Walk, If You Can, Through The Majesty of Angkor

I wasn’t, but you might be humbled by the beauty of Angkor Wat


Now, imagine walking though this when it was new!
Welcome to the Baphuon!

I'll buy that for a dollar!
Leper King was a lucky guy!

Weeds don't take a vacation from runing your garden
To much Miracle-Grow!

You think that's a natural color?  Ha!
Angkor Wat on a blue day

I said we're gonna convert to Buddhism, and I mean it!
I said we’re Buddhists!

The only good sunset angle I could find
Just imagine it new!

After busting my ass on the road
to Siem Reap, I was ready to see some heart-stopping wonders at
the temple complex referred to as Angkor Wat. It was impressive
all right, and easily "constitutes one of humanities most
magnificent architectural achievements," as the Lonely Planet
guide
says.

Ancient Athens, Classical Rome, modern New York
City and even Hong Kong are easily more impressive than Angkor in
general architecture, and the cathedrals of Pairs, Chartres,
Venice, and Istanbul in specifically religious architecture. But once you factor in the location and the effot level for the people at that time, it easily makes the cut.

It is an impressive
sight, and worth the bruised ass, I am still nursing, but I see
Angkor in a different context than most. When I was little, my
parents dragged me, kicking and screaming sometimes, to the vast
majority of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec ruins of Central and South
America. To see those massive temple complexes, rising like stone
islands in an endless sea of tropical jungle, at such a tender
young age, colors my judgment to this day.

Yes, the Angkor complex (Angkor Wat is just one
temple in the capital city of the ancient Khmer Empire) does have
its breath-taking moments. The Bayon temple, with its many eerie
Buddha’s, and the Terrace of the Leper King, adorned with
countless female carvings were striking.

Actually, these two temples show the long and
colorful history of Angkor. The Terrace, built before Bayon, shows
the Hindu nature of the original kings. Later, after Buddhism
replaced Hinduism in Southeast Asia, the Bayon was built and the
Terrace was refaced in a more Buddhist style.

Ta Prohm, left as the French found it, was a ray
of hope for modern man. Whenever I see trees retaking man’s works,
whether its massive trunks rising from ancient ruins or little
weeds forming in cracks of modern sidewalks, I smile with
reassurance that Nature, in her infinite patience and daily
persistence, will easily outlast and fully erase mankind as she
did the dinosaurs before us.

Interestingly, I saw a photo of Angkor Wat circa
1880, and the temple looked much as it does today, with what I
would believe, are the exact same palm trees growing in front.
Today, you can see the ancient Hindu carvings next to slightly
newer Buddhist images, complete with modern Buddha’s being
worshiped by the faithful, to remind you that Wat means temple and
this one is still in use.

To get to the temple, built to honor the Hindu
god Vishnu around 1100 AD, you fist have to cross a moat that
shocked me in its size. I could only vaguely comprehend the
manpower the ancient Khmer King utilized to build the six-km in
circumference and 150-meter+ wide moat before power tools and
heavy machinery. I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked at the moat
alone, because all the stone for the temples, in its many types,
was moved here from high hills all over two day’s walk away.

The little Banteay Srei temple, at the end of an
unbelievably dusty road that is a day’s walk in length itself, is
notable as the mixed Hindu/Buddhist style carvings depicting
inter-Khmer battles, seems to span the time of transition between
Hinduism and Buddhism.

Check out my slide show presentation on it all.

While on that unbelievably dusty road, I stopped
at two temples that distinctly reminded me of South America. From
the top of one, you could just make out the top of the next
temple, poking up trough the forest surrounding it. And just as in
South America, just across the road was a bank of little huts,
filled with Cambodian kids dying to sell me cold water, camera
film, T-shirts, scarves, or anything else they could make money
on.

Actually, with the exception of the kids, Angkor
was remarkably free of commercialism. No temples sponsored by
Kodak, no rest stops by Coca-Cola, and never a McDonalds in sight.
Quite a relief from the usual tourist scene at the other wonders
man’s created.

Outside of Angkor Wat itself, the whole area was
remarkably low in the tourist factor. I guess that road to the
border, while painfully rough, does serve a purpose and keep the
delicate from spoiling the scene with their massive
air-conditioned buses and loud handholding tour guides. So come
now, while its still relatively unspoiled, and grandma doesn’t see
it first.


Those Hindus know how to carve to salute Vishnu
Now is that Hindu or Buddhist imagery, or both?
The King of Beauty
Beauty fit for a king

Cambodian Roads Are a Pain in My Ass

My ass still smarts from the ‘road’ to Siem Reap, Cambodia


Nice place for a stop, Beyond Bum Fuck Nowhere (BBFN)
Light load, only a dozen people

What a nice day for a drive in the country
I can still taste the dust

You better bless that Chevy Caprice Taxi next time!
The cheap way to travel

They ain't using
The slow truck to Siem Reap

Remember that Nissan Pathfinder commercial that played in the States a
while back, “The Road to Rio,” where they filmed a family
driving from Chicago to Rio de Janerio? I only saw one commercial, and it
sticks with me to this day. The truck is shown plowing down crazy South
American roads as the narrator says, “When they ran out of pavement,
they used gravel. When they ran out of gravel, they used dirt. They never
ran out of dirt.”

