Updated: Nov 12, 2018
This is it. This is the real reason I came to Cambodia. Ever since coming to Angkor Wat several times in the mid-1960’s, I have hankered to come back. I was a young kid, but it so impressed itself on my physche that I’ve never been able to shift it. I’ve seen many magnificent things around the world, but Angkor stands head and shoulders above them all. It was the scale, the skill, the grandeur & above all the atmosphere. It’s history seeped into my bones and my imagination went into overdrive imagining the original inhabitants still roaming the corridors & climbing the oh so steep steps. I partly dread tomorrow because since I was last here, Angkor has seen some tumultuous times & although it is being restored to former glory, it would be a crying shame, although probably inevitable, if it has been touristified... In 1966, we crossed the moat on elephant back & the magnificent beasts walked down the main promenade & deposited us at the front entrance, as it were. We were free to roam at will, high & low, with no signs or wardens to stop us. Tomorrow I am dreading the barriers, the signs, the wardens & above all the tourists...
Before we left the city, I wandered out to try & find someone to repair my boot; no success, but the food markets were fascinating, as were the fruit markets we saw later in Siem Reap - colours & flavours & smells! We left Phnom Penh & headed out with slight trepidation because the roads had been pretty rough coming in from Battambang. However, with the exception of one small stretch, the road was excellent. The only issue was the continual bombardment of SUVs overtaking at speed & forcing us to the side of the road. But you get used to it, as long as you keep your eyes open. I spent most of the journey pondering how the Cambodians ever got into the position of being forced into servitude and then began to be exterminated. How does any society allow itself to be so brutally treated. It is obviously far too easy. There are so many countries around the world where the citizens get so little say & are treated abominably. I spent most of my growing years in poor, developing countries, many of which are still poor, developing countries. And yet in all of them, there is huge wealth concentrated in the hands of just a few (and also foreign investors). In western democracies we count ourselves lucky because we generally have a reasonably large & affluent middle class. Can I use that term any more? What does it even mean any more? What I mean to say is we have large tracts of our populations that are reasonably well off financially. But it doesn’t get away from the fact that most of our wealth is also in the hands of very few people. And this is where all the problems start. People with far too much money, no regard for anyone else & obviously delusions of grandeur or even worse. So how do we stop the cycle? Do we put a cap on any individual wealth? Do we redistribute so we have no poor at all? Far greater minds than mine have tried to resolve this one, but my point is that nowhere is it more obvious, and impactful, than a country like Cambodia.
I was in Cambodia as a child because my father worked for an international tobacco company. Until I was about 16 I thought nothing of it, because I smoked & got free cigarettes when I was at home. As I grew older I gradually became more & more disenchanted with not only smoking, but also the whole business. Arguments with my father usually started with me saying that there are two ways to travel around the world killing people & the other is to be in the military. To be fair, my father was only in it for the pension (& lifestyle). He only started smoking because he was advised that it was best to at his interview(!) & he stopped the day he retired (early at 55). But the point is, the large multinational he worked for bled a huge amount of wealth out of the countries we were in. And not just Cambodia: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zairean, Kenya, Zimbabwe... These are just some of the ones we went to, but there are many many more. Tobacco is a growth business, not in the West, but in the poorest countries in the world. That is just wrong & it’s just part of the huge problems they face. Human society in general lacks humanitarianism. We chase the almighty dollar, to coin a phrase. Why do we not chase good lifestyles for everyone?
A straight somewhat boring (albeit with a few hairy surprises) road can do things to your mind; I obviously think too much! But it’s hard not to ponder why all the people we see along the way are dirt poor, when they actually don’t have to be because they are surrounded by wealth. No, I’m not a Marxist, but I do think people are inherently greedy & self-interested. Talking of self-interest, rumbling tummies had us pull over at a fabulous spot about half way along the route. It’s a local restaurant with an added extension at the back, built out into the Tonle Sap (very large river!). Wooden walkways run out & around in a large square & off them are built little individual rooms on stilts, large enough for a table to seat about 6; open to the breeze with straw roofs. You find your table & they come & take your order. The food was delicious & then, joy of joys, they also provide a couple of hammocks to swing gently in while digesting your meal. It was a surprise & delight. It is obviously frequented by the local constabulary as we saw quite a number of posh cars, only identified by the word ‘police’ written on the bottom of the number plate. For a local policeman to be able to afford the type of car they were driving, given the relative values, they would have to be earning what the chief commissioner probably earns! Not sure they get it all through salaries...
I also got my boot glued back together along the way. A fabulous lady who spoke not a word of English applied wads of glue from a big pot, got me to hold it open to the sunlight for a couple of minutes (lots of gesticulating & misunderstandings before we got to that point!) & then pushed the pieces together. She would not take a cent (or Rial) for it... (she is the subject of the photo at the top of the blog) We also stopped at a Buddha carving area & spoke to a master carver with excellent English. They carve freehand from massive blocks of mud stone - well that’s what he called it. The skill is astonishing & about the only time I wished I wasn’t on a motorbike! Now here’s a conundrum for you. They also carve a rather phallic looking shape, no let’s be clear, it is a phallus. But the question is, why do they mount it on the base that they do? You’ll see the issue if you find the image in the gallery :) So, best answers in comments please & I might just find an odd prize for someone whose comment tickles me!
Arriving in Siem Reap, we did our usual Booking.com search, found what looked like a good hotel for a good price, went to have a look & then booked it at reception because they couldn’t beat the price we’d got! So we are in a beautiful resort hotel for less than NZ$40 each per night. We then proceeded to eat at a street side stall for NZ$10 for two plates of great food & two beers! You can see the pictures in the gallery - RiKsRovingRant Gallery live now.
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