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What's To Love about Cambodia

The Sun Sets on my Last Day in Siem Reap, December 6, 2015

sunny 34 °C

IMAGINE: Leaving all this to head home for winter

It is still night, but I am up to enjoy a tropical evening before the dawn. The large terrace stretches out from my bedroom door, and it is deserted for all the night , until the cook, Wanai, starts making breakfast preparations just as dawn is breaking. DF94F613BC1A0006C33C572192BDE750.jpg
It is so peaceful to look out over the Siem Reap River flowing through the city, while it still sleeps.

I walk around the terrace, barefoot, enjoying the sultry breeze. The Jasmine growing close to the river below rises with the small sounds of a sleeping city. Soon, I hear the muted sounds of bicycles and people moving around in the still dark city on their way to work. The cock starts crowing, and Wanai appears behind the kitchen prep area. I hear him setting up the coffee. Soon I will be invited to have some. The quiet soon gives way to local musical instruments, as the sounds announce wedding celebrations.

No breakfasters yet. Still an hour of a peaceful terrace before I am forced to share it. I grab a second coffee, and stand, watching the city coming to life. This will be a full day and I am eager to begin before it gets too hot. Finally, I head to my room to dress and shower. When I come back for breakfast, Sona greets me and asks if I want to join her doing some errands outside the city. Sounds good to me.

Falling Coconuts

There is a rustling in a coconut tree. It stands on a spot between this terrace and the tea house next door. It appears to be time to harvest the coconuts. This provides a interesting diversion while I enjoy my breakfast.
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Bunches of coconuts are lowered down with a long rope. A helper below unties the bunch, and more are harvested.
40 feet below, coconuts are separated.coco4.jpg
These will be packed up and probably sold at the market, cooled and presented with a straw sticking out of the top.

Roadside vendors

I’ve relaxed around the pool and met other guests from various countries, enjoyed the bustle of the Water Festival and gone clubbing with the hotel staff… ending one evening dancing on Pub Street to a lively and too loud band. I’m not sure if the dancing in the street happens every night or if my crowd were the instigators. Because daytime temperatures sit steadily at 34 degrees C in the shade, it is good to take advantage of the evenings and early mornings. Now it is time to meet Sona for an early morning drive out of town.
Samnang has the car ready. We drive in air conditioned comfort through the town and out onto the red dirt roads till we come to a small house. Here, Samnang greets a friend and collects a bag of rice "for growing". Sona has an idea for the rice growing wild around the sides of the hotel. We do a few more stops along the way, and then Sona sees a roadside vendor, and we pull off the road.sona1.jpgsona2.jpg
Let me introduce you to KRALAN, a typically Cambodian savoury snack. Kralan consist of sticky rice, black eyed peas or beans put into a fresh bamboo joint with enough water or coconut milk, sealed with banana leaves and baked on a charcoal fire until the bamboo turns black.

These ones are good!sona5.jpg
Sona buys a bagful of Kralansona3.jpg
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The vendor is happy with the sale, and I learn how to eat this delicious (safe) snack.

Generally, it is made by people who live in mountainous regions. When people go out to work or go hunting in the mountains, they cut a bamboo joint and put the rice they take with them into it, adding the right amount of water, roasting it in the fireplace until it's done. It's then cut into 2 or 4 pieces and shared with each other. Bamboo joints are good replacements for pots and bowls. Well-cooked bamboo rice has a distinctive flavor of soft roasted rice and bamboo.

We all arrive back at Riverside Hotel, and in spite of the heat, I plan to make a last visit to the market. Even a tiny suitcase has room for one little memento.

The Artisans Market. Exquisite Crafts and Art

The Artisan Market has lovely crafts, and today I planned to wander through and just admire them. I was delighted to find a stall where a young man was selling little pottery candle burners made by his family. He pointed out his brother, his uncle and himself in one photo of the pottery process. I was a potter, and used to sell at craft fairs in my 20s, so I really appreciate the skill in making these exquisite little gems. I love the intricate designs, but I chose two that have cut-outs of a sky full of stars and moon and the silhouette of Angkor Wat Temple.candle1.jpgcandle2.jpg
These little candle burners are just as exquisite as the picture indicates. Chen is charming and proud of his wares.

