Amazing Angkor

Siem Reap Travel Blog

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We travelled the 300km to Siem Reap to see the great temples at Angkor. They are stunning. The site is vast and there are dozens of temples. You can only manage a few on the 3 day $40 ticket (worth every cent). Angkor Wat is huge and covered in beautiful carvings from Hindu mythology and Khmer history. The Bayon at Angkor Thom has over 200 large faces of Lokesvara on its towers and gates. Ta Prohm has great kapok trees growing out of its walls. Banteay Srei, 35km from Siem, is delicately carved (incidentally a notice nearby indicated the area had not long been cleared of landmines). The temples are all around 1000 years old , and all show exquisite craftsmanship.

An amazing coincidence at Phnom Bakheng. An American, Dale, started a conversation. He was leading a school trip - from the Singapore American School. His office there is next to Sue Nesbitt's, our Canadian friend, who we visited in Delhi and with whom we'll be staying in Singapore in March. He'd also met Martin Skelton (friends Jean and Martin from Brighton) who'd done training at the SAS. Small world!

The trip to Siem Reap and out and about while there brought home how poor most Cambodians are. The small towns have scruffy markets and dirt side roads. Small wooden farmsteads on stilts line the country roads, many with palm thatch or corrugated roofs, most witout electricity and water stored in huge jars, and cooking done on outside charcoal stoves. There are old fashioned haystacks, horse and carts, bullock carts, duck ponds, thin cattle and fatter water buffalo.

Near Siem Reap is Tonle Sap, the huge lake that virtually doubles in size each year when the Himalayan meltwater fills the Mekong and the monsoon arrives too. As the best fishing areas have been leased to big concerns, fishermen eke out a living in floating villages, many living on their boats. Children clamber from a little canoe onto the floating ill-equipped school. Nearby is the floating RC Church. More bizarrely is the floating basketball court.

In contrast in Siem Reap there are 5* hotels, upmarket restaurants and coachloads of tourists being ferried in aircon buses - the majority Asian (apparently, Thais are the main tourists). Mom's, our $25 a night guest house, is friendly and very well appointed. 10 years ago it was a wooden house with a few rooms. Now it's stone built and has a grand "Graeco-Cambodian"entrance and 20 or so rooms, free internet access, and a pool under construction. In town and nearby, some new grand houses are being built, so some Cambodians are doing well. It's generally asserted, though, that corruption is rife and much foreign aid has been '"diverted" to politicians, police and military and that some of the many NGOs still working in the country are less ethical than they should be. Who knows?

But as we travel around we see life going on - kids (100s) cycling to school, rice paddies being tended, monks begging, small shops and workshops lining the road, tourists being cared for efficiently. When you know only a little of the history of the last 50 years of Cambodia, that in itself seems quite amazing. To us it shows the resilience of the people, and what opportunities have been grasped in the last 10 years of some sort of normality. You want things to carry on getting better for all and not just the few.

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Siem Reap
photo by: genetravelling