Matt and Kyle- Chapter 3:
Things could not have gone any better in Thailand for the four of us, but it was unfortunately time to move on to our next destination. After 45 days there ourselves (about 9 for Matt and Kyle) we were crossing the border to Cambodia. Before the trip planning I could have told you absolutely nothing about Cambodia. Truthfully, I thought it was in Africa. But it is the site of the ancient Angkor Wat temple, something you’ve certainly seen pictures of if you’ve ever seen a “X# of places you need to see” sort of list. The word temple is actually a bit of a misnomer for Angkor Wat because while it is a specific temple in the city of Siem Reap, the modern city exists surrounded by hundreds of ancient structures. Typically, tourists will pay a cab or tuk tuk to shuttle them about until they’ve had their fill of temples and the scorching heat for the day. We elected to follow suit and did our research on google as to which temples looked the coolest.
Most everyone starts at the main temple, the Angkor Wat (Wat essentially means temple in terms of Buddhist areas) for sunrise. The sky on our day was a spectacular purple pink that we humbly watched shift and develop for about 45 minutes at around 5:30AM. After watching the sunrise from outside, we headed in and explored the absolutely massive complex. It was incredible. Massive, intricate, fairly well preserved given the age. There were LOTS of people there, but with the exception of a few areas, enough space to be just fine. The first vendor we saw was a tiny Cambodian woman who promised to make us breakfast. “Everyone calls me Lady Gaga” she informed us as we politely declined. We continued on to our next stop, the Bayon temple. This temple has the giant stone faces, which were really cool. The carvings on the wall were really neat, animals, battle scenes, servants aiding the ancient royalty – all stories scrolling out in front of us modern day readers. Bayon, shaped like a pyramid, photographed really well in the early light. We tackled 8 temples in total for the day. 7 of them from the sunrise until the heat simply became too much for us. We hit East Mebon for sunset, which ended up being a little bit of a let down. Still an impressive pyramid, but the sunset was more a dimming than any sort of colorful display. The other major temple of note is Ta Prohm. This is the one with the enormous trees snaking their trunks roots and branches amongst the ancient stones. It’s a spectacular interaction between the wood and stone; preserved ancient culture and persistent creeping nature. Over thousands of years the two melded together into a sight unlike anything we’ve seen the world over. I personally can’t really recommend a visit here highly enough.
Aside from the heat, the other ever present thing among the ruins were vendors. For the most part they are vocal, but not pushy. Something to expect in a poor country such as Camb. It can be annyoning, but we just tried to remember the context, we were in their land, climbing around and photographing the treasures of their ancestors, and in the modern day the people have very little. Even if you don’t buy from them, you can at least strike up a friendly conversation. I had a nice chat with a policeman who offered to sell me his medals, another group of guys said that for they would personally sell me one of the entire temples for $1M USD!! Both are deals I seriously considered. I also managed to snag a photo op in front of one of the temples with the largest chainsaw I’ve ever seen by talking to a landscaping crew member. Eat your heart out leatherface! While all these vendor experiences sound like fun, by far the most enjoyable was watching the crowd of vendors who would verbally pummel Kyle into repeated submission. Adults and children alike circled like tiny brown sharks around a bleeding seal. His only escape was to buy a magnet, a picture, drink etc. We don’t know why they singled out Kyle, but it had to be something that they noticed, and of the four of us, he was certainly the most… compassionate negotiator. Even in our time in Thailand, it took Kyle a little bit of time to warm to the idea of hard negotiating for every single purchase. Something we’d become quite accustomed to by this point. Sometimes, Kyle would negotiate a $1 off a purchase only to pay the person the full price anyways out of guilt. It’s only because he has a big heart, but it made Kyle and easy target for the observant sharks as well as for our jokes. I imagine Kyle still has nightmares of being encircled by magnet wielding 4 year olds shrieking “One dollar you pay!!” until he finally relents.
