Cambodia – Day One – Siem Reap

We arrived on time in Siem Reap. It was wet and dark, sometime after 10:30 PM. I had flown from JFK to Seoul, I wandered the airport for a bit and was listening to a string quartet when I found my girlfriend and her sister who both had flown in from Hawaii. The airport in Seoul felt like a mall, it was hard to find a bar outside of an airport lounge and there was bountiful shopping to be had. We later boarded flights to Cambodia. After landing and getting through a rather informal customs we found our driver, Sohm, waiting for us outside. We hopped into his tuk-tuk (something like this) and were whisked away to our hostel, Siem Reap Rooms. Promptly told it was “sleep time” we were shown to our room and soon fell asleep. We would wake to this view:

The next day Shell had arranged for a cooking class at Sojourn, we would make some traditional Cambodian fare and their national dish: Fish Amok with mango salad with chicken, and some sticky rice flour balls with palm sugar – otherwise known as husband killers. The staff at Sojourn were great, they showed us around the facility and surrounding rice patties and farms. Many poor villagers live and work the land around Sojourn. We visited one of these families and delivered a bag of rice to an aging mother of twelve. This is when I wanted to have more questions, good questions, to interact with her. But she was very sweet, and our guide informed us of the activities around the area of digging water wells for suitable drinking water and helping the villagers with making their lives healthier.

Indeed, we ate very well through the whole trip. However, this food was made by us with care, the freshest ingredients, and with some very nice women teaching us through it. Cambodian women call the sticky rice flour balls husband killers, because if they allow men to make them the balls are usually made too large and easily choked on. I thought that was funny, especially when all mine came out to be quite large…

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico, and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
― Anthony Bourdain

I took this attitude for the whole trip. I only skipped the chicken feet and only because I had had them before. It did not bite me until the end.

After the cooking class, we made our way back to Siem Reap and wandered along Pub Street. We had a few beers while watching the goings on around us. Pub Street, as you may guess, is where all the bars and restaurants are. This is where the nightlife is, many of the markets are nestled in close to it, and people are constantly buzzing about. It was nice to relax and take in the town a while. After a few beers, the jet lag got the best of us and we returned to our room. I fell asleep around 4 PM, and didn’t wake up until about 4 AM, which worked out. Shell, to the rescue again, made sure to arrange our trip to the temples for the next day. It is wise to do sunrise at the temples, so waking up at 4 AM was precisely what needed to happen.

By Daniel Hatke

The author was born and raised in Indiana. After graduating from Purdue University he worked in the asset management industry in New York City. He holds an MBA from Columbia Business School with concentrations in finance and entrepreneurship. Currently, he is fueling his curiosities through taking time off for extended travel and experiences in Europe and Asia, as chronicled here.