Lor Pok Khmer Ceramic Association: A card at this stall tells the story of this dynamic little business.

"Lor Pok was founded in the late1990s by Chhun Pok, then head of the ceramics section of the Department of Plastic Arts. Frustrated with some of the restrictions of working within a state institution, Chhun Pok decided to establish a private kiln in the village of his birth as a compliment to his work at the University. Not only did Chhun Pok wish to develop a line of new designs at his own kiln, but he also hoped to eventually be able to provide employment for the villagers once the kiln was successfully producing ceramics. Chhun Pok died unexpectedly in August of 1998 at the age of 44. Today his sons continue to pursue his dream of Lor Pok.

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The flame inside these burners throw beautiful patterns on the walls. The first step in making the burners are shaping on a potter's wheel.

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Chen's younger brother, himself and his uncle are doing the delicate job of cutting out shapes on the leather hard burners, before they are fired in a kiln. Even the clay used for the pottery is local. It is dug out of the riverbank and allowed to dry in the sun, till it is the right consistency for wheel throwing.
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Paintings say a thousand words - elegantly

Talented artists sell their paintings for such paltry sums of money. There is no shortage of kiosks displaying paintings that demonstrate skill and imagination.
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There is beautiful art here, but when it is jumbled together, it can be overwhelming. It humbles me to know that my oil paintings sell for hundreds of times the price of one of these.
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One of these paintings, on its own can be appreciated as a masterpiece of talent. I shoulda' woulda' coulda' bought this one, but I always travel light. It will NOT be rolled and put in my one small piece of luggage, even for $20. I'll just savour the memory.
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Jianzi outside the Artisans Market

An evening in Siem Reap is always magical to me. This is my last one, and I am not sure that I will be back, so I want to savour it by taking a slow stroll around the town. It has been so hot through the middle of the day, but by 4:00 it starts to cool off a little: 28 degrees or so. Pub Street is fun but relaxed - many people milling around, sitting in sidewalk cafes, looking at tiny shopfronts full of local crafts and wares. Walking by the Artisans Market, I stopped to watch five fellows playing Jianzi. It is amazing to watch the game. The aim is to keep a weighted shuttlecock in the air by kicking or hitting with any part of the body but the hands, Jianzi can be played as a competitive sportsI it can also be played artistically, among a circle of players in a street or park, with the objective to keep the shuttle 'up' and show off skills

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Jianzi – the ancient Chinese game copied by hacky sack. Apparently, a similar game was played in China during the Han dynasty, 2000 years ago.

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This fellow was hamming it up. It was fun to watch. All five guys were skilled, and the shuttle seldom hit the ground.
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Dining for a Dollar

Wandering around Pub street, there is no end to the places to sit and sip and watch the hustle and bustle. It is not happy hour, but plenty of places advertise draft beer for 50 cents. Regular beer "Angkor" is just a dollar a bottle. One couple sits lazily sipping a gin and tonic at a cafe stand in the road.
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What do I love about Siem Reap? Anyone can hide away from the sun in a sidewalk cafe on Pub Street, sipping a draft beer or fruit juice. A dollar tip will get beaming smiles. (It may get you thrown out in Florida.) Siem Reap is exotic. The pace is energetic. At the same time, there is a calmness that I believe comes from the Buddhist ideology that most Cambodians share. Buddhist practices, such as meditation, serve as the means of changing oneself, in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. Buddhism is not about teaching or learning, but about experiencing.

Should I visit another stall in the market? Well, this one has trivets, carved in hardwood. I admire the fine craft and spend the $4 for this hand carved piece of skill and art. I feel guilty to pay this low price, but it is all that was asked.
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I bought a square one carved with an elephant. It will look great on my dining room table.

