Cambodia: First Impressions

Feb 21, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Activities, Discover, Motorcycle adventures, shopping

Door to Discovery

I’ve been wanting to come to Cambodia for what seems eons.  It always seemed to have that “edge of the world” reputation, although not quite as it truly was a decade ago.  For the last couple of years I’ve had an image of an orange-robed monk, emerging from a tree-entangled temple in the Cambodian jungle, as one of my key symbols of global discovery (and the search for my own form of non-conforming spirituality).  So when the opportunity arose, suddenly, to come do another adventure with my mate Will (who nearly was the death of me on the crazy Dakar Rally follow trip – see earlier blog entries for that madness), in a South-East Asian country, I jumped.  Of course, he lured me with the carrot of talking some biz too, as often our journeys result in some sort of productivity.

As soon as we landed in Siem Reap airport, I felt it.  A powerful feeling of connectedness.  The tropical green, red earth, and a bit of the unknown spoke to me.  Sounds strange, and perhaps a bit “travel-journo-wanky”, but it was real.  Upon embarking, even the artwork in the airport was impressive, with strong feng shui overtones.

We have one night at the boutique Hotel Be Angkor, in the center of Siem Reap town, before we commence the motorbike part of the adventure, and as I arrived before the others (Will, San and Stuart the now foursome) I headed straight out to walk the streets.  It was definitely busier and more touristy than I had perhaps hoped, but I do love to sit and have a coffee and watch the world go by, and so that’s exactly what I did at the Blue Pumpkin cafe.  I was very happy to see that two-wheeled conveyances are the preferred form of locomotion still.  Motorbikes, tuk tuks, bicycles, bikes with trailers, motos with bigger trailers, scooters with whole families crammed onto one small seat.  Hot, but without being too humid, but one could tell it had the potential to be oppressive.

A 15th century monastery was a nice find – not spectacular, but no one was there and no one seemed to care where one roamed.  A lone monk scuttled along a side path.  A lone orange robe hung on a line across a decrepit house balcony.  A scrawny and scraggly-furred kitten ate from a dirty bowl, while a scrawny and bald old man swept away leaves beside it.  The old man did not want to disturb the kitten, and the kitten was not perturbed in any way by the old man.  A buddhist co-existence of opposites in the hirsute stakes.

Around the corner the Old Market was a treasure trove of smells, sights, and no doubt taste.  Ripe fruits; piles of different colored eggs; flayed and dried fish; plucked chickens; meat hanging on meat hooks with young, attractive female butchers wielding cleavers; pots simmering; sausages hanging in enormous bunches like bats in a cave.  Industrious women everywhere, and nary a man working in sight.  Spices, clothes, silver, ornaments, statues, jewelry.  A market to rival the variety of the famous Marrakesh souk.

So far, so good….

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