Off we go, past Bayon, and then Chao Say Devoda and then Ta Keo, until we reach our favorite temple, Ta Prohm. It's fairly busy at the moment, but we're happy to cycle by all the people, and breeze past all of the hawkers wanting to sell us things.
As we pull up towards number seven, the proprietors of numbers six and eight look excited, and try to reel us in. Sun smiles broadly and giggles as we arrive, patting us on our sweaty backs, welcoming us once more to her little shop. Her daughters are delighted to see us as well. Gone are the savvy, persistent, iron-fisted business women, and in their place are regular little girls.
As we sit and wait for our caFAY tit ta KO duh GAW to arrive (the best iced coffee we've had since leaving Thailand) the girls chat with us, in remarkably good English. They offer us pieces of their ripe, orange, mango, and nibbles of a strange green fruit I've never seen before. They eat it raw and infused with chili. It is spicy and sour and delicious.
One of the girls wants to play with my hair, so I take out my rubberband and she gets to work combing all of the frizz into a nice poof. A sparkly, jewel-studded headband is placed on top, and I am deemed beautiful. Meanwhile, another girl gives Tyler a slightly cracked twangy bamboo mouth harp, and shows him how to play it.
We learn a lot from Sun and her daughters. We find out that Sun's father died at the hand of the Khmer Rouge, and that she can scarcely remember his face. From her short-haired older daughter, we learn about how when someone close to them dies (in this case, the girl's godmother), they shave their heads out of mourning and respect. I like that tradition.
We also learn that Sun's shy younger daughter refuses to sell bracelets. "She won't help her family," Sun says with a laugh and a shake of her head, "All she know how to do is eat and drink!" Her youngest cannot be older than five.
Then, Tyler asks Sun if she used to sell trinkets, too, when she was little. She tells us that back in her day, she had to sell huge wooden cowbells. Tourists didn't like them, she says, because they were too big. Bracelets are better. With a good dozen squeezed into the pockets of my backpack, I tend to agree.
Now, she's saved up enough money to buy Stall Number Seven in front of Ta Prohm, where she runs her little t-shirt shop and restaurant, while her husband makes wooden drums to sell.
When a group of adults and older kids start playing a Cambodian version of hacky sack, the name of which escapes me, Tyler joins in, much to everyone's delight. The girls start up their own game, which I am happy to play along with. After much enjoyment and sweating, we come back to Sun's table where our iced coffee and a bowl of sweet and sour chicken soup is waiting.
Sun is packing up early today; her friend is throwing a party. As she removes the droves of t-shirts from the walls of her little shop, she pulls one off the hanger and brings it over to me, holding it up, eying it as if to see if it would fit. Then, she proceeds to give us each a shirt!
Tyler's is a simple black top with a Bayon emblem on the front and Apsara dancers on the back. Mine is grey with Cambodia written on the front in both Khmer and English. They will be worn with pride, stylish reminders of our friend, Sun, and her little girls.
Thank you, Sun!
We finish our soup and coffee, leaving Sun and her family to get ready for the party. It feels a bit sad to go! If we were staying in Siem Reap longer, we would definitely visit them again, just to hang out.
The rest of the day we spend riding around the Petit Circuit, a short loop of a few minor temples. By this point, though, we're a bit templed-out. The names and architecture of the temples all run together in a stream of end-of-the-day fatigue.
As evening approaches, we notice a definite shift in the attitudes of the kids selling things. They seem to realize that we've spent the day being accosted by hundreds of their peers, all with the same schitck. If we wanted a scarf, we would have bought one by now. If I needed another dozen bracelets to go with the handful I bought already, I'd let them know.
Now, their approach is more amusing. There's a mutual understanding. They know we don't need a scarf or a cold drink or another bracelet, or a twanging bamboo mouth harp, or a sculpture, or a painting. They know we're not going to buy anything. They also know that whatever approach they have, we've already heard it about fifty times today.
Instead of presenting us with their normal sales pitch, then, they switch tactics. One girl, for example, blocks our passage out of the temple door, insisting we buy a scarf, all the while dissolving into laughter. Another rapidly runs through her spiel without a single hint of emotion, like a call center employee might answer the phone for the ten millionth time.
Returning from another temple, we meet one kid who, for all the world, looks like Micky Roony's racist character in Breakfast At Tiffany's. He comes up to our chests, has a huge, adorable, buck-toothed smile, and wants us to buy a twangy bamboo mouth harp. Without a second of hestiation, Tyler pulls out the one that Sun's daughter gave us, showing him that we actually already have a twangy bamboo mouth harp.
Tyler tries to play as we walk, while the kid marches alongside us with his hands on his hips, looking at us dubiously, brow furrowed. Finally he can listen no longer, and shakes his head at us. No! You do it like THEES! he says, grabbing the instrument from Tyler's hands and giving it a go. After one moment playing the inferior instrument, he's caught on to our dirty secret.
He looks at it for a second the adopts a truly horrified look, as if we're trying to swindle him, as if we're sullying the good name of honest bamboo mouth harp sellers such as himself. "EETS bro-KEN! Your instrument is bro-KEN!" he shouts accusingly. Oh no! Our cover is blown! Now we have no excuse not to buy his!
Then, the little boy gives us his own mouth harp as if he's exasperatedly taking pity on us. It's a sweet gesture, which we're sure comes for a price. We offer him what little riel we have left, but he just waves us off with an emphatic, "Golly golly gosh!" and a smile, refusing to take our money. Between fits of laughter, we ask where he learned that phrase. Apparently, his English teacher said it once!
With that final, hilarious exchange, our time at the temples of Angkor comes to a close. Cycling back to our hotel, we are exhausted and thankful. We've been wanting to explore these temples for quite some time, and now we can happily say that we've fulfilled that dream. Now, on to the next Cambodian adventure!
Once again, we'd like to express our thanks to friends Libby, Jesse, Mark and Sara at the Austin, Texas PBS station, and longtime reader from the UK, Chris Nichols. Their generous donations paid for our time at Angkor. We hope you enjoyed our stories!