After getting off our flight from Vietnam we were all looking forward to seeing our new digs in Cambodia, and getting some much needed sleep. After a 15 minute drive from the airport we pulled into a very non-descript driveway that would be our home for the next 4 nights. The lobby looked like a beautiful British colonial house. We had finally arrived at Journey's Within Boutique Hotel. We had used Journeys Within to plan our trip through SE Asia and had heard and read so many wonderful reviews about their boutique hotel that we were so excited to of finally arrived. The owner's of the hotel and tour company have truly given back to the community with the creation of several community programs. They have opened up two schools, they fund water Wells for the the villages, and provide a scholarship program to the children of Cambodia, and Laos. Journeys Within is changing lives of the local people and we were honored to help be a part.
The first night we were in Siem Reap we were treated to a traditional Khmer Dance and dinner.
"Angkor Wat is the largest religious temple complex in the world. The temple was built by King Suryavarman ll in the early 12th century. It was built as his state temple and eventual mausoleum."
This place was enormous! It is completely surrounded by a moat, followed by a sandstone wall with multiple entrances ( one for the king and queen, two for the nobility. and two more for the unwashed masses). Once inside the interior wall the temple itself is still a few hundred yards away. Our guide, Sina led us around, providing enough information to keep in interested but not overwhelmed and took us to the best picture taking spots. Sina was a lovely gentleman. He spoke excellent english and had us laughing more time than not at some of his stories. He spent is early years working at a labor camp with his Mother. His Dad was executed by the Khmer Rouge because he was educated (more on this later). The kids had fun climbing on the rocks and narrow steps throughout the complex. It was amazing to think that this massive complex was all engineered by hand and just how long it has survived. Especially with major damage in the mid 1970's from a war. I think we were all quite awestruck.
This next complex was Angkor Thom. It was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire, built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman Vll. Like Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is massive in size covering an area of over 9km2. It is again completely surrounded by man-made moat, and giant sandstone wall. Within the wall surrounding this ancient Khmer city, there are several structures and multiple temples, at the exact center of which is the Bayon Temple. The Bayon Temple is one of the most recognizable in due to the enormous stone faces found on every corner of the temple.
|Lindsey lightening an incense with a Cambodian lady. I think the lady said a small prayer for our family, or else Lindsey said a small prayer for the Cambodian lady. Either way, good karma was being spread.|
We also explored neighboring temples called Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants, and Banteay Srei.
|I love this photo, it reminds us of an old album cover.|
This temple is Ta Prohm, which is one of the most well known due to it's role in some of the filming of the Tomb Raider. We saw no Lara Croft, but Lindsey, Skyler and Owen filled in with plenty of climbing and jumping on the rubble. Ta Prohm was built in the late 12th century as a Buddhist monastery and university. It was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1992 and has become one of the most famous and visited temples in Siem Reap due to the trees growing in, around, and literally on the temple walls. As a result of these trees, the temple has received limited restoration, as removing the trees will cause the temple to crumble.
After 2 full days of visiting temples we were then taken on a Village tour. Our guide for the village was Sothy. His job was to take us to his village to meet some of his family and to see how they live. This was an emotional day for all of us, especially me. I cannot hold in emotion. Call it a weakness, call it a strength, but I call it annoying. Thank God for sunglasses. The most emotional part of the trip for me came as we were driving down this dusty, dirt road. I was asking Sothy about the school in his village and he told us that not many kids attended school in his village when he was younger. Not because they did not have a school or couldn't find teachers- rather, because all the previous teachers had been tracked down and murdered by the Khmer Rouge regime.
What he is referring to took place between 1976 and 1979 (the genocide part, the violence and the fighting lasted many, many more years) when a communist party called the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, drove everyone out of the cities and into country labor camps to work the land basically as slaves.They executed almost all the teachers (95%) and doctors (75%), in fact anyone linked with an education. Even if you wore glasses, you were killed. Anyone linked with law enforcement, the previous government, disables people and minorities were all killed. Many times entire families would be killed. The only way to survive would be to pretend you were a rice farmer, but no matter your chances were slim. Children were taken from their parents, trained as soldiers and took part in torture and execution. By the end of the reign approx. 2 million Cambodians had died. Did I mention that happened in the 70's? While I was happily playing with my dolls, a quarter of the population of an entire nation was being wiped out by monsters. The world at first mostly denied it was happening, then when it could no longer be denied it was mostly ignored.
As we started walking to his village we quickly noticed all the happy smiling children. These beautiful babies were half naked, playing with sticks in the dirt. They would stare at us as we walked by, and sometimes run over to greet us and practice what little English they knew. The families live in open aired wood structures with thatched roofs. People sleep on wood slats or hammocks. There is no electricity, no plumbing, and unfiltered well water to drink. Rice farming is the primary business-rice is grown, it is processed (Sothy owns the only machine in the village and allows others to use it) made into rice wine, rice noodles and other rice products. Sothy's mother lives with him and she makes rice noodles every afternoon, and sells them on the side of the street every morning to help support the family. The people work all day at whatever they can. Livestock are everywhere and live under the wood structures. They still use oxcarts to plow the land. It is the same way they have been living for hundreds of years, if not thousands.
|A bridge to Sothy's house|
A few Stats about the country: * 80% have no electricity
* The child mortality rate is 10%
* 75% get dysentery every year
* 40% of children have stunted growth due to malnutrition
With the exception of a few motorbikes in the village, there are few technological advances reminiscent of the modern world. Sothy's family has been sharing a bike for transportation his whole life up until last week. He told us that he took out a $500 loan from the bank to buy his first motorbike. In order to take out a loan the bank requires you to hand over the deed to your property. A big risk just for a small loan. Sothy has a year to pay back his loan or else the bank takes over his land. The average salary for Cambodia is $950 a year, so paying back a $500 loan on such a salary is nearly impossible. He will have to work many extra jobs. He is very nervous. As we heard this story, it made us once again realize how lucky and fortunate we are, in more ways than one.
|The wooden slat bed where the kids all slept.|
|This little boy was too nervous to come and get a toy from us. I don't know if he has ever seen folks with such fair skin and blonde hair before. I could imagine we looked like aliens to him.|
|The neighbor's house|
|Skyler showing the kids how to use the jump ropes that we passed out the children.|
|When in Rome.......|
Skyler eating the cricket. It tasted just as you would imagine. Crunchy on the outside and slimy and gooey on the inside. One was enough for our taste buds. I would of much preferred mine dipped in kethcup, but the lady on the side on the road was not offering any condiments.
|ATV rides through the countryside of Cambodia.|