thing? Our laundry is clean! For $1/kg my laundry is washed, dried, and folded! I could get used to this service.


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