Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Siem Reap, Cambodia: Exploring Heritage and Human Stories

After a jam-packed day yesterday (Angkor Wat), waking up this morning felt like a bit of a challenge. But hey, that's the life of a traveler (Ho Chi Minh City). When you're on a tour, there's a schedule to stick to, and breakfast is usually a window from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. By 9:00 a.m., you better be packed and ready to hit the road for some sightseeing!

Our first stop today was Artisan d’Angkor, and let me tell you, it was something special. This place is all about giving back, providing support and training for underprivileged youth. Stepping into the workshop, we watched these talented individuals honing their craft with such focus and dedication. Despite our attempts in making eye contact with them, they were totally immersed in their work. Still, the experience left us in awe of their skills. After the workshop, we explored the shop, filled with handmade treasures. Sure, the prices were a bit higher than what you'd find elsewhere, but knowing that our purchases were making a difference made it all worthwhile.


Next up? Lunchtime! We headed to a local restaurant for some authentic Cambodian cuisine, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. The flavors were bold and vibrant, with just the right amount of spice, sweetness, sourness, and saltiness.

After the satisfying lunch, we faced a choice: a city tour from the comfort of our coach or a visit to Wat Thmey, also known as The Cambodian Killing Fields. Unanimously, we opted for the latter. This is a must-visit, a stark reminder of the cruelty inflicted by the Khmer Rouge regime. As we walked through the memorial, emotions ran high. The sight of skulls, heads, and human bones piled up in a small monument left us speechless. It was a sobering experience, a glimpse into Cambodia's tragic past under Pol Pot's dictatorship

There is also a small temple and a Buddha statue within the same area, and most to most, it will take you half an hour, by which time you will be grateful for your life and not enduring any such incidents of leadership cruelty.

Next on the agenda was the Cambodian Cultural Village, set in a sprawling garden area. We started with a quick visit to the museum, offering a glimpse into Cambodia's history. Then came the highlight: the Cambodian Cultural Show. However, the reality fell short of expectations. The theater was packed to the brim, with hardly any space to move or breathe. The stifling heat made it even more uncomfortable, and once seated, there was no escape. Despite the singing and dancing on stage, I found it hard to focus, feeling more like a part of the crowded audience than an engaged spectator.

Next was an acrobatic show at the open area. It had an interesting start with colorful costumes and stunts, but after the first 10 minutes, I put a halt by walking away. It wasn't my kind of stuff honestly. Seated on the stadium benches, where the sun was shining through, it felt like a struggle to stay awake. Boring stuff.
I decided it would be best to check out the stalls across the road. Here, I got myself a chilled drink to quench my thirst and at one point, I had to stop to see Pon Tian, also known as Balut, a unique Asian delicacy consisting of a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell. 

These I saw were actually roasted or grilled over an open flame. It's considered a high-protein snack and is known for its unique flavor and texture. No doubt I was tempted to try, but somehow I didn't dare. Just seeing it for the first time was quite fascinating.

Dinner took place next and by 8 p.m., we had already checked into our hotel rooms. Some of us were told we could walk around for some shopping outside, but I opted to stay in my room, eagerly awaiting our adventure in Halong Bay the next day. We were told it would take up almost the whole day, with lunch in between. It is going to be a long drive, and we needed to pack our luggage as this marked the end of our time in Siem Reap.

Here's my honest take on the day 
The visit to Artisan D'Angkor, the museum, and the cultural show was disappointing and felt like a waste of time, made worse by the extreme heat.


However, the visit to Wat Thmey/The Cambodian Killing Fields was a highlight. I'm always fascinated by heritage and historical stories, and this experience was both grounding and thought-provoking.


I did notice that language barriers were an issue, and the locals, including hotel staff, didn't seem particularly friendly or welcoming, although they provided the required service.


Stay tuned for my reflections on Halong Bay in my next update.

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