so you know all that stuff I said about China being totally exotic? Vietnam being an epic adventure?
forget all of it. you want to come to another world, come to Cambodia. as much as I resisted the American temptation, the phrase that kept coming to mind as I gazed out the window during my 13-hour bus ride from Saigon was "third world." because, as snobbish or pretentious as it may sound, that's what it is here. I saw minibuses crammed fulled with people -- and when I say crammed, I don't mean every seat was taken, I mean every possible free space was occupied with some human limb or another -- barreling down the dusty highway with eight or so people sitting on top of the roof. grandmothers held onto babies and children held onto the sides of the roof as the hot sun turned their brown skin even browner. I even saw several buses with motorbikes tied to the back of the roof behind all the roof-riders.
when we stopped for breaks during the ride, kids would swarm the bus, selling plastic bags of chopped pineapple or mango (served with a spiced salt that somehow intensifies the fruity taste -- I kept trying to figure out but eventually gave up and just enjoyed the flavor). women squatted behind baskets of fried spiders (big, fat, shiny black ones) or crunchy cockroaches, mindlessly tending to a half-naked toddler playing near them. there was more than one occasion on which our bus driver had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a herd of water buffalo (I think?) that had wandered into the road, much to the dismay of the stick-wielding 11-year-old who had been charged with herding them.
here in Siem Reap, I spent the day wandering around the town, getting my bearings, buying a few small things in the market, exchanging smiles with the friendly locals, drinking 75-cent Angkor beer, tasting the local Khmer cuisine, shaking my head no to the constant calls of "hello lady! you want tuk-tuk?" and trying to avoid the pleading gaze of the many many amputees who roam the market area, begging for spare change or selling photocopied versions of Lonely Planet guidebooks. like the locals do, I shelled out a dollar and bought a traditional Khmer "krama," a small, hand-woven cotton scarf good for keeping the sun of one's neck or the dust out of one's mouth during roaming walks or rides on a moto taxi.
tomorrow I will get up before sunrise to get to Angkor Wat before dawn and watch the sunrise over an incredible horizon before spending the day roaming through temple ruins, doing my best Indiana Jones / Lara Croft impression. wish me luck!