Rainbow over Cambodia
Dec 13, 2001
Cambodia vs. Nevada
I've only been here for a day, but Cambodia keeps reminding me of Nevada. The first two impressions as I entered the country: Boomtown and Burningman.
The moment you cross the border from Thailand you're confronted by two large and brand new casinos. It's just like Boomtown on the California/Nevada border, except as our guide tells us here they'll comp you girls and drugs in addition to alcohol.
Then we hit the road. Mostly it was the dust that reminded me of Burningman. Trucks cruising down the dirt road (a major Cambodian highway) leave a thick layer of orange dust over everything on the side of the road. But it was more than that. Both Burningman and Cambodia are a visual assault on the senses. At Burningman it's the art, domes, geeks, freaks and goths that present a picture so different than typical western life. I don't mean to imply that Cambodia is at all like Burningman, but it is an equal shock. In Cambodia it is the sustenance farmers working besides their bamboo shacks, the massive tracker-trailer trucks overloaded with sacks of something that have skidpads instead of rear wheels and oxen jogging down the main highway that let you know you're far from home.
Then we get to our destination the town of Siem Reap (name translates to 'we kicked Thailand's ass'). I am once again reminded (a bit) of Nevada. This time Vegas. Siem Reap is rapidly filling up with luxury hotels with $200/night rooms and $2000/night presidential suites. However, here there is only one theme and that's the spectacular temples just outside of town. Not bad for a country that almost no tourists were coming to only 4 years ago. Fortunately, I did managed to find a passable room for only $3/night.
Money is Cambodian is a mess. The Cambodian riel is worth only 1/3900 of a dollar. There aren't enough large bills printed so to buy anything worth more than a buck US dollars are preferred. On top of that Thai Baht are also accepted everywhere on the West half of the country. This means that you can pay for anything in dollars, baht or riel. Your change may also come back dollars, baht or riel. It's a whole new adventure trying to figure out if you've gotten the right amount of change.
Rainbow over Cambodia
We encountered a rainbow half way between the border and Siem Reap. It was very surreal. Surreal only it that it conflicted with all of my preconceptions about this country. I was ready for death, poverty, disease, drugs, corruption, prostitution and general danger - all of these fit my image of Cambodia. "Rainbow over Cambodia" still doesn't fit that image. That phrase still just sounds, feels, odd. Hopefully that will change over the days and weeks to come.