For anyone who may want to consider a trip to Angkor Wat, here’s a list of the temples we visited (arranged in some sort of logical transport order. The last one on the list could be skipped to be honest based on our experience)
ANGKOR WAT Sunrise
2-Sunrise at Angkor Wat
3-Central Angkor Thom (Bayon)
That night we headed to the market to grab some souvenirs and gifts for friends and family at home. We bought quite a few items, including a massive duffel to haul all our crap that we had bought so far. A special thank you to both Matt and Kyle for taking it back with them. The banner deal for the night was a fiercely negotiated purchase of 27 pairs of pants. This might actually be a slight underestimate of quantity. I’ve heard rumors that the cost of pants in Cambodia has risen so sharply as a result of this transaction that the locals have been priced out of the market and are now in an emergency state of pants-less-ness. The vendor who coordinated the deal between multiple stalls has reportedly retired as a result of the windfall of cash. To put it simply, we bought lot of pants. After this we hung out a little longer in town, but made it a somewhat early night and headed back to crash… PANTS!
The next day we were traveling from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh via bus. It would be a six hour trip which we heard could be a little rough. It proved to be all that and more! Calling this escapade “a little rough” would be like calling Miley Cyrus a little trashy. We hit every bump in the road for all six hours, and a few more just to be sure. On top of that, our driver was on loan from a demolition derby. He would beep people out of our lane, pull off to the right and off-road around people and go head-on into opposing traffic in a game of chicken we thankfully always won. Just when we thought he was out of tricks, he began off-roading on the lane to the outside of oncoming traffic. This guy had created four lanes with our bus on a road most Americans would be wary without a jeep. Because of the dry dirt nature of the roads, the only thing visible out of the window was flying dust. Every once in a while the dust would clear long enough to see nothing of interest and a good bit of trash. The van was to be frank, hot as shit. We all baked in the hot stickiness fearing for our lives and feeling slightly sick… well all except for one of us. An informal game developed where we would all just sit and wait for the next aftershock-like set of bumps to arrive and nearly toss one of us on to the floor. The game took an exciting turn when we noticed a woman asleep who’s body jiggled like a bowl of jello with each of these instances. She was (Athena’s words) well developed… and probably not wearing the adequate type of support for such a bumpy ride. I’m glad we didn’t die on the road, and due to this woman, also glad no one lost an eye.
Once we arrived in Phnom Penh Athena and I took a good deal of time to get our bags and possession in order for the boys to return to America with. It had been a few weeks since we’d done a “spring cleaning” of our bags so it was good to get lean again. While we tackled this issue, Matt and Kyle went out to learn about the somber side of Cambodia’s history. During the 1970’s, Cambodia was stricken with a mass genocide orchestrated, strangely enough by own of its own citizens who rose to power. The leader, Pol Pot, was a believer in communism who shunned “city people” and the educated. Young poor vulnerable boys from the countryside were recruited and with the wages and food given to them, in turn became an army of Pol Pot’s enforcers. People were executed for such reasons as having higher education or because they wore glasses. He knew that the educated would stand in his way and he systematically transported and ultimately executed an astonishing 2/3rds of the country’s population in what came to be known as the Killing Fields. Exploring this dark time in history is a way to acknowledge the terrible reality of the events, in my opinion honoring the victims, and trying to understand the local people and culture on a higher level. After Matt and Kyle flew back, I visited the killing fields myself and as they told me it was a very moving experience. It makes me sad that humans could do something so horrible and on such a grand scale to one another- and it’s shocking that it happened so recently, horrifying really. Hopefully, we have progressed as a species past things so terrible, but on a more local level I hope that my experience and understanding of these events help me to just show more compassion to those around me in my day to day life.
Before the crew met up again in the late afternoon Athena and I decided to celebrate our cleaning and packing with our first street food of PP. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to be found. We settled on a little stall where we split some chicken noodles and frog legs (just for the novelty on the second dish). It was tasty, but doesn’t stick out as terribly remarkable.
