Thursday, September 3, 2009

Angkor Wat and Cambodia

Phnom Penh

Cambodians are basically very nice, friendly, but poor people. Phenom Penh is the capital, and despite the massive number of motor bikes creating a feeling of “traffic,” the city is small and has a largely rural feel to it. It’s not pretty here, the area is far dryer and dustier than Thailand, and many of the trees have cut down. It’s situated along a large river that runs through the country. All the action and “nice” hotels are on the waterfront.
After seeing the Killing Fields the only other sites to see were the national museum, which frankly was not all that impressive, largely a bunch of old stone statues, and the royal palace, where the royal family of Cambodia still lives. (somehow surviving Pol Pot)
the palace of the the Cambodian King
My driver took me back to my hotel, “That’s it,” he stated, “Nothing more to see.”
I venture out at night. With the exception of the street along the waterfront, it is largely dark. Vendors hawk wares ranging from local fruit, breads, and fowl, to candies and cheap souvenirs. The Cambodian money system operates on the US dollar. If you need small change from handing over an Abe Lincoln it comes in the form of Cambodian currency, which when you touch it feels like monopoly money and is an actuality, worth less. (the US currency has the possibility of following suit with all the money we are printing and borrowing- but that’s another matter.)
As Cambodia lost a large percentage of its population under the Pol Pot regime, the city does not have the same crowded feel as most capitals. You can do Phenom Penh in one day, definitely you don’t need more.

Siem Reap and the Temples

Early the next morning I took a speed boat down the river to the city of Siem Reap. It took 5 hours to get there, and I was saddened by the number of plastic bottles floating on the water.
a view of the Cambodian river from the boat
Arriving at the port, I was picked up by a tuuk-tuuk driver, basically a motorbike pulling a covered wheelbarrow behind it, Cambodia’s version of a rickshaw.
For what was probably by Cambodian prices an excellent price of $5, they drove to the Siem Reap Riverfront Hotel, a clean place for $25 a night. You really can’t ask for too much more around here. I took a nap and woke up to find the Wi-Fi out.
“The Wi-Fi’s out,” I remarked to the front desk.
“Yes, it goes out when it’s cloudy or rainy.”
“Or sunny,” I noting the beams of sunshine warming us from the blue sky above.
Siem Reap's main drag with bars for tourists
“Yes,” he replied.

It apparently was too late to go visit the Temples, so instead, with the Wi-Fi (sadly) back-up, I embarked on one the worst poker sessions of my life.
The next morning, $1700 poorer, I awoke at 4 AM and was picked up by my Tuuk-Tuuk driver who drove 6 kilometers to the Angkor Watt Temples so I could see the temples at Sunset as recommended to me by a couple from Seattle I met in Thailand.
Angkor Watt at dawn
While the other patsies awaited sunrise to venture in, preferring to see if the massive temple would reflect in a pool of water as light broke the horizon, I decided to Indiana Jones’ it and break into the pitch dark structure with the dual intention of stealing the Khmer’s ancient treasures as well a vain attempt at breaking my ankle. Tripping over an unseen crevice can put a real dent in one’s aspirations for treasure (aka- greed.) Indy, my hat is off to you.
Constructed in the 12th Century, Angkor Watt is considered up there with the 7 wonders of the world, as in- “I wonder how they built that.” Especially me, who couldn’t construct a two story building out of a Tinker Toys.
I guess some of the original color remains of this war scene
I race around the temple, climbing, dropping, viewing. I note the artwork carved into the walls consists largely of warriors and scenes of battle. No matter where you go, ancient civilizations all over the world show us that war is part of human evolution, and a state that we have not yet grown out of. Perhaps one day we will gain consciousness.

ancient images carved into the sandstone

Surrounding Angkor Watt are a series of smaller temples, the last one which I saw was used to film the movie Tomb Raider, and let me tell you, it’s pretty neat to look at, especially the way nature has adapted to the buildings.
The tree you see in the picture below actually grows better in and around stone rather than in ground. Note the roots encircling the structure.


The temples were cool, and the people of Cambodia basically nice people, striving desperately to make a living. It ranks with Bali as the cheapest place I have been to. One night I purchased dinner from a street vendor consisting of rice with prawnsand a mango shake for $2.25. It’s hard to beat.
On the whole, I would say that Cambodia is an alright place. If you want to see and experience what the human race is capable of at its worst, it’s a lot cheaper of a trip than Auschwitz. The temples are worth seeing as well, but outside of that, there really isn’t much. I’m certainly not sorry I went, but I have zero desire to go back.

the East gate of Angkor Wat guarded by stone warriors

Next up_---> The most beautiful place on earth

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