As we saw all of Angkor Wat last time, we must be the only tourists in town who didn’t want to rush straight to the temples! In fact, we’re only stopping off here on the way to Phnom Penh. Last night we found our trusty tuk-tuk driver, Mr Heng, and arranged for him to meet us first thing to do a little sightseeing. The most memorable moment, if only because it is just a flavour of what we are going to see in Phnom Penh, was Watt Thmei, on the outskirts of town. This is a fairly new temple, which has a simple shrine in the middle containing the bones of Khmer Rouge victims found in the fields when the temple was being built. Although they aren’t as widely known as the ones in the capital, there are Killing Fields all over Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge buried their million victims. We will be seeing much more of this over the next few days, and I’ll describe more.
In the afternoon, we visited the family home of Mr Heng. As a tuk-tuk driver he is more wealthy than many others, and so his house was pretty large by village standards. It is a small wooden hut, raised on stilts, with two rooms upstairs, and just a few raised up platforms downstairs. Water comes from a well, and the only electricity they have comes from a car battery, which he gets recharged in town. This powers the one fluorescent light downstairs, and the small television they have upstairs. It was a real eye-opener for the girls, to be able to actually look around somebody’s house, and see how few possessions they have. And when they realised that the toilet was over the road in a field, they became very thoughtful about how lucky we are to have three toilets in our house at home.
All in all, it was an interesting and though provoking day, and we felt really glad to be back in Siem Reap, with its friendly people and cheerful smiles. If Thailand is the ‘Land of Smiles’, then Cambodia must be the ‘Land of Super-Smiles’, because of the warmth of the people – which is amazing when you think what everybody over 10 will have gone through, either during the original reign of the Khmer Rouge, or their resurgence up to 1994 in this area.
And in the evening
We are leaving Siem Reap tomorrow, so we took the chance to have a quick last tour around town in Mr Heng’s tuk-tuk. Compared to cities in Thailand and Malaysia, the streets of Siem Reap seem to have no traffic of any significance. Of course there are bikes by the million, and mopeds. But cars are probably less than 5% of the traffic in town, and most of them are used by tourists to tour Angkor Wat. It’s a good job really, because there are very few paved roads in Siem Reap, where there are really only a dozen roads in the city, and only five paved roads which lead out of town.
We also found the sports stadium, hosting a local football tournament and a funfair. The rides didn’t have the same combination of G-forces and bright lights that you get at home, but they did retain the thrill of uncertainty, mainly by the use of very rusty bolts and links. Charlotte was way too sensible to go on them, so it was left to Emily and I to try out the Merry-Go-Round! Later I challenged Mr Heng to try the ‘Throw a dart at a row of balloons’ attraction, and together we won a packet of squid-flavour potato puffs and a orange-flavoured yoghourt drink. Yumm!