I am getting into this shopping stuff!!! Green curry is not able to be found in Newfoundland. ...and saffron.........I'm just mad about it! A massage? - There are massage chairs lined out on the sidewalk and many patrons luxuriating in leg or back or whole body massages. Or a little snack - I'm tempted: Project Y frozen yogurt - It is so delicious! (This store is a part of an NGO and all profits pay for the teams' education at university!!!! ) There are just too many choices! I think I will have a supper break.
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A fresh fruit shake: Will that be red dragonfruit or passionfruit?
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And what is hot on the grill?

The high end place is offering sushi : squid, snapper and prawns raw. The low end place offers to cook the same!
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Chicken over charcoal? Sausages in banana leaves? Fish or pork over the coals? Plenty more choices - just be adventurous!
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Chicken thighs in a banana leaf - spicy and succulent. Wow! Nibbling this, I stroll along the sidewalk, enjoying sights, sounds and smells - all around the streets and the small stalls of the night market. This is an easy place to feel safe.

I am due to leave tonight. I've packed my bags and they are at the front desk. Khemra has said he will take me to the airport. I phone Kosal, as I have one final bit of business. We're going to do another well. It is a better buy than eating at fancy restaurants and shopping for kitch, so I have kept aside money for another well. I give him money to buy the pump and the hardware for the well and he does the rest. I can see it next time I am back. I did one with him 2 years ago, in a little village within the Angkor Wat site. Kosal arrives about an hour later, with Kimsran and their two little kids. I feel guilty to bring them all to town, but I'm happy to see them again but soon have to bid them goodbye.

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Will I come back to Siem Reap? ......And Why?

Most people come to Cambodia, particularly to Siem Reap for the temples. That is a good start. There is plenty more to see, and do here. I come here for the people. I just love the attitude: gentle and accepting. There is a peacefulness here that I have not found when visiting other places.
But, there are just so many facets to this place, that it is hard to describe it adequately. I'm going to paste a few links to activities that I have found in Siem Reap, and I will stray from my practice of using all my own narrative and photos to include one or two from the internet.

I'll start with a guide book. You need to copy and paste this link into your browser. IT IS NO GOOD TO JUST CLICK ON THE PICTURE !
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So, COPY the following link, and PASTE it into your browser...... http://user-r6hilji.cld.bz/The-Siem-Reap-Visitors-Guide-52 You will get The Siem Reap Visitors Guide 52 You can use this link to look at local offerings. Just be sure to use the magnifying glass icon on the opening page to make it big enough to read and page through it.

As enthralling as the temples of Angkor may be, there are lots of other things to see and do in Siem Reap besides touring Angkor and hanging out on Pub Street - cultural and countryside tours, Cooking Classes, Traditional Dance, Cambodian Circus, the famous Landmine Museum, floating villages on the Tonle Sap...

‘Apsara dance performance’ - a taste of classical Khmer culture.
This is a brochure from Pnomh Penh, dance.jpg
but many venues offer performances in Siem Reap. Dinner ordinarily begins at 6:00 or 7:00PM and the performance at 7:30PM or 8:00PM. The usual dance performance consists of 4 or 5 different dances, both classical and folk dancing. Most dinner performances run $10-$35 including dinner and admission. Some place do not charge admission for the performance, but you are expected to order dinner. For the best seats, call for reservations. I attended the Koulen performance on Sivatha Boulevard in Siem Reap . www.koulenrestaurant.com or reservation@koulenrestaurant.com

Beatocello. You may not expect it, but this fellow is really amusing, and wow! He is an inspiration. I'm so glad I saw him in concert.
Dr. Beat Richner beat.jpegplays Bach on the cello and speaks about the activities of his children’s hospitals (Jayavarman VII in Siem Reap, Kantha Bopha 1 and 2 in Phnom Penh) every Friday and Saturday evening at 7:15PM. Performances are held at the Jayavarman VII Hospital, located on the road to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Dr. Richner provides an entertaining and worthy Saturday evening. The hospital welcomes both monetary and blood donations. (You may miss him if he is be back in Switzerland doing fundraising). www.beatocello.com Charles de Gaulle Blvd, (road to Angkor Wat,) Jayavarman VII Children's Hospital.

