A coincidental piece was posted on BBC Travel 3 days before my Cambodia post here. It may be a bit of a read, but truly indicative of how I felt after 3 days in Siem Reap – Kind of bewildered, slightly uncomfortable. Since returning from Cambodia, I’ve watched this movie and have gained a whole new perspective after talking to a few people about the history and condition in Cambodia. I knew that I missed out on experiencing the authenticity of some parts of Cambodian culture when we were there, but I didn’t push myself. This article really makes you reflect on the underlying culture and histories of the destinations you visit and how they can have a distinctly profound effect on you after.
– just one good reason to travel
The article from[WORDS & WANDERLUST] by Don George follows:
As Mr Kim navigated his car onto the puddled, potholed road that led to Banteay Chhmar, he turned to me. “Where are you staying?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “There are no hotels in Banteay Chhmar.”
“I know,” I said. “I arranged a homestay. On my computer.”
“OK. Where is the home?”
“I don’t know.”
He swivelled to face me. “Where should I take you?”
This moment seemed to symbolise my entire Cambodia trip: Where was I going? Why was I here?
I had arrived in Cambodia after a week-long tour consisting of lectures, book readings and writing workshops in Melbourne and Singapore. When I was planning that tour half a year earlier, I realised that Siem Reap was just a short flight from Singapore. I had been wanting to visit Siem Reap since childhood, when I had seen a photo of Angkor Wat in a National Geographic magazine. Some kind of seed had been planted then, and over four decades, its stony tendrils had blossomed into an irresistible longing. I had to see that place, touch its ground, smell its air. Now it would be just two hours away by plane. I booked a one-week visit.
Over the ensuing months, as I was researching Siem Reap, I discovered a village about 160km to the northwest called Banteay Chhmar, where an organisation named Community-Based Tourism (CBT) arranged homestays. There was scant information online, but what I found promised amazing ruins and kind people. At first I thought I would base myself in Siem Reap and spend one night in Banteay Chhmar. Then I decided to make it two nights. As time passed, the image of going off the map to little-visited Banteay Chhmar took hold of me, and I ended up reserving a three-night stay through the CBT’s website.
(Candace Rose Rardon)
Mr Kim met me at the airport to take me to my Siem Reap hotel. During the 20-minute drive, he spoke easily and impressed me with his knowledge, English fluency, and calm, kind air. I asked him about getting to Banteay Chhmar. A few years earlier, he said, the drive would have taken most of a day, but recently a paved highway had been built almost all the way to the village, and now the journey would be about three hours by highway and just 30 minutes along bumpy, unpaved paths. “Of course,” he added with a wry smile as a sudden downpour turned the windshield into a washing machine, “it’s the rainy season, so it might take longer.” I asked if he could take me, and he said sure, that he liked that part of Cambodia and had served in the army there.
Over the next two and half days, I immersed myself in a giddy, deluge-dodging round of ruin-hopping and restaurant-gorging in Siem Reap. I saw Angkor Wat at dawn and dusk, mysterious strangler-figged Ta Prohm, the benevolent, beguiling faces of Bayon, and exquisite Banteay Srey. I slung back Indochine Martinis at the seductive Miss Wong bar and savoured a six-course seasonal feast at acclaimed Cuisine Wat Damnak. I was exultant to have reached the place I had dreamed of for decades, but somehow among the thousands of balloon-panted, sarong-wrapped, selfie-snapping foreigners, I sensed the essence of Cambodia eluding me. Even immersed in the cultural heart of the country, I felt somehow distanced from the place.