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Published: November 5th 2006
In the temples...
This little girl showed me the whole place!
Until I get home for Christmas!!!
The history, the temples, the "Bar Street"...Oh MY!!!!
Siem Reap is one of those places that you need to see for yourself, because no amount of pictures can do these temples justice, and no video clip can capture the pure heart breaking chill of a small child cursing at you for not buying his crap.
The leisurely 6 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was blissfully uneventful. When we arrived, about 50 moto/tuktuk drivers swarmed the bus door and yelled with all their might for our patronage at their guesthouses. You couldn't even move
through the throng of people and when they began going after my pack, the old rugby days quickly came upon me and I wrestled my way through the mass of flailing arms and guesthouse signs. Having wisely thought ahead, I had booked a room with the cheapest guesthouse I could find so one of the flailing arms was holding a sign with my name on it. Nice! It was only a short tuktuk ride through the dusty streets before we arrived at the family run "Hello Guesthouse".
Eager to set off
The huge rectangular moat, looking North from the sand causeway
to see the mystifying temples, I rented a bike from the family and set off the next morning. (Only briefly getting myself lost along the way...) First up was Angkor Wat
, and for a $40 entrance fee, I was there plenty
There has been some controversy between scholars over the function that Angkor Wat once served. Because it's situated in the West, (and the West is symbolically identified as the direction of death), Angkor Wat was once thought to have been a tomb. Other historians/scholars attribute its location in the West to be paying tribute to Vishnu
, thus Angkor Wat has been seen primarily as both a temple and a mausoleum for Suryavarman II
(King of the Khmer Empire 1113 to 1150 and man Angkor Wat was built for).
Surrounded by a large rectangular moat (similar to any fairy tale's castle), only on the West side is there a sand causeway to get you across. With my fellow travelers, we crossed into the main tourist attraction of Cambodia.
Angkor Wat is also believed to be the largest religious structure in the world.
I walked carefully over the stony causeway, anticipating my first real view inside this historic
The long road to Angkor Wat...
marvel. With the blinding sun beating harshly down upon me, I had to give in to the $1 straw hats, please don't make fun of me! I actually came to like it after a while!
It took me about 3 hours to see all that I wanted to see inside the temple. I climbed steep stairways (sideways) without looking down, took a couple minutes to reflect in the quiet corners, photographed the hell out of the place and avoided the mass
of European and Asian tour groups with their matching shirts and hats...
Outside Angkor Wat, I was greeted by the same children selling hats, t-shirts, bracelets, postcards etc. I told them with a smile that I didn’t need anything (more like I didn’t want to carry it around all day) and this was when the trouble started. One small
little boy in particular wouldn’t leave me alone:
Boy: “Madame, you no buy from me today, I know you, you very pretty, you buy my postcards, lucky for me, lucky for you!”
Me: “No I’m sorry, I don’t need any. But good luck though.” (thumbs up)
Boy: “But why lady? You have money! Me no have money!
Me want go to school!!!” (he begins crying and wailing)
Me: “I’m very sorry, but I don’t need any. Go try those people coming out of the temple now! I bet they’ll buy from you” (trying desperately to find my bike lock key in my knapsack)
Boy: “No! You said you buy from me yesterday, you lied to me!”
Me: (laughing) “I wasn’t even here yesterday! What are you talking about? Okay, I’m sorry but I’m leaving, watch yourself.” (as I start moving my bike..)
Boy: “No! You #1 crazy lady! F*** YOU!”
did you say?! How could you say that? That’s disgusting! Who taught you that?”
Boy: “F*** YOU! F*** your mother! F*** your father!!! You #1 crazy lady!”
Me: (seriously trying to hold back from slapping him) “You REALLY
shouldn’t say things like that!” (I had my shocked and very angry face on, and I started to ride away)
The boy continued calling after me, and I was simply shocked. I couldn’t believe the language that this kid had picked up from some asshole tourist who had obviously used it against him. I knew he didn’t know what he was really
saying, but it broke
One of the quiet areas away from the tourists...
my heart and I’ve been wary of each child I’ve let down since.
Now thoroughly shaken, I slowly biked my way to Angkor Thom
, just 3 short kilometers away. All the while trying desperately to forget my last encounter with Khmer poverty. But on goes my day...
Not just a temple, Angkor Thom is a city (almost 10 sq km), and was built by Cambodia's "greatest king", Jayavarman VII
(1181-1219). Bayon was the first and most impressive site I saw within the Angkor Thom walls. At every turn, one of the 54 gothic towers rose above me, each with stone carved faces of Avalokiteshvara
(216 faces in total). One theory behind the 54 towers is that at one point, the Khmer Empire was split into 54 provinces, thus from Bayon, the faces could watch over each region. Like a primitive 'Big Brother'?
