Siem Reap

We flew into Siem Reap late on the 27th. Everything was dark. From above, no lights were visible. It took a long time to go through immigration, old school: bored men in shirtsleeves at a long wooden desk processing visa applications. Our midnight drive to our hotel passed through a dark land, wet, passing families on motorcycles, teens relaxing at food stalls, washed-out roads.
The next morning I woke up early to the sound of women outside our room sweeping water to the (presumed) drain. We went to the old city & temples of Angkor, the historic capital of Kampuchea from the 10th-14th C. We toured the Buddha, Brahma, and Visnu temples of Bayon, Ta Promh, and of course Angkor Wat. It was amazing to interact with the deities, many of them set up by enterprising locals as small shrines. They (or local monks?) clothe the deities and provide incense and a prayer mat, and we provide the donation. I was awed to offer my pranam to the 12-foot-tall Visnu of Angkor Wat, originally the main deity of the temple but since relegated to a side wing when the temple was changed to a Buddha temple by the king’s successor. But the swarm of people around me then seriously detracted from the experience.
At these places I felt enveloped in jungle, in the density of life: tall trees, thick vines, dragonflies, butterflies, loud rainfrogs, monkeys, dogs. The city, too, is full of life, though decidedly less pristine in appearance.
Outside Angkor Wat (and everywhere!) there are street vendors: women selling scarves, clothes, water, trinkets; kids with postcards and bracelets chasing down visitors, often for a good distance and very, very persistently. In and around the city there are more beggars, often young kids but also men with land mine wounds, women with infants. It’s an odd contrast: coming from a (for Cambodia) nice hotel or plush restaurant to a tour, meeting, or even walk where one is constantly assailed because one is not from here. (I’ve even been informed I was Chinese!)
Today we went to the floating village, a community of houseboats and houses on stilts along… some river here. People in little scows come up to the side of (moving) tour boats to beg, or even leap into the boat to sell drinks! We stopped by a Catholic school on the river, which hosts about 80 kids of Vietnamese migrant families. Though some have been here for generations, they cannot get citizenship (most do not speak Khmei!) and have very few doors open to them.
In the afternoon we visited Angkor Hospital for Children, a very impressive facility. Do check it out online.
Tomorrow we visit a Jesuit school, then on to Battambong on the Thai border for several days.


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