Had a bit of a lie-in this morning - my arms ache from all the painting :0) - and then headed out to the Cambodian Landmine Museum near Banteay Srei. Craig and I visited the old facility in 2006 and the new last November, but Laura had never been so we jumped in a tuk-tuk (we have a fabulous driver called Sara who really looks after us) and took the 1-hour journey out to the museum.
The centre was established by a local man called Aki Ra, who was a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge (against his will). He was involved in laying landmines, but vowed to himself that as soon as he was able he would rid his country of them. Years later he is the most successful landmine deactivator in Cambodia. Not only does he have a team deployed to clear landmines, and has established a museum and workshops to educate people about the dangers of landmines, but he also looks after more than 20 children who have been disabled by landmines in some way, either having lost arms, legs, or their sight. He is truly a local hero and to my delight he was there today (he had been away on my previous two visits) so it was great to be able to meet him at last.
On the way back into Siem Reap we stopped at Wat Thmey where there is a memorial stupa for those killed during the Khmer Rouge regime (pictures in 'Siem Reap' album). While we were there we met a few of the monks, including the one pictured above who was happily enjoying his cigarette (made from tobacco in a rolled up leaf!). We're sure there was something else in there, as he seemed very happy ;0)
Their English was excellent and we spoke to them for about half an hour. They were very interested in what we are doing here. Women must never touch a monk, even his robes, or hand anything directly to them, and I have always been slightly hesitant about speaking to them, but they were very welcoming, and laughed and joked with us. At the end of the day, just young men following a different way of life, but I still made sure I greeted them properly though, with the sompeah (hands pressed together in front of your face) and 'JOOM-reap-soo-a' which is the most polite way to say 'hello'.
We spent the afternoon at Phil & Conchetta's house (the only one in Siem Reap with a pool!) and chatted about the world and everything over a few beers. There are a few photos in the 'Siem Reap' album which show us paddling in the pool. The people on the left of the full photo are all fire-fighters from California who have established their own NGO here and are out here for 2 weeks implementing certain projects, including one involving Aki Ra and the Landmine Museum.
We left around 7pm and had dinner at The Red Piano where I bumped into a girl who works at the Angkor National Museum. As soon as she saw me she came rushing over with a huge smile on her face. She works in the museum shop during the day, as a waitress at The Red Piano in the evening, and then fits her studies in-between!