Saturday, December 15, 2018

Emails from Angkor


A love affair with the Kingdom of Cambodia

The Kingdom of Cambodia is a country and peoples on the mend, rebuilding their economy and morale after decades of civil war, violence, suffering and oppression. Sharing a boarder with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, 75% of its 69,900 square miles lies very close to below sea level. Like its neighbors in Asia's South East, Cambodia is subject to tropical Monsoons, wet season commencing in May and continuing through to October and dry season commencing in November and continuing through to March.

Cambodia has changed hands and hats many times. Its boarders have (and continue to) ebb and flow like the tides of the mighty Mekong River. Since declaring independence from France in 1949, Cambodia has been subject to a monarchy, the communist Khmer Rouge, the Lon Nol led government, a Vietnamese sponsored government and even the United Nations transitional authority before emerging to its current state as a democratic, constitutional monarchy. (Cambodia's History)

With a population of about 14 million, the current day Khmer speaking Cambodians make up the vast majority of the populous, the remainder being Vietnamese, Cham, Khmer Leou and Indian. Although Khmer is the official language, there is also a less common Cambodian French and among young Cambodians, English is becoming more widely spoken. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant national religion with a small portion of the populous practicing Islam and Christianity.

I traveled alone to Siem Reap, Cambodia, flying in from Bangkok. I was on a mission to Angkor the capital of the Khmer in 1300AD. It had been a life long dream to see Angkor Wat -- which as it turned out, became my least favorite of the magnificent Khmer temples, my favorite, the breathtaking Ta Prohm.

It is safe to travel as a woman alone and there are extensive on-line and printed materials available to assist you in all you would need to prepare for a visit to Cambodia. As extravagant as it sounds, it is very economical to have your hotel organize a driver/ guide for you for the duration of your stay. It's a nice way, if traveling alone, to have the companionship of a local who can teach you a thing or two and with whom you can interact as much or as little as you like. Otherwise there is readily available and cheap tuk tuk, moped or motor vehicle taxi as transport options or the availability of bicycles or mopeds to hire for your self.

Although civil war has devastated Cambodia's road and rail transportation system, traveling into Cambodia by way of boat and/ or bus is still popular among adventurous travelers. One US dollar will buy you 4,196 Cambodian Riel and living is cheap in Cambodia. If traveling from the US, I would recommend buying a return ticket to Bangkok and purchasing your air ticket in to Cambodia separately from one of the myriad travel agents in Bangkok. This way, you will achieve much better deals.

A country of magnificent beaches, remote and dense jungle, ancient temples, unique architecture and beautiful food, Cambodia's isolation and history of civil unrest, has largely preserved it from the effects of tourism. Siem Reap, home of one of the Seven Forgotten Medieval Wonders of the World, Angkor Wat is Cambodia's biggest tourist draw card. Overall however, compared to other South East Asian destinations, you can have a relatively tourist-free experience in Siem Reap and a totally tourist-free experience in other provinces of Cambodia.

There are an inordinate number of orphans in Cambodia, the legacy of a long civil war and the after effects. The Children's Hospital in Siem Reap provides free care for all children and they are open for blood donation, which I did during my stay. Despite the often sub-standard conditions of hospitals in third world countries, donating here is safe. I cannot reiterate that enough. Please consider a donation if you visit.

It is very easy to fall in love with the natural beauty of this country and its citizens. For a people that have suffered so greatly and a place that has seen and inherited the effects of much blood shed, Cambodia exists as proof of the resilience of the human spirit and Mother Nature's ability to regenerate herself.

From: V
Sent : Sunday, 11 September 2005 5:03:27 PM
To : Summer
Subject : Cambodia.

How beautiful! Flying in, I wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't sinking. The endless rice paddies and seasonal rain give the landscape an appearance of being mostly a collection of tiny seas. The green, the green the endless green. I am flooded with childhood memories of Papua New Guinea. The jungle so dense and the air so sweet, as the fat drops of monsoon rain gather scents from the canopy along their journey to the ground. Fresh air again ... hooray!

Not particularly a fan of hotels, I am sincerely appreciative this time for this cool refuge, tropical blue swimming pool and wide balcony with lovely French doors to throw open and let in the moderate bustle of the streets. Siem Reap, I was told by Thierry - my lovely guide for the next few days - has a population of 60,000 and they are mostly all farmers. It explains why this pretty town isn't filthy I guess. It's just dirty - organically so. And in my book, dirt isn't really dirty anyway.

I found a lovely little neighborhood today, crammed between the India-like market stalls. The French colonial, cultural creek has dried up to but a trickle, but the architecture in this prefecture still remains. I sat street front on the wide, tiled balcony in a huge, high backed whicker chair, imagining I was Catherine Deneuve in Indochine and had a beer and an amazing vegetarian, spicy dish for a whopping 4US Dollars.

