An update of a regular Wednesday and Thursday spent in Siem Reap
15.02.2012 - 16.02.2012 30 °C
On Wednesday morning Matt and I woke up pretty early and had some breakfast at the hostel before popping into a tuk-tuk with Sun Lee (my lovely driver from the day before!) and heading to the temples. We had to pay $40 for a three day temple pass, as everyone said there's too much to see in just one day, although now in hindsight I think if we'd planned it better I may have rathered just doing them in one day. Cia had mentioned that it was best to have a look at the smaller temples before Angkor Wat itself, so we decided to first do the 'big route', which shows most of the surrounding temples in the outer area of Angkor.
Our first stop was through the 'South Gate', which is at a large bridge over a large moat. *Warning, I believe the word large and its adjectives will be employed annoyingly often throughout this post, as there's really no way to describe just how enormous this site is. Anyway, we walked through the gate and Sun Lee drove us into the Angkor Thom region, which is home to a number of different temples - most significantly the Bayon section. They were nice (and big of course) but I think they'd had a fair bit of damage, and didn't really live up to the hype some people had mentioned about the Bayon temple. We moved on to Prasat Khan and Neak Poan - which was actually pretty cool, Neak Poan was sectioned off but it was based on the water and was really pretty. Though on the way across the bridge one young girl selling bracelets really targeted me and hassled me relentlessly on my way in and out which was partially sad but mostly amusing due to her relentlessness; her persistence was incredible. We went on to a few more temples including East Mebon and my favourite for the day, Pre Rup. The climb up to the very top was a bit of a mental test as the angle of elevation should not constitute a stairway for human given general laws of gravity, but hey, I made it both up and down. At the top was a shrine and one man working inside the small area asked me where I was from, then saying 'Gday Mate, Cheers Mate, A dingo stole my baby'. I found it way funnier than it probably was but at the time it was really hilarious. Anyway, I took some cool panorama photos and off I went.
That afternoon I went for a bit of a walk around the town, and up to the main tourist drag near Pub Street which is about a 10-15 minute walk from my guesthouse. It's pretty cool but very touristy, as is the whole town, which is fun in a way, though I haven't really been in a 'party mood' the last couple of weeks. One lady with an adorable little boy (I am a total sucker) came up to me desperately and said that she did not want any money but just some milk for her baby and she led me to a pharmacy. It was $5.50 for the small tin, and although I've really been spending too much money in Cambodia, I can't help thinking about the things that I simply take for granted and the fact that I could easily spend $6 in Sydney just on a drink or something. Comparing the significance what that money could do for her to the uses I would have for it, it's a bit of a reality check. Plus I got to score an adorable photo of the beautiful little boy - just another for my collection of so many beautiful South East Asian kids. However, about 10 minutes later and around another corner, a small boy was begging, and although I've been told many times not to give beggars money (you never know where it goes) he had mentioned in broken English that he was hungry. I suggested taking him to a meal as they're generally about $2-3 around here, but instead he insisted that he lead me to the closest convenience store and pointed to milk powder also. I couldn't afford to buy another $6 tub, but also this raised some alarm bells in my head, and I feel that this may be part of one of the many local scams going on targeting tourists.
I ran into Matt on the street and we decided to try the fish foot pedicure thing that line the streets - basically you put your feet in these ponds and let fish nibble at your dirt and dead skin! It was a very very strange feeling, and pretty ticklish, but given the fact that Rachel nearly kicks pedicurists in the head during foot scrubs in Sydney I do not recommend this treatment to her in fear for the poor fish. Anyway, after the long walks I'd done in dusty Angkor temples, those fish were certainly well-fed.
