Cambodia. Still recovering from decades of turbulence and land mines.
I was in Siem Reap for over a week (in 2008). It sure is an amazing place. Very cheap. Full of tourists, but not annoyingly so. Hundreds of kilometres of Hindu and Buddhist temples that are thousands of years old. People generally have heard of Ankor Wat, but there are so so many more…
I had some very special experiences there.
Siem Reap, like a lot of SE Asia, is full of extraordinary contrasts.
Cambodia is Buddhist, and in the evening you can catch many monks moving from wherever they spent the day back to their temple abodes. It is a wonderful sight, the orange of the robes against the grey concrete of streets and buildings.
Motor bikes are everywhere, but any traditional methods of carrying goods still exist. Note the cigarette! This girl did not mind me photographing her, but when my friend tried to shoot, she hid behind a tree!
Unfortunately, the food is quite heavily meat and fish based. Also, it is harder to find true Cambodian food. I am sure it exists – but I was looking in all the wrong places.
When I did find some, it was wonderfully fresh and spicy.
On a Sunday, I headed out to Siem Reap’s New Market.
New Market you say?
Wouldn’t it be better to head out to the Old Market?
The Old Market is in the middle of town, and originally was the Food Market for local people. But as the tourism industry increased (25% of all people in Cambodia last year were tourists), the Old Market changed to suit the tastes of these people with money to spend. It became less and less about food and more and more about artefacts, sun hats, cafes and restaurants, tshirts, old opium pots and other souvenirs of choice for the tourists from all over the globe.
So the local people started the New Market. Further out of town in a less salubrious area. No Western people. Even the tuck tuck drivers are reluctant to take us there.
We did find a great tuck tuck driver who we promptly hired for the day. And so we spent the morning at the New Market, ate lunch at the Old Market and then visited an Orphanage for a confronting afternoon with the children and staff.
The market is amazing. Every inch of space is used for vegetables, flowers, fruit, herbs, spices, fish, meat, breads (wonderful French breads left over from the time of the French occupation), drinks, anything you could want.
The paths are so narrow, and full of people shopping on motor bikes, not even bothering to leave the bike as they negotiate purchases with the stall holder.
Yet amongst this, pedestrians negotiate small spaces to find the best, the freshest, the highest quality food.
The French have left behind a few noticeable legacies. For example, the police station is still called the Gendarmarie. As I mentioned, breads and pastries are quite French. And then there are snails.
Take my word for it. There are acres of snails at that market. Oh, and did I mention …..
So many of those small creatures. But lots of other foods too, hot, cold, to go, eat in, whatever.
The food is really interesting – and the people are beautiful.
This lady was so pleased to be photographed, and so proud of her baby.
I found this baby asleep in a cradle made from a large piece of cloth strung between two poles in between two stalls.
This lovely lady was selling flattened rice – poha! She was showing me you could even eat it without further cooking.