The fear of monkeys & other Cambodian ventures

3:22 AM

I'm on a bus toward Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, and the last stop on our Cambodian journey. The rain of monsoon season has created a blurred view of the countryside around me. Through my window, I can make out water buffalos roaming, and rice field workers seeking shelter. It is funny how quickly these things become familiar; long bus rides, carting backpacks, riding tuk-tuks, they are my current definition of normal. One week into my 5 month journey, and I'm already lost for words to describe Asia. 

On August 13th after three flights, a layover in Shanghai & 12 hours of plane sickness, I woke up to the intriguing city of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Having no idea if it was 3 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, I rolled out of bed, eager to get some Cambodian dirt on my feet. I have a theory that traveling is a lot like childbirth, no matter how painful it is on the way there, your mind forgets about it once you have arrived. 

I'll spare some of the details of the last week and hope that these pictures will tell a more accurate story.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat; we reached the temples at sunrise, and waited expectantly to see the miles of ruins come alive before us. This was a spiritual experience for me. These temples were in absolute ruins, yet they were nothing short of glorious. I sat at Ta Prahm (fun fact: set of tomb raider), mesmerized at the massive trees springing out of the old temple and found joy that even when we feel ruined, we are redeemed. We can be made glorious.

The Floating Village of Kampong Phluk; home to 700 families. Their main form of income is from their fish market. 

Angkor Artisans; we went on a tour of the workshop where much of the artwork, sculptures & temple restorations are created. Many of the artists were deaf. I studied American Sign Language in school. It was interesting to see how vastly differ their deaf language is in Cambodia.

The Land Mine Museum; we couldn't help but notice a generation of the Khmer people that were victims of land mines, with missing limbs & maimed faces. They even find land mines to this day, but a brave group of people have risked their lives to mark off these areas & take out the land mines. 

(We also went to a wonderful butterfly/stick bug sanctuary on the way!) 

Mr. Thu was our favorite tuk tuk driver, mostly because of the massive stereo system that he installed on the back of his tuk tuk, allowing us to tear through the ruins of Angkor Wat to the tune of Maroon 5's "It Was Always You". But also because he protected us from the jungle of monkeys we had to drive through. When I was in Uganda last June, I heard horror stories of monkeys stealing your stuff and spreading rabies, leading to a deep fear of close contact with primates. So when this little guy hopped up on our tuk tuk, you better believe I was the first one off. 

This woman wasn't so cautious & moments after I took this picture, he proceeded to steal her iPhone (luckily brave Mr. Thu stole it back for her). I have another theory that monkeys sell all these stolen iPhones on the black market, but I hope to never find out if that's true. 

Koh Rong Island, Cambodia; we spent two days in this fun beach town, walking through treehouse bungalows, eating Khmer BBQ , enjoying the white sand & clear blue water. It was a perfect bit of paradise to prepare us for the city. 

Since I've been here, one of the most common questions I have been asked by my friends and family is, "do you feel safe there?" The answer, for the most part is "absolutely!" The Khmer people that I have come into contact with have been nothing but kind and hospitable. But I don't appreciate the safety as much as I appreciate the risk. I struggled with fear for years, crippling fear that kept me from experiencing life to it's fullest. So when I left America, I promised myself that I wasn't going to play it safe. Of course, fear has crept in now and then (exhibit A: on an 11 hour sleeper bus to Sihanoukville, I decided to read up on night bus horror stories, bad move. I didn't sleep a wink & my mom started a prayer chain in Washington). But yesterday, I faced my fear of unknown waters & went snorkeling. At night we all jumped off a boat into water filled with bioluminesce plankton & floated in awe of the glow we were creating. It was the kind of magical moment you encounter when you do something outside your comfort zone. I'm waiting in anticipation for more of those moments. 

But monkeys, I'm still reserving the right to be terrified of those. 

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