Monday, April 10, 2023

Siem Reap, Cambodia

On 3/30/23, I flew an hour from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the final stop of my three-week trip to Asia. I had two partial days and one full day there.

The city is well known for its proximity to Angkor Wat and other truly breathtaking temples, many if not most built at least 1,000 years ago.

The centerpiece of my first half-day was a heartwarming visit with kids who participate in a charity/NGO called Heartprintfounded and run by a superhumanly big-hearted Australian couple, Wendy and Garry O’Brien. 

Parents of two adult kids of their own, the O’Briens packed up their lives and souls and relocated permanently to Cambodia about 10 years ago, dedicated to helping those with (much) less. 

Their efforts are exhaustive, though they downplay them: everything from providing a community center for kids to building new homes ($1,800 each) for families. 

Naturally, they document each house; here is a partial gallery.

To help fund their noble endeavors, they also built and run a new boutique hotel liltingly called The Bygone, staffed by locals. I stayed there, and it’s more than charming. 

playing Set, a game I have loved since college,
with the OBriens and two lovely staffers;
the game was in the activities trunk of the lobby
but none of them had played before

Bonus: they make a mean pad thai and, like my hotel in Phnom Penh, also had homemade banana bread! I kept getting spoiled on the other side of the world.

My roommate: a small gecko with a big voice. Which he used at random intervals throughout the night.

My Heartprint visit comprised a short talk about Superman and Batman (though Cambodians seem more partial to Spider-Man), a read-aloud of The Runaway Pea by Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by Alex Willmore, and a drawing activity where we all created a new superhero. The kids were so sweet and attentive, whatever their level of English.

The cozy library at Heartprint:

A colleague of the O’Briens, Peng, was my trusty chauffeur throughout the trip, including my tour of the temples. He seemed to have a permanent smile.

heading from the airport to the hotel

He also seems to be a local celebrity, with a mononym and a multifaceted business (complete with pamphlet)—including a crocodile farm.

The third and last day was reserved for catching up on work in the hotel.

The full day in between was filled with awe—touring Angkor Wat and other Hindu-Buddhist temples of the region. Naturally, something that majestic demands its own post.

our superhero designs

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