Angkor Notes Continued

I’m sitting in the Siem Reap airport feeling exhausted after my week of adventuring in the temples of Angkor. I cannot possibly hope to chronicle each of my many experiences here, so I’ll resort, once again, to the point form highlight/random thought list.

– At the top of the list would have to be my trip to Bakong temple in the Roluos group South East of Siem Reap. Starting early, I go there just as the light was starting to reveal the site. But, the temple itself wasn’t the highlight.

The first highlight was the kids at the school just outside the temple. At first they were shy, but then they realized I could be a source of amusement for them. When I took photos of a couple of them, they all crowded in to try to get in front of my lens. They were always happy to point out their own images on my little view screen once I showed them the photos I had taken. I think, also, they were content just to get away from their sweeping and cleaning duties for a moment before they had to sit through class for the rest of the day.

I wandered the temple for a little while watching some local kids shake nuts from a tree then headed back towards the entrance when I saw the kids were in recess. I thought I might go pester them again. Instead, as I glanced at the monastery to the North of the entrance, I saw an orange-clad monk practically posing in the doorway.

When I excitedly approached with camera in hand, he didn’t move from his perfect spot and let me take the photo. I was then invited to go inside the pagoda. An older monk and a former monk guided me inside. The former monk spoke good English and served as my guide.

As I was looking around the pagoda, I must have mentioned that I had been an English teacher in Japan last year because I was promptly ushered into the classroom where and English lesson was just finishing up. After talking with a few of the students, I ended up in front of the blackboard (or in this case, blue board) where we practiced pronunciation together – something I think a lot of folks in Cambodia could use (I’ll probably never know why they don’t pronounce the ‘ch’ at the end of lunch).

After class, I was free to roam the grounds of the monastery and snap some photos along the way.

When finished, I had taken some of my favourite photos of the trip so far and possibly one of my favourite photos I have ever taken. I look forward to sharing them with you.

– Other more bite-sized memories: I talked with a bunch of different monks at Angkor Wat and yesterday, I was invited into the room of one monk at a pagoda in Siem Reap. They offered me lunch, but they needed it a lot more than I did. Monk life doesn’t sound especially easy. And one of them was telling me that the corruption that runs rampant through Cambodian society even pervades the monasteries. I couldn’t quite figure out how it manifested itself there as the language barrier got in the way, but it was disconcerting to hear that no place seems to be immune to corruption in this country.

– A couple days ago, I visited Beng Mealea, an 80km ride from Siem Reap. This temple has been overrun by the surrounding forest. It makes Ta Prohm look like a well-manicured garden. You might as well don a fedora and a bullwhip out there while a John Williams score plays in the background – Indiana Jones would have had a good time here.

Climbing around fallen towers and gazing at the vines chocking the stones was fantastic. The tourist buses tend not to come out this far (yet), so, for much of the time, I had the place to myself. If I could insert a written version of the Indiana Jones theme song, I would do it here. Just imagine it okay?

The only drawback to going to Beng Mealea for me was that I had to haggle like a pro with my driver to get a fair price out there. It took me more than 25 minutes and the infamous walking-away-because-you haven’t-met-my-final-price move before he agreed to my price. Ugh.

I hate bargaining, but I think he had been getting more than he fair share the whole week, so I decided to put my foot down this time. I know bargaining is supposed to be a cultural glue – it bonds people by forcing them into communication – but I ended up irritated by the whole affair and I think my driver was pissed that he didn’t get more cash off me. I don’t think any bonds were strengthened there.

– A few days ago, I had a free afternoon, so I decided to go out to the lake South of town to see the floating village there. After bobbing over some terrible roads, it was nice to bob in the water as my boat driver took us out to the largest lake in Cambodia.

Along the way, the river is lined with the floating houses of a group of villagers who make their homes here. Floating hospitals, shops, karaoke bars, billiard halls, schools, and my personal favourite, a floating basketball court, all peacefully sat along the river.

I was treated to a gorgeous sunset as we entered the lake. I was able to watch it from a floating museum/restaurant where kids would paddle up to its sides in boats or large buckets to pose and joke around for the camera for money. I guess when you live on a lake and have little but a big bucket and a paddle, you have to do what you have to do.

– Landmines are the most ridiculously shortsighted weapon ever devised. So you’re in a battle and you want to blow up some people and you plant some mines. Well, if you happen to win that battle, you still lose because now the territory you’ve won is a death trap. That’s thinkin’.

– For those out there in the world thinking of making the trip to Angkor, I would do it sooner than later. The tourist industry is just going to pick up here. It’s one of the few things Cambodia has had going for it for some time, so I suspect that the government is going to keep pushing it to generate as much revenue as it can. That means temples will be choked with tourists and roads clogged with buses. As rewarding as the temples are even with the current tourist presence, they would have been just about perfect without the throngs to dodge. So get going. Now!

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