Spending a day on the back of a motorbike going around the villages and sites near Battambang is one of the best ways to take in Cambodia’s countryside while getting a bit of an adrenaline kick. This trip proved one of our personal travel hightlights in Southeast Asia.
Motorbike Driver Chronicles
While visiting Battambang, we hired motorbike drivers for a day to take us through the surrounding countryside. Our day with them yielded an authentic look at Cambodian country life. Our drivers also shared glimpses of their own personal stories with us. Their stories were typical of many Cambodians and serve as a collective memory of a country that lost half its population during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. While the scores of smiling children we encountered throughout the day still bring smiles to our faces, the day underscored how thankful we are for the fortunate lives we've had until now.
The Temples of Angkor – First Impressions
Like 99% of the tourists who come to Siem Reap, we came to see the temples of Angkor and became cogs in the Angkor tourist processing machine – arranging transport, buying a 3-day pass, and temple hopping.
We had heard beforehand of the spiritual nature of the temples and the beauty of their engravings. We had no idea of the scale of the complex and did not fully fathom the number of tourists we'd share it with.
The Other Side of Siem Reap
Much of what the visitor to Siem Reap sees are streets filled with restaurants, hotels, spas and other services geared towards foreign tourists. There is another side to life here, however, one that is neither shiny nor prosperous.
Siem Reap – First Impressions
Our bus from Phnom Penh was met by a driver proudly holding a sign saying “Ganiel.” From the moment we got into the car, the driver started his selling pitch as the perfect guide and driver to the Angkor temples. Maps circulated like popcorn inside the car as the excitement level in his voice rose audibly.
Phnom Penh: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
In contrast to its sunshine and smiles, Cambodia's recent history under the control of the Khmer Rouge is nothing short of horrific.
https://photos.uncorneredmarket.com/Asia/Cambodia/Phnom-Penh/i-w7LcdvtTuol Sleng Genocide Museum – Phnom Penh
Tuol Sleng, originally a high school in downtown Phnom Penh, was transformed into Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979. It's estimated that close to 20,000 people were imprisoned here; only seven are known to have survived.
Phnom Penh – First Impressions
During out first night in Phnom Penh, two bank guards shared their dinner with us after we showed curiosity in what they were eating. They invited us to take a few bites, told us the name of the dish in Khmer, and indicated how much we should pay for the dish to avoid being ripped off. Not quite what we were expected from a city from which we heard reports of “dark and dangerous.”
Floating Life Along the Mekong
Like other destinations in Vietnam, Cai Rang dials up the activity, color, and sound a notch to the point of overstimulation. Duelling long-tail boats float by and sell everything from turnips to steaming hot soup. At the Mekong Delta's bazaar on water, transactions take place at every turn and boats jostle for the next deal.
Preparing for Tet, Vietnamese New Year
We were fortunate to be in Southern Vietnam just prior to Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year (February 18, 2007). The Year of the Pig was being ushered in with an unassailable enthusiasm, as markets burst with flowers, sewing machines in tailor shops buzzed with the new year's wardrobe and shops overflowed with green rolls of Bahn Tet (sticky rice, pork fat and soybean paste rolled in a banana leaf).
The American War
Given our nationality and the fact that the Vietnam War ended just over 30 years ago, we were surprised that Vietnamese people showed us no animosity or resentment. In fact, when we told people that we were from America, they very often smiled – and genuinely so. We'd score even more points when we mentioned that we used to live in California, home to a large Vietnamese community. Cynics would argue that the Vietnamese are shrewd businesspeople, but we're certain that our treatment wasn't all about business.