We set the clock today for 7.30 and slowly got going. Simon thought we had arranged to meet the moto driver at 9am. I thought it was 8.30. (I of course was right!)
We set off for the Bayon Temple first. It covers an area of 3km square and the main temple is at the exact centre of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. The temple has a collection of 54 towers with “216 enigmatic coldly smiling huge faces”. It is an amazing sight and we spend ages wandering around, taking photos and sucking up the atmosphere of the place. Inside there are many small Buddha images and nuns give us incense to offer to the Buddha.
The surrounding grounds are covered in huge blocks of stone. Extensive restoration work was being carried out but the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the paperwork, leaving the world’s greatest jigsaw puzzle for the experts.
From Bayon we get back into our moto and head off to Ta Prohm. It is undoubtedly the most atmospheric of the temples in the region and an example of the massive forces of the jungle. Much of the temple has been completely over run by trees and roots and the temple was especially made famous by Lara Croft. I’m so excited about going here; I can remember looking at photos of it when we were planning our route and Cambodia seemed then to be just about the most exciting and exotic foreign place I could imagine.
Walking up to the temple is an adventure, the tree roots are massive and have completely dislodged the enormous stone work of the temple. Eventually we find the “Tomb Raider” tree and it is absolutely awesome as I expected, very beautiful and a really magical experience visiting it. Definitely one of the most amazing things we have seen on our trip and I absolutely loved it.
We stop off on the way back to The Jasmine Guesthouse and have some spring rolls for lunch. We had planned to spend the afternoon quietly but Simon comes down to the room and tells me he has been chatting to an English girl called Lou who is presently working as a volunteer at an orphanage just out of town. He asks if we can go along this afternoon and visit and she agrees that will be fine.
We all shower and the kids sort out their small collection of toys and games. We stop off at the garage on the way and buy a big tub of sweets and set off in the moto. The orphanage is a small opened sided building made of bamboo and rattan. Lou tells us it houses around 45 children and they live, sleep and have their school lessons all in one room. When we arrive they are playing the branch game which basically involves one child from each team trying to grab a branch from the ground without his opponent touching him.
Ali and Maisie join in and are absolutely brilliant, everyone is laughing at their efforts and Ali gains a bit of respect when he beats his opponent first time. The children range from the ages of around one to young teenagers and are fairly well dressed although a bit grubby! We join in playing a circle game and they obviously find it really hilarious as I’m running around with them. It’s good to spend time playing with them and Lou tells us that is her role in the afternoons. In the mornings they have lessons including English. The classroom is sparsely decorated with the letters of the alphabet, a world map, photographs of the children and the names of the colours.
The children give us a bit of a demonstration of their English and then Ali plays them a few songs on his guitar which they seem to like! Maisie gives out the sweets that we have brought and I’m touched by their good manners. Definitely very different to the children that we came across whilst in India! The visit to the orphanage has been a humbling experience for us all. The kids are on the whole boisterous and smiley and absolutely touched our hearts with their wide grins and sense of fun. We left Lou with the small bag of games and toys we had sorted out and before we went Simon and Ali joined in a rowdy game of Frisbee. At first the children didn’t know what to do but they caught on fast and all had a great time.
As we leave one of the older boys grabs my hand and holds it all the way to the moto. He asks me to come back tomorrow and it’s difficult to prise my hand away from his grip. His little determined face reminds me of my own lovely Ali and leaving them behind is so hard. All I wanted to do was scoop them up and take them home.
In the evening Lou joins us and we all go out for dinner, she explains that she is spending a month in Cambodia working as a volunteer. In the mornings she works with street children on a project called Green Gecko. The children’s parents have to agree to send their kids to school in the mornings where they will be taught English amongst other things to increase their chances of employment when they grow up. In return the parents are provided with a small cart from which they can sell street food etc. The condition of this is that the children must not be sent out onto the streets to beg.
Today has been an interesting and thought provoking day. Simon and I have long talked about working as volunteers abroad at some point in the future and it has strengthened our resolve. We have our meal and watch the street kids around us. Lou tells us a bit about some of the kids including her favourite, a child who was beaten by his father recently and told he must make 20 dollars a night begging. It’s hard to hear.
We make our way back to The Jasmine its 11.30 and we’re all quite tired we will have a lie in tomorrow and plan our next few days as we make our way to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.