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.


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