Monday, 6 February 2012

Sights and sounds of Siem Reap

First day in Siem Reap was spent with the rest of the tourist hordes who throng Pub Street by 5.30pm, catching a beer as the world go by, while waiting for the night market to open. Okay so it's not too different from my visits to Bangkok, Phuket and Bali. What's different though was that we paid a visit to Angelina Jolie's favourite bar, the Red Piano and had the cocktail called Tomb Raider, named after Ms Jolie's movie. It was decidedly overpriced and the cocktail merely walked past the Cointreau bottle to warrant a hint of alcohol. We'd decided to explore the entire Old Market area thereafter. It looked like the sleepy Phuket Town with street vendors peddling the usual beer labeled wife-beaters, jewelry and knick-knacks. It's maybe even sleepier, and a testament to that is the "Merry Christmas Siem Reap" sign hung on one shop window. What caught my interest though was a shop called Mekong Quilts that sold hand-made quilts by poor village women on a 0% profit basis. Cool. Apparently there were more fair trade stores in Siem Reap, including a shop that sold bags made of recycled materials. How socially conscious! We finally found yummy frozen margaritas that cost USD1.50. I had 6 glasses and stumbled back to the hotel in time to cancel that Angkor Wat tour booked for the next day.

Day 2 was spent nursing a slight hangover. Thank goodness I was coherent enough to postpone the Angkor Wat trip. The poor bloke at the tour desk must think I was a crazy tourist. However, we visited the war museum. I was intrigued by the now disarmed equipment like the artillery, anti aircraft missiles, tanks, guns, uranium warheads and land-mines. And I was moved to tears when I saw pictures of kids as young as 7 years old, wearing army fatigues, brandishing rifles, in the midst of war-time action. Our guide, Mr Srinath was one such soldier and he pointed to his photo pinned on the board while describing in vivid detail how he lost a leg and an eye to a land-mine. His body still has 2 ball-bearings and a shrapnel lodged in various places. I just couldn't believe that the war ended just barely 12 years ago. Today, there are still a million land-mines yet to be cleared and 6-7 Cambodians still die each day from exploded land-mines in the North-West region of Cambodia. This is a place of interest that's seldom written about in guidebooks and travel websites, but it's probably a must-see. I left the place in gratitude for living in a different part of the world, in a different time, with people I love.

We also visited the Angkor National Museum. It showcased an extensive collection of archaeological finds that depicted the ancient civilizations pre to post Angkor period. However, by the time I walked into the 4th gallery, I felt I saw one too many Buddha statues, Vishnu and Indra statues, Apsaras carved in reliefs and plenty more phallic or Linga statues. So we set off for an Amok Curry or Catfish Curry lunch washed down with more USD1.50 frozen margaritas then.

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