Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
33Trip End Mar 10, 2008
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I arrived in Cambodia on Wednesday with the intent of spending three days touring the Angkor Wat temples. Unfortunately, a nasty stomach virus derailed those plans, and I've spent most of my time in my room, trying to keep food down and stay hydrated. It's the principle of anatta in action- life, ultimately, is beyond our control, so I didn't waste too much energy feeling bad about the situation.
With some help from my tuk-tuk driver, Sokhut, I was able to get out and see some of the ruins on Friday. The temples of Angkor, built between the 9th and 13th centuries, are truly inspiring, and not just because of their size and scale. Walking among them, you're transported back to an era in which this region was the epicenter of a vast Khmer empire
On the surface, though, you wouldn't be able to tell. The people here are friendly and eager to please, especially in Siem Reap where tourism dollars fuel the economy. Adorable children follow you around selling postcards ("Hello, mister! Where you from? United States? Your capital is Washington D.C. and 300 million people live in your country!"), tuk-tuk drivers are aggressive but courteous, and there are scores of hip restaurants, clubs, and bars open late into the evening. Siem Reap also seems to have a fascination for '80s American subculture and "happy pizza", which is pizza topped with ganja (seriously).
It's going to take a while to rebuild here - there's still a lot of government corruption, grinding poverty, and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. But I can't help but feel hopeful for the Khmer people. They built the Angkor temples, one of the most significant human accomplishments in the history of the world, so I think they're capable of almost anything.
Tomorrow, I fly back to Thailand to spend five days on Ko Chang, a small island known for its beaches, national park, and diving.