Ethical products in Cambodia

This week I’m in Cambodia and it is a total surprise. Like most Asian countries, Cambodians are intrinsically ‘green’ in their daily lives, so there is a fair amount of biodegradable products around. While I am mostly in Siem Reap, which is small town near the Angkor Wat Temples; it gives me a good insight into Cambodian life.

Most of the people who live here, are rice farmers and in addition to growing rice they also grow their own vegetables and fish in one of the three large lakes in Siem Reap. They hardly use any pesticides or fertilizers in their cultivation, so their diet is mostly organic and fresh.

Much like in other parts of Asia – general packaging material is made of all-natural products. Their most famous dish called amok is steamed in a banana leaf cup and usually eaten straight out of it. They also have a street snack made with sticky rice stuffed with plantain, wrapped with banana leaf and roasted – the leaf not only acts as flavour but also biodegradable packaging.

I also saw excellent quality Cambodian silk for sale which is hand-spun and dyed with organic dyes. I bought a couple of paintings from a women’s co-op here and they came wrapped with a rattan tube which again is hand-woven and biodegradable. There is no end to the innovative use of natural materials not just in Cambodia but also in the rest of Asia.

The Cambodians are skilled artisans and anyone who has visited here, will know this. However, a lot of their craft-work is wood based with leads to deforestation. Cambodia has one of the largest rates of deforestation mostly in part due to subsistence use for firewood etc but the high-quality wood is also illegally logged for export.

Although the town of Siem Reap has a fair amount of forest cover, the rapid development to support the tourism industry is putting strains on its natural resources. Ethical consumerism within places like Cambodia is easy enough because a lot of the arts and crafts are hand-made by artisans. The biggest impact as a tourist visiting Cambodia is the place you choose to stay in.

A number of hotels, guest-houses etc have come up to accommodate tourists and agricultural land is being converted into these developments. The people here have a better quality of life than other parts of Cambodia but with growing environmental degradation, it is only a matter of time before that is affected. In the face of abject general poverty in Cambodia, only talking about environmental awareness is not going to solve the pressing socio-enviro problems.

Angkor Wat is Part of What Makes Tourism the 1 Industry in Cambodia

As we flew into Siem Reap, Cambodia, our tour guide prepared us for the dramatic differences between Cambodia and Viet Nam. In Viet Nam, you see economic progress everywhere, new buildings going up, hustle and bustle in the shops and its cities are bursting with energy. In Cambodia, not so much.

There is a lot of poverty in Siem Reap, and much of it is surrounded by hotels. Tourism is the number one industry. The average salary in Siem Reap is $2 a day but tourists can easily drop $500 a night at a hotel. Hotels are ubiquitous. The currency in Cambodia is the Riel, but it’s practically worthless. That’s why whenever we received change from anybody it was in new bills. Nobody uses it. The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere.

The food we were served was very similar to the food in Viet Nam except even more watered down for the tourists. I asked for a bowl of diced hot peppers, and that’s probably what made me sick. I lasted all of 2 days before hitting the bed and staying there.

I did manage to pull my head up and get into a tuk-tuk (a carriage attached to a motor bike) with my husband to do a fast tour of Angkor Wat, because for some reason, it was scheduled for day 3 of our tour instead of day one.

We had a guide in Siem Reap, too, who was delightful, Mr. Ing. You know how some people can take a boring subject and make it interesting, while other people can take an interesting subject and make it boring? We had a tour guide in Hoi An who ended every sentence with “yeah.” She barked orders at us like a drill sergeant. She was also very difficult to understand and demanded that we listen to her long boring stories about facts that were probably very interesting but it was lost on me. Mr. Ing made the stories about the temples in Siem Reap fascinating. Except I was too sick to pay attention.

Here is a photo of the Ta Prohm Temple. Many of these temple ruins are located in dense jungle that had been cleared out by early archaeologists. This temple was built in 1186. In the photo below, you can see the tree roots of the Kymer Spoong tree with the wandering tendrils of the charay. It is a vast complex with 39 towers which, over the years, has been heavily looted.

