January 29, 2015
My last day in Cambodia. I breakfast at the hotel and take a quick walk along the Siem Reap River before my guide picks me up at 8a.
As I wait for my tour guide, I notice there are few native English speakers–though everyone communicates in English. It is the lingua franca of the world (once the French language, of course). I am so lucky to already know this most difficult language! It allows me to teach and travel in relative ease. I am very grateful.
On the way out of Siem Reap we are stopped by police. There is a roadblock on both sides of the highway. I’m told that I have nothing to worry about and that the police will not even speak to me, only the driver. After the driver gets out, my guide tells me that the driver will have to produce his license and will probably have to pay a small bribe. We wait about 10 minutes. The driver returns all smiles and says that he did not have to pay. He said that he was patient and just kept saying that he had an important tourist with him and needed to get back to the car. The police are often after money, but they don’t like to mess with tourist. Police are corrupt throughout SE Asia, though my guide says Vietnam has the worst reputation.
We make a stop at a silk farm and silk weaving school. It is associated with the school I saw on arrival, but only silk agriculture and production is taught here. I buy nothing in the shop, but it is truly beautiful work. If I were not so hard on clothes, I would wear nothing but silk.
The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Cambodian Civil War (1970–1975). Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of roughly 8 million. Many of those executed were the educated, but there was also considerable “ethnic cleansing.” As a result, Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, is sometimes described as “the Hitler of Cambodia.” The killings took place over the entire country, but at this spot in Siem Reap, 1000 people were bludgeoned to death (bullets were too expensive) and their bodies thrown into a well. The skeletons have been recovered and the bones piled into an enclosure with glass windows. The well was filled in and a Banyan tree (sacred in Buddhism) planted there.
We stop at the Angkor National Museum, with a well-organized display of artifacts from Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and other nearby Khmer Empire sites. It covers the golden era of the Khmer Empire (802-1431). Of the 8 displays, the Room of 1,000 Buddha is my favorite. Here are images of the Buddha carved in stone and wood as well as cast in metal. My guide shows me that the reclining Buddha (left hand supporting the head) and the Buddha in Nirvana pose (right hand supporting the head) are different. Here are unique images of the Buddha protected by Naga, the king cobra. According to legend, Buddha was meditating under the Banyon tree. It began to rain and he did not notice the rising waters of a nearby river. The cobra, king of the water, took pity on Buddha when the water rose nearly to his nose. The snake coiled his body under the sitting Buddha and lifted him out of the water, one coil at a time, then he spread his neck like an umbrella to sheltered the Buddha from the rain.
The last gallery at the museum is about ancient costumes, as depicted by the Apsara, the celestial dancing girls, chiseled onto the walls of the temples. I find this odd since they aren’t wearing much in the way of clothing!
Sovann is Buddhist and he tells me the story of the Churning of the Ocean into the Sea of Milk–a story depicted on the walls of Angkor Wat and the bridge into Angkor Thom.
After the museum, my guide and driver leave me at the market to find lunch on my own and shop for an hour. I’ve bought all I need and can’t carry any more! But I like to look. It’s too hot to eat much, but I get a simply eggplant and fish dish. I’m taken back to my hotel to shower and check out for my flight back to Vietnam.
It’s been an amazing trip. As a bonus, I’m able to get an additional month tourist visa in Vietnam, enough to get me through Tet festivities. Getting a visa takes over an hour and they put the stamp on the last possible page of my 28 page passport. Good thing another is already in the works. It will probably be ready at the US Consulate in HCMC next week. (I got an email the very next morning, after I was back in Bien Hoa, that it was ready for pick up. Darn!)