Siem Reap: Pretty but Gross

January 16, 2009 - 1:20 am No Comments

I woke up this morning feeling pretty lousy, with my sore throat joined by a headache and weakness. I really hope it’s not malaria or Dengue fever or something like that. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s aggravated by the disgusting air of Siem Reap.

I’m not at all a morning person, but I psyched myself up for sunrise at Angkor Wat, and it was worth it. Voy took us out there in the darkness. Walking to the wat, the moon was so bright that it cast a shadow in front of us. Not sure I’ve ever seen a moon shadow before.

A small crowd was already gathering in front of the wat, with a few photographers picking their spots for the best angle and holding their ground. Most of them didn’t have a tripod, so I was able to start knocking out pictures way before the sun came up. The sunrise was truly amazing.

Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Cold Dog

Angkor Wat, Rhesus Macaque

On the Ruins

Angkor Wat

From Angkor Wat, Voy took us for a ride way outside of town. Paved roads became dirt roads, souvenir stands disappeared. Working or chatting in front of their houses were the expressive, weathered faces of Cambodian mothers and fathers. Playing in the mud and riding bicycles were their cute and vibrant children. Walking alongside the road were toddlers with shirts but no pants. Makeshift houses of corrugated metal and straw. Fields of cows and water buffaloes. Lots of poverty, but with it, lots of natural beauty.

Family on a Bike

Coconuts on Bikes

And then there were the piles of burning trash. Seems like that’s what everyone does here. And I don’t think there’s a vehicle in the country that’s ever had an emissions check. The air isn’t quite as bad away from the city, but the lingering smell of burnt plastic and vehicle exhaust still lingers. And all the dust from trucks and cars and motorcycles zooming by on the dirt roads made things even worse.

It’s no surprise to me that the life expectancy in Cambodia is 59 years. These people are literally poisoning themselves. Emissions checks, mass transit, and organized garbage collection would go a long way in this country. But I guess being a third-world country means not having any of that stuff.

Shoveling Dirt

After driving away from the city for what seemed like hours, we turned off the main dirt road and onto a tiny dirt road. Thinking that this might be the place where Voy takes our money and hacks us to pieces, Doug was relieved to find a big “National Park” sign next to the road.

After a moderate hike through the jungle and over some rocks, we got to a nice, little waterfall called Kbal Spean. Nearby, workers burned piles of leaves that they had raked, filling the area with smoke.

Burning Leaves

Boulders on the Stung Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean Waterfall

On the way back into town, we stopped at a couple more wats and then the Land Mine Museum. Founded by mine-clearer named Aki Ra, donations to the museum go directly to children who have been injured by land mines. After watching a poorly made but nonetheless touching video about Aki Ra’s life and the kids he helps, I made a small donation.

Banteay Srei

Angkor Wat for Sale

Morbid Painting

Sandstone Columns at Banteay Samre?

Cambodian Girl and her Baby Brother at

Doug & Friends

I bought myself a surgical mask as a gag gift, but I probably should have worn it today. Breathing all of that grossness and bouncing around in the back of the tuk-tuk all day long has not made me feel any better.

Doug Shops for Pirated Software

For dinner, we went out for some Cambodian BBQ, which consisted of raw beef, chicken, crocodile, snake, and squid. A metal dome sits on top of hot coals, and you cook your own meal at the table. Was pretty good.

FCC Angkor

Graffiti in Angkor What

No Regrets!!

Before going to bed, I flipped on the TV in our room to see what was on in Cambodia. After flipping through a bunch of English language cable channels, I stopped at what appeared to be a Cambodian movie. A young guy wearing a red leather jacket was fighting some other less attractive dudes in an awfully well-lit pool hall. His stick-fighting was not quite kung fu-calibre, but it was good enough. In the next scene, the same guy is on a motorcycle with his girlfriend sitting behind him, and he’s challenging three other dudes with their girlfriends. When one of the girls jumps up and yells something, the race begins. The nauseating editing and sped-up footage imply that the race is very unpredictable and dangerous. The motorcycles ram each other and cut each other off, and one by one, the bad guys wipe out. For each wipe-out, the girlfriends are replaced by dummies, and camera holds on each crash long enough for you to see the dummies flopping around unnaturally as they fly off the motorcycles.

Satisfied, it’s now time for bed. We fly back to Bangkok tomorrow for an afternoon before catching our flight home later in the evening.

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