On a whim, I decide to take a six-hour bus ride, by myself, up to Siem Reap, the nearest city to the famed temples of Angkor. My six-foot-frame is smashed into the seat, my legs plastered in a permanent holding pattern.
We leave Phnom Penh, with its dirt streets full of open-air markets, Buddhist monks, and Lexus SUVs, and begin to see the countryside. Small houses and palm-frond shacks sit near the impressively ornate stone entrances that lead to the ubiquitous pagodas. Tin-roofed brick factories are outnumbered only by flooded fields and rice farmers.
Three hours into the trip, our tour guide announces the bus is going to pull over for a 15-minute break at a small village. Stepping from the bus is like walking into a wall of heat. We’re greeted by rows of small garage-style storefronts that are packed with stacks of Pringles, bottled water, and postcards. Children wander the streets, and nearby, a few men lean against their “motos,” or motorbike taxis, quietly observing the sudden rush of visitors. Pushcart vendors display tropical fruits such as mangoes, papayas, and dragon fruit, and whole chickens cook on open-air rotisseries.
But most of the Cambodians are flocking to several stands where the options are deep-fried crickets and hairy black tarantula-like spiders that are bigger than my hand. I am curious but not brave. Not yet.