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  • Day18

    Siem Reap

    October 11 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 82 °F

    We said goodbye to Mary. She flew home from Ho Chi Minh City and is now back to work as Luna's service human. Don, Nancy, and I boarded a flight to Siem Reap, a seedy tourist town adjacent to the Angkor complex of temples and cities.

    The area was the center of the Khmer civilization from 900 to 1500ce. We had been comped a few Urban Adventures tours due to a snafu with our Intrepid Tours trip to India last year. We signed up for an eight hour group trip through the complex for the day after our arrival. Turned out we were the only people in the group as it is slow season in Cambodia. Vantha was our guide and Hua our driver. They had worked together for over ten years, the last three with Urban Adventures. Vantha was born in Siem Reap. He lamented some of the changes he'd seen over the past several decades as tourism has boomed in the area. Environmental degradation, extremely busy sites, and rising land costs were among his concerns. He was, however, pleased with he opportunities that this brought to the region. He shared that Siem Reap was a French colonial bastardization of Siam Re'ad which means 'defeat of the Siamese'. He expanded that criticism to the name Cambodia which is from Kampuchea

    Siem Reap is a prime example of a city overrun by tourism. Bars, KTVs, massage parlors, and western restaurants everywhere. In two short blocks Don was approached by 4 different tuk tuk drivers offering to take him to various women. Augie said that as he and his friend were walking together last November the number was 40 or 50 such offers in the course of an evening.

    We did manage to find several restaurants run by local women during our stay. I also tracked down two legit massage businesses. Nancy and Don had foot massages, I got the Khmer style full body. We also toured a school for local artisans working in silk, painting, sculpture, and metal work. 'Bad with the good' is what our tour guide said.

    We toured the area in the air conditioned luxury of an eight person passenger van. Our tour took us to three palaces; Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and the unrestored Bantaey Kdei. It has been estimated that Angkor Thom was the largest city in the world at its height in the 13th century. One million people. This was estimated through recent LIDAR flyovers of the area.

    As we toured I couldn't help but imagine what this place might have been like when Pop visited here in 1969. Even the most restored temples were overgrown with jungle. Must have been quite an experience to fly into a dirt landing and have no one around as he climbed through the ruins. As it was we were at times inundated by tour groups of over 100. Lots of selfies with the Buddhas at these sites. At one point Don mused, "I wonder how many photographs have been taken since the dawn of cell phones and digital photography?"

    I write this from the Plaza Premium lounge at the airport. One of the nicest we've visited, but not enough to lure me back to Siem Reap.
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