I know, I know. You've probably forgotten that I even went there (nearly a month ago, gosh how time flies).
I arrived in Siem Reap February 6th (see!? a month ago!) to meet up with my friends, Rob and Jeane, who also teach (taught) English in Gurye. Siem Reap is home of Angkor, an ancient ruins city that, at one time, was the cradle of civilization in Cambodia, if not Southeast Asia as a whole. Inside Angkor, there are thousands of temples. Literally.
The most famous temple is Angkor Wat, which is the largest single-religion temple in the world. Don't worry. You'll see pictures.
Jeane, Rob and I took a tuk tuk (a sort of small carriage pulled by a motorcycle) to the Angkor silk worm farm. There, we saw how farmers take the cocoon of a silk worm and turn it into clothing. Just so you're all aware, a lot of silk worms died for your silk shirt. We were lucky enough to be behind a large group of Korean tourists. You just can't get away sometimes.
We hired a tuk tuk driver for the day to take us around Angkor park. Although the temples were outstanding, the highlight of the day was definitely the Land Mine Museum. Basically, this man was recruited at the age of 10 to plant land mines for the Cambodian army. In 8 years, he laid over 1,000 mines. He defected from the Cambodian resistance in 1987 and has been clearing land mines ever since. Sometimes with an organization, sometimes by himself. He's recognized as the best in the field of clearing land mines. So, 300,000 land mine clearings later, he opened a museum with his findings.
Walking through the museum was devastating. Maybe I didn't pay enough attention in high school history, but I had never heard of this terrible war that tore apart this country (The war officially ended in 1992...only 18 years ago). I was shocked and disgusted to see the destruction caused by this war; the loss of life due to land mines. Even worse, loss of life and limbs today as children playing in a field near their home accidentally trip an old mine. There was a land mine from just about every developed country I could think of, the majority of them being from Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam and the U.S.
We finished the night by going to a traditional Khmer (native ethnicity of the Angkor region; the Khmer's built Angkor) puppet show. The performers all participate in the show to maintain their cultural heritage and to keep them off the streets.
We all took bikes to Angkor and spent the day riding between the temples. We biked from 6am-3pm and were spent for the day. It was perfect, though. We arrived at Angkor Wat (the big temple) right at Sunrise. I've seen a lot of beautiful things, but that's definitely going to remain in the top-5 until the day I die. There's something about Angkor Wat - especially at sunrise - that makes it hard to remember to breathe. It just seems impossible that anything could be that beautiful. And even more impossible: that you deserve to see it.
We traveled to Pheonm Pehn by bus. We crossed some gorgeous countryside. The ride ate up most of the day (roads are still pretty bad there).
Rob and Jeane left for another part of Cambodia, and I headed to the airport. I had some time between when they left and my flight, so I decided to visit a genocide museum (why? Why would I ever think that a genocide museum is a good last impression of any country?)
In the mid-1970's, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot decided to press the reset button in a plan called "Year Zero." The idea was to eliminate anyone with a brain and have a country of only equally wealthy farmers. So, the KR hunted down intellectuals and threw them into a school-turned-torture-camp where they were systematically tortured and killed. (The killing fields are actually outside of the city)
Today, the school is a museum. There are just rooms and rooms and rooms full of pictures of the victims, including pictures of victims right after torture. The KR admired Hitler's way of doing things, and really prided themselves on complete documentation (pictures of people upon entering, pictures upon leaving, pictures of the "facilities," etc.).
So, yeah. A little bit of a Debby Downer to end the trip, but I'm glad I went. Like it or not, it happened. You can ignore it and go on living, or you can take it in and let it shape the way you view life.
Okay, let's end with a happy note, shall we? Video of Cambodia below, enjoy!