Discovering the land and waters of Cambodia
Sangkat Sala Kamreuk, Cambodia
Today turns out to be a lot of driving. How much you ask? Probably about 4.5hrs total. So a lot. Yet that gives us an opportunity to see some things off the beaten path. We leave Angkor Wat, the reason for being here, for what it is and set course at 8am for Kampong Khleang. It's a village just off the large lake of Tonle Sap. We work through two villages to get to it: One that's built on stilts, and one that's floating. Neither has both, and most tourists stop at one of the first two. The third village, Kampong Khleang, does have both houses on stilts and floating houses, so we're doubly blessed (anybody else get the Meatloaf reference there?).
People mostly live from the land (rice, peanuts and a few other crops) or the water (freshwater fish). The water level varies about 40ft every year, depending on whether it is the end of the dry or the rainy season. Therefore, houses are either built on tall stilts, or floating. We arrive at about 9:30 and have the entire village to ourselves, not counting the two (or was that three?) other tourists that had the same brilliant foresight as we did. It is beautiful and spectacular. Particularly interesting are the heaps of fishermen nets as well as the foreign-looking improvised irrigation systems that we have some pictures of. Check it out.
We gracefully move between luxury and poverty. Our driver-and-guide-in-one drives a Lexus RX. It is 16 years old, imported from America, and he paid about $20k for it. There is a business in this somewhere, I just know it… And there are a lot of RX's on the road. Our boat driver, however, drives an old rickety boat that would not be allowed near the shores of our own lake Oconee. Our captain couldn't have been more than 14 years old. His younger brother tries to give us a shoulder massage on the way back in. I passed, Liz humored him, and it is quite hilarious to see him give what understands to be a massage.
Next is Beng Melea, the temple made famous by (amongst others) Angelina Jolie's Tomb Radar. This temple was built by same architect as Angkor Wat. Although there are many architectural similarities, two key differences are that Angor Wat is much larger (although Beng Melea is still plenty big) and Angkor Wat was restored, and Beng Melea is not. Built in 962, the temple has been overtaken and destroyed by parasite trees over the past 1,000 or so years. There are many temples like this. It would probably take 30 years to restore it, much like a large puzzle with scientists and archeologists figuring out what fits where. The effort for this temple was not prioritized high enough in the backlog for our SE Asian sprint.
A little bit about our hosting nation. Cambodia's economic mobility is limited. Although education through high school is available and free, the realistic ability to (be supported to) do something other than what the family does is slim to none. If your farther is a woodworker, you will most likely grow up to be one, too. For that reason, there is little parental support for people to get much further past basic reading and writing, because, after all, what's the point? Why learn math and languages when you are so clearly destined to be a silk weaver? Far too few break this cycle.
Some near the Thai border are impacted so hard by economic hardship that they illegally cross into Thailand every day, with children in tow, crossing dangerous old minefields that have not been fully cleared.
Final tidbit: The Prime minister has decided he is divine and thus must rule until he dies. Changed the law. He is 67, and may have a long life (he had a vision that said he would be 120), though the average age is more like 50 for men in Cambodia. We hope the Donald is not paying attention to supreme leader thinking outside of America. Fortunately (or not), we have little to be afraid of there.
Tomorrow's Angkor Wat and surrounding temples. Pickup time is 4:45, for sunrise at the temple. Should have brought my tripod if I'm going to be getting up that early…