Looking back, driving forward. [Siem Reap, 2016]
Looking back, driving forward. [Siem Reap, 2016]

Negotiate a river by following its bends, enter a country by following its customs. – Cambodian Proverb

It’s been 7 months since we landed in Siem Reap and I still don’t feel ready to write about it, at least with any authority.  The problem is I lived in Thailand since 2010 (if I don’t count the 9 months in 2009) and I feel like I need those kinds of years to have a voice that deserves to be heard. But when I read about this memoirist who is a mere 18 years of age, I realized that there is nothing wrong with capturing what (I think) I know at this moment of time.

// Learning Khmer is hard. I thought learning Spanish was hard. I thought Thai was insane, but now we have arrived at the final truth. Khmer is utterly insane. With some words that are similar to Thai, it’s just enough to confuse me: What language am I speaking?

Even though Khmer is not a tonal language, it’s got some tricky tricky sounds. Perhaps if I put a pebble or two in my mouth I’ll be able to produce the language. I’ve decided I need an additional brain.

My colleague, my Khmer teacher...#selfieatwork
My colleague, my Khmer teacher, additional brain, Ratana. #ourdesksaresoclose #selfieatwork

// I have also discovered that after the rainy season, it’s the wedding season! I’ve been invited to 3 weddings already and I’ve only been here half a year. I’m not even social. The roadside white tents that obscure most of a road, blasting music intermittingly with monks chanting before sunrise is really just.too.much. It’s so over the big top, I’m foaming at the mouth, going crazy over how LOUD it is – and how often. *Not Narong’s wedding, of course…

// For Chinese New Year, I got a few days off so I flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand to see friends, family and go shopping! Chiang Mai is massive compared to Siem Reap and much more developed. So it was fun to go to big mega malls and see as many folks as I could squeeze in. Wish I had more time…

// Work is great, but I work too much. When I leave, this will be one of the big reasons why. They keep giving me horrible schedules. Currently, I’m working M-Sa at 6am. Yes, you read it right, six 6ams. I get up BEFORE the sun rises. I have to be at work before 6. I cycle in the pitch dark. I go to bed before geriatrics and small children. And yes, I’ve demanded a gentler schedule next term.

I like teaching though. I like my students and my colleagues. When my friends living in Thailand asked me, “What is the best part about living in Cambodia?” I readily replied, “The people.”

I wasn’t trying to sound like a cliché, but it’s true. Teaching techniques I could never try or pull off in Thailand because lots of Thai students are notoriously l-a-z-y, I can do here. Don’t get me wrong, Thais are nice.  But as many expats and travellers will tell you, Thais are not the easiest to get to know. Some have complained that their warmth seemed “put on” for the sake of “face” and politeness. Cambodians, on the other hand, are much more likely to pull up a chair and tell you their life story. They’re easier to read. And overall my students want to learn, which makes my job pleasant and enjoyable.

The assignment was to apply for a job. This one was done by one of my 13 year old BOY students.
The assignment was to apply for a job. This one was done by one of my 13 year old BOY students.

// Honestly though, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here. I feel like I could move again next year. SE Asia is a special place, but I want to experience someplace else, too. Oddly enough, in December we moved to a new apartment (next door) that is bigger and cooler. I decorated like mad and for the most part, feel at home. Yet…Cambodia is not without its challenges, just like Thailand, just like anywhere else.

We’ll see what happens. Sometimes I feel like by the time a post is read I will have already changed my mind…

Do you know Dengue Fever? Well, they came to SR and we got to see them live! They were great! SR perks 🙂
And then we ran into the guitarist, Zac, at a local gelato shop! Double sweetness!
And then we ran into the guitarist, Zac, at a local gelato shop! Double sweetness!


Should I stay or should I go? 😉

50 replies on “Further impressions + updates on life in Siem Reap

  1. I think newcomers’ impressions of a place are often the most interesting, informative impressions. Please don’t be afraid to share yours! Glad things are going well, at least for now. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That is quite a few happenings in this post, Lani! 3 weddings in half a year sounds like a lot. It really does sound like Cambodians are very friendly and want to get intimate with you and so welcome you to join in. And I’m sure you enjoyed the weddings. From the photos and your description, they are big affairs 😀

    Starting work at 6am is early. I’m guessing you even start work before construction workers. Don’t know how you do it sleeping so early every night :O Whatever you choose to do next, Lani, I am looking forward to reading about it. I bought your book on kindle about a couple of weeks ago and I’m looking forward to giving it a read shortly 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. OH, I didn’t go to all of the weddings. 😛 Just one. I can’t be that social. Hahhahaa.

      Thanks for checking out the ‘ol bookie. Means a lot. I’m in the middle of 2 right now. One of them’s Nicki’s.


