By EMELYN LEE
My colleagues and I got the chance to visit Siem Reap in Cambodia together recently. It was the first time I travelled without my family and it was quite an experience.
Once we arrived at the airport at Siem Reap, I noticed some stark differences between home and the ancient city. There were no skyscrapers, for example, and tuk-tuks were everywhere.
We stayed at a hotel that was about 20 minutes away from the airport and hired a local guide. We called him “Two” because his real name was difficult to pronounce. He was a friendly guy and chatty, and told us about how difficult it was to be a licensed tour guide in Cambodia.
Our trip coincided with the elections in Cambodia. Political campaigners in white hats and shirts aggressively canvassed the streets, obstructing traffic.
One of the highlights of the trip was of course, Angkor Wat. There was an air of mysticism when we walked through the ruins of Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom. We were amazed at how trees were able to grow between structures without damaging them and how well-preserved the monuments were.
We spent two hours at Bayon to catch the sunset. We took pictures of almost every little piece of carving.
The Cambodians are very fierce about preserving historical structures, something Malaysia could possibly learn from.
A boat ride down the Tonle Sap, a freshwater lake, to visit the floating village was also on the itinerary. The people living around the lake lived a simple life, mainly peddling or fishing to sustain themselves. There were some churches and a lone altar built there which are all only accessible by boat.
We rushed through the cultural museum, learning all that we can about Cambodia’s history. There was also a traditional dance and skit. We managed to visit the River of 1,000 Lingas, the Smiling Buddha and the Kulen waterfalls, too.
There was a night market near our hotel so we went to check it out. Unfortunately, we never got to try much of the local cuisine but we did eat some insects as a dare. I must say that the grubs somehow tasted like beans! There were some street snacks that tasted much like our own food, such as the Khmer rice cakes and coconut pancakes.
I felt humbled by some of the things I saw in Siem Reap and thought about the things we have that we simply take for granted, like freedom.
Two told us stories of his childhood, and what it was like living under the Khmer Rouge regime. I felt grateful that I never had to endure these sorts of hardship because I doubt I’d survive them.
Overall, I found the locals to be as hospitable as the Thais. Hotel and restaurant staff were welcoming and friendly. As I wheeled my bags to check out from the hotel on the last day, one of them gave a forlorn goodbye as I headed for the lobby.
Who knows, I may return to Cambodia some day, as I’ve read that the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – a place we had to miss this time around – is worth visiting.