Cambodia is not Kansas

Cambodia remains one of the most challenging places we’ve ever been. We loved experiencing the frenetic city of Phnom Penh, the beach of Kep and of course the stunning ancient city of Angkor Wat. But Cambodia’s dark past of the Pol Pot regime and its destruction is just 30 or so years in the past, and the evidence of that time remains in full sight. The burnt out carcasses of beach mansions remain imprinted on my mind. We wrote a lot about how far from home Cambodia felt to us during our 2011 visit. Here are my words, from 15 January 2011.

CambodiaCow-min

In many ways, the sleepy seaside town of Kep, Cambodia reminds me of Florida.  There are palm trees and coconuts, tourists and, in the resort where we’ve been staying, everything is in (only) English and you can get a turkey club sandwich or pizza, day or night, just like at any self-respecting hotel back home.  But, every so often, we’ll run across some scene that shocks us back to reality and we realize once again how far away we are.

CambodiaCrab-min

Take our drive to Kep from Phnom Penh.  We hired a private taxi for the trip, as we were quite sick of buses at that point.  Our driver, a very nice man, drove maniacally for the duration, leaning on the horn incessantly. He stopped once to take a leak on the side of the deserted road – or so we thought, until he grabbed some Kleenex, and proceeded to pop a squat behind a little shrub.  Taking a crap on the side of the road?  I’m pretty sure you could be arrested for that back home.Speaking of arrested, a few more things that pass for normal here that would absolutely not fly in the States.

  1. The abundance of unsupervised children – they’re adorable, but I’d be calling Child Protective Services thinking similarly stranded-looking kids had been abandoned.  Just this afternoon I saw a 9 or 10 month old asleep, bottle in mouth, on a towel on the sidewalk.  I think the lady about 20 feet away was his mom…
  2. Eating spiders and other insects – we saw some HUGE spiders for sale at a market (maybe the size of my fist?), and when we asked what they taste like, we were told…crickets.  If only we knew what those taste like!
  3. The certified “Child Safe” tuk-tuks that careen around corners and have no side barriers, seatbelts, etc., to prevent a catastrophe.

CambodiaStreet-min

Some of the best “we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore” moments are prompted by the animals.  In these parts, dogs, cats, pigs and chickens roam free.  We assume that most of the various creatures must belong to someone (at least the chickens and pigs that can be eaten), but we definitely haven’t been able to figure out the system in a week.On Rabbit Island as we had lunch in a shack on the beach, a dog slept under our table, and chickens pecked at the bugs buried in the sand.  We also saw some pigs lazily scratching their backs on rough tree bark.  The animals also seem to understand the crazy traffic, and they stay on ‘their’ side of the road, or get out of the way for the cars just in time.  All the animals are also pretty oblivious to each other and to people…no scary packs of angry dogs here. In fact, they’d prefer it if you just left them alone.  I commented to Drew that our pup Basil wouldn’t last a day among these scrappy canines – and as I said it, an email came in from Kamp K9 (Basil’s home away from home that embarrassingly costs nearly as much as our resort) letting us know that he was having a ball in the snow wearing a borrowed doggy coat.

We are definitely not in Kansas anymore.

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