On the way to the airport, T pointed out we hadn’t seen a single traffic light in Luang Prabang. The airport itself – or rather the new airport – opened in 2013 to accommodate larger planes and less frightening mountain landings. Laos, which furthered opened visas and tourism in 1989 is still seen as a sleepier, serene option to neighboring Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
By the numbers, particularly the “Gini” measurement for income distribution or inequality, Cambodia has less inequality than Laos which has less than Thailand which has less than the US. Maybe we need an actual genie to fix all this. How, I don’t know, but I do know there weren’t malls in Luang Prabang yet, and interspersed between hotels were locals living, going to BBQ, and drying their leftover rice into rice cakes. And I wonder if in 10 years that will still be the case.
Our next stop was Siem Reap, Cambodia with the world wonder if Angkor Wat; surely it had lessons in history to offer. Neither of us seemed to have read up on our history or geography, and hoped to see from the plane the famous temple ruins to the east that the jungle had for centuries obscured. Leaving Angkor for tomorrow, we went into Siem Reap which felt a little reminiscent of Times Square. Illuminated signs directed us to Pub Street, but instead we went in a Khmer restaurant catering to foreigners. Cambodian food may readily be becoming my favorite, but what felt truly foreign was paying for the meal in US dollars. Somehow, the US dollar is used as much or more than the Cambodian Riel; at an exchange rate of US$1 to 4059 Riel, change is given in dollars and cents in riel. Just one of a few complicated things to decipher here.