At the Preahko Temple, I shot this photo of a lizard. Most of the lizards we saw were smooth-skinned but this one was similar to gecko. I mean, look at it’s feet.

I believe this child was a tourist at the temple ruins. I did not shoot photos of the kids who were begging and selling trinkets because they would not leave me alone if I did. At the Ta Prohm Temple, they have the system down pat. You might not notice when you enter the temple grounds, but the kids take a photo of you. By the time you reach the other side, they have developed the photo and glued it to a plate, which they then try to sell for $5.

One of the kids asked me if I was from Australia. He then guessed Britain. Maybe because I wasn’t speaking to him. I swear, they are relentless. When he finally guessed America, which was about #10 on his list, he then rattled off the name of our president, Obama’s daughters, Obama’s dog’s name (which even I don’t know), said Rhode Island was our smallest state and knew when Hawaii was admitted to the Union. He had gleaned this information from other tourists.

I asked him why he wasn’t in school. He said it’s a holy day. Yeah, well, what day is today? What day of the week? What is the name of this holy day? He didn’t have answers for any of that. I suspect every day is a holy day for this kid.

We saw several performances of Aspara dancers in Cambodia. Note how far back the fingers are extended. They flex their fingers for years to get them to move in that direction. Toes, too. This dance below was about the lotus flower. Each hand movement has meaning. The Aspara dancers do not smile and do not sing, but there is music as their story unfolds through slow and calculated movement.

Angkor Wat is the granddaddy of the temple ruins in Cambodia, built in the 12th Century to honor the Hindu god Vishnu. It is also depicted on the Cambodian flag because it’s a national treasure. I was too sick to see much of this temple, but I did walk down a long exterior wall filled with carvings that depicted heaven above, earth in the center and hell below. The hell portion showed men being eaten by large animals and tortured. It was a lot more interesting than the heaven portion.

The human cost of the Preah Vihear conflict

When a site is awarded World Heritage status, it usually means a jump in tourism visits and revenue. Not so with Preah Vihear, where the conflict over the surrounding area between Thailand and Cambodia have caused much economic hardship to the residents of the area.

Adventures in Angkor – Siem Reap

I missed last week’s installment of Adventures at Angkor… oops! This last installment isn’t so much on Angkor, but on the modern town of Siem Reap, which is where you’d want to go if you want to visit the temples. It’s a small, bustling town – bustling from the massive tourist boom it has experienced since the late 1990s, and even in the off-peak tourist season the town still hums with excitement.

This section of town you are seeing in these pictures is called the Old Town, the heart of Siem Reap. It still contains many of the shops and watering holes that draw in the tourist dollars. Food and drink here are relatively cheap – although not cheap compared to the native Cambodians, who I suspect less than half of what a tourist would normally pay on a menu.

Souvenir shops like these are ubiquitous in the old market, a square block of shops selling everything the tourist needs by way of a souvenir – bags, hats, small statues, t-shirts, fridge magnets, postcards, etc. A tourist trap, to be sure. So make sure to haggle in these types of shops!

A Tour of Eight Worldwide Sacred Sites

Journey to the extraordinary: Check out these awe-inspiring sacred sites and ancient wonders.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The ancient capital of the Khmer kingdom, Angkor is the most popular destination in Cambodia. Stretching over some 400 sq km, including forests and jungles, Angkor Archaeological Park contains remains of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century.

Explore Angkor Wat (believed to be the largest religious structure in the world) and the city’s other ancient towers and temples. The nearby town of Siem Reap offers a number of hotels, restaurants and transportation to Angkor.

Easter Island, Chile

Easter Island, located in the South Pacific between Chile and Tahiti, is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. Its name “Easter Island” derives from its rediscovery by a Dutch explorer on Easter Sunday in 1722.

Formed out of an ancient volcanic eruption, the triangular-shaped island covers only 103 kilometers (64 square miles). It is famous for its 800 or so ancient Polynesian statues that stand across the island. Exactly why and how the original inhabitants — referred to as Rapa Nui — assembled these ancient wonders is not fully understood (partly because their written language has yet to be deciphered). It is thought the Rapu Nui people arrived from Polynesia around 400 AD.

