Insights to Angkor Wat and the Cambodian countryside

Buddhist monks in front of the reflection pool...

Buddhist monks in front of the reflection pool at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. View On Black (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Intricately carved reliefs from the r...

English: Intricately carved reliefs from the ruins of the famous temple of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Intricately carved reliefs from the r...

English: Intricately carved reliefs from the ruins of the famous temple of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Cambodian child outside Angkor Wat te...

English: Cambodian child outside Angkor Wat temple, near Siem Reap, Cambodia. May 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Apsara relief from Angkor Wat, Cambod...

English: Apsara relief from Angkor Wat, Cambodia, by Andrew Lih (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Finely carved reliefs at the Angkor W...

English: Finely carved reliefs at the Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Finely carved reliefs at the Angkor W...

English: Finely carved reliefs at the Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cambodia

cambodia (Photo credit: danblah)

Angkor Wat, the front side of the main complex...

Angkor Wat, the front side of the main complex, photographed in the late afternoon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Panoramic view of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Tod...

Panoramic view of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Today Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s main tourist attraction and is visited by many visitors from around the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Angkor Wat temple, by Andrew Lih

Angkor Wat temple, by Andrew Lih (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We were sitting outside, having dinner on the popular Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia, enjoying the buzz of its maze of restaurants. We  had earlier visited the World famous UNESCO heritage site of Angkor Wat. At the end of the day, we sat and had a  cold drink with our guide and started talking. In earlier life, our guide was a soldier. He told us that he and his family were forced to leave Phnom Penh in 1975  at gun point by the Khmer Rouge during the civil war. {For more information on Cambodia’s political history follow this link.}. Our guide told us that he and his family had to walk for seven days and seven nights continuously because if they stopped the Khmer Rouge would have immediately killed them. He was a young child at the time, but remembers the horrors of that time vividly. Our conversation moved on to the life of ordinary people in Cambodia. The good news for him was that the Cambodian Government expected foreign tourist visitors to increase to five million annually in a couple of years from under two million now. Since 1993, Modern Cambodia has been a democratic republic.

We had recently arrived in Cambodia, after two months in China and Vietnam.   Over dinner  we discussed the politics in South East Asia  because we were both so shocked by the suffering of people in this region. We had a few days earlier visited the War Remnants Museum in  Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam – it provided a very disturbing view of America’s record in the Vietnam War but to be fair it was largely one-sided  and failed to portray the other side, how the Vietnamese treated US or Australian soldiers. That night Alf  thought about Marilyn’s question on communism or capitalism and shared his views in a blog the next day.

The primary reason for visiting Cambodia was to see the UNESCO approved Angkor Wat site. We were not disappointed.   The first morning, we were up at  4,30 AM and went, bleary eyed, to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise over the temple.  Our driver just dumped us in the car-park in the dark, with no torch, and  said “just followed the crowds”. The crowds of people were enormous, just like the approach to a major sporting event, we were pleased we did not have to queue for a ticket! Eventually, we found a spot by a  large lotus pond and the amazing sight of the temple of  Angkor reflecting in the early morning light over the water, it was like fairyland, watching the lotus slowly opening up as if they were saying “good morning”. We waited for sunrise, but sadly that day it was a bit cloudy and for us the sunrise was a bit of a damp squib. Eventually, the thousands of people started to disperse and we returned to our hotel for breakfast. After breakfast, we returned to Angkor and the sun was shining in its full glory, when actually, we would have preferred shade! With the help of our guide, we followed the famous seventeen kilometer small circuit. This included:

It was an amazing day, that we will always cherish. However, we were  sad to see the very young children trying to sell clothing and souvenirs at every site – they were very persistent, using emotional blackmail to trade with  the tourists, like, ” I need money for school”. We also saw many young children working in restaurants, waiting on tables. It is important to remember that because of the two million people killed by the Khmer Rouge, the society is dominated by young people.

Our second day in  Cambodia, we went with our new guide to the Tonle Sap lake, by boat. We passed through the amazing villages on the water, that were built on stilts to protect them from flooding in the wet season. It was quite something to watch these villagers going about their business  in boats, to see the restaurants,  meeting houses and even a police station – all on stilts in the water. We reached the beautiful lake and were amazed at its vastness,   eventually flowing into the Mekong River. That was a lovely, relaxing  day.

The next day, we traveled again in the beautiful Cambodian countryside  visiting typical  quaint villages, seeing ox drawn carts, with wooden wheels,  passing   rich farms of animals and agricultural crops and some unusual banana plantations that grow  red bananas, our guide explained that these red skin bananas are very sweet but very sticky and only have a short season. The countryside is extremely lush and we enjoyed seeing the pleasantly undulating topography with its beautiful patchwork of colors that delighted the eye.

We hired a car and driver. Actually, he was a licensed taxi that picked us up originally at the airport but to our surprise and delight, he was also a fully accredited guide. There are over four thousand authorized guides in the  Angkor area and it’s a bit of a lottery choosing a good one. Our guide for Angkor, was provided by our hotel and whilst he was knowledgeable, we struggled to understand his English.  By comparison, our second guide whom we used for the following  three days  spoke excellent English and we would certainly use him again on our next trip to Cambodia. We would very much like to return to Cambodia and explore more of the countryside , the coast and meet more of its delightful people.

Before leaving Cambodia from Siam Reap airport we bought two paperbacks that were personal stories of the atrocities, and once again we were incredibly moved by the terrible suffering. Today, Cambodia stands out in South East Asia, with a democracy, good farming, and a growing economy, with tourism playing an important part – of course, in relative terms, Cambodia is still incredibly poor, compared to say Vietnam, for example. The UNESCO approval of Angkor has brought much prosperity to Siam Reap, the jumping off point to Angkor Wat, but sadly, as is often the case,  there has been a downside of tourism, with many young people now living off tourists, and neglecting education and more traditional Cambodian livelihoods. Overall though, it is the four unique criterion, identified by UNESCO, that provided the Worldwide attraction to Angkor Wat.

We arrived at the airport on time for our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos, but to our horror the flight was delayed for four hours and it was hard to entertain ourselves in an airport with a souvenir shop and another selling “bling” and “What Nots”, plus a cafe that had a very small selection of uninteresting bites. But we are still here to tell the tale and our next blog focuses on Laos.

Please watch this space!

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5 responses

  1. Pingback: Beautiful Bagan Myanmar (Burma) – Part 2 « Discover the Orient

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