Our introduction to Cambodia is by way of a tuk tuk, the regions preferred method of transport. The heat is almost unbearable, even though this is the cool season in Southeast Asia. I can’t begin to imagine what the hot season is like.
The poverty of the country reveals itself immediately as we drive through the dusty countryside roads, past countless pariah dogs and roadside vendors in shanty stalls, selling fruits, vegetables and mismatched bottles of petrol for the endless parade of tuk tuks whizzing by. We are in route to Tonle Sap Lake, getting to the heart of the region before we continue on to the more touristy highlight of the country, Angkor Wat, and the stonework I’ve flown nearly around the globe to see.
Hiring a young father and son team (really young) to float us downriver to the lake, we pass floating villages and flooded mangroves. Taking a break, our young companions utilize the polluted lake water to brush their teeth. Pulling out my camera, I capture what will be one of my favorite photos of the trip.
The next day we wake up well before dawn (much to Sheri’s dismay) to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, then proceed on to Angkor Thom with the enigmatic stone faces of the Bayon temple staring out into eternity, and the neighboring ruins slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. The fascination with ancient stonework subsides, as I follow a family of mischievous macaques around Angkor Wat, spending the majority of the afternoon “hunting” them with my camera.
It’s not long before I start inquiring about the stone industry here in Cambodia and the local town of Siem Reap. After a misunderstanding about what a stone shop is with my tuk tuk driver, we arrive at a local gem shop. “No, no, I want dimensional stone”. Again trying to explain what it is I’m looking for. “Oh, I see. You want Big stone,” says the driver as we head off. This time we arrive at a local sculptor shop, and again I shake my head, realizing that he probably knows exactly what I’m looking for, but is using the language barrier to bring me to his friends shops for a chance of a commission. Nonetheless, I am intrigued with this shop and step inside for a look, chatting with a few local artisans chipping away at small souvenir type workings in local sandstone.
At this point, I tell him to Google “granite countertops” and the name “Wonder Granite” pops up. “Take me there.”
As fast as Siem Reap is growing, I am surprised to find there is only one shop servicing the area, and a very small shop at that. As I walk inside, I am greeted with the usual suspicion of my intentions, which are quickly dispersed as the young shop owner sees that I’m just curious, and share the same vocation on the other side of the planet.
We talk for a while, being that his English was very good, and exchange e-mail addresses. Maybe I’ll run in to him in the future at an industry trade show.
Our remaining time in Cambodia is spent studying the temple architecture, relaxing and searching for the infamous deep fried tarantulas that Sheri agreed to eat on a dare. Lucky for her, we never found any. Lucky for me too, as the mere sight of them freaks me out.
After another early morning flight across Thailand, we begin the focus of this trip: the Union of Myanmar…