Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Children are the future (Cambodia)

We woke up at about 8am this morning, and found our tuk tuk driver, Mr. Nehm, waiting for us outside of our hotel with a floodlight smile and an honest eagerness to spend the day hauling us around.  He would end up driving us around from about 8:30am until a little after 10:00pm.  The cost for such a service?  15 U.S. dollars.  That is some solid value.  He even has a paranormal knack for finding us easily and quickly whenever we even think about needing him.  It is pretty wild.  We would be walking down the road, and sort of wonder aloud, "Where is Nehm?"  Moments later, he would pull up to a screeching halt, ready to whisk us away on our next adventure. Nehms is the man.

We decided to take in breakfast at a hut just outside of Angkor Wat.  On our way in, some little kids charged us and proceeded to tell us our national and state capitals, our "prime minister," and then try to sell us postcards as well as beads.  These kids here are definitely the future for this country.  They have an entrepreneurial way about them that will probably help to drive Cambodia to be a more modern country.  They sell with charm, hustle like champs, and all of them speak about 3 languages.  The kids are everywhere and they know exactly what they are doing.  They hustle like their lives depend on it, and I suppose to some degree that may be the case.  We told the little charmers that we may be back after breakfast.  I ordered pancakes and a fruit dish that defied expectation.  Kristin had an american breakfast.  While we were eating, one of the kids delivered a letter that he had written to me.  In this letter, it stated that, "I have a very pretty girlfriend and that he is sorry for bothering me..." among other things.  It was pretty nice and so of course we got suckered into buying bracelets.

After our breakfast, we decided to check out Phnom Bakheng.  This particular temple was originally used as a state capital and affords probably the best view in Angkor.  Generally, people flock to this temple late in the day for a spectacular and dramatic sunset over the jungles of Cambodia.  In fact, so many people flock to this temple at sunset that it is causing structural damage to the foundation.  I would wager that Unesco will probably put an end to that sooner than later.  We decided to go in the morning so that it would not be too busy.  The climb to the top was a labor of love.  Sweat in our eyes, deet mixing with sunscreen to create a chemical fragrance that burned with each breath, it was about 95 degrees outside, and it felt much much hotter.  If pressed we probably could have cooked egg's on our forearms.  Kristin sniffed out a few shortcuts, all of which were exciting, one of which was full of spider webs and dangerously steep.  We probably shaved a few minutes off of our ascent with these shortcuts, which in the brutal heat translates to a great success.  The view from the top, impeccable, you could see most temples, and all the way to Tonle Sap lake, the biggest lake in southeast Asia.  We really like how, "at your own risk" everything seems over here.  For instance, the stairs up to the summit of Phnom Bakheng are ridiculously steep, and there are no warning signs or ropes to balance with.  You just have to know well enough to be careful.  In the U.S. or Europe, or anywhere with a modern legal system, this could not exist due to lawsuits and idiots falling all over themselves.

Our next stop, Bayon in Angkor Thom, is a temple famous for its many faces.  It has numerous (216) carved faces, and on most pillars, there are 4, each one individually symbolizing either love, compassion, sympathy, or community.  This is according to a guide that threw himself at us and we later had to pay 4 dollars.  He also told us that the wholes in all the stone bricks at the temples were drilled so that the elephants could carry the stones on each side of their large frame from the quarry about 50 km away.  We visited a few more temples, and decided to head back to the hotel for kids meals.  At this hotel, the food is pretty expensive, so we have taken towards ordering room service off of the super affordable kid's menu.  It is our way of getting around the system without having to leave our room.  Nehm was downstairs ready for round 2 when we exited our hotel following our brief reprieve.  The grounds of Angkor are filled with tons of temples, but each is a pretty decent distance apart from eachother.  Since there are extensive roads throughout the entire temple complex, you need either a driver or a bike and incredible stamina for a solid temple touring day.  This is why Nehm is such a crucial addition to our crew.  He makes the sights happen.  We visited a lesser known temple sort of on the outskirts that Nehms suggested, and an older lady invited us in to pray with her.  She gave us 3 incense sticks for an offering and led us into the temple.  We said our prayers, and afterwards I asked Kristin what she had prayed for.  "Life, Love, and Lou," she replied.  Lou is her handsome 3 year old golden retriever.  Towards the end of our day, we visited Banteay Kdei, another temple complex.  We decided to hang out across the street with some local kids for a minute.  Kristin met a little girl named Pau.  She was a village girl who spoke 3 languages (English, French, Khmer), and she learned each not in school, but from talking with tourists.  Kristin really liked Pau and they took a few goofy pictures and had some laughs.

For the evening, we decided to leave the camera at home and go out for a nice dinner.  As Nehm was speeding down the road, we noticed a small French-Khmer (=Cambodian, Khmer is the language and ethnic term for Cambodians) Cafe called La Malraun.  Our meal was the best of our trip, and my favorite dish was my banana flower chicken salad.  It tasted both spicy and sweet, with some bites providing a hint of anise or even peanut sauce.  It was a clever little dish.  We also shared a dragon fruit, banana, orange, apple, and papaya shake.  Our waitress brought a dragon fruit out for us to fondle.  We later went back to the Angkor night market to spend our cash dangerously close to 0.

We both feel very comfortable and at home in Cambodia.  The people are all very nice, and the kids are simply amazing.  Tomorrow we leave for Phuket, Thailand.

Breakfast, pancakes and fruit

Climbing up to Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng

Climbing the stairs

Top of Phnom Bakheng

View of jungle

K - Atv farmer tan

J - seriously check out the atv farmer tan

Lou statue

Another shot of the steps

This elephant just casually rolled by

Close-up, looks like a zombie

In Bayon

Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom

Bayon courtyard

An action scene

Some startled kid and 900 year old art

The many faces of Bayon

Center of temple

A place to sit


216 of these

Back of Bayon temple

This chick was hauling buns

a road

More beautiful temples

Some kids swimming in moat around Angkor Wat

Wearing my kroma on my head

Some random bridge

Naga - these are very prevalent
Cool carving

Preah Khan

Headless dude

Tree growing on temple

From underneath

Dead tree on temple

Entryway to Angkor Thom complex

Smaller temple where we prayed

Lady that we prayed with

Practicing my moves

A rare photo of Nehm, he is almost
impossible to photograph due to his
great subtlety

More trees growing into temples, never gets old

Reservoir across from Banteay Kdei

A scene - Pau running up

Pau and Kristin

Banteay Kdei

Cambodia's Future


  1. Those temples are very intriguing!!With your blog I don't even need to watch the discovery channel, TLC, Travel channel or the Food Channel. Great job with the blog Justin, you are an exceptional writer that makes me feel like I am on an adventure!

  2. Kristin: No need to pray for Lou, he is doing fine, just pray that Dexter doesn't beat him up!! (JK) Where in the world is Woo and Boo...yea Thailand's next, can't wait for the pic's. and story.....

  3. It is carving that must have taken a long time to do. Justin are you jealous of the stone man Kristin is smooching with? I am enjoying your journey with you. Fun pulling up the larger close up view. Love Gram S

  4. More incredible fun! Just when I wonder how it can get any better--it does. Thanks to the fantastic pictures and your amazing way with words, Justin!! I am flying to Little Rock to stay with Cathy while her family goes to CA. She can't be alone--her surgery is next week. Love, Grandma O

  5. Justin and Kristen,

    We LOVE reading your blog-Jared things you guys are the best.

    Love, Julie, Joe and Jared

  6. Hey,
    Your pictures (and words) are wonderful. It makes me feel like I'm traveling with you. It's obvious that Cambodia has touched your hearts. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures.

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