Cambodia Part I: Local Sights, Sounds & The Pharé Circus!

Finally I am well enough to get some work done, edit a few photos and get started on this long-overdue blogpost!

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been sick as a dog the past 5 days. Frequent readers would know that I usually get to updating almost immediately after an event, what more a holiday. I saved up like mad to go on this trip to Cambodia so I was excited like I’ve never been before to start blogging about it, to share with you guys my photos and travel anecdotes. Alas, I had to fall sick, to an irritating little thing called “sun-poisoning” no less, so that stole 5 precious days away from me.

But that’s behind us now and I’m feeling brand new so let’s get started! =D

(Click here to watch our video of the trip!)

Ahhh I finally got to see for myself the cheesy airplane wing out of the window view. I’ve never been on an airplane before prior to this so it part and parcel made the trip all that more looked forward to. Granted we only flew AirAsia but like I’d know the difference between a low cost carrier and a more expensive one anyway, since I’ve been in neither haha. It was nothing to shout about I guess, until you break above the clouds and see nothing but a sea of fluffy white cotton candy no matter how many degrees you turn your head. And it’s also taught me that one of the most beautiful things you can ever witness in life, is sunrise above those clouds, 40, 000 feet in the air. It just took my breath away.

The clouds look so tangible you’d wonder if you hopped right out of the airplane right there and then, would it hold your weight?

Siem Reap is a two hour flight away from Kuala Lumpur. Your itinery might say only an hour but that’s because Cambodia is an hour behind Malaysian time. Like precisely an hour.

If you’re to ask me off the top of my head what was my first thought of the place, it’s that it’s very hot. Very, very hot. Despite Cambodia lying very near us on the equator line, its sun, for some reason, is just something like 5 times hotter and 5 times more searing on the skin. We felt it almost immediately after stepping out of the airplane despite wearing long jeans and sweaters.

No prizes for guessing what gave me my sun-poisoning =P

First tuoristy shot upon landing!

Our hotel had very kindly arranged free airport transfer for us so it was only a matter of looking out for the Ninja Rabbit’s name at the arrivals. I spotted it first, printed in almost perfect handwriting and spelling on a piece of neon orange cardboard, held up by our Tuk Tuk driver who would become a good friend over the next 6 days.

Everyone, this is Ah-Mi. He works for the hotel and has to be ready to receive tourists from the hotel to take them around from as early as 7am everyday, up until the last tourist is ready to call it a day. It could be 9pm if he’s lucky, so he gets to go home and get some sleep, or it could be 2am if they decide to stay out and go drinking. Either way he has to be at the hotel steps by 7 sharp the next morning. He earns $40USD a month, and he gets no day off throughout the whole year. Yup, that means he works seven days a week, sometimes up to 18 hours a day, all for $40 a month. His only breaks are the first three days of the Cambodian New Year (which I’m assuming is something like our Chinese New Year since they’re mostly Buddhists there) and that is the only time of year he gets to travel 200km home to the village where he was born and where his girlfriend is, in Kampung Cham. Despite his circumstance, every morning when he sees us, he’ll greet us with the heartiest, “Good morning! Where would you like to go today?”. I’ve not seen him not smile in all the 6 days we were there.

He really makes you appreciate your job now, doesn’t he?

We made it a point to tip him at the end of every day because he would really go out of his way to show you the hidden treasures and secluded spots only the locals would know of. Even a tip as small as $2 would make him smile so wide, it makes me want to hug him.

Motorcycles are the main mode of transportation in Cambodia. Motorcycles and bicycles actually, but sometimes it can get too hot to even ride a bicycle. There is the occasional car or two, owned by the really rich of the nation, but most of the locals make do with small kapchai motorcycles, even the ladies. We saw for ourselves this young woman clearly on her way to work with a freshly pressed blouse and stockings and 3-inch high heels on her feet, making her way through traffic on a scooter.

According to the Ninja Rabbit, these are the more privileged few who can afford to go to school. Even then, you’ll notice they hardly have matching shoes to wear, most of them making do with the odd slipper or sandal. I can’t begin to imagine how far more they had to walk in that insane heat. I was already feeling dizzy in the Tuk Tuk. They waved and shouted across the street “hello!” at us when we drove by them. Ah-Mi says most of them love cameras and if you point one at them, they would more than willingly pose for you.

After a 20-minute ride, we finally arrived at our hotel. This place, omg. Dream. Come. True. It was so much more than we ever dared imagine for the price we paid! We came across this deal on Agoda quite by chance a few months ago. It was on a 40% off deal and it was the only one that looked quaint enough without the whole commercial, impersonal feel of bigger hotels, so we went with it. We didn’t regret it one bit.

It wasn’t anything lavish, which wasn’t what I was looking for anyway, but the place was decent, the location looked safe and the bathrooms were clean. The Ninja Rabbit is very particular about bed bugs so he did his mandatory round near the bedposts and mattress edges and found no sign of them. Yay!

We even had a pool! It’s nothing big but in the evenings, you’d find other guests splashing about in it or lounging by the decks next to it reading a book. Everything simply looked so serene and ideal. We kept saying we’d take a dip one of the days but after every day out in the city, we’d either be too tired, or just not bothered hahaha. Such a shame, I kinda regret not having gone into the pool at least once now.

Not sure if it was the excitement, or if we were just really sleep-deprived, we ended up falling straight asleep after settling down HAHAHAHA. And we slept for nearly 5 hours. We woke up at about 3pm and by then the receptionist told us it would be a better idea to hit the major tourist hotspots (like Angkor Wat!) tomorrow so we’d get our ticket’s worth. Instead, she suggested we just take today slow and make a tour around Old Market (their closest thing to a city centre cuz that’s where all the food outlets, bars and restaurant are) before proceeding to dinner. We took her up on her suggestion.

