Howdy all, happy belated turkey day to you all. I trust none of you were injured in the parade... I had dinner on the 24th with two Californians. We had Khmer food and watched Thai boxing.
I am in Siem Reap Cambodia, in the north west, home of the Angkor Wat temples. I have been here since the 21st, and I have been out exploring every day. I cannot speak for you guys, but I knew NOTHING about Angkor before I left (I hadn’t even seen Tomb Raider, which apparently is shot here). As such, I was completely amazed by this place. The temples, built from the end of the 8th to the middle of the 13th century sprawl over a 75Km area, but the most impressive are clustered within two walled compounds just a few minutes motorcycle ride out of Siem Reap. In fact, Angkor Wat itself (there is a picture I posted of it at sunrise) is the largest religious building ever built. Sadly, like every other site to be found in the 3rd world, the temples are slowly being wiped away by a lack of care and by too many people climbing over them.
The town itself is just the byproduct of the tourism to the temples, but is still remote enough to not be a total trap.
I am staying at a hotel run by Swedes which seems to attract eco-aware guests-people who have come over more to help at the local children’s hospital than see the temples. As a result, I have been steered to some of the more remote temple sites so that I might take in the Cambodian countryside in the process. Thus, after the first two days where I saw Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, and my personal favorite, "The Jungle Temple" -which has been reclaimed by the jungle to the point that trees, some 40 feet tall have grown from the tops of buildings and walls, I wandered out into the sticks.
Cambodia is still very rural, with the quality of roads depending largely on the rain the area gets during the wet season and the proximity of the area to tourist sites. Thus, even as I got further from the beaten track, going from smooth blacktop to hardpan to rutted dirt, I was told by my driver that there were many worse roads to be ridden. Given the choice, I think I’ll pass.
The trip out and back was a good way for me to see more of traditional Khmer living, past the houses on stilts, the rice paddies, the sugar palms. Nowhere did I see any signs of the upheaval that must have occurred when the Khmer Rouge ran the country, but I was told that several of the temples had either been damaged or destroyed during the purges. Combined with the fact that one is able to crawl over and around and through everything on the temples, touch intricate carvings and lettering, it is amazing that any of it survives at all.
Also on the trip back, I got to see the government at work. Bridges in Cambodia are a hit or miss thing, with the quality of them almost always poor. The two exceptions are the Japanese and Thai friendship bridges in Phnom Penh, which were built by foreigners. Otherwise, one is lucky to find paving, or even a solid roadbed, and collapses while not frequent, happen more often here. Thus, I was quite pleased to find on the way out a bridge made entirely of steel. It spanned a moderately fast, narrow river about 30km from Siem Reap. On the way back, we saw a traffic jam, and weaving our way forward, found the trouble was that a road crew was replacing the road plates. We had a half hour delay which I used to take some pictures of children playing in the river, as well as the idiot in the SUV who decided he couldn’t wait and tried to ford. Needless to say, he stalled and had to be pushed out....