A Taste (& Smell) of Cambodia

20:11 Alyson Tart 5 Comments

I still have so much to write about from this year - our trip to Cape Town, weekend jaunts from London, our anniversary staycation, moving into a new flat.

But that all can wait - while the sights, sounds and smells of our recent trip to Southeast Asia are still fresh in my mind, I'm jumping ahead!

Angkor Wat has always been one of the top items on my bucket list. With iconic pictures of the temple towers found everywhere from National Geographic to fellow bloggers, I couldn't get it out of my mind.

So when we made plans to travel to Thailand with friends, I knew that Cambodia was too close to not pay a visit to.

The day we arrived, we were greeted at the airport with a tuk-tuk driver to escort us back to our hotel and I knew that the city was going to be something different.  As it started raining (or more truthfully, pouring) on our drive into the city, I just had to laugh. The poor tuk-tuk driver rolled down some plastic flaps to keep us relatively dry, threw on a rain poncho and kept on driving.

Because we arrived in the afternoon, we decided to wait and tackle the temples on our next two days, and spend the afternoon acquainting ourselves with the city of Siem Reap. I wasn't sure what to expect - something like Sri Lanka? More like a small town in Turkey? A bustling tourist rip off?

To find out, we walked from our hotel rather than take the short tuk-tuk ride into town. We walked in the middle of the road, as the streets were without sidewalks and the sides of the road were lined with puddles, vendors selling you food and stray dogs basking in the sunshine after the rain. We crossed over to the river, dodging tuk-tuks filled with tourists, bikes with babies in laps or girlfriends riding the spokes or small trucks with fruits and people on the back.

We watched local 'crew' teams rowing their long thin boats easily through the water. Standby boats sat on the river's edge, getting a fresh paint of coat for their next journey.

Finally, we reached the hub of town - the local market. The outside is filled with tourist shops, trying to catch all the visitors as they walk on the small sidewalks (avoiding all the above obstacles in the road). After making a lap around the perimeter, we headed inside to see what else was on offer, and what deals we could have.  Inside the market, the sunlight is dimmed from the tightly packed interior. Shop owners nap in chairs waiting for patrons while kids play in the alleys.

In the very center of it all, you'll find everything you need for dinner. While you may have adjusted to the scent of exhaust on the walk outside, all of a sudden you find your nose attacked with scents of fish and fresh meat (which is horrifying to me), or more pleasant cooked meals like noodles. You'll walk down one aisle with chicken meat (legs and all), fish gutted down the middle and shell fish, to the next filled with vegetables.

We decided to embrace the adventurous spirit of the trip and grabbed a seat at one of the stands that was frying up something in a pan. With no idea what was on offer, we ordered two, then sat to eat it, taking all in.

On the way out, we bargained for a few goodies to bring home, then meandered to the less local Pub Street. I spotted American, English, Italian and even Mexican food. But the best reason to visit here - 50 cent beer and people watching.

After we decided jet lag had gotten the better of us and it was time for our $10 massages, we headed back to the hotel. Yet after just 3 or 4 hours, Siem Reap and Cambodia had awoke an excitement for a new place and experience, which I hadn't seemed to felt in the last few months. The buzz of the city, the kindness of the people, the smells and the sites made it a place that felt real and authentic, in spite of the thousands of people that trek through each year. So much of the atmosphere reminded of what I loved about Istanbul (only without the Bosphorus), making me excited to see what else Cambodia had in store for us. 

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  1. Y'all are so brave! I can't believe you didn't get food poisoning from eating at a local market... Can't wait to see what else Cambodia had in store for you! :)

    1. Well, something may have caught up with Paul later on in the trip BUT it was still worth it!

  2. The market looks fascinating, even if a little smelly! Cannot wait to hear more about what you got up to in Cambodia (and Cape Town and London and everywhere else!) :)

    1. Thanks Catherine, it definitely was! Hopefully I'll get around to writing about the rest of Cambodia this month :)

  3. The market looks a a great place to discover the taste of Cambodia..glad you shared this.