The simple act of running errands in Siem Reap can be an illuminating cultural experience. The girls and I leave the haven of our guesthouse and its beautiful garden to begin our short walk into town. We follow the same pattern each time we do it. Go 20 yards on the left side of the road first, then cross to the other side to avoid the flattened, decaying rat that’s been there since we arrived. Go another 10 yards on the right side, then cross back to the left to avoid the reeking stench of the open sewage canal. Skirt around the big pile of trash, don’t get too close to the grazing cows along the road, and before we know it we’re passing 5-star hotels and walking in the shade along the river. This is a typical neighborhood in Cambodia. Trash alongside beautiful mango trees. Gorgeous gated homes near sewage canals. It’s a dichotomous environment I’ve grown to love.
The Old Market area of town bustles with tuk tuks, scooters, bikers and brave pedestrians like us. Sometimes we’ll stop in for a quick “fish pedicure”, the seemingly bizarre act of paying to have dozens of fish chew on the soles of your feet. It’s come to feel strangely normal and I’ll admit I’ve become a bit of an addict. My feet haven’t been this soft in years!
Next we’ll squeeze our way through the produce stalls of the market. Having expanded our palates over the past couple months, we buy dragon fruit, morning glory, jack fruit and many other foods we’d never heard of much less eaten before we came to Southeast Asia. Sometimes we’ll be lured in by one of the many women singing in their smooth, high voices, “Madame, you want some pants? You need scarf, madame?” Confession: we’ve bought some scarves and pants.
The Old Market area shows its true colors as the sun sets on Siem Reap. Neon signs and lanterns light up the streets as traditional Cambodian music fills the air. Restaurants and bars offer meals for as little as 2 bucks and beers for just 50 cents. Often Brian will ride in and join us so we can hit the town as a family.
Soon we’ve got tired kids on our hands and it’s time to wind down another day in Siem Reap. All I have to do is barely turn my head in the direction of one of the tuk tuk drivers packed along the street and I’ll get the familiar “Lady! Hey Lady! You want tuk tuk?!”
Within a few minutes a cool breeze is hitting our faces as we bump along potholed roads and smile at the memories of another day in what’s becoming one of our favorite countries of this journey.