Angkor What?

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October 21st 2006
Published: November 5th 2006
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In the temples...In the temples...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
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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 early!

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
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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!”
Me: “WHAT 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
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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 to myself.

At Thommanon 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,
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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 realpoverty 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”.

Additional photos below
Photos: 46, Displayed: 30


naked children everywhere!naked children everywhere!
naked children everywhere!

madame! Hold my baby!
village locals village locals
village locals

oh so cute
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Angkor Thom

a postcard picture of Bayon
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Angkor Thom

You're being watched...

5th November 2006

Let me be the First!
Hi Krysta, I thought that I would take advantage of being the first one to send a comment to your latest Travelblog! It's interesting that the mother of that child wanted you to hold her baby! They must be very trusting people! And/or good judges of character! We look forward to your return! I just heard yesterday that Christmas was only 50 days away! And of course, we will see you in about 30! Can't wait! Sorry that the phone connection was so bad this morning! Hopefully next time it will be better! Thank goodness for email! Have fun for the next 30ish days!....and don't forget....BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!!!!! Love, Mommy xxxoooxxx
5th November 2006

Quiet Siem Reap?
Hi lovely, I suppose you're quite lucky. In the picture, it seems to me that you was at Angkor Wat in a less touristic season. I don't see many tourists. Was that the reality when you were there? When I was there in July 2004, it was packed with tourists! Love.
5th November 2006

So much to see, so little time...
Hi Krysta! Angkor and Siem Reap is certainly worth a second or third visit, isn't it!? I remember being so overawed the first time... it is so HUGE!! I had to return for another go with my new Christmas digital camera to play with as well as proper mono film in my old film camera and did the highlights all over again.... about 2000 pics later...!
5th November 2006

Kryst: Sounds like the swimming and afternoons in the sun came at the perfect time. Interesting results when you were nice to the local children. Love you. Dad
6th November 2006

Wow Krysta, Cambodia sounds like a really amazing place moreso from your tales and pictures than anything else. I was really surprised, as you were, by the language on the you boy how insane. I think you mangaged to hit all the great sites of Cambodia, and managed to makes some really cool friends along the way, along with purchasinga flute: which I have to hear about some time. Dyasphoria, Modernity, those sound like University words, I guess you've still got it. You must be having the time of your life, keep it up. Oh yeah, all that bike riding in University is now paying off it seems eh. take care, Feroze
6th November 2006

Hey Krysta, I understand a bit about your comments on the povertyy. For me it was in Thailand. I took the typical tour on the long boat down the river to the market, somewhere outside Bankok. I was shocked at the filth of the river where they bathed, washed their food and went to the bathroom. I left twith the feeling that i would love to take these people back to Canada and show them our wonderful country. I can see from you pictures in pnom phen that you have seen poverty that is even worse. Your really realize how lucky we all are.
6th November 2006

its very true
yes your right,nobody can honnor ankor wat like a tv,video,or photo can be as great as be there at least once in your life.i was there and i was so lucky i meet krysta there too.what a wonderfull writer that girl is.thank you for giving me this adresse and i will read all your trip.hope to meet you another time another place.
6th November 2006

What's next Krysta?? Thailand and then where? I have not yet recieved your schedule, which is, if i know you well enough, packed with places to see, sights to infaltrate, and men to google and play with. I would do anything to be sunning myself by a pool... right now i'm freezing and my pants won't stay up! There are no dryers in korea so anything with stretch just keeps stretching... safetly pins here i come. Send some sunshine my way!!! Keep on truckin'!!!
6th November 2006

For Mel:
Hon, I'm off to Myanmar on Thursday! Can't bloody wait! I love Thailand, but I need to GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Love you, keep warm in Korea!
8th November 2006

cool and wicked
wow! still having a amazing time! just be careful! i hope you were ok after that little boy swore at you! its amazing after coming to hong kong and teaching polite kids!it shows how bad children can get all over the world! take care loves me xx
22nd November 2006

you're looking lovely sweatheart! am getting more and more jealous with every blog. gonna start planning my own trip now..
26th November 2006

Dude, floods?? I don't get what is so spectacular about going to see a place that is flooded...I'm worried about what people do in pools, let alone what they'd do in puddles!! Ha ha!! It is quite sad that little kids will come and curse at you. Sad really that they even know those words. THe primary kids I work with won't say any bad words at all....What kind of life would that be... See you soon, Katie
6th May 2007

So many experiences
What makes these blogs so great are the many personal experiences. The bad, swearing kid followed by the kids who loved seeing themselves on your camera is a great contrast. Now I REALLY want to see Angkor! XOXOX Jay
2nd October 2009

thanks for sharing
and keeping your eyes and heart open. I was in Siem Reap last month and loved my trip, I wish I could have stayed longer - and actually done some of the more immersive, local things you did. Cheers and travel on!

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