Rosana Broadway. This is such a hoot!!!!! A really great performance. I went twice : )
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Combination tradition Cambodian dance performance and Broadway-style stage show in the spirit of a full-cast cross-dressing cabaret. Music, dance, extravagant costumes, cross-dressing cast, themes from Cambodia, Japan, Vietnam, England, China, India, Korea. Dozens of performers. Quite an spectacular performance, especially the cabaret. Route #6, east of town, in the Phsar Leu area Tel: 063-769991-6

Phare, the Cambodian Circus http://pharecircus.org No animals in this circus but the young performers are so talented and full of energy. It is a fusion of circus and dance choreography. It starts at 7:30pm and will cost you USD18 for a general admission entrance ticket. If you have non-reserved seats, plan to arrive by 7:30 to get the best selection!

This link will let you can read about Suong. It appears that he is now part of Phare Circus. http://pharecircus.org/monks-life-cambodia/
Many young boys choose to become monks because they are living in similar situations to Suong. Often times children come to the pagoda because their parents have passed away and they cannot live with their siblings, find food or support themselves. The pagoda and community within is a refuge for these young people without the same stigma which might come with receiving help from other organizations.
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It is common for Cambodian men to become monks for a short period of their life — usually a few weeks or a few months — to bring merit to their parents and to become closer to their Buddhist faith.

The Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap has just opened its doors. It has galleries of Angkorian-era artifacts and multi-media presentations of Angkorian history and culture. It gives a good crash course before going to the temples. Admissions price: US$12 (for foreigners). $2 for a camera. Open Hours: 8:30AM - 6:00PM Located in town, on the road to the Angkor Park www.angkornationalmuseum.com

Body and Soul Spa Massage Class. Regularly scheduled classes from only US$15 – studying Khmer and Thai style massage a Reiki.
Located on The Passage (Pub Street Alley) www.bodysoul-massage.com Tel: 092-226694

The Great Escape is a unique new interactive game where you participate directly in solving a mystery or puzzle of 'the room'- " Find the hidden objects, figure out the clues and solve the puzzles to earn your freedom and “Escape the Room.” You'll have 60 minutes, so it's a race against the clock. Groups welcome, come with friends, family, coworkers... http://greatescapecambodia.com

Angkor Silk Farm Puok District (20mins from Siem Reap downtown) Open daily from 8am to 5pm
http://www.artisansdangkor.comTel: +855 (0) 99 555 109 FREE TRANSPORTATION AVAILABLE: (http://www.artisansdangkor.com/shop/en/contact-us)
The tour of the silk farm is fascinating. You will be brought through the whole process of silk production from silkworms feeding on the mulberry trees, to pupae in vats of hot water having the silk thread unwound by young ladies. If you are brave, you will have a chance to eat the delicacy: silkworm pupae. A guide takes a small group - often just two people, and is unhurried and very informative. I found this tour very interesting and enjoyable.

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I had planned to make this my last visit, but writing the travel blog has made me do some serious thinking. I have done several touristy things here over the course of my four visits, but I have also found so many other really authentic things to do. Just experiencing the city coming to life from the quiet of a deserted balcony to riding a bicycle past a stretch of rice patties is memorable. Siem Reap is getting a bit busier - more tourists, and I hope it can maintain its charm and authenticity. I would love to come back with my family and let them experience this exotic, exuberant part of the Orient.

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AND MAKE SURE YOU SPEND AN EVENING AT PUB STREET. IF THEY ARE NOT DANCING IN THE STREET, JUST START IT YOURSELF. I DID.

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WHAT DO I LOVE ABOUT CAMBODIA is my last blog entry.
I hope you enjoyed reading about visiting this wonderful place. *L* ...Keep being amazed.
You can let me know at: smcnicho@mun.ca .....Susan.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 04:54 Archived in Cambodia

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