Siem Reap is cool. My time is almost up then onto Bangkok to sort visas and then Chang Mai and then the Middle Kingdom. Also Tristan has left me for some minor music festivals in Serbia and Prague and some lame band called Radiohead in Europe, so solo travelling from now on!

Siem Reap. Swank mixed with the poor. This place is very close to Angkor (5km) and effectively provides all services for the hordes of tourists visiting this place. Pretty nice, has a river flowing through it, an all important ‘Pub St’ and legions of NGOs. Met up with some nice people and managed to have dinner for a few nights on the street together with them.

Angkor. Many of you have been there before so I shall spare you from reliving everything in minute detail. The thing that really struck me was the sheer scale. Angkor Wat is simply the largest and most recognisable temple amongst the many scattered temples. It’s not my favourite, my personal preference being the Bayon. Very cool temple with dozens of large smiling stone faces everywhere. The ‘tomb raider’ (Ta Prohm) temple with its strangler vines and silk cotton trees growing right through the entire temple was neat too. In short, the stone temples are all that are left of the ancient Angkor civilisation, the temples usually being built at the centre of the capitals for the various kings. Their palaces and cities were made of wood and have now disappeared. There is a profusion of SLR cameras (no doubt bought with this place in mind specifically) aimed like sniper rifles at promising lintels, devas, steles, asparas, laterite protrusions and lingams. Ironically, what the place most immediately sparks is the depth of the devotion of those living in that age as well as their mastery of rice cultivation, that they would spend decades dragging rock from 30 km away and constructing gigantic monuments to their gods in order to chalk up some credits for the flip side. The place is truly to be savoured and I spent three days checking it all out, two on motodup and one on bicycle seeing the favourites one last time. One recovery day in there as well a 5am departure to capture the dawn breaking over Angkor Wat (of course it had to be cloudy that day) and conquering over 20 individual temples.

Cambodians are justifiably proud of Angkor, Angkor Wat is even emblazoned on the national flag. It is a point of national pride that is key to rebuilding their shattered country after the war years. On the downside, it can be a point of conflict between Cambodia and some surrounding countries, some of whom were under the sway of Angkor historically. For example the Preah Vihear temple dispute continues to bubble and is regularly in the news here.   

What I can say is that you can’t appreciate the place until you have been there and seen the incredible scope of the various complexes. It didn’t really stick until I had been driven for two days from temple to temple by motorbike, it’s BIG.

The patter. A typical dialogue goes a little something like this:

Urchin: Hallo Sir! You buy from me .. [insert – cold water, guide book, Coke, pineapple, bracelet, flute, t-shirt]?! Where you come from?

Yours truly: No, I [already have some water, Coke rots your teeth, you should be in school, excellent English, call me Dr Jones, I already have a t-shirt, only girls wear bracelets, she (point vaguely in some direction) offered it to me for [1/2,1/3,1/4] the price!]. Also, I’m from the moon.

Urchin: Why not?! OR You lie! OR Your mendacity knows no bounds.

Y.T.: Keep up the good work. [exit stage right]

Moral of the story is that this is a training ground for Cambodia’s future service industry workers. Their English is to a large extent, fairly good. The key is that they continue to go to school to read and write and also attend English schools (which is free for most I think).

The difficulty with giving. Cambodia strikes me as having the most beggars, cripples, homeless and orphans (not mutually exclusive) of all the countries I have visited so far. I have resisted virtually all the pitying cries, incessant wheedling and puppydog looks directed my way. Siem Reap has more NGOs dedicated towards orphanages, children’s hospitals, landmine victims and schools that you would have thought possible. Is it necessarily the hardest affected province in Cambodia? No, simply the one most often visited by Western tourists with soft hearts. Am I being hard by not deciding to give on the street be it a meal or money? I would argue that it is better to direct time and money directly to a charity where I know what the purpose and result of my action is. You have to think that for many of these charities the money may be ill-spent. There is a great organisation called Stay Another Day which has a list of organisations in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia where travellers can volunteer their time to assist the local populace. Alternatively simply rock up to a place (orphanage etc) and ask whether they can use any help (English teaching), then you know that the $/effort is going to the right place. Thanks to Tally for illuminating!

All Alone! Whether you like it or not, Alone is something you’ll be quite a lot. Dr Suess