The Real Cambodia

We slept in today since we didn’t have any real plans other than to see the circus later in the evening. We used the morning to tackle some more errands – finish a blog post, complete our Workaway application (we are hoping to work on a farm in exchange for food and housing in New Zealand and/or South America), and lastly exchange the Thai Baht we had left over. The exchange process was quite the ordeal. First some guy tried to cut us – I don’t think so sir. Then we were told that they can’t accept the coins – OK, fine. And finally it took a good 20 minutes for them to give us our money – Geez Louise. It was only $28.

It was noon by this point and we were starting to get hungry. Our grand plan was to walk to the Phsa Leu Market and try some real street food – Not this banana pancake they tout to tourists. The night before we had read about a food tour that takes you to this specific market where you try things like fried chive cakes, shrimp fritters, and stir-fried silk worms. Thinking we were beyond the handholding and OK with saving $50 we instead chose to put on our big kid pants and do it ourselves. The walk itself would be an hour into what we are now calling “the real Cambodia.” Instead of massage parlors, Cambodian Food stalls, and piles of tuk-tuk drivers, we were greeted with traffic (we were walking along the main highway to Phnom Penh and don’t worry, there are sidewalks), piles of overflowing trash, and lots and lots of kicked-up dust. We weren’t dismayed because we asked for an adventure and we were going to get it.

Our beautiful highway walk
Our beautiful highway walk

After about 30 minutes of walking we reached Phsa Leu Market and were greeted by a number of tuk-tuk drivers. But these tuk-tuk drivers weren’t asking us if we needed a ride, but instead giving us a look like “why are you here?” We started down the first alleyway we saw ducking under the low umbrellas that were providing shade for the vendors. The alley started off containing fruit vendors with mangos, rambutans, pineapples, etc. but slowly transitioned into some more variety – curry pastes, clothing, cookware, and even meat. Yes, meat hanging by hooks in the 95+ degree weather waiting for some poor soul to take it home. And along with the meat came a smell that, for the second time on this trip, almost made Doug throw up. The real Cambodia certainly has quite the smell. We navigated further and further still not finding any street stall food that looked like what was described in the article and ultimately ended up in an dirt alleyway covered with umbrellas that contained stalls selling piles (literally) of clothing for sale. Along with these stalls came far too many people who appeared to be either napping or picking lice out of one another’s hair. We ended up in another alley with more fruit and meat – oh the smell – and decided we couldn’t handle the real Cambodia. At least we weren’t willing to let our stomach’s try, and ultimately suffer for the poor decision. Instead, with our appetites gone, we headed back to tourist Cambodia.

Oh the smells.
Oh the smells.
Curry paste for sale
Curry paste for sale
The real Cambodia
The real Cambodia
Leaving the market
Leaving the market

When we got back to the city we stopped in the McDermott Gallery to admire some photographs of Angkor before all the tourists. We visited a stall selling jackfruit so Doug could have a taste and ultimately ended up enjoying the better half of a sand volleyball game happening across the street. By this time we were starting to build up our appetite and found another restaurant called Cambodian Food to hold us over with stir-fried noodles. Again, we were sadly disappointed with Cambodian cuisine.

Jackfruit
Jackfruit
We certainly couldn't take them in volleyball.
We certainly couldn’t take them in volleyball.
Lunch
Lunch

We had a few more hours to kill before the circus so we decided to spend an hour of it getting foot reflexology, shoulder, and head massages for only $6. Then partook in a banana pancake and passion fruit shake before heading to the circus a good 2 hours early.

The circus, Phare, is the #1 thing to do in Siem Reap besides visit Angkor. Its members come from a performance art school for underprivileged Cambodian children and the pieces feature Cambodian themes and music. We arrived early wanting to get a good seat since we had purchased open seating tickets, but 2 hours early was a bit much. So we snacked on some bean sauce noodles and Angkor beer while enjoying the pre-show preparation we could hear coming from the tent. About 45 minutes before the show was due to start we gathered our free popcorn and joined the line forming. They eventually let us in and we were able to snatch 4th row front (almost center) seats and then patiently waited for the show to start. We passed the time people watching and found great amusement in the number of people who did not like that it was open seating since there were no longer front seats. Really, they didn’t need to complain because the theater was a circle and only contained 6 rows. Eventually the lights went down and the show began. And what a delightful show it was. The title of the show was Chills and was supposed to discuss how school children get over their fear of ghosts. We both agreed that we didn’t necessarily get the theme throughout but we did think they had some serious skill. The show featured tumbling, juggling, silk acrobatics, contortions, and balancing. Most were flawless but we did witness a guy being thrown from a seated position from another guy’s legs onto the shoulders of a third guy three times due to misses, but that just made it all the more real. In the end we could totally understand why this show is a must-see in the city. If you are interested, they are sending troupes to the U.S. and France in the coming year!

Outside of Phare
Outside of Phare
He just balancing, no big deal.
He just balancing, no big deal.
Chairs balancing. We were so close we could tell that they cut notches in the wood to keep the chairs steady. Mystery solved!
Chairs balancing. We were so close we could tell that they cut notches in the wood to keep the chairs steady. Mystery solved!
One of the ghosts.
One of the ghosts.
Now this was impressive.
Now this was impressive.
So much skill.
So much skill.

We managed to wave off the tuk-tuk drivers upon departing and took a brisk walk home to tend to a bathroom situation before heading to bed.

Daily Walking Mileage: 9.1

Fun Facts:

  • Orphanages in Cambodia have unfortunately become a part of the tourist industry. Some Cambodian parents send their children to these facilities for the day in exchange for money so that tourists can feel good about themselves.
  • At restaurants in Cambodia plates are prepared and brought out one at a time which makes for some awkwardness at meals.
  • Don’t eat the snails from street carts in Cambodia, as they are cooked by the sun.
Do not eat!
Do not eat!

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