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Cambodia: Light, Shadows and a Layer of Smog

a travel blog by TwoSouls

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The Temples of Angkor and The Killing Fields

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Based on the word from the backpacker streets, visiting Cambodia is something that you either love or hate. After spending 5 days there, we can see why so many people fall into that category... there is much to love if you can overlook the tough realities of this country. In one city, you've got the amazing temples of Angkor and in another, there are numerous monuments honoring the million of people killed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's. All around and in between is a struggle with poverty, pollution, and public health. A wave of emotions...

The ride to Siem Reap was bumpy. Like REALLY bumpy. This is the main road into the country mind you and it was a mess. We made a bit of a stink at the border trying to find an affordable option into Siem Reap - an employee at the travel agency and a police officer ended up following us up the road as we made our way to the REAL bus station to find a cheap taxi. After a debate on the rules put in place by the Tourist Department, we were able to get a taxi for $30 (down from a ridiculous $60 that we would have had to pay at the travel agency), but were forced to have an escort... beyond the whole money scam, they ended up doing what they could to make sure we were safely deliverd to Siem Reap, so it all worked out well. Phew.

Siem Reap is home to the Temples of Angkor, over one thousand structures build from the 9th to the 15th century A.D. It is impossible to see all of these in 1 day, but we decided to hit the highlights with a tour guide from the guesthouse. We were templed-out and dripping with sweat by late afternoon, so we hiked to the top of one last temple to enjoy the setting sun before calling it a day. These temples are amazing - most impressive being Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Preah Khan and Phnom Bakheng - and it is easy to see why this is ranked as one of the marvels of the Middle Age. Just as with Borobudor, it is hard to describe the feeling that fills you when amist these ancient temples. A stillness follows you through the windy hallways and up and down the steep, crumbling steps. The smell of the stone and dust provoke images of those that carved each stone by hand so long ago. To me, these temples are a place for renewal... a place for forgiveness... and a reminder that there is much to have faith in.

In between visits to the temples, we had the pleasure of visiting with the local children while they hung on our pant legs and tried to sell books and trinkets. In the photo above, I got caught having to buy one thing from each little girl - they are all so precious and well-rehearsed (they will recite the basic US political statistics for you if you promise to buy a bracelet). By the last round of temple stops, the newness of the children's pleas had worn off and it became somewhat sad to see these kids begging for an American $1... how much of it is an act, we'll never know, but it can't be easy for them at 4 years old. So we bought a few little souvenirs and hoped that it would help.

After a few days in Siem Reap, we headed to the capital, Phnom Phen. It was there that we visited The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Museum, stationed at the infamous Security Prison 21. There are no words to describe the atrocities that occured at these locations and how they have shaped the environment in Cambodia today. When we arrived at the Killing Fields, there wasn't much to see initially, but in reading each sign erected in a specific spot beyond the gate, we learned where the prisoners arrived, where they were sorted and where they were executed and buried in mass graves. I don't want to go into too much dark detail and I doubt the photos can do any justice, but it was an experience that brought up much sadness and prayer for both of us. I prayed for their souls, that they be set free. I prayed for those that survived, that their wounds are healed and their futures bright. I prayed for the lessons learned, that history never repeat itself. Finally, I prayed for compassion, that people treat others with love and respect.

We hit the National Museum for a couple of hours and made many loops around Phnom Phen to try to capture the sights. The poverty is tough to swallow, as there are many mothers with newborns on the streets and a lot of handicap men and women hoping to make a life for themselves. But there is also beauty and a sense of pride that outdoes most nations to the west. There is hope in the hundreds of young monks collecting alms on the streets. There is hope in the numerous social programs set up to help educate the locals, create sustainable resources and get help for those that need it most. There is hope. We left Cambodia with a sense of awe and a slight sense of relief. It's not an easy stop... it forces you to think about your luxuries and your faith. We feel fortunate that we made the effort to get there and will look for ways that we might be able to help the underpriviledged there from afar.

Humble thoughts...

permalink written by  TwoSouls on May 10, 2008 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Cambodia: Light, Shadows and a Layer of Smog
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We are going to explore the unknown and there's no turning back now. Why explore? Here are a few reasons why we start on this journey...

- To breathe deeply, appreciate the moment and SLOW DOWN
- To let go of our fears
- To rebel… prove that we can live outside the system
- To challenge...

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