On New Year's Day, we packed our bags and headed for the San Francisco airport. It's my favorite time to travel, when the energy of new beginnings is high and the idea of wandering to new places seems magical.
It's a feeling unlike any other to fall asleep in your home country and awake on the other side of the world. This time, it's just me, my mom and sister with two weeks stuffed into carry-ons.
We land in Hong Kong after fifteen long hours and it's another short flight to Siem Reap. We are so grateful for our hotel and collapse immediately. Our first meal is delicious chicken curry - we are seated cross-legged on hanging mattresses - and I decide this is paradise.
The main thing we're here to see is Angkor Wat, the famous temple from the 10th Century. We spend two days walking on ancient stones, through monolithic gates and tracing the outline of original sanskrit writings. We learn how with each king that ruled, Buddhism or Hinduism took power and whichever religion that came first was replaced.
Our tour guide also tells us personal stories of loss and hardship. He was forced to fight in the war for 20 years, sometimes on different sides. His family was killed and he saw many of his friends die. The country is both beautiful and cruel.
The locals tell us that they have decided white people are like crocodiles. All they want to do is swim and lie out with their mouths open for a drink. Cambodian people don't use the pool or like to swim. But when they keep bringing us fresh coconuts to sip on, it's hard to resist!
Often when traveling it is easy to view other parts of the world as glamorous, exotic. But I am reminded again that the resort and the pool are not the real Cambodia. Life in the bush is very hard. We visit a small fishing village on one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Asia where the people catch shrimp and other fish, working hard under the hot sun. Homes are shakily built on tall stilts with scrap material and wood. It is important to see the culture, appreciate the way of life, and thank the Cambodians for showing us their homes.
Tomorrow we fly to Thailand, but I take the small piece of Cambodia with me.