Siem Reap
CambodiaFor my latest trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, I decided to take Tiger Airways, a budget airline partly funded by Singapore Air. I've always wondered what constituted a budget airline and what it was that they were "budgeting". Was it the fact that they charged you for food and drinks, hardly a major expense on their part. Could it involve scrimping on maintenance or the replacement of aging aircraft? A scary thought or almost as unappetizing were they paying their pilots and ground staff significantly less than the so called full service airlines, the only business where giving you a free bag of peanuts could be considered "full service". Would I happen upon a disgruntled pilot who would try to land just a little quicker, the earlier to get home or who while piloting the aircraft was studying for his night classes to become a mortician, a job that was recession proof? Before I could finish any more morbid thoughts we had landed in Bangkok, our gathering spot.

As I sit in the lobby of our hotel reunions seem to be going on all around me as travelers from what I assume were previous tours are regrouping. I hear English voices tinged with Canadian and Australian accents shouting out greetings. These will be my companions for the days ahead. Many seemed only just removed from college but sporting bulging passports with stamps and Visas from countless lands. Those that did most of their traveling between European Union countries could only look in envy.  Itís interesting to note that up until the First World War passports were a rare think and only started being used in England to represent permission to leave the country rather than for someone wanting to gain admittance.

CambodiaI had purchased a book the last time I was in Bangkok on Thai puppets and dolls. Upon surfing the internet I located a factory called Bangkok Dolls that produced hand made dolls depicting characters in the Thai Ramakien based upon the Ramayana of Valmiki. I found a store that was selling them at the Royal Thai Government Handicrafts Center and purchased what I promised would be my single Thai souvenir. This had the effect of totally ruining all of the planning I had undertaken to rationalize my luggage to one backpack and a single messenger bag. I was now transported from a backpacker to an ordinary tourist due to the shopping bag that I now carried. I longed for a suitable daypack in order to hide my gift parcel and to return to the role of a backpacker. Eventually I was able to disguise my purchase in a suitable hand luggage.

CambodiaWe took a bus from Bangkok to the border with Cambodia. From there we had to walk a couple of hundred yards to the other side of the border and join a new bus for our trip to Siem Reap. I saw a number of small boys pulling luggage carts larger than themselves hoping to help and over burdened tourist get their luggage from one bus to the other. Cambodia finds itself sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand, with each country attempting to assert control over their weaker neighbor. After the Vietnamese army routed Pol Potís Khmer Rouge they have maintained hegemony over Cambodia but if you were to categorize the country as permanently victimized you would be ignoring the astonishing resilience of the people. The past horrors of the old regime are spoken of almost matter-of-factly as if reciting from an old history book except that the dark period is still within living memory. The road from the border to Siem Reap is unpaved, I becamefully aware that I had entered the third world. We seemed to pass all sorts of vehicles from trucks to buses to cars and some that beggar any categorization. I found the people warm and inviting and I loved the sound of their spoken language.

Angkor Wat
Cambodia, Angkor WatCambodia is a poor country and beggars are quite prevalent but the ever increasing sight of Toyota Land Cruisers belies the fact that there is money to be made as this country reawakens from its nightmare past. For the average Cambodian Life of course is still a struggle even if the killing fields have been silenced. One area of promise for jobs is the tourist industry which is only in its infancy. Angkor Wat is Cambodia's shining or rather crumbling jewel.

The temples at Angkor are spread out over some 40 miles around the fast growing town of Siem Reap, about 192 miles from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. They were built between the eighth and 13th centuries and range from single towers made of bricks to vast stone temple complexes. There are two main sites where the Khmer temples are located. The first is at Roluos which is about 10 miles south east of Siem Reap, where only a few of the earlier temples were built. This was the first Khmer capital in the Angkor area. In the late ninth century, Yasovarman I moved the capital to the immediate vicinity of Siem Reap. This is a much larger site, where the majority of the Khmer temples are located. It is officially known as the City of Angkor. There are other temples located in the area, some up to 20 miles away from Siem Reap. Khmer temples can also be found in many other parts of Cambodia, as well as China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

The temples situated in the vicinity of Siem Reap are located in a large park and this is what most people think of when discussing Angkor Wat. according to our guide the concessions if not the temples themselves are under the control of the Vietnamese government though you may be hard pressed to prove this. There are however many new hotels being constructed in town that are own by Vietnamese interests. Still this offers employment to local Cambodians who are able to visit the temples free of charge, for the rest of us there is a small feel.

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