Jeff's Mid-Life Crisis goes Round the World (RTW)
About Me (1)
HONG KONG (2)
* ST. ANDREWS
* FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
* HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO PHUKET
* PHNOM PENH
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
* CHANGES IN LATITUDE CHANGES IN ATTITUDE
* VANG VIENE
* LUANG PRABANG #2
* LUANG PRABANG #1
February 16, 2005
ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
Today is Wednesday afternoon, February 16th and I am still on Phuket Island in Thailand. I've been here 5 days so far and have decided to stay here at least 4 more days. This place can be a true luxury resort depending on where you stay and there are a wide variety of places to stay all hurting for business as tourists are still staying away either in fear of either another Tsunami or out of respect for the many who died here. The vast majority of Phuket Island is okay and there should be no worries for tourists here. They need your business so get over here and relax and have fun because there are lots of opportunities do do both here!
A friend of mine, Shelley W. e-mailed me and suggested I was a cheapskate for staying in lower priced guesthouses when there were luxury and 5-star resorts around to stay at. So when I got to Patong Beach here on Phuket I said to myself "I'll show her! I'm going to stay at a real luxury place!!" so I did and for my last 3 nights here I'm moving to an even more luxurious, upscale place. So there!! :-) (I'm just teasing Shelley!).
Back to Siem Reap and Angkor. This blog entry will complete my trip there and discuss my last three days in town.
I think I finished the last entry with me having a cold Angkor Beer at Earthwalkers guesthouse after a long and tiring day of templing. I mentioned in another entry how interesting it is to me that a noun like temple is changed to a verb - templing, over here.
On day 3 I went to see more of the temples with Wie, my moto dude. After having had a guide the previous day and seeing the most popular temples I was looking forward to seeing some of the more outlying and smaller (but just as spectacular) ones. We plotted our course in the morning (leaving at 10:00 AM so I didn't have to wake up too early) and drove out. Wie isn't allowed into the temples since he is not an official guide so he drove me from place to place, dropped me off, told me what he knew of each temple (quite a bit) and waited for me as I explored and took pictures.
Part of walking around the temples is dealing with the locals. Most of them are trying to sell you things and some of the little kids will beg or try to get money from you by being friendly and cute. The kids, especially, are very cute. Most of them go to school in the morning and in the afternoons try to sell stuff to the tourists and they are very good at it too. Most of the kids speak excellent English, having learned it a bit at school but mostly through dealings with English speaking people. Kids pick up languages better than adults.
The police try to control the vendors and the kids as best they can. They are not allowed past a rope put down about 20 feet in front of their stalls so you can avoid the constant pressure to buy if you stay far enough away. The vendors will yell to you from a great distance trying to sell water (which is a necessity up there!), books, postcards, shirts or other souvenirs. At the more outlying temples the vendors don't adhere to the rope line and they will come up to you in the temples or on the streets with their stuff. It's a bit of a hassle but if you keep a good attitude it can be fun.
Alot of the kids are really smart and have picked up a great angle to get your attention and then get you to buy something from them. Here's an example of a conversation I had with a 7 year old girl.
Girl: "Mister, where are you from?"
and the bargaining began and I'm sure she got the best of me :-)
The kids really are amazing. They know the capital of every country that has visitors here and the populations of those countries. Many (like the girl above) know about specific States in the U.S. or places in other countries. They study and recall this stuff because they know it will help them sell stuff but they are very smart and wise.
A couple of other conversations I recall with a smile:
They do have to pay for school every day before classes start, I doubt it's a dollar a day but it might be. These kids are great negotiators and know how to make a sale once they get your attention and get you into a conversation. Also, I believe it is true that the police up there (and probably others) shakedown the vendors and beggars for a cut of the revenue - a real life lesson in the corruption endemic in Cambodian society at the earliest age!
She didn't get me to buy this time but she tried everything.
I enjoyed these interactions and many more almost as much as I enjoyed the temples.
Depending on the time period in which each of the temples was built and the particular religious influence that was prevalent at the time, each temple had either a Hindu or Buddhist influence. Cambodia is now a Buddhist country but in earlier times the influence of the Indian subcontinent and it's dominant Hindu religion was high throughout this part of Asia. At various times 800 AD (when the temples in Angkor were beginning to be built) through the Khmer Rouge times the temples here were attacked by neighboring armies, defended and sometimes sacked by the victors. (In fact the Angkor Wat temple still has many bullet holes and mortar hole from the Khmer Rouge days when they attacked government troops holed up here in the late 1970's). At other times throughout history the temples were raided by thieves and priceless relics were carted off to be sold.
Temple thievery was very prevalent from 1950 - 1980 when Cambodia was in constant strife and turmoil. Thieves took advantage of lax security and indifference to make off with many statues and artifacts during this time and smuggled them through Thailand and into private collections around the world. Unfortunately many of the treasures of Cambodia have been lost to the country and its people and are sitting in someones home or estate elsewhere in the world. Of course, the ransacking of treasures is an age old problem, how many ancient Egyptian or African relics are in private collections? It doesn't make it right though but seeing the wanton destruction and theft firsthand really pisses me off.
