About the King. He has been King for about 60 years and obviously revered by the Thais. His image is almost the only one seen in public places: covering large buildings, on wall posters, banners, in shops, everywhere. He has done much to steer the country in a moderate path through military coups or ineffective politicians. The pictures often show him with children or visiting refugee camps. In one popular image he stands in the rain with water dripping off his face. We would notice yellow shirts with a small crest on them. The King was born on a Monday, Monday’s color is yellow, so many wear this shirt on Monday. It is not expected that his son will be liked so royalty may not survive long.
Siem Reap, Cambodia and the ancient capital, Angkor, called us next. An hour away by air, just time enough to serve us a full meal, Siem Reap exists mostly to serve two million yearly Angkor visitors. From the airport our tuk tuk passed several fancy hotels, but our destination was the Two Dragons Guest House just off the paved road east of the river.
The tuk tuk or samlor, a cross between a motorbike and a pedicab, provides transportation in both countries. In Cambodia the motorcycle is detachable and in Bangkok is fused together as a three wheel arrangement. It is cheap transport for locals but a novelty for tourists costing much more than a metered cab ride. Except for Bangkok’s meter taxis you need to negotiate the fare, whether cab, pickup cab, tuk tuk or motorcycle, before you start or you will be charged big at your destination.
Our hotel was owned by an American so language was not a big problem, the room was fine and the food served on the front patio tasted great. They arranged our ride from the airport and transportation to the archeological sites and a guide who met us soon after we arrived at the hotel. And off we went.
Cambodia seems a peaceful place, I could not connect what we saw with the violence of its past. Our guide mentioned that his father, a prosperous rice farmer, survived by convincing the Khmer Rouge he was a small, poor farmer when actually he was college educated and a fluent French speaker which would have cost him his life. While the country has its own currency we only saw it when we received change from a dollar. In fact Cambodia seems to be the land of $20. The entry and exit fee was $20, the room was $20, the guide was $20 and entrance to the park was $20.
Again English was the second language, however to accommodate visitors to Angkor Wat from all over the world, Cambodian tour guides could be found for many languages. We heard groups being led in Japanese, Korean, German, Italian, French, Russian and many we could not identify.
Pictures of Angkor Wat inspired this side trip. While Angkor Wat, to me, leads as the crown jewel of it all, Angkor covers many kilometers and dozens of sites each with it own appeal. In two days we visited 14 areas ranging from a city protected by miles of thick, tall stone walls to a small healing center. By the second day we would leave one site and think we could not absorb one more set of ruins only to find some fascinating surprise waiting at the next. Just to have had another day or more to sit and contemplate the grand view of Angkor Wat or a small carving at Banteay Srey.
I cannot begin to describe all we saw. Click here to see photos from several of the sites.