Siem Reap

Trip Start Oct 31, 2006
Trip End May 2007

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Suor su dei!

After our brief hiatus from tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok, it was great to get reacquainted with our preferred mode of transport. I wish we had these in Miami. We checked into our hotel, Shinta Mani and headed for lunch in town. Shinta Mani is a great boutique hotel which is involved in many community projects supporting local villages. Also, the hotel houses and supports a hospitality institute which trains and educates at-risk young adult Cambodians. Many of the graduates end up working at Shinta Mani. The owner set up this hotel whose profits go to support the village and institute projects. We had lunch at Shinta Mani's sister hotel-Le Paix -which is super luxury and is focused just on that-making a profit. Lunch on huge hanging bamboo swings was great. After lunch we met up with our tour guide, a young Cambodian guy who was working his butt off to make money for a dowry. As he so eloquently put, 'No money, no honey." He took us to the Floating Village, 10 km outside of Siem Reap. It is literally a village floating on the river. Homes, schools, churches, stores, etc...all mark their place on the river. People travel by long canoe to and from each destination. Some even sell their produce or fish from the boat. We passed several small villages on the way there. The landscape is simply beautiful. Once we approached the Village a rather rancid fish smell welcomed us. I later learned that the smell was a result of all the fish they were gathering and mashing into fish paste for the upcoming festival celebrating, well, you guessed it, fish.

That evening, we headed into town. It was lively with many fun restaurants and bars geared toward the tourist scene. Given our desire to always explore local cuisine and alcohol, we thought why not try some Mekong whiskey after our dinner of fish amok [a Cambodian fish specialty prepared and served in a banana leaf-delicious]. Despite the huge stretch from our usual sapphire and sodas, it seemed like a good idea, at the time. Keeping in mind our budget, we ordered the bar special-mekong whiskey bucket with red bull. Literally, a medium-sized red bucket filled to the brim with Cambodia's finest and red bull and about a hundred straws in the event we wanted to invite others to the party. Yeah, bad idea...which is how most good drink ideas inevitably end. We both laughed at the very college-like nature of our whiskey bucket-laughed until the very last slurp.

With our hangover and camera in tow, we spent the entire following day at the spectacular Angkor Wat complex. It is absolutely beautiful. They are temples which were built between the 8th and 13th century and reflect the best of Khmer architecture. We visited Angkor Wat, Bakong, Banteai Srei and Bayon. At Angkor Wat, an immensely steep climb up some stone stairs brought us a beautiful sanctuary. Getting down was far worse for Christina, given her recently discovered fear of heights and vertigo. We would have lost an entire day waiting for her to get down were it not for the pushy Korean tour group impatiently standing in line behind her giving her no other choice but to hurry down. At Bayon, Christina's favorite of the Angkor Wat compound, we watched the sun set. Bayon is comprised of amazing bas-relief stone carvings of Buddha faces. Each face looks different. That night we had dinner at FCC Angkor Wat, a boutique hotel with a lovely restaurant and attached art gallery.

We went to a local village supported by Shinta Mani on our last full day in Siem Reap. We had purchased some rice for the village and school supplies for the children and so we went to deliver them. It was humbling. The children and families were great. The kids loved to have their picture taken and we showed a few of them how to take photos of each other-it was pretty funny. We walked around the village meeting various families who talked about how they were going to begin planting their vegetables soon thanks to the donation of the water pumps. For 90 USD a family can receive a water pump in order to use for planting and harvesting some crops and to have clean water to drink. Many of these families still live in tiny little shacks with plastic tarp as a roof. For 1200 USD a family can have a one bedroom brick home. The families do not receive handouts or charity per se. Shinta Mani requires that in exchange for, let's say a water pump, the family promises to take care of their land and grow vegetables for sale at local markets so that eventually, the families can sustain themselves. We also visited a local school that was under construction as a result of a donation by a rotary club from South Korea. For us, this day was the highlight of our Siem Reap experience. That evening we had dinner at the hotel and enjoyed a show performed by the children of a local orphanage. We absolutely loved Shinta Mani and their social justice work in neighboring villages.

The following day in the late afternoon we were off to Sydney, Australia.
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