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April 23, 2014

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'Cambodia Is A Place I Love,' Local Traveler Discovers

Marshall Harbison, center, makes friends with two Buddhist monks at the famed Ankgor Temples, in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Originally published: 2013-01-12 00:30:59
Last modified: 2013-01-12 00:41:18

On My Own In Asia/5

Editor's Note:

Greeneville native Marshall Harbison, 24, is currently making a five-month solo backpacking journey, self-financed and self-directed, through several countries in Southeast Asia.

A daughter of Steve and Sally Harbison of this community and a 2010 graduate of Wofford College, she has been living and working in Atlanta for the last two years.

During the next few months, she will be sharing highlights of her unusual journey with Greeneville Sun readers through a series of e-mailed columns sent from the countries to which the trip takes her.


CAMBODIA -- As much as I hated to leave the home away from home that was Koh Chang, Thailand, I finally made it to Cambodia. The transport was long, hot and exhausting -- about 11 hours -- but as we walked over the border bridge, I did not even care.

I'm in Cambodia.

As I write, I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.

First impressions:

I'll be honest. I was a little shell-shocked when we first arrived to Siem Reap.

Since it was dark, I lost some of my confidence in traveling alone. Also, I had gotten so used to the simple island life, the jolt back to reality was hitting me.

Thankfully, a new friend I met in Koh Chang, Jesse, and I stuck together to find a hostel.

Yes -- don't make fun -- I'm still kind of scared of what lingers in the dark, especially in an unfamiliar place. And they have tarantulas here. My arachnophobia is in high gear these days, but I'm trying to ignore it.

Anyway, I was tired, hungry and wary of scams. Plus you always hear the negative warnings of people and places, etc.

Once we found a hostel and some food, though, the shock kind of started to wear off.

My first Cambodian dish was khmer curry with veggies and shrimp. It was delicious! It was a coconut milk-type curry and came in a clay pot with rice on the side.

Unfortunately it wasn't spicy at all, but maybe that was a good thing.

Jesse got amok curry, which he said was awesome; it came in a banana leaf-type cup, with rice. We split a jug of Cambodian beer.

Guess what our total bill was? $9!!! Oh yeah, these prices more than agree with me.

After dinner, Jesse and I wandered to another bar to listen to some live music. It was really funny; the band was performing "One Direction" and "Gangnam Style" (or whatever it is), as well as others. And the music was actually quite good ... a Southeast Asia interpretation.

The Second Day:

Today I went to the Angkor National Museum to learn some history about the Khmer people and culture.

I am so glad that I did, because it not only made me even more excited to see the Temples of Angkor tomorrow, but will help me to better understand the origin and meaning of the site.

Now that the second storm of the day has passed, I am going to go wander! And in the morning, I plan to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat was built between A.D. 1113 and 1150 and is the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu, but was converted into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century.

It is known for its stunning artwork, spectacular views and remarkable history. Can't wait.

Oh my gosh, I keep thinking ... this is actually happening.

I've been dying to see this part of the world for so long. I can't believe it's finally here.

I am just unbelievably thankful for all of my family and friends who have given me constant, loving support to help make this happen. I really never could have done it without you.

Whoa, sentimental moment. I am now crying haha. I guess this is a little preview of how I will be tomorrow!

Visiting Angkor Wat:

I heart (love) Cambodia.

I guess I've kind of dropped the ball on writing since I've been in this country, but that should just show how much I love it! Angkor Wat and the rest of the temples were absolutely beautiful.

But my favorite part was probably riding bikes to each temple with my friend, Diego, on our second day of visits to the temples.

I didn't get any pictures of the bike ride itself (I was trying not to crash again), but it was so beautiful. And great exercise!

Siem Reap And Sihanoukville:

Siem Reap is known as the most touristy town in Cambodia, so while I was there, it was difficult to see the real Cambodia until I rode through villages to various temples.

Siem Reap has more than its share of street children. I have always read and heard about street children begging, but it does not compare with actually experiencing them fearlessly swarming around you.

Anyone who knows me knows my love for children, so denying them milk (which they will re-sell), or watching them pose crazily as a "photo op" for tourists or dancing in the streets way past midnight is incredibly sad.

Almost always, the children are the biggest wage-earners in the family becaise when they beg, they are so difficult to deny.

When a child says, "a dollar is nothing to you," I know it's true. A dollar is nothing, (they take American currency everywhere in Cambodia).

But it is not okay to encourage this way of living, as difficult as it may be. It's better to help with their education, and I hope that I can do that.

I'm in Sihanoukville now, which is a beach town in the south of Cambodia.

It's nice, but I'm sick of this beaten path. I am trying to change course and experience the real culture of the area, but it can be difficult sometimes.

I'll be in touch.

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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