As the year 2013 is drawing to a close, I am thinking of the previous years. Last year, for me, the highlight was the visit to the floating village in Cambodia, on the shores of Lake Tonle Sap, near Siem Riep.
The visit generated many conflicting emotions. Gawking at the people, as they went about their daily lives, seemed voyeuristic and clearly an invasion of their privacy. We could also see the power of water and rudimentary and creative ways that people adapt to dealing with sometimes destructive force of nature. In most of rural Cambodia, houses are frequently built on stilts, so the homes can survive the rising waters of intense Camodian monsoons. And people have hammocks tied to the roofs and there are hammock bars as well. Nice way to relax and stay dry, if needed. In the floating village, however, the houses are often on riverboats and they actually float and the entire village moves depending on the ebb and flow of the waters.
While the abject poverty of the people living on the water and living off of whatever the water provides, was heart-wrenching, it seemed strange to buy junk food from mothers at highly inflated prices and donate it to their kids. The village mainly subsists on fishing and fish farming and there is a community market, a school, a general store, small clinic and dispensary, a Catholic church and a Buddhist church. Sometimes it seems that the Government uses the poverty of the people to generate tourism and it does not seem to be at the greatest advantage of the people. Neesha (my sweet child and my loveliest travel companion) and I were glad to visit an orphanage where children were happy and smiling, and make donation there.
Visit to Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields (seeing rows upon rows of skulls neatly lined up) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum with cells, interrogation paraphernalia etc., was a gut wrenching, soul searching, thought provoking, tear streaked, heart rending experience. Why do people do horrible things to people; brother to sister; child to mother? Out of about 7M population at the time, Cambodia lost close to 4M people; due to war, rebellion, man-made famine, genocide, and politicide, including over 2M in mass murder by Khmer Rouge. Every family perhaps had someone who was killed and someone who was responsible in some way, for the killings. It was extremely sad, solemn visit.
Temples and Palaces of Cambodia
The temple complex of Angkor Wat was the main reason I wanted to visit Cambodia. Ever since I learned about Angkor Wat in 6th grade, I wanted to visit the temple. Angkor Wat was first a Hindu, and then a Buddhist temple complex in the country and it is the largest religious monument in the world. The temple was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, in the early 12th century. He broke from the Savism tradition of the previous kings, and dedicated the temple of Angkor Wat to Lord Vishnu. The temple is beautifully preserved. There are more than 1000 temples built between 9th and 13th centuries. We also visited the temple where The Tomb Raider and Indian Jones Temple of Doom were filmed. It was a mystery as to how the huge stones used to built the temples were moved there but researchers have now solved the mystery and declared that the stones were brought there through a network of hundreds of canals.
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, consists of a set of buildings which serve as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia, whose full name is a mouthful. It is Preah Barum Reachea Veang Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol. This has been a primary residence of the kings of Cambodia since 1860s. But it was noticeably unoccupied during the turbulent times of the Khmer rouge reign. The palace faces East and serves as an allusion to Lord Brhama. It is absolutely gorgeous structure with Throne Wall, Moonlight Pavilion, Silver Pagoda, impressive Temple of Emerald Buddha, and more. It covers almost 175,000 meters.