Jerusalem, Israel

Located in the Judean Mountains, between the Mediterranean Sea and the northern tip of the Dead Sea, Jerusalem has a history that goes back to the 4th millennium BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.

Jerusalem is considered holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam – making it sacred to more than a third of the world’s population. Key religious sites include the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. The old walled city, a World Heritage site, has been traditionally divided into four quarters, although the names used today — the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters — were introduced in the early 19th century.

But Jerusalem’s appeal is certainly not limited to religious travelers. With its rich history, archeological treasures, museums and concerts, Jerusalem is a popular destination for religious and non-religious travelers alike.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Chichén Itzá is the largest of the ruined Mayan cities on the Yucatán Peninsula. It is believed that the construction of the first temples (dedicated to the rain god Chac) began in the 7th century — and the city reached its peak under the rule of the Itzáes in the 10th century.

In the following centuries, Chichén Itzá became the most powerful city in the Yucatan. Most of the grand architecture was built during this age, in a mixture of Maya and Toltec styles. At the end of the 12th century, the city was captured by rival city Mayapán, but it remained a place of pilgrimage for the Maya until the 16th century.

The structures of Chichén Itzá were overgrown with jungle and slowly decayed until major archaeological excavations began in the 1920s.

Avila, Spain

Ávila is a medieval city in the province of Castile-Léon, about 113 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Madrid. Founded in the 11th century to protect Spanish territories from the Moors, Ávila enjoys an authentic medieval atmosphere with its magnificently preserved city wall, historic cathedral, and a number of Romanesque churches. The old town of Ávila has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Ávila is important to pilgrims because of its association with the mystic and reformer St. Teresa of Ávila. Teresa, a 16th-century Carmelite nun, reformed her order, had many ecstatic visions, and wrote several books. She is the female patron saint of Spain and was the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church. Shrines erected in her honour include Convento de Santa Teresa, a 17th-century convent built over the site of Teresa’s birth, and the Monasterio de la Encarnacion, where she lived.

Parthenon, Athens, Greece

The Parthenon, which has stood atop the Acropolis of Athens for nearly 2,500 years, is the most famous surviving building of Ancient Greece and one of the most famous buildings in the world.

It was built to give thanks to Athena, the city’s patron goddess, for protecting Athens and Greece in the Persian Wars. Throughout its long life, the Parthenon has functioned most importantly as a Greek temple, but has also been a treasury, a fortress, a church, and a mosque.

Lourdes, France

T637297A A Tour of Eight Worldwide Sacred Sites

Located in the Hautes-Pyrénées département in southwest France, Lourdes is the largest Catholic pilgrimage destination in France and one of the most popular Catholic shrines in the world.

The small town (population 17,000) receives more than 5 million visitors each year thanks to visions of the Virgin Mary reported by a young girl named Bernadette in 1858.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes includes 52 hectares of property and 22 places of worship, including a sacred grotto, two basilicas, and a variety of buildings for pilgrims and the sick. Outside the sanctuary, many pilgrims also visit the home of the young visionary, St. Bernadette.

The Great Sphinx, Egypt

1953622 The Great Sphinx of Giza 1 A Tour of Eight Worldwide Sacred Sites

Built in about 2530 BC by the pharaoh Khafre, the Great Sphinx is a colossal stone statue located next to the Pyramids of Giza. Carved out of limestone, the Sphinx has the facial features of a man and the body of a recumbent lion. To give you an idea of its impressive size: it is approximately 73 meters (240 feet) long and 20 meters (66 feet) high.

Primarily, the Sphinx was thought to have been a guardian figure, protecting the tomb of the Khafre by warding off evil spirits. It was also considered an oracle of sorts: within the structure’s paw is a 15th-century BC stone tablet recounting a vision given to a prince who slept in the shadow of the Sphinx (and perhaps sought its divine aid). It is believed he later became a pharaoh through its intercession.

A number of mysteries continue to surround the Sphinx, such as why the builders chose such heavy blocks for the temple or how they were able to move them. There is also some question about when the Sphinx was actually constructed, with many theorizing it was constructed as early as 7000 BC.