During our 4-hour drive to Siem Reap the landscape changed from a confused urban landscape riddled with economically divided infrastructure, to a largely flat landscape, covered with basic agriculture. The bus ride, for the most part, was relaxing and some of us even managed to get a small power nap, but, as would be expected in a country with very little road rules, some of the time our stomachs were turned upside down. Picture this: you’re travelling along a two lane motor way in a country that doesn’t follow road rules. The maximum speed reached is about 100 kilometres an hour and your bus is filled with students you’re responsible for. All of a sudden, your driver pulls out to overtake not one, but three vehicles at once, only to be staring face first at a truck in the opposite lane coming straight toward you. I was thinking to myself that surely you’d just slow back down and try again when the lane is free, but no. The driver put his foot down. The oncoming truck beeps his horn just to make sure we’re aware of him and, as I think we’re passed the point of no return, the driver wrenches on the wheel somehow wedges his way in-between the second of the three vehicles we were trying to overtake. Only in Cambodia…
The landscape was much more interesting to me when got out of the urban environment. I stared out the window and noticed trees with marks on the trunks. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that these were rubber trees with small cups attached the lower truck to collect the sap. Rubber, corn, peanut and wet rice replace the natural landscape and I can’t help but think that this is the main reason why there are so few animals in the area. I’ve only seen a few small birds and a couple of monkeys. Correction, I’ve seen heaps of dogs, cats and oxen, but these are often sickened with disease or malnourished due to competition from parasites. It’s a strange site as the vegetation is so dense there is plenty for them to eat but the owners don’t have the medicine to help them, or can’t afford it.
Siem Reap seems to be much more westernised and proof of this was seeing the Hollywood Hotdog shop in the centre of town. After a quick swim at the highly luxurious hotel, we boarded the bus again to eat out and then visit the Phare (Far-ay) circus. The circus blends dance, theatre original live music and circus acts in a way that represents the Cambodian stories of the past. While becoming one of the main attractions in Siem Reap over the last three years, this professional training arts centre was originally established in 1994 by nine young Cambodian men after returning from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. They train and school children who either come from abusive family lives or those that do not have any family at all. It has now grown to more than 1200 students and currently the circus has a team touring Australia. Check out the tour dates here. The show was amazing and certainly a must see if travelling to Siem Reap. It was truly engaging and, at times, thought provoking. The boys will surely be talking about this part of the trip in time to come.
This morning we woke early to visit Angkor Wat at sunrise and, even though we didn’t get the perfect orange sunrise, the morning mist was parting as we entered the massive 1.5km by 1.3km hand built phenomenon. Sadly, this was only heritage listed in the early 90’s and I guess a traumatic past has not allowed this amazingly engineered structured to be viewed by the world. Mr Thai was our tour guide and the dates, names and stories that he told will take time to be processed. His knowledge is superior and I can’t thank him enough for giving all of us the most authentic experience. The stories of heaven and hell, gods and kings create vivid pictures as we tread the 1000-year-old stones created by the hands of many willing craftsmen during the Angkorian Period (9th-15th C). It seems that while Europe was in the dark ages, Cambodians were reaching enlightenment. Over 5 million tonnes of stones was moved over 40 kilometres by elephant and human. Each intricate stone carved by hand and the sheer size of the temple would’ve consumed the lives of many for decades in order to finish it. A mote surrounds the temple and 12 massive buildings represent the 12 mythological mountains. Everything was built symmetrically from the centre and when Mr Thai put his compass in the central building, this was geographically true. It was truly amazing and I was pleased to have witnessed it before the multitude or tourist flood the gates later this afternoon.
We are visiting some more temples today and the night markets after dinner. I personally have been eating very plain food for the last couple of day as my stomach can’t take it anymore.
Or-Kun (thank you)