The Cambodian Merry-Go-Round of Death

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I think I need to give my friend Ste a regular column on this site, because he instigated so many of our adventures!

Our Vietnam group, sadly, had just broken up. Dave and Mike flew back to England.  Sander and Jitske went on to Cambodia.  And since I had no place to be, really, I joined Ste and Darren in one of my favorite cities, Phnom Penh!

Within minutes of arriving at our guesthouse, Ste befriended the staff and found out there was a party that night in the countryside an hour outside the city. It was the end of the harvest and the village would be celebrating.  Would we like to come?

How could we say no to an opportunity like that?!

We piled ten of us into the back of a pickup truck and drove the long, dusty ride out to the village.



My hair did not handle the ride well.

But our truck was certainly roomier than several of the vehicles we passed on the road…

And, best of all, Darren’s seat came with a built-in massage.

I think he had mixed feelings about it.

After arriving in the village, we were immediately invited into our friends’ home for dinner.

That’s when I realized that we weren’t just with our guesthouse staff — we were hanging out with the lakeside tuk-tuk drivers as well!

Dinner — noodle soup with some chicken — was fabulous. We weren’t sure of the etiquette involved, but our Khmer friends made it easy — they asked if we could each chip in a few dollars.  Which we gladly did.

One of the many things I love about the people of Cambodia?  Their friendships are instant and genuine.

Darren made best friends with Mr. Nap.  Mr. Nap toasted with Darren over and over again, saying little more than, “Mr. Nap!  Cambodia!  Cheers!”

And the children are SO adorable. This little girl isn’t as sweet and innocent as she looks…she’s quite the mischief-maker!

After dinner and strolling from house to house, all of them on stilts, we headed to a nearby field…

And found it set up for a carnival!

With carnival games that aren’t rigged.  Can you believe it?

For 4,000 riel ($1), Ste threw four darts — and popped four balloons.

What did he win?

Four beers. (This is one tradition that has to make its way to America!)

The piece de resistance, however, was the Cambodian Merry-Go-Round of Death. This merry-go-round was made of sharp metal pieces covered with rust and peeling paint, and it looked like it was going to fall apart at any second.

And the kids, predictably, were CRAZY about it. It was like they were at Disney World.

I could only imagine the freaked-out parents if a merry-go-round like this was in the United States.

There was no order to the madness around the merry-go-round.  I jumped on the first motorbike I could find and a Khmer teenager immediately hopped on behind me.  He was so excited to ride with a farang girl!

Some things never change, no matter what part of the world you’re in.  In every single country, there will be wild boys who show off to the point of nearly killing themselves.

That’s what the boys did on the Merry-Go-Round of Death — they stood on the motorbikes and swayed back and forth sideways, so when the ride sped up, the centrifugal force would lift them up at nearly a 90-degree angle!

It was harrowing to watch and even more harrowing to stand next to it.  The chains looked like they’d fly off any minute!

There were hardly any foreigners at the celebration, making us celebrities. This little girl, who was about six, yelled, “My friend!  MY FRIEND!” and grabbed me to go on the merry-go-round with her, then held out her arms for me to pick her up.

She was like a doll.  So tiny.

Aside from the merry-go-round, we spent the night hanging out with our new Khmer friends, learning Khmer words, drinking Angkor beer with ice cubes, and avoiding the lethal rice wine.

This was truly an incredible night — one of the best of the trip so far. It was amazing to join the locals in a place that so few foreigners get to visit, and it was another example of the kindness of the Khmer people.

If ever you get a chance to go to an event like this, go. You won’t regret it!

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11 thoughts on “The Cambodian Merry-Go-Round of Death”

  1. Aww, I loved this post, Kate! It looks like it was a lot of fun, and definitely not something most travelers would get to experience! And those kids are freaking adorable.

  2. AWESOME!! Now that’s what I’m talking about. Clearly… I need to go to Cambodia, and I can honestly say I had never considered it until reading your blogs about it. Cool stuff.


  3. COmmenting here because comments are closed on your next post.
    Wayyyy back in 1998, I spent a summer in Phnom Penh. Many of those night were spent in the Heart of Darkness. I made friends with one woman who “worked” there named Chao We. If you are still in Phnom Penh and wouldn’t mind asking the owner of the HOD if he knows if she is still around, I would very much appreciate it. I have often though of her and wondered if she is ok.

    Also, for those travelers who find the ubiquitous sex workers to be tiresome, there used to be a restaurant run by Pierre (who I believe is the husband of Somaly Mam which employed women who wanted to escape prostitution. I can’t remember what it was called, but it probably wouldn’t be hard to find if you asked around.

  4. Fantastic! What an experience! Sounds like an amazing night. You couldn’t pay me to go on the Merry-Go-Round of Death but I sure love reading about it. I once read a blog from an American girl who got to go to an “amusement park” in North Korea and ride the roller coaster. The coaster had a loop, and on the climb up the first hill, she noticed her harness wouldn’t lock. Thankfully, through the miracle of physics she survived, but WOW.

  5. I’ve been there too! I’d almost forgotten about it. There was a Ferris wheel that was the sketchiest thing I’ve ever seen. I remember you could play those dart games and others like it and win prizes like laundry detergent and plastic buckets. Great post. Brings back great memories.

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