|Off we go again with Pheng our local guide. He is in good form today as he as shaken off the Cambodian cold,common in the cool(!) season, he had. As we travel he is very informative & open about Cambodian life. Their economy has improved by 7% but this will not be seen by the people, just the Government & gov officials. Most farmers own an average of 1 hectare of land, government officials 500 hectares of land. Between the lowly to very poor housing we see there is an occasional smart house - gov official's! He says that Cambodia is 155 out of 176 in the corrupt country league where 1 is the least corrupt. We see this later in the day when a policeman tries to sell us one of his spare badges!
Health care & education are not available easily, especially in rural areas, so most of the country. Schooling has to be paid for so the lucky few get any education. Even small towns do not have a doctor, just a medical centre with a nurse if they are lucky. Average family size now is 5 children but city people tend to have 1-3 so rural families are larger. Infant mortality is still high, as is loss of the mother in childbirth. Both he & our previous guide have come from big families (12-14) where 4 siblings of each died either at birth or before the age of 5.
Our first temple today is Boeng Melea which stands almost forgotten in jungle outside Angkor Thom city. Isolated during Cambodia's civil war it was under the control of the Khmer Rouge for decades. It has now been de-mined! Tree roots envelop many of the walls & doorways creating an eerie atmosphere. It is the largest temple outside the Angkor Wat complex. It has deliberately been left partly restored to show how it would have looked when first discovered.
We drive on passing plantations of Tapioca & Sugar Palms (the National tree of Cambodia), Mango, Pineapple & Dragon Fruit orchards. There are a few Rubber Tree plantations left by the French & now owned by ... yes, government officials! A stop in a small town market is fascinating. The people are extremely friendly & very curious about us. Pots & pans, clothing, exotic fruit & veg are alongside bicycle & motorbike spare parts &, frighteningly, in coca-cola bottles for the motorbikes! Young children are all around & we see a gorgeous 3 mth old baby boy in a hammock as his Mum works the stall.
After a local lunch we reach Banteay Srei Temple, meaning Citadel of Beauty. It is regarded as the 'Jewel in the Crown' of the Angkor Temples - well preserved with stunning detailed reliefs covering most of the surface area of the pink sandstone structure & are thought to be the finest, most skilfully crafted in Cambodia. It has only been accessible since the late 1990s when the Khmer Rouge left the area.
A change of mood at the Cambodian Landmine Museum. Again it is frightening to be reminded at how many land mines there are, not only in this country, but around the world. A former Khmer Rouge boy soldier set it up (he was taken at 5 years old to serve with the KR!!!). It now helps local rural children & supports them through education right up to the end of university. It also trains in mine clearance.
A planned whistle stop visit to Banteay Samre, a small laterite temple, turns out to be more exciting than expected. There seem to be an incredible number of children selling here, out of proportion to the size of the attraction! We manage to get through 2 groups of girls successfully & comments are made about the good English & dress sense of one of the girls. She turns out to be a he! Confirmed by the local security guard.
On leaving we have to get through the two groups again with much friendly banter & eventually many of us give in this time for sake of $2! We even manage a photo call with the children. Sadly most of them will end up in relative poverty, or worse.
Tomorrow - pastures new!