I’ve spent the past week in Cambodia with Jen and Beth, and it was incredible!  Rather than write a novel about my experiences (and believe me, I could), I thought I’d give you some highlights in two parts: Phnom Penh & Siem Reap.  You can see all of the Phnom Penh pictures here, and in the meantime, enjoy a handful of stories:

1.  Taking a tuk-tuk to see a shadow puppet performance. A tuk-tuk is basically an open-air carriage pulled by a motorcycle.  Traffic organization in Phnom Penh is ridiculous – there isn’t any.  The highlight of this particular ride was that our driver had no idea how to get to the place we wanted to go.  We pulled over and asked strangers how to get to ‘Savana Phum,’ used cigarette lighters to look at maps, and went up and down the same street with the same stenchy stream of sewage 4 or 5 times.  Finally, exasperated, I told the driver one last time in my awesome Asian accent that we wanted to go to ‘Savana Phum’ and miraculously he understood – it was like he had a revelation.  “Ahhhhh! Savana Phum!  Why you not saaaay?!  I know Savana Phum!”  Fortunately we arrived at our destination, and in time to catch the last half of the performance.

2. Eating Tarantulas. How to upstage a chicken foot?  A tarantula, of course!  After stumbling across the local insect/vermin/reptile street vender (see below) and reading in my guide-book about how Cambodians eat tarantulas like potato chips, I obviously had to partake in this pastime (though I opted to do it at a respectable restaurant).  I must say, the legs taste remarkably like French fries, but the body is more like a dry, chewy chicken nugget.  I’m putting this delicacy with chicken feet on the list of things I will never eat again.

3. Visiting the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. It’s tempting to forget that you’re visiting a country that was devastated by war and genocide only 2 decades ago.  To learn a little bit more about the history of the Pol Pot regime, we took a somber trip outside the capital to visit the site of the mass graves where the Khmer Rouge senselessly killed millions of Cambodians.  Each of the holes you see in the picture below was once a mass grave.  As you walk along the pathways between the ditches and see the trees where soldiers smashed the heads of children and babies and used palm tree pieces to decapitate the country’s intellectuals, what you think are stones and garbage are actually bones and the remains of clothing.  Very sobering, indeed.

4. Mekong River ‘Cruise’. For $5 we got to take a ferry on a short little turn on the waters where the Tonle Sap River meets the Mekong River.  What was most exciting about this trip, however, was the Cambodian pop music blasting from the boat.  Imagine someone belting out Akon, Justin Timberlake, and Rhianna in Khmer.  Are you imagining it?  It’s worse.

5. The Forest of Thieves. On our way out of Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, we stopped outside the town of Kampong Thom to visit Sambar Prei Kuk, the site some of the oldest temples in Cambodia.  You can see my picture album here.  As we’re walking around the forest with our guide, who spent the majority of our two-hour tour giving us a pitch on why we should give her $300, dozens of kids swarmed around us trying to sell scarves.

“Laaadyyyyyyyyyy! You want scarf, laaadyyyyyyyyyy?”

After a couple hours Jen leans into me and whispers: “You didn’t happen to bring a long, white sock, did you?”

Me: “No, why? Wait, is this a dirty joke?”

Jen: “How about a shower cap?”

Me: “I don’t think so…”

Jen: “Great.  Look over there.”

I turn around and the kids are each sporting items that obviously came from some poor tourist’s suitcase.  Socks, shower caps, shopping bags, dollar bills – Jen, Beth and I were crossing our fingers that none of us were that ‘poor tourist’, and after a brief yet traumatizing experience with a squat toilet, we hurried back to our car and gratefully made our way to Siem Reap with all belongings in tow.

Stories from Siem Reap and Angkor Wat coming soon…