From Cobra Swamp to Siem Reap

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January 24th 2010
Published: January 24th 2010
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Transit to Cambodia

Early this morning I head back to the airport for the 1-hour hop to Siem Reap, Cambodia. "Siem Reap" means "Victory over Thailand" ("Siem" = "Siam"), which tells you something of the region's history. I could sleep later, but my goal is to get to the airport early enough for breakfast. I had no dinner--there's a market that sets up outside the hotel some nights and it seemed to have distracted all of the staff away from the restaurant. I'm sure I could have found somebody, but dusk was falling and the idea of eating outside with the mosquitoes wasn't appealing (nor, after wandering through the market, was the idea of eating meat). This market has a stall that plays the same 3-minute, repetitive loop of shouted exhortation plus musical snippets over and over from 2:00-7:00 PM, so to block it out I watched Starship Troopers, not the quietest movie in the world, until 8:00 when I was sure the market noise wasn't going to rise again.

For our time in Siem Reap, I'll be at Soria Moria Hotel. It's across the river (in town, more of a canal) from where I've stayed before, close to Wat Bo if my memory serves. Since this is a socially responsible trip, the hotels were also chosen with this criterion in mind. You can see the variety of training, educational, and support programs they're involved with here. I've visited some of these and will do so again on this trip. Notice also that they are a member of ChildSafe International, an organization devoted to decreasing exploitation and sexual abuse of children. You'd hope that any hotel would report suspected sexual abuse of children, but some cater to sex tourism and don't.

I had a note asking about weather, culture, and socioeconomic status. The weather in Bangkok was cool and foggy my first morning. This is unusual this time of year, but my tour leader sent an e-mail last week saying that it was drizzling in Phnom Penh, which is strange for winter. Yesterday it was warm very early, running 23-30°C (73-86°F) with humidity running in the 70-89%!r(MISSING)ange most of the day. So--not too hot, but pretty muggy at times.The sky alternates between clear and bright in that near-the-equator, fry-your-skin way and white-blue overcast. I usually run the air in my room at 24-25°C.

Culturally, is there a sense of being looked at as an "outsider?" Yes. This can be true even for Euro-Americans in Europe, because of the differences in presentation (grooming, clothes, shoes, jewelry, haircut), but is more pronounced here for my physical appearance. This isn't a tourist neighborhood--this hotel is not part of a tourist block. The two restaurants right here are the only ones I've walked by that I'd eat in unless I were staying for a couple of weeks and could accommodate shifting to a local restaurant diet. I am mostly ignored, waved at by children who aren't supervised, nodded to by some men and fewer women, but always dealt with courteously.

It's easy to see big SES differences, like clothing that's clean and in good repair, jewelry, and the quality of someone's motorbike, but obviously I miss most of it because I don't know what to look for.

Okay, time to get ready for the airport.


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