|Friends 'til the end|
|Angkor lily pond|
|Bride and Groom riding in style.|
One thing that struck me about the place was the immense contrasts. It is amazing what these people managed to create 1,000 years ago with only hand tools, elephants and willpower. It is also a little bit sad at what a wreck of a place the country seems to be in these days. I suppose they haven't recovered from the days of the Khmer Rouge, when an estimated quarter of the population was murdered by the communists. Now the almighty dollar has won the day. It is the unofficial currency, dispensed from the cash machines and used in all transactions. Even government fees are paid in dollars.
The sad part is how desperate people seem to be to squeeze a few of those dollars out of each and every tourist. "Hey, sir! Tuk tuk!" "Mister, Cambodian lady for you?" "Sir, cold water!? Pineapple juice! You want something eat?!" "Postcard, sir? You buy postcard?" You can hardly go anywhere without being constantly hounded, even by the officials at the temples themselves who try to sell you their guide services when none of their colleagues are listening. "Tomorrow is my day off! I take you to good temple! Beautiful waterfall!"
The worst was the kids who followed me along on their bicycles, pretending to practice their English on me for a while before hitting me up for money directly. "I have no money to go to school!" they'd plead. I offered one kid a dollar if he'd show me how to get to the temple I was looking for. He happily agreed, then took the dollar and peddled off quickly in the opposite direction. I tried again later with another kid, who led me down a wrong path into the middle of nowhere. "Temple there!" he pointed to a bend in the road. "I ask you money now." I made the mistake of getting played a second time. As soon as I gave him the dollar, he was gone. No temple around the bend.
Luckily my faith in human nature was restored when my rental bike broke down. Some other local kids came to my rescue, taking me to their little hut where they had the proper tools to fix it. I offered to buy them some soft drinks from a vendor nearby. "No, no, that's ok!" they replied.
So there you go, the good and the bad. On my fourth day I rode my bike through the countryside and got to see how most people really seem to live there. I don't think it's changed much in those 1,000 years. As for Siem Reap, I was glad to get out of there and head back to Thailand. To end, here's a short video I shot of the traffic there in Siem Reap. Controlled chaos...