I was frozen in terror; my mother wanted to poke it. A spider. Big as a saucer, and furry too, it sat placidly in the corner of our bathroom ceiling, unaware of the heart palpitations it was causing me. Before it was time to return home though this encounter would seem a distant memory, crowded out by all that Cambodia was to show me.
When my uncle, who lives in Singapore, invited us to see Angkor Wat I was already perplexed. My knowledge ended abruptly at the Ukrainian border, and I didn’t have the slightest idea the ancient, or recent, history of southeastern Asia. Luckily, our guided tours of Angkor Wat enlightened me to both of these. As we walked between the colossal stone gods lining the entrance to Angkor Wat, it was hard to believe I had been unaware of this monumental temple. Its lotus bud-shaped towers, grand staircases, and elaborate friezes left me speechless at every turn, but what our guide had to say left me speechless in a different sort of way. His accounts of what the Khmer Rouge did to his family were sobering to put it mildly, and made me appreciate how far they have come since then, especially in the case of Siem Reap
The Siem Reap market is a blitz of sensations. If you can make it through the drive across dirt roads at breakneck speeds and into the wave of people going to market; maybe you can make it back out the other side. Shafts of sunlight coming through the slats in the roofs show you only a fraction of the displays that fill every space not occupied by people. I was so preoccupied with one wall of flowers I almost ran into a pig hanging from a hook. After recovering from that incident it was a hop, skip, and a boat ride to Tonle Sap Lake.
Sipping a coke, listening to the lake lap against our floating shop, I was feeling much more relaxed. That is, until I noticed a crocodile, covered in crusted mud, sunning itself on the deck. This was anything but a relaxing vacation. Despite feeling less than secure as we got back into our boat, we rode on through the muddy waters through the floating village. A church, houses, beggars in trash cans, students in canoes, all rode on the waves of the Tonle Sap, and I became even more concerned about the crocodiles.
Cambodia is not a place one goes to relax. For me, it is a place where all my petty problems back home melt away amid more worldly ones like the Khmer Rouge aftermath. Cambodia is someplace so foreign, so new to me that it will never seem commonplace. Cambodia will leave an impression, one you can never forget.
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