Here are some pictures of beheaded statues (there were hundreds more like this - the heads are much lighter and easier to smuggle than the whole statue - but many were missing altogether):
When either the Hindus or Buddhists won a battle and took over a temple they often defaced carvings or statues that depicted religious figures contrary to their own beliefs. You see many statues like this:
There are many lions that look this this:
The lion statues are placed in entrances to protect the temples from certain evil spirits and all of them have this hole on their butts. I finally asked why. When lion statues are carved they were all given bronze tails. When sacked or raided over time the first thing the bad guys did was take all precious metals including the lion tails so all the lions now have holes in their butts.
This picture is of an Apsara:
Apsara's are female dieties and are carved throughout the temples at Angkor and come in many shapes and sizes. She is revered throughout Cambodian culture and many dances and festivals revolve around her.
The many Apsaras are different looking because of a unique physical feature on the carvings, her boobs. The boobs come in many shapes and sizes depending on what the carver likes (or wishes he had at home :-) ). On these carvings throughout the temples the Apsara boobs are all polished and smooth due to the constant rubbing they get by tourist hands. I guess some men just can't resist (I only touched one set just to see what they felt like).
That was it for day three, I was templed out (another verb usage of the word temple) and ready to see some other stuff around Siem Reap.
Wie suggested we go see the floating village abuot 20 kilometers outside town. The floating village is on Tone Sap Lake and is just what is says: A village that floats and migrates with the tide and the rise and fall of the river dependent on rain and run off for its water level. The village can move many miles thoughout the year as currents and water levels dictate.
The poverty leading to this village and what I saw on the river and on the lake was heart breaking. The relative affluence around the temples and Siem Reap does not flow down this way and it is in such stark contrast that it is amazing. These two world do not meet despite being so close.
I like this picture:
The poverty here is just so all encompassing, especially the last few pictures. Writing this now brings it all back and makes me very, very sad.
When Wie and I were getting on the boat to head to the floating village a little girl about 4 or 5 years old came up to with her hand out. I try not to give money to kids because it just reinforces this behavior and perpetuates their existence. In this case I said "no" and she said "when you come back then?" and I said okay thinking I'd never see her again as the port was busy, a mess and there were hundreds of people around.
When we got back a few hours later she found me right away and had a big smile on her face. I looked at her and could not resist and gave her a dollar. That was huge for her and she was very happy and ran towards home. It was a mistake for me to give her the money so openly because many other little kids saw this and quickly converged on me (I would make this mistake a few more times while in Cambodia).
I asked Wie to meet me about a mile up the road as I wanted to walk and take in this village. As I walked I was like the Pied Piper with a dozen kids following me begging for money. I wasn't going to give them any because if I did there would be dozens more. I kept walking and the kids kept following me with a few dropping off every so often. By the time I walked about a mile there were still 2 little kids in tow behind me, not begging or being obnoxious, just hanging out and walking alongside me. I debated whether or not to reward them for their perseverance knowing that if I did it would strongly reinforce this behavior. I could not resist and I gave them each 2000 riels ($0.50) and they were very happy, said thank you and turned around and ran towards home.
That night at Earthwalkers they had a barbeque and an Apsara Dance Show put on by a local orphanage. The owners and employees of Earthwalkers support one of the (many) local orphanages by donating time, effort and 10% of their profits. A great thing to do and another reason why I liked Earthwalkers so much.
The Apsara Dance show was cool. The kids tried really hard, were in Apsara costumes and were so very cute. All the guests loved it.
On my last day in Siem Reap I decided to ride a bicycle around to the temples and other sights close to town. Earthwalkers has a few bikes for their guests to use. I hadn't ridden a bike in many, many years but it was easy once I got my balance. I rode it most of the day and put alot of miles on it. After the first hour or so it was tough, many of the roads I was on were dirt. Plus my butt hurt really bad from that darned bicycle seat. It was fun though!
I went to the Landmine Museum. I described this place in my "Cambodia" entry of a few weeks ago. It is an enlightening place and very sad what man has done to man.
I also went to the Siem Reap Zoo. Not many know there is a zoo here and it's not on many agendas but I love animals and love good zoos. The zoo here should not exist and I don't know why it does. The weather is almost always hot and the conditions for the animals were terrible. The staff cares and tries to keep the place clean and in good condition but it looks like the funding just isn't there. The habitats for the animals were poorly laid out and very small. It was sad.
This river otter had a very small round pool to play in and a very small living area. He just kept going round and round in his little pool probably dreaming of cruising up and down a real river and being free.
This sign was at the zoo, I didn't see the snake they were referring to in the cage, he might have been hiding. If true, this would be a zoological phenomenon and in the Siem Reap zoo nonetheless...
Here are some cute kitties I saw at the Landmine Museum:
And finally a few pictures of me:
That's it for Siem Reap. The next morning I boarded a 7:00 AM bus for Phnom Penh.
Thank you for reading this. I hope to make this blog both interesting and entertaining. Please post a comment and let me know your thoughts, observations or counsel. Hearing from readers and knowing I have an audience is a great motivator and will be a great morale booster during down times on the road. Don’t forget to bookmark this site and tell a friend! Please feel free to e-mail me at “JeffMichie at Yahoo Dot Com”
Posted by Jeff on February 16, 2005 01:04 AM
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