Our plan for the night was to hop on the nightly Mad Monkey’s (our hostel) bar crawl. We had a good time jumping from bar to bar meeting new friends from around the world and ultimately ended up feeling good and at a giant club. We were feeling so good in fact, that we all seemed to decide that we would show off our incredible first world dance moves. I’m sure everyone was exceedingly impressed. That’s definitely what happened. The only other notable item of the night was the number of working women who abounded at the club. It was always funny for us to watch them approach the guys and be turned down. Even though they didn’t present him with any magnets, I think Kyle felt bad and gave a few of them a dollar. We headed home to pass out with only one full day left in our time together.
The next day was Thanksgiving day which since they use the American dollar as their main currency, is obviously huge in Cambodia. They have huge parades rivaling that of the Macy’s in NYC and most everyone dresses up like pilgrims eating turkey in the street. Ok, so maybe that’s not exactly how it goes down. It was business as usual in Cambodia for most people there but we decided we were going to celebrate our way. We started the day with our own slightly earlier version of black Friday to fill what little space we had left in our bags. We purchased some more gifts (which some of our most devoted readers [no, not you Jason Wilson] have yet to receive) Rolexes, Beats headphones, and what I would have to say is the best money I’ve ever spent on a “gift” for Athena. As we headed back to the hostel in our tuk tuk, Matt, Athena and I excitedly talked about all the swag we had just obtained for ourselves and for gifts. Kyle however remained quiet. We didn’t pay much notice until… “Guys, um. I can’t get my watch off.” Kyle had invested in the highest of quality Rolex watches (he had paid nearly $10 we think) and it was now officially stuck on his wrist. He had apparently been working on it the entire time and now had given up, literally held captive by his own frugality. We each took a turn until we were eventually able to pry it open (didn’t need to cut it off thank goodness) resulting in a collective sigh of relief.
After dropping off the booty from our shopping spree, we looked up some of the best restaurants in town where we would have our thanksgiving feast. Our original plan was to find the best area for street food, and each set out with a budget of $5 to have more food and variety than we could ever possibly consume in one sitting. It’s amazing that $20 will provide this for 4 people, but absolutely true. Unfortunately, we never found a solid street food stretch with much diversity in menu. The only area we found had about 14 identical restaurants lined up along the filthy street. As a result we decided to pass.
Instead we decided we’d just find a highly rated place, and then just order a ton to share family style. Our meal ultimately consisted of duck spring rolls, pork stuffed squid, pork and eggplant wrapped in banana leaf, beef filet with peppers, and pork belly. Much to the dismay of many of you following at home, we also ordered a special “local” plate consisting of silk worms, friend baby frogs and giant crickets. This was by far the most bizarre food we had our entire trip.
The rundown of the three is as follows: 1) baby frogs- basically fried to the equivalent of a chip, pretty much dry, crispy/crunchy and a little salty. Worth eating for the novelty but not much more than that. 2) silk worms- gross looking little cocoons which had just enough squishiness to repulse me. Think of a gross “Gusher”. Thankfully just like the real Gushers, not really that much gushing going on. 3) The GIANT cricket. The most intimidating thing I’ve ever considered eating. Looked ready to hop at any moment and nearly as big as my entire thumb. After working up some courage for a solid 10 minutes, I gave it a crunch and it was also pretty dry. (a big relief) Glad I didn’t wimp out, but I wasn’t looking for seconds.
All in all the food was good, but the non-weird stuff was only ok, didn’t blow us away. Kind of disappointing given the original plan. It was our last major meal with Matt and Kyle, who seemed to have a great time adventuring with us, we know we really enjoyed their company. It was a great slice of home and a lot of fun traveling together. Thanks guys!!
By the way, if you are still wondering about the “gift” mentioned above, it was the engagement ring I would give to Athena in New Zealand!!