The big news of the day? We’re in Cambodia!
|On the tarmac in Siem Reap; prop plane that brought us from Saigon in the background|
We got up at 4:00am this morning to catch the first flight from Saigon to Siem Reap. The flight went super smoothly (which I’m starting to think might have just as much to do with lower standards as with organizational skills — when I ran a full water bottle through security, the guy pulled it out, looked worried, and told me to “try to drink it” before I got on the plane, which surely cannot be the right answer) and we landed a little after 8:00am. Our driver met us on the other side of customs and drove us to our hotel in a tuk tuk.
We had the entire day ahead of us, but we decided to give ourselves a quasi down day before heading out into the heat and sun of the temple ruins. Instead, we explored the city.
The first impression you get of Siem Reap is flat, muddy jungle. The landscape is green and muddy brown. There are puddles and rivers everywhere, and they’re the same color as all of the unpaved roads.
Given the views from the airplane and Cambodia’s reputation for being significantly behind Vietnam and other countries in the region in terms of economic development, I expected to find a seedy third-world town similar to what I’ve seen in Central and South America. But it’s actually a pretty little town with a surprising amount of charm and personality. The chocolatey river that runs through town between the two paved streets is lined with large shady trees and graceful street lamps (most of which don’t work, but hey, they look good).
We also found a couple of pagodas, which are totally different from the pagodas we saw in Vietnam. Still Buddhist, but a very different aesthetic.
But there are plenty of peculiarities, too. For example, the city (and the country, I think) uses almost exclusively US dollars and is oddly expensive. Also, most addresses we’ve seen simply say what road the establishment is on — and, of course, there are basically zero street signs to tell you which street you’re on. More numerous (and much less helpful) than streetsigns are the photos of someone I assume is the queen or some other perfectly coiffed political grandmother (I admit I haven’t finished reading up on Cambodian politics) posted around town.
And then there are numerous loudspeakers blaring what may or may not be political messages and/or hot tunes for a city-wide dance party. They’re super loud (unpleasantly so) and we haven’t been able to figure out what the point is.
As we walked, we shopped. In contrast to Vietnam, where I wasn’t inclined to buy much of anything that I saw, there’s a lot here that I would love to bring home. There’s kind of an artsy vibe here — probably a combination of the indigenous culture and the enhancements that come from the tourist economy — and let’s just say that I did a little stimulating of that economy.
Right off the bat, I bought art. Real art! From an art gallery and everything. A friend of mine had recommended the McDermott Gallery, which is a fine art photography gallery featuring images of the Angkor temples. I thought they were gorgeous and was about to buy a handful of reproductions when I thought I might as well ask about some of the originals. Turns out they were less expensive than I’d feared and easier to ship than I’d hoped (the gallery essentially takes care of everything, and the cost is built into the price of the photo). I didn’t buy one of the gorgeous hand-developed, limited-run photographs, but I did purchase an original photograph from a fine art gallery. (Which I’m delighted to say is my very first foray into buying “real” art. I’ve always wanted to buy real art from a gallery, but I’ve always been intimidated or lacking in funds, so this was a fun step for me.)
|Here’s the photo I bought. You can’t actually see it, so you’ll have
to wait until it’s delivered to my US address.
|I also still bought a few of the smaller prints. Because when am I ever going to be back here?|
I also bought silk. Oh, silk! Can I just say that the silk here is AMAZING? There’s a complex of artisanal workshops here that focuses on training and employing local people (many with handicaps) in the traditional crafts of woodworking, stone carving, silk making, etc. Vanessa and I walked over to the compound to see the workshops and take a tour of the silk farm.
While waiting for the silk farm tour to begin, we wandered through the shop and I about died when I saw all the gorgeous silk textiles. Such beautiful colors and patterns! Theen we went and saw the silk being made — from worm to finished product, right before our eyes. It’s a fascinating process, and I’ll write more about it later; suffice to say that seeing how silk was produced (and seeing the people and the dyes and the looms that produced the textiles that I saw in the shop) only convinced me more that I needed more silk in my life. I may or may not have spent more than I ought to have spent on pillow covers that I may or may not have any use for back home . . .
|Luxurious skeins of died raw silk|
|Of course I didn’t take any photos of the silks I actually
bought (they’re all vivid pinks, yellows and oranges).
But here’s a photo of the green and blue collection
(a.k.a. the Amanda W. collection).
