To see what village life was like for these people, Matt and I took an ATV Day Tour, where we were able to spend the whole day driving along dirt roads through the small villages. I felt like I was inside the pages of National Geographic the whole time - the amazingly bright green rice paddies, the kids swimming alongside water buffalo in murky water ditches, women carrying bundles of sticks on their heads, shacks made of palm leaves and branches, and the swarms of tiny children, only partially clothed, who came running to greet us as we passed by. I felt bad for these little children, living in dirt poor conditions, but the fact that they were all so excited makes me realize that they didn't know any better and were simply happy living the way they were. We probably passed about a thousand children, and I think I had a smile plastered on my face ALL day - It wasn't possible NOT to smile when they were so happy just to get a wave or hi-five from us! The experience definitely opened my eyes to how much we have to be grateful for in America.
Me on my ATV
Matt making his way around some water buffalo in the road
Water buffalo on one of the rice paddies
It was amazing how these people built everything - houses, fences, bridges - with bundles of sticks!
Their main source of income in this area was rice - they would harvest the rice and lay it out to dry on these tarps
Children everywhere swimming in the water
Along the tour, we got to stop at one of the orphanages and meet some of the kids. The boy in the plaid shirt spoke English well and was our tour guide.
Some of the happy kids that ran out to greet us
We started with one bag of Dum-Dums (which lasted about 10 minutes) and ended up going through a few more bags of candy that we purchased on the way. I wasn't expecting as many children as there were! This is Matt giving out hi-fives.
Check out this video clip of Matt handing out some candy to a group of kids - the little girl is my favorite - she was adorable!
Later that night, we had reservations at a hidden restaurant that was outside the main town. The owner picked us up from our hotel and drove us to his restaurant himself! He was really a nice guy and drove a classic old Jeep, which was part of the fun! He explained to us how he started up his restaurant only a year and a half ago, and already, it had become so popular with locals and tourists that he would be able to open a second location in town. The restaurant is family-owned (his own sister was our waitress, and his wife cooked our meal!). However, he explained to us that traditional Khmer food takes awhile to cook, and if he went out in town, he would have to be faster for the tourists (thus, decreasing the quality of the traditional food), so he decided to just keep his one location. I say, good for him!
Me riding in the back of the Jeep
Our third day in Cambodia was even more adventurous than the ATV day. We had made a reservation to be driven out to this remote temple (about 1 1/2 hours outside of Siem Reap) with a tour guide. However, the previous day, we had seen a dune buggy drive by us, and after seeing Matt stare, the driver handed us a brochure. It turned out that we could rent one of those dune buggies and drive it ourselves to the same temple we were planning on going to. That sounded more fun to Matt, so we cancelled our tour and scheduled with the dune buggy company.
We started off the day a bit wet and muddy - It had poured the night before, and all of the dirt roads had turned into mud roads with potholes full of murky water! Although Matt did his best to avoid the mud, we inevitably were soaked and splattered with chunks of clay-like mud. Even with a helmet, sunglasses and a dust mask on, my face was somehow still covered in mud, and I needed to wipe it clean with antibacterial wipes! As the 3-hour drive progressed, the sun came out and dried up all the mud, however, our dune buggy ended up having some mechanical issues half-way to the temple and broke down. Adding to our adventurous day, we were basically stranded in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia while our tour guide and mechanic tried to fix us. As the buggy was deemed unable to continue on, the owner of the company drove a replacement buggy out to us (how he found us, I have no idea!) and we got to swap it out. Matt was happy, though, because he got to drive a dirt bike to the nearest village where we were meeting the owner - I rode on the back of our tour guide's bike. I might also note: even in the middle of nowhere, swarms of children seemed to come out of the woodwork to watch us!
Matt and I with the dune buggy - Matt drove it pretty much the whole way as it was manual. I tried it once, and after stalling about 8 times, I got it going and nearly killed us while crossing over a small "bridge"- scary!
Check out this video clip of us driving in the dune buggy through the villages:
Attempting to fix our buggy
While stranded, we found hung out with a few kids swimming in the water
Some of the children that came out of nowhere to watch us fix the buggy - these kids looked like they were on their way to some sort of school? Many of them had old, rusted bikes that were way too big for them - one we saw didn't even have a chain!
Mud-covered and drinking my coconut (only $1 - everything was so cheap in Cambodia!) almost to the temple
Beng Mealea, known as the "Jungle Temple" by tourists, is located about 40km outside of Siem Reap. Not much is known about it's origins, but Beng Mealea is one temple that has been untouched and unrestored, unlike the Angkor temples we saw the first day of our trip. It used to be difficult to get to, but a road has recently been constructed that leads to it, helping it to become more of a tourist spot. Beng Mealea had partially collapsed centuries ago, and today, you can see where the jungle has grown through the ruins, almost supporting the remaining structure. In order to explore this hidden treasure, you can either walk along the outside, or climb over the sandstone blocks and rubble that liter the inside corridors - we did both.
The entrance to Beng Mealea
Climbing around one of the courtyard walls
Inside one of the corridors - the roof is partially collapsed and these large blocks on the ground are what we had to climb over to see the inside of the temple!
Tree roots everywhere
Matt up top of one of the courtyard walls
This place was incredible!
Pieces of sandstone carvings that had fallen
Me sitting outside the temple
Sunset on our ride back to town
Later that night, riding in a tuk-tuk after our long, muddy and adventurous day!
Soup Dragon for dinner - delicious soup & great spot right on the corner of Pub Street
Check out the last part of our trip to Cambodia - coming soon!