I said goodbye to Jeff and Sarah, then departed Bangkok yesterday morning and am now in Siam Reap, Cambodia. Just before I left, I dumped about 12 kilos of my extra crap (laptop, suits, souvenirs, cement blocks) into a box at the post office and let it be swept off into the void of the Thai postal system. It is scheduled to arrive in LA in no less than 3 months. Pray for me. I will upload some of my photos soon, perhaps from Phnom Penh when I get there.
From Bangkok I took a 4-hour minibus ride to Aranyapathet and walked across the border to Poipet, getting a 30-day Cambodian visa on the way. The contrast between Cambodia and Thailand is overwhelming - It feels a lot like crossing into Mexico from the United States, only Cambodia is dismally poor. Even though the country has been experiencing a steady rise in tourism for the past decade it still sees only a small piece of the millions that flock to South East Asia each year. Siam Reap is Cambodia’s number one tourist city because it is so close to Angkor, and its the first stop on most peoples’ journey into the country from Thailand. I made friends with another traveler (Anja from Germany) on my way across the border, and we managed to get ourselves bus tickets (on the “dusty bus”) to Siam Reap for $5 after some hardcore bargaining.
The road from Poipet to Siam Reap is notoriously bad. Hilariously bad. I’ve never seen a worse road. The Cambodians love to use the (very cute) expression “dancing road” to describe the janky dirt roads, but one Cambodian guy on the bus kept calling it a “fuck-ing road”. We were told that the bus would arrive at 8pm, but we weren’t at all surprised when we pulled into town around midnight. The ride itself wasn’t so bad at all, mostly because I shared it with a bunch of other really good people. At times it sounded like the bus was going to shatter into a million pieces and the poor souls in the back hit the ceiling a couple times but we all had a good laugh about it and the 8-hour ride flew by. Anja and I joined up with another new friend on the bus, Dan from England, and found a decently cheap hostel for the night ($3 each).
We all woke at 6:30am and set out together to visit the major temples around Angkor, including Angkor Wat. While we were eating breakfast we found a nice tuk-tuk driver who agreed to take us around to a bunch of temples all day for 8000 riel each (US$2). Nearly every business in and surrounding the city of Siam Reap takes US dollars, Thai baht and Cambodian riel - you can even pay for one bill with a mix of all 3 currencies (it gets very confusing).
We went to Angkor Wat first, the largest religious building in the world and Cambodia’s national symbol. The massive temple is dedicated to the god Vishnu and was built during the height of the Khmer empire in the 12th century. It is quite a sight to see, although walking through it in the blazing hot sun sucks the energy from you. Afterwards we visited Bayon, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm and two other temples whose names I have already forgotten… We played with some little Cambodian kids in a temple (one of them gave me a painfully cute drawing - for good luck!)… I will go into more detail when the photos are posted. In short, it was absolutely amazing.
After our “tour” we were treated by our tuk-tuk driver to some free drinks and a cheap dinner (about $0.50) and Dan and I sampled our first genuinely weird-meat in southeast asia: the Cambodian delicacy of puon tia con.
The same dish is also popular in the Philippines, where it is called Balut. “Puon tia con” translates directly to “Egg duck child” - it is the partially developed fetus of a duck enjoyed right out of the freshly boiled shell. In Cambodia it is served with a plate of fresh herbs and a tasty salty/spicy/sour garlic sauce. I was told that my delicious unborn duck baby was 18 days old today, thus perfectly ripe. Remembering the proper technique for eating balut from weirdmeat.com, I cracked open the piping hot shell with my spoon and sipped the juices first. The taste was excellent, which I focused on deeply trying to avoid looking too hard at the wet feathers on the underdeveloped duck wing poking out of the egg. Then I dipped the tip of my spoon into the spicy garlic sauce and dug into the shell for a proper bite and… it wasn’t pretty but to my surprise it was really good! I shortly finished the whole thing - no bones, no beak, no unpleasant texture at all. Just pure, smooth duck fetus through and through. Feeling good about this first weird-meat experience today, Dan and I will each eat a giant fried grasshopper tomorrow.