Going to Siem Reap, the town next to Angkor Wat
in Cambodia, I lived all those road surfaces, many times simultaneously,
as I bounced along in a Nissan truck. We traveled on what the locals
called a road, but that random assortment of pavement, gravel, dirt, hay
(on fire and not), moon-sized craters, fallen bridges, and cross-patty
detours would only qualify to the western mind as a road in the most
liberal sense. Oh, and we traveled fast and furious!

Look at the pictures to the left, and imagine a Nissan King Cab truck,
filled with seven (7!) people in the cab, and ten to fifteen people, with
all manner of bags, sacks, and tools in the back, flying along washboard
(at the best) roads at 70-100 km an hour. Now imagine the driver only
slowing a fraction to traverse potholes that literally swallowed the truck
whole! I am very serious in saying that entire vehicles would disappear
from view as they dove into a crater, re-appearing like a worm born from
the earth as they climbed the other side.

That’s if you could see the other vehicles, or event he road, for the
massive dust clouds that everything produced. Headlights were blazing and
the passengers in the back wore scarves across their faces, but that red
choking dust still blocked light and coated skin. When I washed my clothes
after the trip, the water turned orange with dust, and I was in the cab!

Not that being in the cab saved my ass from a savage beating. Those mad
drivers, pushing the trucks painfully hard to make the trip in eight
teeth-rattling hours, did not slow down for anything, sometimes even
tossing passengers from the truck bed when they jump massive mounds in the
road.

The funniest sight in all the dust and ass-pain was the random
“workers” who would ask for spare Cambodian money for fixing the
road. What they did, if anything, was not apparent to me. They usually
asked for money near the worst sections, where drivers would need to
detour through dry rice patties because the road was so bad, with no
visible improvements this decade to justify the cash payments.

Those who did seem to earn payments, were the several police checkpoint
guards. For a long time, this section of Cambodia experienced the worst of
the decades long Cambodian civil war, and the road was impassable due to
highway robbery and military activities (including millions of land
mines). Nowadays, the area is relatively safe, though trucks will still
not drive at night because of the horrible condition of the road.

If you are contemplating visiting Angkor Wat overland from Thailand,
and you wanna see just how bad the road is, do yourself a favor. Don’t
make arrangements on Khao San
Road, take a government bus to the border and invest in two things if
you love your ass: a seat in the cab and a thick pillow.

If
you don’t believe me, see what Potts
has to say on Salon.com!

Cambodian Kids May Be Poor, But They Are Happy

I rode with a Cambodian baby who peed on my pack!


His mom is a sculptor, but still begged me for money

Happy to piss on my pack too

Cambodia is poor, and I mean dirt poor. On the road between the Thai border and Siem Reap, I watched little kids play in muddy
pools, trying to catch that night’s supper with fishnets and bamboo traps.
Their houses, not much more than shacks really, were lucky to sport an
open well out front or a few anemic oxen out back. All the little kids
looked happy, like the little fellow to the left, even though most were a
little skinny and definitely had worms of various sorts after messing
around in manure-laced water all their lives.

Not that you could blame the kids for playing in the
mud, they didn’t have much else to do. No TV, computers, or even
telephones adorned the homes, and school was a luxury for those kids that
didn’t have to work to keep food on the table.

With such hard lives, the infant mortality rate is one
of the highest in Southeast Asia at 90 deaths per 1,000 births. This must
explain how intensely everyone dotes on kids. See that tyke at left? He
was sitting up front with his mom, although she paid for a seat in the
back with her husband, because no one, including I, would let the driver
charge her more or ride in the back.

On the way, he had fun, nursing from his mom as we sped
down the roads, laughing and giggling with the big bumps, and peeing when
and wherever he wanted to (no, not on me, but my pack). I’d say he was a
happy kid, like the majority of kids (and adults) that I saw, not knowing
how amazingly poor he was. Even so, with such joy, in his life and his
manner, I’m not sure he’d want to trade places with any "rich"
kid from the West. There is an amazing happiness and freedom when you
don’t own a thing.

They do own something new now. As I was rooting through
my pack, looking for paper to write notes on with an English reading and
writing (but not speaking!) kid in the back, she took my photos out to
look at. Being so poor, Cambodians are very communal. You don’t have a
massive personal property complex if you’ve never really had anything, and
so the Cambodians will take everything you have, pass it around, and hand
it back after a good look-over.

You’d think I had little alien creatures the way they
studies the random collection of Hong
Kong photos I’d placed in my day-planner. Each shot was studied and
pantomime questions asked. In the end, the kid I was writing with in the
back kept a shot of me eating cheeze balls as I took a chairlift to the
Great Wall in China, and the mom took a photo of Hong Kong’s skyline. I
know she’ll be looking at it in wonder, amazed that people could build and
live in such a place (she noted the tiny bits of green in the urban jungle
immediately) while I’m not really sure what the kid will do with my photo.

If anyone sees that photo of me again, I’d like to hear
about it. I will always wonder where it will end up with that Cambodian
kid.