I am presently sitting in an Irish bar (it doesn’t really deserve the term “pub”) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This bar is down the road from my hotel (to get to my hotel you need to pass the brothel and go almost to the end of a little side street that is only known because that brothel is on it) and it has wireless, which is why I am here as I am drinking Chamomile tea. I have also purchased (and am wearing) The Stereotypical Backpackers pants (those things that look like pjs and tie in the front and the back). The problem with it is that despite the fact that they’re more airy than my jeans, I feel like I am about to flash some thigh on a pretty regular basis and thus the design is rendered impractical because stairs are impossible as is sitting cross legged on this comfy couch. This is rather disappointing because jeans are ridiculous in this weather and if I cut the jeans out of my wardrobe I have a sum total of one pair of pants. This could be difficult.
So we got into Siem Reap late last afternoon – 31 C. Cambodia is flat and despite being pretty green, is missing a lot of much needed trees.1 My very first impression, you know, five minutes in was: HOLY SHIT the KHMER ARE HOT. I’m sure that my mother appreciates that side comment, but really. Both the men and the women have been crazy attractive with very few exceptions. Lots of big gorgeous smiles, even when you’re telling a tuk-tuk driver that no, you don’t need a ride.
Actually, I guess that’s my second impression. First impression? Hot as hell. More hot than Vietnam. Sweat dripping down your face hot. Yea. Ick.
There are a lot of Westerners here. I would hazard a guess that its about a 50-50 ratio of foreigner to Khmer. Many of the foreigners are all the same lot. It feels like there are only four cookie cutter backpacker looks, and while many seem rather cool, it gets rather tiresome. I mean, how many Swedish blondes with their hair pulled back wearing a tanktop and too short-shorts can you handle at once? I suppose I can’t speak, what with my pants and all. And my chacos. Let’s not forget my bootleg Northface.
The street children are more prevalent here. Maybe because it’s a smaller town (emphasis on the town aspect) than HCMC, but they’re seemingly everywhere. They will follow you for a block, tugging on your arm, holding a younger child, mumbling in khmer. They’re really less heartbreaking than obnoxious as already there’s been a few times where I have nearly missed vehicles on the road when I was trying to avoid a street kid (yea, Mom, I’m being careful).
The US dollar here is a switch. It’s really hard to think in dollars again, and to have it register that I am spending all that money. I went from a country where my coffee cost at the most, $1 (usually $0.30) to a country catering to westerners where my coffee costs $1.50-$3. It’s just frustrating. Less of a shock than going from Vietnam to Washington DC, I suppose.
On the money note: So many people I know have this impression that they can’t afford to travel. It is really a lot cheaper than anyone thinks it is, especially if you don’t get one of those package deals.
So the Center for Khmer Studies, where our classes are being held, is beautiful. Lush, green, and very Cambodian. It is so much more attractive (it should be, sharing grounds with a Wat) than the VNU campus, which was honestly the ugliest campus I have ever seen. Ever. CKS is going to be a great place to study this month. I am looking forward to spending a month splitting my time between the beautiful CKS and coffee shops (with a book). I am hoping to sort of just relax and be more of myself – less concerned with adapting and dealing with all those things that you need to deal with when you are consciously trying to Not Be a Tourist.
I am going to miss Vietnam. Already I am frustrated with not being able to haggle in the language, my first inclination is still to ask in Vietnamese how much things are and bring the price down using my awesome language numbers. Oh – did I mention I’m taking Khmer lessons? This means that I will be able to speak basic Spanish, French, Vietnamese, and Khmer and no competency? This is a problem and is unacceptable in my book. I should pick up one of them again when I get back to the states.
In Southeast Asia for only a month and a day more. Have I really been here for three months already?
1 History Lesson! Pol Pot traded timber for guns with China = less trees and more guns than there should be.