After making our purchases (yes, I’m not the only one who got silk fever), we walked over to a restaurant called Le Tigre de Papier and took a cooking class that had been recommended to us by the Chilean couple that we’d met on the Tour of Incompetence and Irritation in the Mekong Delta. We each selected two traditional Cambodian dishes that we wanted to prepare, and then our instructor walked us through each step of the preparation, from market to cutting and dicing to final plating and presentation. This is another thing that I want to write more about later, but for now I’ll say that it was great fun to see how the recipes worked, and all of our efforts turned out really well.
|Look how official we are!|
|I’m mashing a mixture of vegetables and chilis to make a
dipping sauce for spring rolls
After dinner, we returned to the hotel and got massages. That’s right, 60 minutes of full-body massages complete with scented oils (I had the “invigorating” scent with lemongrass and eucalyptus). Parts of it were heavenly (like when she massaged my neck and shoulders and put a hot towel at the nape of my neck. But I’m not gonna lie, other parts were kind of stressful! I’m not the most relaxed of souls, and I’m also kind of ticklish, so it was all I could do to stay calm and not start cracking up and giggling and/or kicking uncontrollably when the masseuse did the deep flesh massage on my thighs and rear end. Still, now that it’s over, I feel great — very relaxed and ready for bed.
Speaking of bed, that’s where I need to be right now. We got very little sleep last night, and we’ve got a big day ahead of us clambering about among the ruins. More to come!
I'm so glad you went to John McDermott's gallery! Love all your photos and posts so I can experience again with you!
Mmm… yes, please!
Very interesting. A purple airplane. Can't wait to see the art and silks. No silk ties?? The cooking class sounds like great fun. And the massage… Lady
I read a book about a family that survived the Khmer Rouge in college, and I have been fascinated by it ever since.
Was Cambodia occupied by the French like Vietnam was? And how similar are the languages, if at all?
This is getting good, dear cousin.
And oh yes, that silk. I'm salivating just a bit.
Hi jack's cousin. Yes, Cambodia was occupied by France too but there is little to no influence left. Vietnam has an alphabet similar to english , except it uses a lot of weird accents. Cambodian or Khmer has its own alphabet of 30+ consonants and 20+ vowels. Cambodia is much closer to Thailand in many ways than Vietnam.
Hope this helps
Thank you Vanessa….I'm Joyce too. 🙂
Ok, I found out who your Matriarchal Political Grandmother is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norodom_Monineath
I've studied and traveled to both Cambodia and Viet Nam. Khmer is a term used to describe the people of Cambodia and the Cambodian language. Khmer is the longest alphabet in the world and has not been altered by Western or Euro-centric influence. Viet Nam's language is similar to Chinese — tonal. It was romanized by French Catholic monks with English alphabet with accent symbols. However, the Khmer language was never romanized by them and it's “purer” in its original context. The Thai language is a simplified version of the Khmer language.
Teachers don't teach SE Asian history in most schools in the US (or even in Europe). For “Asia,” the Khmer Empire was like the Western Roman Empire. The Khmer Empire was the place for high artistry, language, science, and intellectual learning as evident in Angkor. It's neighbors, Thailand (Siam) and Viet Nam wanted a piece (or many pieces) of the Khmer Empire. Why do you think the name of the city where Angkor is at is called Siem Reap? It is referred to the story of the Thai or Siam battling for Khmer land.
Before French colonization, present day south Viet Nam belonged to Cambodia and was part of the Khmer Empire. But the power status turned upside down — thanks to the French's political ideology. If you read the history of Indochina, you can see that when the French colonizes SE Asia they favored the Vietnamese than the Khmer…. The bias was apparent. (Compare this colonization of favoritism to the European's colonization of Rwanda — seen the movie, Hotel Rwanda?)
The stories that you hear and read about in the media regarding the “auto-genocide” by the Khmer Rouge is false. It was not an “auto- genocide.” Other countries (mostly RED countries) used the Khmer Rouge as a tool to take over Cambodia. They first killed off the Khmer intellectuals because they didn't want anyone to threaten their spread of communism and power. Viet Nam controls Cambodia thru its puppet, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was a Khmer Rouge soldier.
I hope you will discover and continue to learn about this fascinating region. My suggestion is to read books from excellent sources by Khmer scholars who have access to more information and a deeper understanding of SE Asian history.