Siem Reap, where do I even begin. It’s almost like home at one glance but upon closer scrutiny, you’ll realise that it is oceans and continents apart. You’ll see a baguette truck selling fresh vegie sandwiches (nothing out of the ordinary there) but just around the corner there are children playing by themselves unsupervised, some without shoes, some without clothes. They’ll laugh among themselves and roll about on the ground, dirt smudging their otherwise smooth cheeks. The remnants of war is everywhere. Landmine victims, some with no arms and some with no legs, do their best to get by on a daily basis.

A lot of them still maintain a very positive outlook on life. Most of them do not want to have to resort to begging so they try their best to sell books, souvenirs, the odd keychain or two. This particular man on the tricycle, lost both his legs to a landmine in 1990. He still goes about town to try to earn a buck or two so he can send his two children to public school. He can be seen almost every evening going around Pub Street and the Old Market selling his books on Cambodian history.

These two girls were going around selling colourful friendship bracelets and everytime the street cleared of tourists, they snuck aside and started reading what appears to be an English activity book. It broke my heart seeing the extent they had to go through to get a bit of studying squeezed in when back home we had to have our parents shouting at us and chasing after us with canes to pay attention to our books.

Street food was a big deal there in Siem Reap. Everywhere you go there’ll be a small stall selling grilled meats and foods of all sorts. The weirdest I’ve seen yet is grilled bananas. These bananas are peeled before put to the grill so they get all dehydrated and charred from the coal. Out of curiosity, we bought a stick; they tasted like a weird combination of tapioca with only the slightest hint left of banana-ey sweetness lol.

Believe it or not, they eat these too!! Crocodile is a huge delicacy in Cambodia. I never got to try it (nor do I dare, ugh) but a friend said the meat is really tough so it’s not a nice things to have for dinner at all. The Khmer are very resourceful though, I must give it to them. Because of the Tonle Sap lake, the biggest freshwater lake in South East Asia, almost all of Cambodia and its swamp areas used to be infested with crocodiles. Instead of allowing the crocs to scare them however, they’ve turned the tables around and started hunting the crocodiles instead. They eat the meat, use the leather for bags, shoes, belts and other leather goods, and even taxidermise them as above for sale. These are the smaller ones ages about 4-5months. I’ve seen some 5-6 years old, they’re longer than a full-grown man =O

HAHAHAHAHAHA the Ninja Rabbit insisted on desecrating something on this trip and upon seeing the crocs took his long-awaited chance. There was a lady waiting in a car right in front of us, who burst out laughing at seeing him do it. At least we managed to make someone’s day!

We had just enough time to do that little bit of exploring, grab a quick dinner before it was time for something very special in the evening!

We had bought tickets to Pharé: Cirque du Soleil, otherwise also known as the Cambodian Circus.

What sets this show apart was that it was a human-only show, banking in on unbelievable acrobatic stunts and breath-taking human contortionists. I’ve never supported circuses that make use of animals in their shows. If you knew of the methods of torture they put the animals through to train them to execute a certain move or stunt, you’d swear animal circuses out of your life too if you were humane.

Another plus point to this show was that almost all of its cast are comprised of underprivileged children and young adults who were handpicked to be trained in this art so that they may have a way of making a living. It was heavily advertised all over town so after doing some background check on them and learning of all this, I insisted we went for the 7.30pm show.

It was amazing.

10 minutes in I was wondering if we had made the right decision because they were just dancing around a lot but when they got to the good parts, omg, even the Ninja Rabbit was left with his mouth hanging wide open at some of the stuff they pulled off.

There was your usual juggling and skipping and flipping, but there was also a whole lot of other things you’ll never have guessed!

Some of their stunts were so death-defying, I genuinely worried for the poor person at the top. I mean, I know they are trained and all but human error was still something we had to think about.

This guy was both the Ninja Rabbit and my favourite. Despite the face make up and costume, his personality really shone through his performance . It also helped that he did one of the most unbelievable stunt that night.

He was just tethering on that tower of cylindrical blocks and they were almost swimming from left to right under his weight. How he managed to get up there and stay up there is beyond me. The whole audience erupted in a thunderous applause when he did, so loudly that I was afraid the noise vibration from the clapping would knock him over lol.

They had equal parts daredevil stuff and equal parts graceful, pretty stuff to look at.

The aerial trapeze was immensely mesmerizing. She swayed and bent in the air like she had no bones, I was completely captivated.

The Ninja Rabbit pointed something out about their show which I hadn’t noticed. They employed the most basic of props and tools in their show, probably to save cost, yet they delivered so exemplararily. Normally with the likes of other circuses, their performers would be decked out in elaborate costumes that’s colourful and shiny and expensive-looking. Here, everything they wore to everything they used in the show was as plain as they came.

Yet they really entranced us all with their true skills and showmanship. Talk about making do with what you have eh?

Needless to say, we had an amazing first night in Siem Reap watching these guys literally bend over backwards to steal an exclamation or two from us.These young athletes definitely have a lot of potential going for them. I really hope they make it big and maybe even go international one day.

I’ll update again soon with Part 2 (Finally the part you’ve been waiting for, the temples!! Hehehe) but I gotta catch some shut eye now. I’m a working girl now, didn’t you know? ;] Busy, busy, people to meet and places to be tomorrow! Haha I just wanted to try that out and see how it rolls off my tongue.

Take care, all, and have a great start of the week, peeps!

(Click to read Part 2 here)

1 Comment
  1. Really impressed by the fact that they don’t beg but instead they insist to work. Some Malaysians has got to feel ashamed. Looking forward for more of your upcoming Cambodia posts! :D

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