On to Cambodia
The night before we arrived in Phnom Penh, we watched "The Killing Fields." Though I was familiar with the story and THOUGHT I had seen the movie, it seemed less familiar than I expected. Certainly a very provocative film to see before arriving. The terrible genocide of 1975 to 1979 was in some ways an aftermath of the Vietnam War, but certainly not something planned by the U.S., nor for which the U.S. was responsible.
Vietnam's role in the series of events is perhaps even more complex: Cambodia was a complete wreck in part because of its essential loss of sovereignty during the U.S.-Vietnam conflict, for which both sides bore some blame, though I think that the North Vietnamese (Vietcong) were probably more responsible. That doesn't, in any case, really matter much at this point. Following the conclusion of the U.S. Vietnam conflict, things got completely out of hand in Cambodia. Both the Vietnamese and the Chinese sought to affect things.
Ultimately, the Cambodian people were saved from their own murderous Khmer Rouge regime by the Vietnamese. One might think that the Cambodians would in some way appreciate that fact, but such is not the case. The Cambodians really resent the Vietnamese (and, seemingly most of their neighbors). When I asked our Vietnamese friends about this, they said honestly that the Vietnamese government had sought to gain control of Cambodia for their own purpose, and this defeated any possible gratitude on behalf of the Cambodians. Still, I had to wonder what it feels like to be Vietnamese and be so resented by the very neighbors whose country and people you essentially saved -- while your own soldiers were at risk.
I had hoped to move straight up to Siem Reap -- the site of Angkor Wat -- without spending any time in Phnom Penh. But we ended up spending a half-day there before taking a van to Siem Reap.
As it turned out, I was glad to have had the opportunity -- to see some of the buildings, places and people who had been at the heart of such a tragedy not so many years ago.
|Travel by pedaled tuk-tuk is not my idea of a liberating or just way to go ANYWHERE.|
But it was the standard for the tour and is involved in some of the opportunity and
rehabilitation efforts in Cambodia.
During Khmer Rouge times, truly horrific things happened throughout the country. Families were completely shattered. Children were encouraged -- forced, really -- to denounce their parents. It was really like a (social) science fiction tale -- except that it really happened.
The city of Phnom Penh was almost completely emptied during the "cleansing." Its 1970 population of 457,000 was reduced to 370,000 because of the war -- but in 1978 to 32,000. That's more than 9/10 of the population removed -- forcibly, violently in terrifying and inhumane ways. One of our guides said that her family was among the "first 20 families" to begin to repopulate the city after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge. Today the city is over 2 million people.
Each of the guides that we met --- whether in Phnom Penh or in Angkor Wat/Siem Reap -- was profoundly and adversely affected by the terror of the 1970s.
The "road" from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. . . . To say that the road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was under construction would be unreasonably generous. It would be more accurate to say that in 5 or 10 years there might be a serviceable road between the two -- but in the meantime, it was a jarring dirty bumpy pretty miserable trip taking 6 to 8 hours.
|The "promising" part of the journey -- where you can at least SEE that they are BUILDING the road!|
|It wasn't just humans who gathered in big numbers to enjoy the sunrise --|
as I discovered when it got a little lighter and I looked around the
lake where we had gathered!
|One traditional spot/perspective enables you to snap a shot|
so that you are "nose to nose" with Buddha --
without getting so close that you're being disrespectful.
(The guide made us do this.)
|Not too many green spaces to be seen. |
I enjoyed this view.
|On Day 2, we started at another complex called the "Women's Temple" Banteay Srei -- some centuries later|
and much more delicate and colorful in nature.
Very cool until. . .
|Now THAT's an O-H-I-O. . . . although the H and I are long-time Minnesotans.|
|In the last posting ("Up the Mekong"), I referred to Susan taking a turn in some of the candy cookery|
at the place we visited early in that trip, She was the first volunteer from our group to do one of these things --
and she really did a nice job.
|Our hotel was quite lovely and relaxing.|
And after a LONGGGG day of Temple exploring, we cooled it by the pool for a couple of hours.
As noted, having the opportunity to "start" in Phnom Penh and motor our way from there to Siem Reap (the city near which Angkor Wat is located) added a lot to the experience -- a lot to think about.
It's wonderful that a place that was so terrible not so long ago (Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge catastrophe) is a place that is growing, safe, and may have a promising future.
At the same time, though, it was hard not to feel that it is a very confusing place -- a place where the past continues to cast a shadow over the present in a way not so in Vietnam. Cambodia ranks very low in many quality of life "calculations." (You can look it up to see what I mean.) So I would recommend doing what we did: make a long trip to Vietnam and a short trip to Cambodia.
I will say also that getting in and out of the airport in Siem Reap was pretty easy. It's a nice little airport and they handle their international traffic pretty well.
That does it for this segment. There's still a lot of Vietnam left to write about -- even as I sit here typing after a full week in India.
Thanks for reading (this far if you did). And I welcome your comments and thoughts.