That night Matt and I met up again and got some dinner at a great place around the corner (which I've frequented far too often), it's called Star something - I want to remember that before I go so I can recommend it! We then went for a walk to Pub Street and the night markets and then got a cocktail somewhere by the street. The area really comes alive at night for tourists and looks quite fun, but as I mentioned before, I really haven't been in a party mood. I've been enjoying travelling solo and meeting like-minded (and diverse) travellers from all over the globe, but I haven't been able to shrug off everything I've seen and just get drunk on $1 shots as easily as everyone else does. I kind of regret that as I'm sure they're having a blast, but at the moment I feel that I'd be very obnoxious and disrespectful if I was just spending all my money on hedonistic activities while millions of Cambodian people around me were suffering. In part I think this is a reasonable viewpoint, but at the same time I worry that this perspective may make me become one of those well-hated pretentious do-good travellers, but I certainly don't want to appear judgemental, so for now I'm just trying to find a balance between having a good time in a way that I can feel comfortable about it.
(As wise ole Big Deb says, 'have as much fun as possible while doing as much good as possible.')
Anyway, enough of that. The next day I had a pretty relaxing morning and in the afternoon got a tuk-tuk with Matt again to the Landmine Museum, which I'd heard of from a French guy staying in my room. It's about 25km out of town past Angkor Wat, and on the way we stopped at the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre, which is a community development program where the revenue from tourist admission is used to pay families in remote villages who are farming butterflies for the exhibit. The enclosure was beautiful and had literally hundreds of butterflies flying around. I also saw a brown snake! A guy who worked there showed us around, and I found the destination a lot more interesting than I had originally thought it would be as we learnt so much. We were shown a huge variety of coccoons at different stages of development, including a couple who had released themselves from the coccoon but had not taken their first flight yet. One such butterfly crawled onto my hand and took its first flight straight from my wrist! It was a pretty cool thing to see. We were also shown various stage of their growth, from eggs to lava to caterpillers to coccoons. I learnt that one of the butterflies which is poisonous to eat (so that birds won't hassle it) eats mercury from plants. This means that the mercury it absorbs is what is poisonous for whoever consumes it. We also saw some enormous, and I mean enormous, stick insects, as well as a few butterflies mating. Their cycle is pretty quick though, some species only living a day and others 5 months, though on average about two weeks.
After this we got back into the tuk-tuk and headed 3km down the road to the Landmine Museum, which is organised and run by a Khmer man named Aki Ra. He has quite an interesting story as when he was a young boy (about 10), he was forced to work for the Khmer Rouge. He and his young friends would handle machine guns and grenades as if they were toys and were made to kill people. From what I understand, at one point he defected to fight for the Vietnamese side. At night the youngest soldiers were sent to the fields to find food, and Aki Ra would often run into his old friends who were fighting for the Khmer Rouge. They would search for food together, then play together for hours, and then go back to their bases and try to kill each other the next day. He also tells of a story where he spotted his uncle across the field in battle, and had to continue to 'accidentally' miss his shot. Years later after all fighting ceased, Aki Ra told his uncle this story and they now laugh about it. I can't even comprehend having a childhood like this.
Aki Ra has become renowned for his dedication to locating and disarming landmines throughout Cambodia, which of course is dangerous work. His plight has been sponsored by many organisations internationally, and the museum displays various types of landmines, information about them, and information about his life and experiences both with the Khmer Rouge and the aftermath for Cambodia (particularly related to landmines). He has also set up a home for children who have suffered injuries due to landmines, which is apparently set up behind the museum (though I didn't see this). There is a wall full of stories they've written about their experiences, and a room with artworks they've made for sales, though they were ranging upwards from about $100. It was quite cool, but unfortuantely another reminder to me about the horror that the US has blindly caused for people across the world. I'm certainly not racist against the US and its citizens, just some of their previous men in power are absolute idiots and it cools my blood to think about how much terror could have been saved if they hadn't been involved.
On the drive back I took notice of all the small villages by the side of the road and saw many children playing volleyball which was pretty cool. After that I just chilled out at the hostel, got some food and watched movies as I have to be up bright and early tomorrow for the sunrise at Angkor Wat! I don't think there's much else to report as I've really just enjoyed hanging out. PS - uploading photos is a bit of a pain on this so I've been putting some on Facebook, so check them out, and hopefully I'll upload more both onto here and onto Facebook when I have some better internet and more patience.