And then there was Cambodia. Commonly listed on the Southeast Asian tour, but rarely focused upon. Cambodia has both impressive ancient history as well as heart-breaking and gut-wrenching recent history. We began with the former, in the North. We flew into Siem Reap at night. With barely perceivable lights from above, it didn’t look like we were flying into a city at all. Nonetheless we were greeted by our driver, and although we didn’t use it, we were equipped with wifi on the way to our hotel. What a strange juxtaposition; riding substandard roadways through a dark city in a bubble of hotspot wifi.

We booked late, and using reward points, and got stuck with 2 twin beds. Even telling them it was our honeymoon didn’t change our station. We were, however, delighted to see the room romantically decorated with honeymoon accoutrements. I bet even Ricky and Lucy shared a bed on their honeymoon.

On day one we wasted no time and headed straight to Angkor Thom and Bayon. This is a 12th century city of temples built to trump the famous Angkor Wat. The bas-reliefs demonstrate masterful carvings depicting both mythological and historical depictions. Hundreds of larger-than-life stone faces sitting high atop the towers presided over us now centuries later and still elicit awe as they did in the day of their construction. I’ve seen skyscrapers dominate a skyline and boats the size of cities, but these assemblies of art and architecture create their our category of superlatives. Next, we visited Ta Prohm, a temple inhabited by nature. The trees redecorated over the last several hundred years and the result is marvelous. Pictures hardly do justice.

We ended the day at Angkor Wat for sunset. The towers stand twice as tall in the reflecting pools, and the approach is a long stone causeway leading to the temple providing ample time to prepare for the immensity that lies ahead. From the location and orientation to the layout and dimensions, everything served a purpose. The tower’s steps rise as steep as 70 degrees to simulate the difficult climb to heaven. The grounds at dusk were eery.

There are many questions unanswered. With millions of visitors each year at USD$20 a day why does all the money used for restoration and improvement come from foreign aid? Why does a privately owned for-profit company rent Angkor Wat from Cambodia and manage the tourism? Government appointed guides offer no suitable answers, and locals displeased with the government offer only speculation of corruption.

US dollars arrived in Cambodia with American Troops in the 1970s. With such an influx of capitol the USD has remained in circulation there ever since. That still doesn’t explain how crisp new USD are dispensed from a Cambodian bank’s ATM. Prices are written in dollars and the local Riel is used as change.

Siem Riep offers ample dining options from market meals to a delicious and creative set menu at Mie just a short walk from our hotel. Beers are less than a dollar and even mains served on white linen are less than $8. The depth of poverty is immediately obvious. More bicycles fill the streets and more squatters line the alley ways than anywhere we’ve been.

Midway through our stay in Siem Reap we moved to the Moon Boutique Hotel; small and charming with phenomenal service. It was a few turns off of the main road, and difficult to find in the dark so they provided complimentary cell phone and tuk tuk service. We even witnessed Interview day, and our favorite applicant served us breakfast the next day.

There are several ways to travel cross country in Cambodia. From private car to jet plane. We settled on “luxury” bus to Phnom Penh. The bus was air conditioned and outfitted with nonfunctional outlets and wifi. However, we chose it for the wide screen windows and constant moving pictures of the Cambodian countryside. The division of wealth is just as obvious in the countryside as in the city. The highway is lined with tarps drying rice and other crops. Occasional oxen grazing and children playing. Subsistence farming dominates the landscape and each town is designated by a bank at its center. Dust covers just about everything in sight from the road’s edge. But the shiny facade and golden trim of the bank buildings stand out among the stilted thatch-roofed houses and rice fields. Locals stare at the bus as it speeds by and leaves a whiteout of dust in its wake. Rolling into Phnom Penh by bus gave us access to sights not seen between the airport and city center. We saw slums in the industrial districts, mega factories chocked full of sewing machines, and trucks shuttling workers in and out.

Cambodia is rapidly developing. Changes of infrastructure as well as attitudes of the people are easily discernible. With access to the Internet needs and tastes change rapidly. An old tuk tuk driver charges just $3 for a ride across town. He drives before any negotiations and accepts the fare with gratitude. A younger driver negotiates ahead of time. He asks for $10 for the same ride. He is hopeful this will earn him extra income but still accepts this as the start of negotiations.

We did meet one shining star among the dull and drabby drivers of the city. Soceth, aka David, wore his heart on his sleeve to gain our trust and fares. He spoke passionately with patriotism about a bright future for Cambodia; with sincerely and intention in earnest English; and answered all the questions we’d accumulated thus far.

David confirmed our suspicions about the factories outside of town. He said the level of depravity depends on the origin of the company. David explained the two different KTVs. One for families and one for men. He spoke freely about the contradictions between the written history and popular belief in Cambodia’s troubled past. We discussed wants, needs, worries, and happiness.

We have been traveling long enough to spot the scams. From, “Buy me milk for my baby,” to “That temple is closed today, I will take you somewhere else instead.” From outrageous non-metered fixed rate airport taxi rides to cut-rate tuk tuk rides albeit with strings attached. It’s amazing how consistent and repeated they are.

Frizz cafe offers Khmer cooking classes and we jumped at the chance to a half-day instructed by Soun. First, we were off to the market to learn (or review) the local produce and pick the freshest ingredients. This included fresh veggies and fruit, fish, every part of the pig or cow, frogs, century eggs, which are coated in a clay and set in the ground for a month to ferment, fresh coconut milk and fermented fish pastes. We then travelled to a third-story homesite overlooking the Russian embassy’s grounds and set up for cooking class. We made short work of deep fried taro spring rolls and fish amok. Soun’s easy instructions and consummate laugh and smile was sweeter than the dipping sauce.

More than 5 weeks in Asia and we are a little food fatigued. We have ventured from the local flavors now and then. Nothing has quite satisfied the expectation of foreign fare. Either the pizza has flavorless sauce or it’s made with embarrassingly little cheese. However, throughout the last 2 continents, no international food has been more disappointing than Mexican food. That is, until we found Alma Cafe. An authentic Mexican joint with homemade tortillas and local ingredients made this a popular spot.

Our last days were spent learning about the Khmer Rouge and visiting S-21, a former high school that was converted into a prison, torturing 20 thousand women, men and children.

We found a small yoga studio tucked in the busy streets. This class brought some serenity to us and we bowed our heads and said our goodbyes to Cambodia. Up next… The beautiful country of Nepal. The place that brought us closer, and understand each other on a deeper level, and now we experience it together!