05.02.2008 - 09.02.2008
Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, is a boom town with new hotels springing up overnight, though one wonders if they will ever fill up all the rooms despite the two million farangs who come here each year. We have met people from China, Korea,Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, Britiain, Singapore, and a few from the States, some of whom are teaching in international schools in China.
The ruins are vast and we were lucky to have the services of Bon, our indefatigable tuk tuk driver who accompanied us everywhere, knew some of the history, and even told us where to eat lunch.
In the main temple area there are archways upon archways opening into each other, and creating a sense of perspective that suggests infinite space. We have been told that it symbolizes the beginning of the universe with Mt. Mera, a sacred peak, at the top. There is also a blending of Indian and Khmer influences, Hindu and Buddhist, that have been built up over successive generations. Unfortunately a number of old stone heads and other artifacts have been stolen by private thieves and museums, and of course, Pol Pot did his best to destroy the place. But no matter, Angkor has survived all of these things, and continues to impress with its sense of timelessness. I am bigger than all of those of have tried to destroy me, it seems to say, and I will be here long after you are gone
While the architecture is Khmer, some of the carvings are clearly Indian in origin.
One of my favorite places was the temple of Bayon, with its enormous 30+ feet high Buddhist heads. It is part of Angkor Thom, which is even older than Angkor Wat, dating back to 800-900 AD.
In Ta Prahm, the jungle is taking over.
Even in three very full days we did not see it all.
We continue to be amazed by the Cambodian people. Yesterday while we were at the ruins, we were approached by a ten year old girl trying to sell us postcards and water. Nothing unusual about that. Then she asked" Where you from?"
" New York", I said.
"Where in New York?"
"Near New York City," my standard response.
Then she said, "Capital of New York not New York City. Capital Albany."
"That's where we live." I said.
This of course, was quite impressive, but she then proceeded to rattle off the names and capitals of all 50 states, something not many ten year olds could do in the states.
"How did you learn all that"?
" Oh, she says, "Just talking to tourists like you."
Just to give the full picture, this was not a well off educated kid, but basically a street kid living by selling things at Angkor. Whereever we went, just about everyone spoke some English, essential I guess to trying to get ahead. Even the tuk tuk drivers, are studying English dictionaries when they are waiting for their customers. What spirit.
Of course, there are always two sides to getting ahead. Yesterday we got into a long conversation with the cook at our hostel, who happens to be the niece of the owner. She told us all about her uncle, Kim, who runs the Okay guest house in Pnom Penh. As the oldest brother, he is the family patriarch and determined to become wealthy and help out his extended family. Based on what we saw, he seems well on the way to doing this. Kim has already helped a different brother buy a guest in another part of Siem Reap. This makes three owned by the same family. Mostly they are modest places, but as business picks up I'm sure they will go on to purchase more upscale hotels. At the same time, our tuk tuk driver Bon, who we pay $15 a day, hardly sees any of this. He works for the the guest house, and they only pay him about $20 a month, plus he has to help out in 'the restaurant after driving all day. We have grown quite fond of him and tried to help out as best we could by giving him a big tip, and also showing him how to use the internet to create an email address. He got a big kick out of this, but unfortunately we never heard back from him.
We fly to Luang Prabang tomorrow afternoon.
What they say around here is that the Cambodians plant the rice, Thais sell the rice, and the Laotians listen to the sound of it growing.