Apparently mostly only the old folk still speak French, but between their dodgy English and my rubbish French we seem to be able to cover all bases. The young here are almost all lost to the French tongue but for the legacy of names such as Pierre and Thierry that seems to linger on. I found that you could rent bicycles for $2 for the day. I seriously considered this for all of 1 second until I realized that:

A) It would be very cruel to push my Fiancé dangerously closer to the precipice of controlled hysteria on which he already teeters, as he tries to cope with me being a girl alone in Cambodia. A girl alone on a bicycle in Cambodia could spell the free-fall.

B) I don't actually know how to drive and if I did, this would be a great advantage when trying to stay alive on roads that have no lines, no rules, no lights, no signs and no idea.

C) I am simply not mentally or technically equipped to be competing in the Great How-Many-Mothers-Fathers-Grandparents-Babies-Puppies-
-Mopeds Challenge that is held here every day.

After a much needed siesta during an afternoon thunderstorm, Thierry picked me up to head out to the elephants. I will not actually enter Angkor Watt until tomorrow, but I bumped to the rhythm of my elephant all the way to the top of the mountain on the opposite bank of the river to Angkor Watt, to watch the sun set. The journey up the mountain was mesmerizing and I was overcome with such peace. That is until the tour group traipsing up the mountain also, came into earshot (from half a mile away). Despite their obvious inability to hear themselves and their complete and utter lack of reverence for one of the most magnificent and majestic wonders of the world, I didn't stray too far from this general feeling of peace and happiness.

Sitting atop a tower of stairs in the middle of the jungle, looking out over the great watery expanses of green and beautifully crafted, ancient rock, with the rising steam providing a misty aura, I was incredibly moved. The saffron robes of the scattering of monks among the grey-green rock were like ambers stoking the ruins and setting the sky on fire. As the Sun drifted off to sleep, slipping below the paddies, I felt so perfect. It felt so perfect to be alone with all that in that moment. Thank you Angkor Wat. Thank you Sangia the elephant. Thank you Cambodia. Sweet dreams and goodnight. xx V

From: V
Sent : Tuesday, 13 September 2005 01:12:14 PM
To : Summer
Subject : Cambodia.

I am having the most amazing time in Cambodia! The incredible temples : faces everywhere carved of rock, watching you wherever you go, nodding at you knowingly. The temples empty caverns but for the thousands of Micro Bats. And then, deep within the lonely bowels, doubling back on each other like riddles, a surprise Monk laying at the feet of yet another Buddha. A tiny, single-person abode eked out in the rocks and bathed in a riot of color. Offerings of incense, candles, coconuts, shiny, foil paper flowers and pig heads abound. A little confused you press on and pop out into a lush, tropical garden before an enormous tree swallowing a building whole. It confuses you further as you try to ascertain which came first - the tree or the temple.

On a long, wooden boat, I meander through a floating village. It is a quiet group of three who enter this magnificent expanse of lake, residence to mostly Vietnamese and Cambodian Muslims. The poverty here is obscene. Yet, through the wall-less houses you see the flicker of a color TV. My boat driver asks if I like Karaoke. It's all the rage out here in these shanties you know?! Children race each other in single-infant vessels that resemble upturned top hats. Naked for the most part, they laugh hysterically as they navigate their tubs through the wash with long wooden poles.

Outside some temples, I come upon a group of small children jamming. The Little Drummer Boy - the most beautiful smile I've ever seen - heads up a group of impassioned, clapping back-up singers. None of them is more than ten years old. The music is amazing, mesmerizing. I want to take them all home. I want to record their music.

I meet a 12 year old boy named Harry. We talk for a long time. Handsome, with street smarts to rival a Rocket Scientist's academia, he asks me many questions and tells me everything he knows about Australia. It is a lot incidentally. I leave his company to go into the temple and he says, "Please, you no forget me. Please lady you remember me, Harry." Hours later when I emerge from the temple, he is waiting for me outside. He has written me a beautiful letter. I will never, ever forget you Harry and yes, I will always keep your letter. May you grow strong and clever and transcend your circumstances with your sheer joie de vivre! xx V

About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on Emails from Angkor

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By Noa on December 11, 2006 at 12:35 am
Sounds so nice! You are officially my favorite writer on the site. When did you come here from down under? And why?
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By Steven Lane on December 11, 2006 at 02:56 am
Makes you want to go! And I have nothing against hotels, lol
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By TonyBerkman on October 22, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Sounds like a trip of a lifetime. Thank you for sharing this.

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