I traveled in Cambodia in 2008, drawn by the famous temples of Angkor. But Cambodia has so much more with its people, its monks and its culture. My visit inspired the romantic suspense manuscript, Shadow Play, by Karen L. McKee, that is currently awaiting completion.
Ta Phrom temple (the photo on the home page) was made famous in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and has all the huge Fromages trees growing over the walls and through the stones, beautiful even in the pouring rain. The sound of the rain, the mists playing amid the stone as the sun comes out, water dripping on stone and ferns and foliage, frames the lovely apsara (celestial dancers) faces lost amid the roots. At one point I choked up and could have cried. Our guide told us about the ancient legend of the beginning of the world when demons churned the ocean of milk and how it all arose out of demons wishing to gain the secret elixir of immortality. Here it seems possible.
Angkor Wat itself lays within a huge mote and stone walls with large green fields and trees beside the causeway that leads from the wall to the temple itself. Once, on either side of the causway there were sacred water tanks (ponds), but now one is not much more than a large puddle. On the south side a monastery provides a school for orphans. I spoke to the teacher who advised that the whole place is funded by donations and they have lost their sponsor. The teacher is a volunteer and the roof leaks, but the kids are all smiles. Where is the government, I wonder?
Our guide told us that Vietnamese control Cambodian politics and even the Angkor National Monument Park is now operated by a Vietnamese company.
Crossing the Tonle Sap Lake and upriver to Battambang
The water shines silver and decked with thick, green mats of water hyascinth. Here and there blue and red stilted villages, or houses of thatch, stand along the banks of the mud-green river. Fishermen dip nets and shopkeepers in barrel-roofed boats float past. Children run down to the docks to wave and yell greetings. The air carries the scent of drying lake shrimp.
We ply dark water between trees on a channel no wider than the boat and yet, somehow, when we meet other vessels, we manage to scrape past. Other times a smaller boat will dart into the flooded forest, the boat man grabbing a branch to drag his craft further sideways.
Beyond the tree tops and brush that surround the channel, great white storks crown standing dead trees and cormorants dry their wings. An egret flies over as we chug through our diesel fumes that disspate in the scent of heated water and torn foliage and, in the villages we pass, the scent of fish fermenting and cooking fires.
Here, on the boat’s roof, the air is full of birdsong and flittering birds, some blue, some grey, some yellow. White and black and orange butterflies float past, and dragonflies and the largest bumble bees I’ve ever seen dart and swerve. Flowers fill the treetops – yellow, pink and lavender. Down below the boat slaps through brush so fierce the boatmen have drawn blue tarps along the sides so you travel thorugh a blue cave, but up above I have the blue sky and praying mantis and the scenes of the flooded rice fields and blue temples beyond the trees.
On Motorcycles , the modern bullocks of Cambodia
Q: How many monks can you fit on a motorcycle or in a tuk tuk?
A: One more
Things I have seen on a motorcycle:
· 6 people
· 2-3 monks
· 5 bed mattresses (twin)
· 3 large bags on charcoal
· A stack of bolts of cloth higher than the driver’s head
· 2 upside down pigs – alive
· Glass windows
· A wheelchair
· Chickens in cages
There’s more to this list, but in a country where people use the centre line to aim their car you can put anything on a motorcycle you want – including an entire store.