Observations From 10 Days in Cambodia

Ice delivery in Cambodia
Ice is delivered in carts and cut with a saw before being taken into bars and restaurants for use

I am obsessed with the way ice is delivered. Every day, a truck or van or bike comes by with a giant block of ice. Street vendors, restaurants and individuals come up, tell the ice man how much they want and he proceeds to saw it off with a rusty saw and hand it to the customer. They then cart it off by hand, in a bag, on a bike or any other way they can. Some times they rest the ice on the ground before paying and hauling it away…and I’m sure it’s not washed before ending up in my drink!

Every day it seemed to rain, but the skies parted and beautiful weather blessed us for our three days in Angkor.

After seven months we finally started taking our malaria medicine.

Lots of sellers are very whiny “Pleeeease buy my teeeeeshirt. Why don’t you want my waaaaater?”

An outdoor barber on the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
An outdoor barber on the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Rather than carry guidebooks for each country the whole time, we find that most countries have photocopied versions of Lonely Planet country guides available for less than $4 each. They cost at least $20 at home.

I got my Cambodia Lonely Planet guidebook copy at Sadhana Forest from a friend in February, 2009. It was July 2009 when we visited Cambodia. Yet, the published date on the book was August 2009. How is that possible?

Our gas station attendant on one tuk tuk ride was a little boy.

One bus ride stopped at a side of the road fruit stall, during which most of the locals got off to shop and, in total, brought back on at least 200 pounds of jackfruits and durians.

A roadside gas station in Cambodia ... aka, a guy with two barrels of petrol
A roadside gas station in Cambodia … aka, a guy with two barrels of petrol

Even paved highways are covered in dirt due to the sides of the road bleeding onto them during heavy rains.

I saw a very stern and professional army officer walking around with a little pink backpack.

Children are very rarely supervised and wander all over the place.

Cambodia has far more undeveloped countryside than the rest of Southeast Asia…as far as I’ve seen.

A jumble of electric wires alongside the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A jumble of electric wires alongside the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Most houses in the countryside are built on wood, built on stilts, have shanty stairs or ramps leading up to them but have the most beautiful roofs.

I have seen more US $2 bills in Cambodia than I ever have back at home.

Every bus we were on seemed to play a dubbed movie where a bald Asian kid fights demons and zombies by kicking and flying through the air. I find them entertaining, but the Cambodians LOVE them, laughing and cheering along the whole time.

Giving blood in Cambodia
Giving blood for the first time in Siem Reap

I gave blood for the first time in my life at a Cambodian blood bank in Siem Reap. Apparently I’m A-Negative.

While giving blood, the doctor, and educated man, was commenting how my blood was better than Carrie’s because I’m a man. He said to Carrie, “can you throw a football? I think not. He can. Can you climb a tree? Probably not, but he can.”

Giving blood was Carrie’s idea but I’m the one who walked away unscathed. She had a massive bruise and lump where the needle went in for more than a week.

Teeshirts for sale at Prasat Ta Som in Angkor, Cambodia
Teeshirts for sale at Prasat Ta Som in Angkor, Cambodia

More than 800 tourists a year donate blood to the clinic we went to…probably because they offer a free tee shirt. What traveler can say no to a free tee shirt?!

Many hotels have tuk tuk drivers waiting around for people to check in. They show the room then explain that they are a driver and can take the person wherever they want to go. You then become their property and they get really angry if you use anyone but them. I’m sorry, when did I become your possession?

Many bus companies sell your name to their friends at your destination, so when you get out of a bus there is someone there with your name on a sign waiting for you.

We saw some local dance and music performances, which were pretty cool.

A selection of old and new Cambodian Riel
A selection of old and new Cambodian Riel

Cambodian money uses no change, only bills.

Seriously, if you don’t understand what I’m saying, don’t nod your head and say yes and then do something else. Like when a moto driver takes you somewhere that is not your destination. It just guarantees an argument and possible non-payment.

Most prices are in dollars and ATMs only give out US Dollars. Change is given in local currency. So 1,000 riel is 25 cents. If something is $3.50, you pay $3 US and 2,000 riel. Very weird.

A tuk tuk driver that we used our first day at Angkor came and found us on our second day to make sure that we were really using bikes and not just going with someone else. Seriously, we’re not you’re property!

Despite how many streets there are and how many cars and bikes are on the road, there are amazingly few traffic lights. Still, traffic seems to flow just fine.

Workers in Angkor, Cambodia
Carrie at Thommanon after we had a shot of rice whiskey with local workers

All gardening and manicuring at the Angkor complex is done by an army of workers. We stopped and had a drink of rice whiskey with a few of them at the end of our bike riding day.

The workers we had rice whiskey with told us that gardeners, guards and other workers at Angkor make around $25 per month for 12 hour work days and most have second jobs to make ends meet.

In order to get a souvenir vendor who was following me in Angkor to go away I told him that a different group of people wanted to buy his stuff. He replied, “no, they are Japanese. They no buy.”

Every day in Siem Reap I had a bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast. It was amazing and a little taste of home. Well, minus the Kraft singles…

Cambodia is filled with kids selling all sorts of books wherever tourists go. The most popular ones are photocopied Lonely Planets, biographies of Pol Pot and tales relating to the Khmer Rouge.

Tourists flock to Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tourists flock to Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The little kids at tourist stops are extremely smart and usually speak at least 4-5 languages. They also know most of the world and city capitals. All in a never-ending effort to impress tourists enough to buy their wares.

While wandering the streets of Siem Reap at night, our group was surrounded by cute little kids who all wanted to hold hands and be friendly. My hand was, of course, guarding my pocket the whole time. One girl complained that the girl holding her hand tried to slip her ring off.

Everyone is friendly until it’s time to talk money.

Every time Sportscenter comes on the TV I get excited that I might see some baseball highlights…instead I just see cricket.

A menu in Cambodia
A menu in Cambodia

In many convenience stores in Siem Reap the counter contains a row of condoms right next to a row of Viagra and other performance enhancing drugs. Hilarious! (and I’m curious to see how much this blog gets spammed because I used the word Viagra on a Web page)

Most people we talked to have great English skills…way better than anywhere else on the trip.

Finally, we got a massage from blind people in Siem Reap. Recommended by Lonely Planet and countless other travelers, it was one of the sketchiest activities ever. We went down a dark alley to a dirty building used as the massage parlor. We shared a hot and stuffy room with another couple. The masseur felt me up from head to toe to figure out my body dimensions (understandable since he’s blind).

The four massage therapists were talking to each other in Khmer the whole time and laughing. We had to put on thick hospital scrubs that were too small and made us sweat like crazy. The massage was mostly pushing down and was super painful. And, after it was over, one of the massage therapists grabbed the other’s crotch…probably to check for an erection. Even Carrie, who has had countless massages, ranks it as one of the strangest of her life.

 

Souvenirs for sale at Angkor, Cambodia
Souvenirs for sale at Angkor, Cambodia

 

Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

An outdoor kitchen alongside the Mekong River in Cambodia
An outdoor kitchen alongside the Mekong River in Cambodia

 

Restaurants alongside the Mekong riverside in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Restaurants alongside the Mekong riverside in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

Inside a supermarket in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Inside a supermarket in Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

An internet cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia
An internet cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

Weight gain formula for sale in a grocery store in Cambodia
Weight gain formula for sale in a grocery store in Cambodia

 

Walking along Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Walking along Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia