As the hot Cambodian temperatures drain us, we head to the town of Kampot, known for its pepper.
Before the Khmer Rouge Regime destroyed all pepper farms in the 70’s, Kampot pepper adorned tables of the finest restaurants in Paris. Today it has made a comeback, infusing delectable sauces with a variety of dishes.
Outside of the pepper, we’re mainly here to walk, drink, eat, and people-watch in this laid back river town. We walk in the mornings, then hit one of the numerous restaurant/pubs that line the river later in the hot afternoon.
People watching never gets dull. We see many older white males with young Cambodian women. Other elders just roam around aimlessly, left over from either wars or the hippy era, and of course the young backpackers with dreads or the hair-in-a-bun (I Dream of Jeannie) look. Not a whole lot to do here. Not sure what they do every day, but the locals continually work with a smile.
Enough laziness. We rent a motor scooter for a ride up Bokor Mountain through the National Park. When riding in Cambodia, size matters. The bigger the vehicle, the more right of way. Rare red lights and street signs have little meaning. I have 30 years of experience riding a big Harley Davidson, but this little automatic 125cc scooter with Marilynn on the back gives me all I can handle. Trucks, tuk tuks, carts, and other scooters pass on the left side, while scooters and whatnot approach head-on from the right shoulder, all on a dusty road full of holes and bumps. Exhilarating! Like being in a live video game.
Once in the park, the road transforms to smooth pavement with little traffic. And guess what? As we twist up the mountain, the relief of cool wind blows us around! A monument of Lok Yeay Mao, the goddess of protector, greets us near the top. Hope she protects us on the way back down into the heat of pepper town.
We chill along the river and enjoy a few sundowners (cocktails) and more local fare, lok lak (beef prepared in a sauce that includes Kampot pepper and garlic). Better than the tarantulas in the previous post.
Time to travel north to Siem Reap and visit the number one tourist attraction in Cambodia, Angkor Wat. This enormous complex of temples sits on 402 acres and is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
We climb into a tuk tuk at 4:30 am to catch a glimpse of the largest temple at sunrise. At first, we’re a bit dismayed by the hordes of tourists, like Disneyland or something.
However, after sunrise the crowds dilute into this massive temple complex.
In eight-hours we explore four temples. First, Angkor Wat itself, which is the largest religious building in the world. Despite its overwhelming size, the details and carvings draw us.
We hire a tuk tuk for the day for transport between sites. However, locating your driver among a sea of tuk tuks can be a challenge.
The scenic ride rolls through forest, past lakes, and over picturesque bridges.
In Angkor Thom we visit Bayon, a temple full of mysterious, smiling faces (216 faces to be exact) on 54 towers.
Every corner or window holds surprise or a smile.
Our third ruin, Ta Prohm, reminds me of how nature eventually reclaims everything, as the fig, the banyan, and kapok trees slowly swallow this structure with their massive roots.
Angelina Jolie’s character Lara Croft picked a jasmine flower in the movie “Tomb Raider” at this location. (We haven’t seen the movie)
Our day’s exploration ends at a massive Buddhist Monastery, Banteay Kdei.
Here, bright colors of lichen appear to paint the decaying walls.
I also received a Buddhist blessing here for the health and welfare of my parents back in the states.
Entrance fees recently rose to $37 USD for a one-day ticket, or $67 USD for three days. After eight-hours our minds could not comprehend much more temple stimuli, though you could spend a week here and be continually amazed.
Time for drinks on Pub Street in Siem Reap.
It’s still daylight, so we’ll start off with traditional Cambodian barbecue – frog legs, crocodile, pork, beef, chicken, and fish grilled at our table.
The bright lights inspire a round of drinks.
Then maybe a bit more barbeque from a fiery wok.
More drinks can lead to all kinds of chaos. Like how about ending the evening with our feet tickled by a school of dead-foot-skin-eating-fish? (Fish Can Do Massage)
Thank you, abundant universe.