Cambodia! The airport is small and feels like home. Our hotel is in a residential area near the Mae Kock River. The Shinta Mani Resort is a shock to us with its small colorful, flower-filled and lemon-grass scented lobby. The colors, except for accents and flowers, are black and white—black hallways and walls, black and white striped sun umbrellas, plant pots, lounge chairs, room décor. Sp much smaller than the huge Pan Pacific in Hanoi and the Saigon Prince, but we love it and the people who work there immediately.
As soon as the bags are in our room, we return to the lobby and ask for a tuk-tuk. And that is how we meet Mrs. Kim. She takes us to the Open Market in her motorbike-driven carriage. I do souvie shopping while she waits for us. After our purchases, Bob offers to up her $2 fee to $5 if she will spend a little time showing us around.
Kim takes us up and down the river where 50-foot canoes are being raced in preparation for the big Krathong Loy Water Festival held on the first full moon in November, only a few days away. She jumps on and off her motorbike to explain things, take pictures with our cameras and manuevers us safely through traffic. She drives us to a pagoda on the seedy side of town and then to the King's park and palace, stopping under a tree in the park to mime sleeping--pointing to the thousands of bats roosting up in the tree. She flies past the famous Raffles Hotel and stops at the corner where people are saying their daily prayers at a shrine. She is lively and fun and we make an appointment to see her the next day after Angor Wat. Every house, every business here has a spirit house.
Our guide at Angor Wat has an unpronounceable name. He spent 15 years in a refugee camp during Pol Pot's regime, which is why he knows English and also Japanese. He has strong nationalistic feelings, a flair for dramatic photography and a wonderful knowledge of his country's history. Angor Wat is huge and ornate, on a scale that boggles the mind. Our guide has a habit of commandeering my cell phone to take pictures of Bob and I in sepia tone, as if we were archeologists from the 1800s. He knows all the cool places to photograph and how to show things to the best advantage. He tells us Mrs. Kim is the only female tuktuk driver out of 6,000. He is slightly disapproving because he says she isn't married and she has children.
The next day we go to Ta Prohm. Our guide calls it Tomb Raider because it was featured in that movie. It is delightfully silent, creepy and wonderful. I love the way the trees have become part of it, winding through it, towering above it. Faces of gods peer out from between roots and I feel I could stay here forever.
Mrs. Kim is waiting for us after dinner and as darkness falls, she takes us to Pub Street, downtown,all the way out to the locals' night market which much different from the Night Market in town where the tourists go. There are carnival rides at this market and the goods are all Western-style clothing and local produce. Mrs. Kim tells us she used to be married, but one of her sons is deaf and her husband was mortified, so he left. She lived in Phenom Penh which has schools for the deaf, but she didn't like it. She is happy in Siem Reap and we are happy that we met her.