Sunday, March 19, 2006

Siem Reap III

phew... it's so hot & sweaty here ...
I've just spent a further 2 days exploring - cycling & walking - the temples. Perhaps unbelievably, I've cycled nearly 90km around the temple complex & I've walked countless km at each of the temples, and taken god-knows-how-many photos (in fact, my 1Gb card failed, due to overuse I'm sure. Luckily a fellow in a camera shop had the right software to recover the photos & burn them onto a CD, for a small fee).

Admittedly I am one of them, but there seem to be unbelievable numbers of tourists tromping around the temples. It is possible to avoid the crowds to a good extent by timing things differently (i.e to not be at the expected place to view sunset or sunrise, or to continue visiting places at lunchtime), and it's often rewarding to wander off the well-beaten track eg Preah Palilay was virtually deserted compared to the Terrace of the Leper King next door, which was covered with tourists - the image was like a horde of white soldier ants killing their prey.

Amusing to stop at a temple-side restaurant for a meal yesterday - I was presented with a menu; when I said the prices were ridiculous, they presented me with an alternative, cheaper priced menu (same meals listed). When I said it was still too expensive, thw young woman said she'd give me a 'discounted' price. This was $1.50 for some fried rice, down from $2.50, and a Coke for 0.50 cents (= 2,000 R; 'reduced'from 3,500R on the first menu).

Typically, Coke, Fanta etc are about 1,500R; a 950 ml bottle of water (in the cheap plastic bottles, which seems sometimes to taint the water a little) costs about 500R. If you're assertive about it, you can usually buy it for this price even at the temples. (By assertive, I do mean also being a little light-hearted & maybe humorous about it ... it's hardly worth getting het up about 13 cents - and you'll need more water to cool back down!). You can usually eat well at a restaurant for about $6.00, including drinks.

Last night I went to the Khmer Kitchen Restaurant (I preferred the Arun, as there were far fewer other tourists there). It was pretty tasty - I had the Amoc chicken (like chicken curry) & rice, and a few drinks, and finished with a milk coffee & sugar - the good-old tinned condensed milk was added to the coffee. So far, zero ill effects from anything I've eaten or drunk.

I've just started reading Voices from S-21: Terror & history in Pol Pot's secret prison by David Chandler - I feel I should try & understand a little about what happened during those years. It seems so hard to put together the horror & barbarism of this with the apparent sweetness & openness of the Cambodian people that you meet. It's extraordinary how many people smile & say 'hello' as you cycle by or stop to buy a drink ... I'm struck by how, for the first time in years (well, to be honest, it's never much happened), young women will smile, or even seem to flirt a little - such a delight - I can see this as one reason why so many of the expats here like the place. But I can't quite put this all together .... have they always been like this? is it some sort of reaction to the horrors that've occurred? Where did the savagery come from ?? Something to chew over .... On the other hand, maybe that's just daft. I suspect that, given the circumstances, savagery can emerge from any group of people, anywhere ...

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Hi David, I read your India journal when you were there, and I've just stumbled on this one (via a thorntree post).

I rode in Cambodia a couple of years ago, and also found it hard to reconcile the friendliness and gentle nature of Cambodians with their past. But hang around long enough and you'll witness smiley people turning into monsters. They really do have another side that you don't often see. My mother used to counsel Cambodian refugees in western Sydney, and told stories of how horrible they could be to each other, even their own family members.

But yes, to a traveller passing through, they are delightful.