Driving into Cambodia from Laos, we were surely in a different country. Going through immigration felt like a confusing game run by children -- scams abounded and nothing made sense. As we drove into Siem Reap, poverty surrounded us, with livestock wandering the street and naked children running around thatched roof homes. It felt starkly different to Laos and the other Southeast Asian countries I'd been.
I was really excited for Cambodia though, despite only having a short five days in the country. (I booked my flight out way too early, accidentally, and was kicking myself for it!) As long as I fit in Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields, I would be happy.
And fit them in I did. I started in Siem Reap, where the night markets were amazing and $2 foot massages existed and the rain became torrential at times and I ate frog for the first time. We even discovered a wine bar, a little slice of home tucked away in Cambodia, where we drank wine and ate a cheese board and kept gasping at how luxurious it all felt. It's incredible how good it all tasted when we had been missing it for so long.
There's so much poverty in Siem Reap though, and I learned that quickly. One night I had a little boy try to scam me -- it's common that kids are sent out by their parents to convince you to buy them expensive baby formula, and then they bring it to their parents and they return it for the money. I almost caved and bought the milk, until a girl gave me a heads up that it was a scam and the boy transformed from a sweet little kid to a shockingly mean, foul mouthed little thing. I was confused and sad and angry all at once, and it shook me up for the whole night. I later saw the mothers walking about with their sleeping babies in slings, carrying empty bottles and asking for milk, and later learned that they drug the babies to sleep soundly while they're begging. The whole situation just made me so sad -- because despite being scammy and annoying and sort of awful, they wouldn't be doing it if they weren't desperate for money in some way. Buying that milk would have just perpetuated the problem though, and so while I'm glad I didn't buy it, I ended up feeling so helpless amidst such overwhelming poverty. It felt like I had a huge existential crisis in that mini mart with the boy crying in front of me, and I'm still coming to grips with how I felt being a privileged traveler in that country.
Anyways! The highlight of Siem Reap was Angkor Wat, which felt surreal and magical and deeply moving. We were up at 4AM to take a tuk tuk to the temples for sunrise. Despite being an overcast day and not seeing a great sunrise, we got to explore as the day started and it was just incredible. I wish we had paid for a guide, as I didn't really learn as much as I wanted to about the history, but it was still amazing. From Angkor Wat we visited Angkor Thom, which has tons of faces etched into the stones. From there we were really excited to go to Ta Prohm, which is the temple in the movie Tomb Raider. Seeing all the trees growing up out of the rubble was pretty spooky at times, and we stayed for awhile taking it all in. Being in places that have existed since the 12th century was unlike anything I'd ever experienced.
And that was Siem Reap! I only stayed for a short three days and then made my way to Phnom Penh. More to come!