Everyday in Siem Reap felt like an adventure with something new and exciting to do each day. Our third day was spent at Phnom Kulen. We were able to ride elephants, get our fortunes told, and pray. Not to mention, there was a huge waterfall for swimming! Admittedly, I don’t know how to swim. A friend of mine tried to teach me how to float in the past but that was a major fail. The extent of what I can do in water is walk in it but my feet have to touch the ground, otherwise I’d be a total goner. I walked in neck deep and totally started freaking out, it was all giving me anxiety. But I managed to walk on wet and slippery rocks to get a picture with my other UML and AUPP students on huge cliffs. I wish I could say I did it all on my own but they helped swim me back to safety.
There was a lot to witness here. We took a boat along the river and were hijacked by smaller boats, not that I minded too much. Our original boat was a bit sluggish and somehow managed to steer its way too close to shore. Anywho, we were separated into two small boats, with the most of the girls in one boat and most of the boys in the other. We were brought to an area where we could see live alligators and huge catfish. We even witnessed a little girl wearing a snake as a scarf super nonchalantly, on a separate boat that just happened to pass by. It was all so bizarre to me but definitely made for some fun memories I won’t forget. Honestly, it was all pretty darn cool.
And on an unrelated note, I tried my first cricket that day. It was crunchy. More than one was eaten. No regrets.
We were trapped on a bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap for 7 hours. The journey was long and tiring but the scenery from out the window was gorgeous. The provinces and atmosphere were totally different compared to what I’ve been getting used to here in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh has more of a westernized, city life vibe whereas heading to Siem Reap seemed a lot more simplistic. I really got a good look at how people were living in the country side. Stopping by at local restaurants and pit stops really gave me a feel for “true” Srok Khmer. It was a great experience overall and I’m hoping to travel back to Siem Reap again in the future.
Waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning in order to be ready by 4:45 to see Angkor Wat before sunrise was definitely a questionable experience for me. Regardless, I loved how beautiful the three towers were against the pinky hued sky. I was able to purchase a painting of the temple for only five dollars! Learning about the history of Angkor Wat and what it took to build the temple really opened my eyes to the history of Cambodia. Being built in the 12th century, I could not help but think about the changes in technology, machinery, and transportation over time. The fact that they used elephants and boats to transport slabs of stone and carved everything by hand has me floored. Numerous amounts people from all over the world have walked where I walked during the tour.
I attended my very first soccer/football game on June 16. I’m usually not one to pay much attention to anything sports related, but being in the arena everyone else’s energy totally rubbed off on me. I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs rooting for our team to score. Unfortunately, we kind of didn’t but it was still an amazing experience. I’m still proud of my team regardless.
Visiting the royal palace was such an unreal experience. The architecture of the buildings, the scenery, the greenery was all stunning. Although we arrived near closing time, we were still given the chance to walk inside one of the buildings filled with ancient silver artifacts and tiling. Everything was beautiful. We were also anotheraccompanied by another aupp student and new friend.
We visited the s-21 site where victims of the Khmer Rouge were interrogated. It had been roughly ten years since the last time I’ve visited the museum and I still have the same eerie feeling I had the first time I visited. It was heartbreaking for me to think about the individuals and families that had to go through this process of being tortured. In this picture are the 14 people who were found alive, but killed when Vietnam discovered the prison. I couldn’t help but think about what my parents had to go through during this time, they’ve always told me stories of their experience.
The hospitality and generosity of Cambodian families and relatives is insane, in a good way. Having spent an entire day with my relatives on both my mother’s side and my father’s side here in Srok Khmer was a very emotional, yet pleasant experience. I was blown away by their generosity and willingness to make sure that I was well rested, fully fed, and safe. It had been roughly ten years since I’d last seen them in person. Some of my relatives that I visited don’t exactly live a life of luxury but their hospitality was through the roof..
Having visited Cambodia ten years prior to this trip, I have definitely noticed many changes. Observing the increases in prices, improved architecture, and booming businesses has really opened my eyes to the fact that this country is somewhat improving and trying to adopt more westernized styles of living. Unfortunately, poverty levels, homelessness, and underemployment are still fairly prevalent. It’s somewhat difficult to avoid the expensive and luxurious houses weaved in between houses that aren’t in the greatest of shape. Just when we think the country is improving, we see some negativity. Just like many other parts of the world, the rich seem to get richer and the poor, poorer. Despite these negatives, Cambodia is still definitely a place to visit. Sometimes you have to open yourself up to the awareness and suffering of others in order to be truly grateful for the things you already have.