After visiting the two most famous temples, I rode my granny bike further north towards the central square, the terrace of the Leper King, and to Phimeanakes. I then back peddled a short way to follow the "Little Circuit Trail" and found myself at several smaller temples outside the Angkor Thom walls, all of which I had
temple, I was drawn in by a crowd of children who were all smiling and selling fresh coconuts. After a brief walk through the small remnants of Thommanon, I sat down and started talking with the kids. (Though still wary from a couple hours ago...) After I had succumbed to buying a couple T-shirts, a flute (don’t ask), a couple scarves and of course a coconut, the children all sat around me and introduced themselves. Their ages all came as a shock to me as their small bony frames conveyed a much younger age then they had gleefully proclaimed. I entertained them with my digital camera and once again the marvels of technology which are so readily available to us barang
(foreingers), brought their eyes right out of their sockets to the surprise of seeing themselves played back on video. They clapped, danced and skipped in their amazement and joy. The hour I spent getting to know these children made my previous experience outside Angkor Wat fade away. But definitely not forgotten.
If you’re at all familiar with the "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" movie, you’ll recognize the pictures from Ta Phrom. The temple had
been left abandoned for so many years, that the jungle took it over; the horde of trees and their roots which cling to each wall are grandiose and simply overwhelming. I constantly found myself tripping over the earth because my eyes were firmly directed towards the sky, where even there, the trees didn’t seem to end.
Outside of Ta Phrom I was again accosted by a group of children merchants who sang for me in French and proudly listed off the Canadian provinces in their hope to sell me their handicrafts. All 10 of them then recited together, as if on cue: “If you buy from me, me, me and me (pointing to each other), then I’ll give you peace and quiet!!!” It was hysterical and I doubled over in laughter. I had them repeat it for my video camera, and have watched it countless times over and over and always smile at their perfectly tuned English. Although I didn't buy anything from any of these children, they soon forgot their peddling ways when I showed an interest in them and taught them some extra English and french words to add to their vocabularies. Surely a much better contribution
to their day then yet another dollar handed over to their boss. I hoped so at least.
After another day at the temples and no really
unsettling events, I learned from the owner of my guesthouse that all the buses to Bangkok had been cancelled for the next few days because of serious flooding right outside of Siem Reap. So on top of me haveing to waste time to actually go to Bangkok to get my new passport, I now had to spend at least another 3 days in Siem Reap waiting for a bus that would risk the waters. However, after meeting the only other tenant at my guesthouse (Zoe from the UK), I was quickly brought into her gang of friends; most of whom work at one of the local bars on “Bar Street”. So began my three days of swimming at the local foreigner’s pool and spending the night on “Bar Street”.
Although I have no pictures from my days at AQUA, we had a blissfully lovely time swimming the afternoons away and reading our books poolside with the odd game of crazy 8’s thrown in! On Sunday, there was even a water sports tournament
of water polo, crazy bowling and some other ridiculous pool games. The point is, my team won (naturally😉 and we were treated to free beers then and there, and free cocktails later on at the Funky Munkey. I even managed to get down to the local hospital to donate blood on one of these afternoons and got myself a free t-shirt for doing so. Nice, eh?! And yes yes, the hospital was very
clean and the equipment was very sterile, yes yes, perfectly safe.
After three days of waiting, the guesthouse informed me that ONE
small bus was willing to try and take some foreigners to the Poipet border and I could have a seat on said bus if I wanted it. Loving Siem Reap, but eager to get this messy passport situation out of the way, I agreed to leave the next morning at 7am. Some new friends from AQUA (Dylan and Rhian from Australia) were leaving the same day on the back of a pickup truck (because they had bikes to carry with them), and we agreed to meet up in Bangkok if we ever actually survived the trip and got there.
On our last night,
The view from way up there!
I said my goodbyes to Zoe and Fran, who I had really enjoyed getting to know (and hope to meet up with again someday) and all the rest of the staff at “Angkor What?” and “Ivy”. Then it was back to the Hello Guesthouse to once again pack.
Cambodia represented several emotional ups and downs for me. From the physical depression and deep dysphoria I felt in Phnom Penh, to the awe and wonder of the Wats; from the misery of being sworn at by such a young Khmer boy, to the light-hearted days spent at the pool. Cambodia is a mix of old and new, death and rebirth, history and modernity. I only wish my family and friends could experience everything I witnessed in this
country especially. The lessons I learned about people, depravity, materialism, hope and real
poverty are things you need to learn in person, and no matter how long I continue to blabber on in this blog, I will never be able to fully convey what you see and experience in this country when you debark from the “tourist” path. To all those tourists in their matching hats and t-shirts who simply ignored every Khmer person
they came in contact with, I hope they enjoy their posed pictures, because that’s the only thing they’ll have to remember from their “Tour of Cambodia”.
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