Angkor Wat

After my late return to Singapore from Thailand when the Phuket airport reopened, I only had a short night to prepare for my next trip. I wanted to go somewhere I could see some history and where I could do some exploring. After a short poll of my colleagues who had done some extensive touring of the region, I decided to go to Cambodia. Jungles and ancient temples and history to make the great cities of Europe look like they were newborns. Plus I always loved Tomb Raider and thought I could play Lara Croft for a few days. Little did I know this would be the most touching trip I would take.

Temple Visits = Lots of Stair Climbing

The Gods and The Demons Churning the Sea of Milk

Giant Faces at Bayon Temple

I was a bit nervous flying in as I was going this one alone, excepting the tour guide I hired, and after just leaving the political instability of Thailand behind and knowing enough of Cambodia's recent history, I wondered how safe this trip really was. We flew in over Tonle Sap, an enormous freshwater lake near the city of Siem Reap. As we came in for a landing I could see the mopeds and motorcycles riding down the red dirt roads and water buffalo standing around in the hot sun munching on the grass with their vacant expressions and I felt suddenly happy to be coming to this place.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Dance Hall

The airport was very nice and welcoming and processing the visa was easy. I found it strange that the ATM machine was giving out USD and that was more or less the currency I used for everything on that trip. Once outside the airport I was met by my guide and we headed straight for Angkor Wat as this is typically the first thing everyone wants to see.

Ta Prohm - Jungle vs. Temple

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

I knew right away that this guide was exactly what I had hoped for. Not only did he explain the ancient history and myths of this amazing place, he also shared much more. Over the course of the 4 days I spent with him, I was deeply touched by the amazing and tragic history of this part of the world and their hopes for the future in spite of all they had been through.

Cambodian Children Playing

Monks in Siem Reap

Rush Hour in Siem Reap

I found out that my tour guide's wife is a school librarian and makes only 40 USD a month. The salary is about the same for a school teacher, which my tour guide wants to and used to be until he realized he couldn't make ends meet for his two children so took up the touring work.

My guide described Cambodia as a buffet for outsiders. Others come, pick what they want from it and then abandon it. We discussed the relationships and issues with Thailand, Vietnam, the influence of China and the US, the recent Cambodian elections, health care, education, religion, philosophy, the environment, the tourists, the past and the future. More than once I was left speechless and humbled about how little my problems are in the grand scheme of things.

Floating Fisherman Home on Tonle Sap

I was there long enough to see quite a few temples and these are spectacular! I never got tired of the first glimpse of a new temple overtaken more or less by the surrounding jungle, the intricate stone carvings that have endured centuries and seeing just how much and how little people have changed over the centuries. To feel these people from so long ago is to feel some true sense of humanity. Happily, my trip was during low season so the crowds were kept to a minimum and sometimes there was only me and my guide at some of the sites. Siem Reap has become quite a tourist destination now and at busy times is flooded with people.

I got up at 4.30 one morning and watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat. I watched the sunset over Bakheng Hill. I took a boat tour of the floating fishing villages on Tonle Sap and we walked through a village and monastery where the buddhist monks were teaching the village children english. The shy smiles of the monks and Cambodian children would melt anyone's heart. I watched craftsmen carving stone and wood, painting and making lovely things out of silk.

Sunset at Bakheng Hill

I hope I can always keep some connection to Cambodia and my time there.
Posted from Basel


aimee said...

our neighbor was a child during the khmer rouge reign in the 70s and the stories are absolutely horrific. she was adopted by an american family at a young age but the memories have, of course, stayed with her and haunted her.

i would love to go...so nice to be able to experience what it is today through your pictures and words.

Diane Mandy said...

Gosh, it looks AMAZING!