Cambodia, a country of contrast

We’d told Cristina, a friend of a friend living in Cambodia, that we’d be in Siem Reap around 1. After a 4 hour bus ride behind a pair of obnoxiously hungover Irish natives, 5 deliriously long and hot queues at the border, a taxi, a rickshaw (aka tuk tuk) and me dangerously close to ripping off the head of the tuk tuk driver for diverting us to the wrong guest house, we arrived in Siem Reap around 5 tired, hungry, and just a smidge frazzled (you’d think after 13 hour train rides in India a bus ride wouldn’t even warrant a blink). But upon walking into My Home Guesthouse, a “staff pick” from the writers of the Lonely Planet, we were not disappointed. The rooms were incredibly spacious, beds firm, even dare say I comfortable and the bathroom included toilet paper! All for the bargain price of $10 including breakfast.

It’s hard to describe the city, which seems to oscillate between third world poverty and 5 star western opulence. The ride along the single straight main road has you passing everything from massive modern tour buses to motorbikes strapped with pigs bigger than the bike and driver put together. With all four legs in the air, strapped back to the bike, we’d thought the pigs were already dead, but upon opening the window to get a better look, the unmistakable high-pitched squeals of an animal off to slaughter could be heard. Apparently the animals are tranquilized for transport, but that doesn’t mean a stray kick or squeal doesn’t escape every few minutes…the scene stayed with Emele who later declared, “I think I’ve now seen it all.”

Siem Reap, the capital of northwestern Cambodia, is probably most famous for it’s jumping off point to the Angkor Temples, ruins made famous by Angelina Jolie’s movie Tomb Raider. We’d grabbed some bicycles and rode to the temples taking in the surrounding environment and marveling at how quickly scenery changes from street to street. Go to Pub Street in the middle of town and the manicured alleys make you feel like you could be in Vegas, walk two blocks in another direction and you’ll come to a pot-holed riddled dirt road and dimly fluorescent lit shops of knick knacks, which all seem to cost $1.

We’d walked through Angkor Wat, doing the usual photo shoot and making a little bit of a spectacle of the moment, to the amusement of other visitors…pics to come…but while worth the visit, it somehow lacked a bit of the majesty that had been built up in our minds prior to entry; maybe it was the line of Japanese tourists that snake through every path, hall and courtyard, or the bombardment of children with their postcards and bracelets on exit, but somehow the memory doesn’t pull with it that same sense of awe that came with viewing the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids of Giza…it was, well, “same same but different.”

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