In our travels we have realized certain places “speak” to us. It’s nothing that can be scientifically measured, it’s only a feeling. A feeling that either fills us with energy or zaps us like some killer jet-lag. A feeling that can hit you the moment you leave the airport or train station. It’s driven by all the inputs our mind receives; visual, audio, noise, smell, which some how our complex frontal cortex is able to simplify down to a simple feeling. Certain places have made us feel like an unwelcome tourist that is only wanted for their money, whereas; the antipodal land of Siem Reap is a kingdom of temples, jungles, and most importantly smiles…..
As the sun relentlessly beat the back of my neck and the dirt between my toes became unavoidable I felt as though Siem Reap was, in an odd way, welcoming me to the neighborhood with a little freshman hazing. The town is a busy but friendly town filled with shops, restaurants, hotels, hostels, and stores. As a westerner, once you get over the idea of dirt roads and no stop signs, you will quickly realize this place is like a midwestern town filled with friendly welcoming people. Yes, the locals will surly try to sell you a tuk-tuk ride or some cheap memorabilia that you’ll surely trash once you get home, but they’ll also give you a smile and be genuinely interested in you and befriend you with only a few conversed words. Some experiences we enjoyed were short interactions with shop keepers. One specific one was with a local convenience mart owner. This mother, with her entire family running the shop, thought we were a lucky sign since we were from the United States. While both Collette and I smiled to the owners adorable little girl, the owner was happy to share small stories and tips for the city. In a city like New York, where everyone is looking to “get theirs” and won’t even give you the time of day, and when most westerns think traveling can be dangerous, it’s invigorating to visit a city that contains the true fundamentals of humanity; friendliness through smiles.
It is amazing how much communication is non-verbal. We don’t speak any Khmer (local language of Cambodia) we do know how to smile and read other peoples smiles. Some shop keepers try to be your best friend and give “good price for you” while it was more common in Siem Reap for vendors to practice their english and share their village with you. Another smiling experience was with a 13 year old girl selling bracelets. In some poor areas, kids will be abused to play on your emotions with hopes of getting a few dollars from you. This enthusiastic girl had the sass of any emoji loving american girl and the selling charisma of any tenured salesman. While her bracelets are simple products, her selling was not. She arrived at our table in a very approachable manner with a gigantic smile on her face. While her english was great, immediately, we realized she had learned the queens english as her accent sounded very British. Her whit and charm lit up the room and our table. I willingly purchased a colorful bracelet not for the aesthetics but for the support of this budding girls most likely successful career. The interaction brought more happiness, smiles, and joy to our dinner table than any other materialistic purchase of $1.50 could.
Local Cambodian Life.
Boys on the Mekong waving to our boat.
Typical Cambodian House – Built on stilts so that family members can sit underneath it during the daytime for shade.
Malaria may be near but Cambodian Smiles are even more contagious 🙂
My new friend Bon, made during our village party.
A local floating village – Some house have electricity, others don’t. The main source of income is fishing.
Sunset on the Mekong river
Painting the nails of a local girl. A simple way to give a gift without speaking the local language.
Collette passing out gifts of pen & paper to the kids.
Beautiful Bridge of faces in Angkor Wat near Siem Reap
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Very heart warming.