We set the alarm for 6.30 and after a quick bowl of cornflakes each jump in our moto for the ride to Angkor Wat. It is the largest religious building in the world and was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. We have all been looking forward to our visit, although the kids are more excited about the Tomb Raider temples of Ta Prohm.
We get our passes and are pleased to see we don’t have to pay for Maisie, this saves us 40 dollars. We have decided to get a 3 day pass as it so hot and take it easy around the temples. The drive up to Angkor is a beautiful one and the temple itself is surrounded by a moat and huge expanses of somewhat dried up looking grass. As we near the driveway there are lots of small kids selling hats, postcards and drinks and they run after us asking that we buy something.
We make the long walk up the drive in the scorching sun, its only 8.30am and we’re glad we didn’t leave our visit until later in the day. As we enter through the gate the massive temple is in front of us. It has been described as the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of inspiration and national pride for all Khmers after their years of terror and trauma. It is quite a fantastic sight and amazingly and luckily wasn’t damaged by the American bombing campaign or the Khmer Rouge. (KR)
We climb the steepest steps I have ever climbed! Ali and I cling on like limpets as it’s high as well as steep and I try not to think about how we will get down! As we enter the inner rooms of the temple there are Buddhist sculptures and the walls are intricately carved demonstrating the life of the great Angkorian King Suryavarman II. We take lots of photos and wander around for a couple of hours before we get too hot.
We get back to our moto and ask the driver to take us to the Landmine Museum. The founder of the museum was a Khmer Rouge fighter as a child and helped lay thousands of landmines. Both his parents were killed by the KR and he was captured by the invading Vietnamese aged 13 and given the choice of fighting against the KR or death. He chose to fight and subsequently has spent his life since removing mines. (It is estimated there are still between 3 and 6 million mines in Cambodia laid by various fighting forces)
The museum is free and very interesting; a young fella called Pai guides us around. He lost his leg aged 10 and the same landmine killed his brother. There are at least half a
dozen young people with amputated limbs at the museum and it’s a moving experience listening to Pai’s story. Most of the mines are very small and innocuous looking but the sheer numbers of them piled all around make you realise what a horrible weapon they are.
From the Landmine museum we head to the local hospital. We have seen a sign at the Jasmine Guesthouse urging visitors to donate blood which is in very short supply due to such high rates of HIV infection in the population. There is a sign at the hospital entrance saying “Urgent blood donation needed due to epidemic of Haemorrhagic Dengue Fever”- scary. It seems a small thing to do and won’t cost us anything. Although we left a 15 dollar donation at the Landmine Museum it did seem a bit inadequate when you consider the cost of clearing the mines from Cambodia.
I’m really scared of giving blood and when it comes to it they won’t take my blood anyway which is partially a relief and partially a disappointment. They take Simon’s though and he said it hurt much more than when he donates blood at home. That done and he gets a packet of biscuits, a sticker, a coke and a t-shirt for his trouble. We all share the biscuits and leave the t-shirt behind. We have enough to carry!
We get back and the kids write a newspaper article about the problems in Cambodia. They both work hard and produce some really good work. We spend the afternoon quietly and go out for dinner in the evening to The Khmer Kitchen, the food is fantastic. A little bit like Thai food but simpler tasting. We have sticky rice, morning glories (vegetables) a chicken Khmer curry and a sort of potato and beef layered pie.
We watch the telly when we get back. All the stuff we had read and seen in the past few days is in some ways very overwhelming and miserable and like the kids I feel we need some time to absorb it all. A break from our own thoughts whilst watching a documentary about sharks is exactly what we need. Simon points out that we have got more TV channels here than anywhere else we have stayed on our trip. Not bad for a 3 quid room!