      1. You come across as a social, outgoing person, Lani 😀 But then again, given your schedule, I can see why you’d rather not go out all the time 😀

        Hoping to make a start on your book this week and will give it a review 🙂


  3. 6 AM is early. I get up at 5, but that’s for dog walking purposes. I don’t have to talk to humans for a few hours, and that’s the way I like it. I cannot imagine being “on” and entertaining before 8! Do you get hazard pay?!

    Sounds like even the weddings start ridiculously early in Cambodia, though. Ugh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right. Good point. If I’m up meditating or putzing around the house, tha’ts quite a different wake up call. Even if I’m up writing – it’s my choice. But to work!? I bitch and moan in my head until I have to be ON.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Lani.

    You have to stay – if only to give us your regular updates on life in Cambodia and Siem Reap in particular.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I think it’s good to write your first impressions. Later on too many things will be “old hat” and you’ll stop noticing them. When we lived abroad, I wrote to my mom every week, and she saved my letters. I have them now, and though I’ve only read a few of them, I’m sure they’ll be fascinating. Ha ha.

    Six in the morning! OMG! I sure hope they will change your schedule. Your student has a cute sense of humor. I think he’s about to become very interested in girls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I notice how I don’t take as many pictures as I used to. Things do feel “old hat” – but getting on Instagram I’m hoping will inspire me to capture those fleeting moments and pay attention.

      Ohhhh, yeah. He’s got this love/hate relationship with one of his classmates. They drive me bonkers with their constant bickering. 😛


  6. i’ve never lived in thailand but i totally know what you mean about khmers being open and friendly. i was chatting with my tailor today (she is khmer) and even though it was only my 3rd time seeing her, she shared about how she was orphaned by the war and how her family died. tragic, heartbreaking. but suffering and pain , as much as it tears people apart, can connect people too. i dunno, maybe that’s why khmers are so friendly and open.

    really enjoyed reading your recap on siem reap… dude, 6 am is early!!! i’m totally not a morning person and could never do that. i used to have to be at work at 0645 and i was so grumpy in the mornings. do you get off early at least?

    that boy student of yours.. hahaha. girl exterminator? slug in her bag? he’s going to be a sly one, one day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There is something in what you are saying. It’s as if the worst has been done, you know? “We’ve already been vulnerable. It’s time to talk…” kind of thing. That must be it. Really do love it.

      With Thailand, whenever I was asked that question, I’d be like “cost of living, great food…and of course, the people” But in Cambo, it’s like, “the people!” 😀

      Yeahhhhhh, I’m sure that student is crushing on a particular girl. They fight all the time. OMG. Drives me batty!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Looks as though you’ll be invited for another wedding. All that tension has to go somewhere.

        Thanks for your blog and experiences. You’ve got me thinking upon many things and I feel like I’m out of excuses not to sell my stuff and go live somewhere. Getting out of our comfort zone is something that resonated with me. I don’t want to be like an in-law who has never left her country, let alone, her state. Ever.

        Hope you decide to stay. But negotiate your work schedule or start looking at other schools.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks. Yes, my school schedule this term is infinitely better, a vast improvement. And I did speak to the boss man about it. Had to, was just going insane.

        Yeah, I wish I knew what it is about a person that likes adventure or taking risks. I don’t know the secret sauce. Maybe it’s not thinking too much. 😉


    1. Hahahhaa. I was thinking of visiting, actually. Looking at tix prices…not too bad. I’d rather learn Mandarin. I wonder why there are two very different Chinese dialects? Do you know? (Don’t tell me to google it! Hahhahahaa.)


      1. I have a great deal of Mandarin in my mind from past studies which is still very useful, but in Hong Kong Cantonese is king, so I’ve made the switch.

        To save you the Google: China has quite a few regional languages/dialects. In Mainland China, Mandarin works a charm as it’s the official language, but Hong Kong and Macau are a different story!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I owe you a letter, Lani. I have labelled and edited my photos; there are so many. It has exceeded my Drop box limit. I have to look into other medium of storing and sharing it without losing the labels. Any advice is welcome.

    A 6.30am start is far too early. I hope they value your work and take on board your inputs and comments.

    Your student has a good imagination and a sense of humour. I see what you mean regarding the potential of your Thai and Cambodian students.

    I have recently been given extra hours.

    Working abroad does come with its challenges; the language , culture and having to find out how the system works etc. Overall, living abroad has enriched my life. I have learnt and I have developed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is interesting. I remember my life BEFORE I expated 😛 but I want to say that I don’t – and only because living abroad has changed me in ways I never imagined. I definitely have transformed into a new person. Hopefully, a better person as well.

      Ha. 6.30. I wish. More like 6AM. It’s a hard wakeup call.

