A Travellerspoint blog


Stuff, Part 2

An all-too-brief glance at Cambodia

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We arrived in Siem Reap (pronounced see-EHM ree-EHP) from Hanoi with feelings of both anticipation and regret. We were very excited to see the ruins of Angkor, a huge complex of remnants from the 12th century Khmer empire that once ruled most of Southeast Asia. Angkor Wat, the well-preserved main temple, is believed to be the largest religious structure in the world.

Massive Angkor Wat, serene on its island

There are many smaller ruins in the area to explore: an amateur archaeologist’s dream come true. The ruined city of Angkor Thom features dozens of mysterious faces on the Bayon, thought to be a mausoleum for the king.

Ever feel like you’re being watched?

The most fascinating is a small temple called Ta Prohm, which has been left in pretty much the same condition in which the encroaching jungle has left it. It feels straight out of an adventure movie.

”Indy! Over here... Watch out for that snake!”

The detailed carving in some of these temples is astounding. Angkor Thom’s Bayon, for example, has over 1.2km of carved friezes featuring over 11,000 figures. It’s overwhelming.

An apsara (heavenly nymph) figure from Banteay Srei temple

But as amazing as Angkor was, we were also a bit sad because our time in Cambodia would be so limited -- only a few days, too little time to really do justice to a country that has suffered so much and has so much to offer visitors. One of the poorest nations in Asia, Cambodia is of course best remembered for its recent history of terrible violence and genocide under the communist Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. Now liberated from Pol Pot’s maniacal grasp, Cambodia is slowly clawing its way out of poverty and into the world of modern democracy.

Minefields -- a legacy of years of civil war

Some of our most rewarding experiences in Cambodia were trips through the countryside on our way to see the “sights.”

Cambodia -- home to some of the worst roads in the world

"OK, you want transport?" No, not all public transportation is quite this bad

We took a boat trip through the flooded forest of Kompong Phhluk to a floating village. Quite an experience.

Poor, but with loving touches like bright paint and flowers

A life lived on the water

What struck me most was the smiles of the Cambodian people. They have been through so much, and have so little compared to us visitors from “richer” nations. And yet, they seem to live with a sense of contentment that I envy, a joy in simple things like a swim in front of the house.

This sounded exactly like it looks

Is it condescending of us to come half-way around the world, float by, and look at people who live their entire lives in what we consider terrible poverty? Possibly.

Is it equally condescending to watch the way they live and to observe that they seem happier than many people I know who have far more? Maybe. I’m not saying poverty is a good thing; if there was a way that I could personally snap my fingers and make their lives “better,” I would. But I also could not help noticing those smiles. I don’t see a lot of people I pass on the streets in America with smiles like that, even though they have a lot more stuff.

I noted that there were pumps in the yards of many of the houses of the people around Angkor, with signs from a charitable organization stating who had donated the money for them. I think this is great, and a way in which tourism is having a real, positive impact on the lives of ordinary people who need help. Visitors to the temples see the poverty and are driven to donate so that someone less fortunate than them can simply have clean water.

I would like to do this. I can only hope and pray that I might learn some of that ability to smile in return.

Posted by Bwinky 01:56 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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