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Cambodian Countryside

Unfortunately, I got stuck an extra day in Phnom Penh. Ugh. I reserved a plane ticket for the morning - but because of the new year holiday, I wasn’t able to pay until the morning. By then my reservation had expired and the plane sold out. Bummer. The next flight was that afternoon so I filled my time with getting caught up on blogging and downloading images.

My advice to anyone traveling to Phnom Penh is to stay there for one day. Tick the sights and then leave. More than one day, regardless of what your travel agent says, simply isn’t necessary to taste the unremarkable flavor of this capital city.

The flight to Siem Riep was short and comfortable. The plane, a puddle jumper, was nearly empty but super clean and brand new. The flight took about 35 minutes - barely enough time to watch that episode of Entourage that I had loaded onto my iPad.

The next morning, I joined Peace of Angkor guide Dave Perkes and driver Kimleng on a two hour drive out of the city to some ruins way off the beaten track. The last hour of driving was over serious off-road trails where we would have easily gotten lost but for the local guide that we picked up along the way.

Now, I should add to all this that I’d picked up a cold in Singapore that I’d managed to fight off - until today. At the same time, I picked up an intestinal bug in Phnom Penh (another reason not to like that city) so I was ready to run to the outhouse at any given moment - not a pleasant prospect in Cambodia where their idea of a developed toilet is often a ceramic ditch into which you pour water from a nearby container to flush it. That and the heat sapped my strength something ferocious. Basically, I was a semi-lifeless wreck trying to make do as we hiked through the jungle to find some interesting but probably-not-worth-the-effort sculptures of elephants and tigers.

In fact, the stuff that we looked at wasn’t nearly as interesting as the people that we met along the way. These kids allowed their curiosity to guide them as they followed us around at our first stop.

So I mentioned that I had this intestinal bug. Well, I should add that Cambodia is notorious for having millions of land mines still in place from its long civil war. Every year, children and farmers are blown up from treading in uncleared areas. Anywhere near the tourist areas is not a problem, but we were many miles off the beaten path.

Thus I wasn’t too surprised to hear that there were land mines in the area of our adventure. Now I don’t know if they were pulling my leg, but I did take the prospect of getting my legs blown off seriously. Where this fact and the fact that I had a serious case of the runs intersects is in that I was now afraid to leave the trail to go to the bathroom (and of course there were no actual bathrooms around).

Dave, my guide, assured me that so long as my poop weighed less than 22 kilos, the minimum weight needed to set off a land mine, I’d be okay. Ha ha. As Fred Flintstone would say, “so droll, so very droll.” The joke was even less funny considering that defecating under the influence of a tropical third-world intestinal bug does not result in anything resembling solid. But I’m telling you more than you care to know.

As I put a smiling face on my discomfort, we visited a cave known for it’s large bats. It also served as the home for a hermetic monk. Here’s his home.

Here’s a portrait of our cave guide in his two-hut village.

Afterward, we stopped by a river popular with the locals. There’s a waterfall that was perfect for a cool soaking. One great thing about Cambodia is that few, other than children who just jump in naked, bother to get out of their street clothes when they go for a dunk. So I went in too. Man it felt so good! The misery I was feeling just washed away - and because my clothes were wet, I stayed cool for a good while after.

There’s no public transportation in Cambodia so people just jump aboard the local third-world pickup. These vehicles are a common sight in the countryside. Consisting of nothing more than a generator with a flywheel hooked up to a long steering bar and four wheels, they noisily transport all manner of goods and people from village to village.

For many farmers, the age old ox cart is still the preferred mode of travel.

Our last stop of the day was a relatively small temple complex not far outside of Siem Riep. Finally, my reward for leaving Phnom Penh! The reason I opted to travel to Cambodia was because I’d heard and seen fantastic photos of Angkor Wat - a grandiose ancient Khmer Temple. But in reality, the area contains dozens of temples, both restored and crumbling. So finally putting my camera and my creative eye to work amidst the elegantly sculpted rock of the temple was a welcome task.

These local kids came out to entertain us with their jumping skills. Of course, they both asked for “one dolla” afterward. I gave them some cash for their performance. A buck for me isn’t much, but it goes a long way for their families.

Then it was back to the hotel for a cold shower and food. I shuffled next door for some tom yum soup then shuffled back to my room. I’m fully cooked and hoping that tomorrow will bring with it new energy and better health.


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