      Yes, he’s funny…and as far as Dropbox is concerned, maybe just break it down and that’s okay!


      1. Lani, I have dropped you a line. I did not write about my trips to Athens and Istanbul. I was mindful of the length.

        Living abroad has transformed me in so many ways. I am having to step outside my comfort zone, think outside the box, be more culturally aware etc but still be myself. I still have lots to learn.

        It appears living abroad suit you.

        Look after yourself.


    1. I’d love to go to Europe. It’s the dream! But ever since the EU was instated I feel like getting a working visa has become a lot more challenging for Americans. But I’ll look into an Eastern country, perhaps there is still hope 🙂 Thanks for stopping by Corinne!


  8. I miss your visits in my blog corner. But understand how tired you might be. Very interesting about Cambodian students vs. the Thai students that you taught. Stay healthy Lani!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww. Thanks. I have been remiss, haven’t I? Sorry. I will fix that straight away! And you are right. I have been tired and grouchy and it’s been effecting – everything, esp. writing and keeping up.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. By the way, I found it intriguing that 1 of my close Canadian-born Chinese friends here in town, has no interest in visiting Europe at all. She’s lived and taught English in Japan for a yr., travelled a few times to different Asian countries. Whereas I haven’t been to Asia.

    Partner and I are actually going to Europe for 2 wks. in a few months this year. I would like to take advantage of my partner’s knowledge of some areas that we will be visiting and cycling there. Might as well do it while we’re still both healthy and fit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is interesting what captivates us and what doesn’t. I used to not have any interest whatsoever in South America and then I ended up living and working there.

      But I can’t imagine not wanting to go to Europe! Lucky you. I’d love to hear about your European vacation. Cycling will be a dream! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We’re planning to cycle in Burgundy wine region (southern France) near Dijon, then high speed train to Barcelona, Spain for a few days. Then to a medieval town in Germany. Sounds a bit weird in terms of iternary. But anyway. I’ve never been to Spain, so am looking forward to it too.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. How exciting. Southern France should be stunning and Spain should be lovely as well. Actually, all of it sounds beautiful!


  10. Stay for a while and really learn the country for a year or so, then decide. We’re doing the same. Not sure how long to stay put, because we do want to see more of the world, but we want to take time to get to know Thailand from something other than a tourist’s point of view first.

    I’m so jealous that you got to see Dengue Fever!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 Hahaha. Yeah, they were great. I hear what you’re saying. I originally wanted to try Cambo for at least a year. And I think that will happen…just got to survive work. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, a year mark here is just around the corner.Maybe China 😛 Maybe Taiwan or Japan. I don’t know! Could be another year here…yeah, weddings, crazy, eh?


  11. Well the good news about the weddings is they are usually a good opportunity for some fabulous food and maybe a little dancing? Any idea where you might head to if you decide not to stay there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Taiwan has always been on my radar as has Japan. But really things are wide open. I’ll try to make things here work, of course. And it’s not like I’m not doing fine, it’s just I want even more. You know?


  12. I’m impressed with five things about you and Siam Reap after this post:
    1. You went to a ton of weddings!
    2. That letter is amazing, and that kid has some mad skills. Way better than my students in Japan his age.
    3. I can’t believe you have to BE at work by 6:00 AM!! That’s madness. I can barely wake up at 6:30 to make it in time to work at 8:00.
    4. Didn’t know so many bands went to SR. Super cool. Sounds like a pretty fun place to live, actually.
    5. So… where would you move next, relatively speaking?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so funny, just b/c I was invited doesn’t mean I went to all of them 😉

      Yeah, he’s an amusing student.

      My schedule SUCKS.

      I’m not sure how musicial SR is, but they did have an event and Dengue was part of it. I think it helps that musicans are welcomed to play here w/out any visa hassles (unlike Thailand).

      I’d like to move to Taiwan or Japan (possibly even China), but everything is up in the air. We’re going to re-evaluate in 6 months 😛


  13. Kung Hei Fat Choi!!! Or how do you say it in Thai or Cambodian language? So, have you made up your mind already?…”Dengue Fever”..Yipes, they sound dangerous! He he! And the weddings here can be quite ridiculous, too, as well as other occasions. Filipinos love occasions.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It sounds like you may be missing some of the “comforts” of Thailand. I am thinking that the change moving from Pattaya to Siem Reap may be initially more difficult than I may think but then again, when you know you’ve had enough and it’s time for adventure, it’s time to throw out the hundreds of items of clothing you’ve accumulated and take to the Highway :-)My Guitars however are going. Was hoping I would get up there to say hello before you leave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Yeah, I’m not leaving yet. But are you sure you want to come over here? It’s really quite different once you get into it here. I do miss Thai food!!!!


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