Six Days in Siem Reap

It’s time to leave for the city of ancient Khmer kings, Siem Reap. We leave a toy frog as a gift for Ryder’s friend, the manager’s son-he’d enjoyed using it as a prank to toss on people, and a little deer for our tuktuk driver’s daughter (she wasn’t interested in the frog.)

IMG_3693 I make a brief stop at the Music Arts School to donate my guitar. It’s a beauty of a travel guitar, but I’m not playing it enough to justify carrying it around with me. It would only sell for $30 in Tokyo, so I decided I’d rather donate it. They are really grateful. I just googled “music NGO in Phnom Penh” and they came up. It reminds me of my old music school back in Springville, Utah. They give me and Ryder vanilla shakes. I walk away feeling like my guitar will get much better use in its new home.

We almost board the wrong bus, to Kampong or something like that, therefore it’s a bit irritating that it seems our guide’s go-to joke is to misrepresent information to his clients, like falsify the true length of the future bus ride, or claim we’ve arrived at a different destination than we have, or say we only have five minutes for lunch. I’ve chosen the company that’s supposed to be the most luxury of them all, with the safest record. The best company, Giant Ibis, is still ghetto, and the promised wifi doesn’t work.

We see a terrible accident on the way. It’s already happened. The truck is flipped on the side of the road. There are people lined up on both sides of the streets. A man is lying on the ground on a blanket. The roads are all dirt. The ambulance, pathetic looking. His head is lying in an enormous pool of blood. I cry from the shock, and pray for his soul. I don’t see how he’s going to survive that, and even if he did, the handling he’s about to receive won’t help.

The roads of Cambodia and Vietnam are the worst I’ve seen anywhere, and what’s more bewildering or perhaps telling is the casual way the locals approach both their own driving and others. As a mother, I can’t think about anything but Ryder when we’re near a street, the traffic is so volatile. Mothers here let their children play right by the street, ride on motorcycles as babies without helmets. I suppose it’s just what they are used to, but it’s almost unbearable for me, to be a mom in that kind of traffic.

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It’s a really long ride, about six hours. I buy Ryder a miniature school bus and tell him I used to ride one like it to school. “Cool!” he says enthusiastically. I’m waiting to see when I stop being the coolest person he knows. For now, it still makes me smile that if I did it, it must have been pretty neat. He makes another friend at lunch, as do I.

When we get to our hotel, the Angkor Areca Boutique Hotel, it’s really dark-and something amazing happens. The Michael Jackson lookalike super nice manager upgrades us to the nicest suite in the hotel. We’re staying for six days. It’s beautiful.

The next few days move lazily. I’d intended to couchsurf but the locals never did tell me where they live. This is an extremely relaxing alternative. Ryder swims every day, and is happiest when I join him.

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Playing with “Dadu’s friend” as Ryder calls every grown man

We have a massive breakfast every morning, order room service every evening, and watch movies like Harry Potter on DVD. In other words, we do what most people do when they’re on vacation. It’s a wonderful reprieve from the previous stay in Phnom Penh, and miraculously, it’s only $111 for 6 days.

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The breakfast

We go to an outdoor fair ground and ride some bumper cars. Amazingly, the ride is dangerous like real Cambodian roads.

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Ryder loves riding on tuktuks

There are no seat belts and the cars go really fast. Ryder slams his head, cries the rest of the time and  I end up with bruises all over my leg. Even the amusement park rides in Cambodia aren’t regulated. See here for a blog post of a traveler witnessing a death on a park ride in Cambodia.

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We do our temple surfing at Angkor Wat the largest religious monument in the world, beginning as Hindu and transitioning into Buddhist-I can only manage one day of such events. Ryder quickly wants me to carry him, and-blast him-he keeps getting bigger faster than I am getting stronger. It’s tiring, carting him up and down stairs through ruin after ruin, and then it starts to pour.

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There are many children selling things at the temples, asking for school money. School is not free in Cambodia. Many can’t afford to go.

The ancient remains of the kingdom of the Khmer are so photogenic and I want to come back when Ryder’s older to see more. You could spend a week looking at all of the temples. For $20, we just do the day pass.

The most illuminating opportunity of the day is visiting the Landmine museum.

It was started by a former child Khmer Rouge soldier named Aki Ra who personally dismantled thousands of them. He is a CNN Hero. He now runs a school behind the museum for children affected by the landmines. You can’t see or visit the school but you can read the student profiles.

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Until this visit, I had no idea that many of the landmines dropped on this hapless nation were, in fact, of US origin.

They are hoping to be rid of the landmines by 2020, but some say a more realistic goal is 2050.

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More surprising to me is that even after creating this devastating situation which kills children every year, the US neither A) apologizes or B) signs the treaty which a majority of other nations has signed agreeing to ban landmines as more deadly to one’s self than to the enemy. It does, however, donate money to the removal of the mines, which is an expensive and time-consuming process.

The evening before we head out, we meet up with the same family we saw in Ho Chi Minh for dinner. While waiting at the rather lackluster mall for them to arrive, Ryder makes several more friends to run around with. We never feel lonely in Southeast Asia.

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Ryder often takes his shoes off when he sees other children without shoes

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Two little nomadic only children

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 364 awesome articles for us.

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