Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A day in and around Siem Reap

On our final day in Siem Reap, I was ready to go out and seen a few more of the Angkor-era temples, but I was decisively outvoted, so Boxing Day was a relaxed day in and around Siem Reap.  Nancy and I did head out to the War Museum,, a 20-minute tuk tuk ride from our hotel out along the airport road, just past the Defense Ministry’s regional headquarters. 

This museum consists of a large field with tanks, anti-aircraft guns, a helicopter and a fighter jet on display, surrounded by shelters with displays of various weapons – here machine guns, there landmines, or mortar shells / aerial bombs and with other artifacts from Cambodia’s three decades iof struggle against the Khmer Rouge, against Noth Vietnamese invasion, and against American bombing of the part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that went through Cambodia.  Each shelter also housed a chart with educational information and photographs.

The black uniform shown here was the initial Khmer Rouge outfit

Of this collection of landmines, the one on the left is American-made

This set of bombs brought back memories for Nancy of the plant in her Michigan hometown that switched over in the mid-1960's from making auto parts to making munitions

For me, one of the attractions of the museum was the statement in tourbooks that the guides were all veterans of the Cambodian civil wars, so that we would have a chance to talk to them about their experience.  But our guide was too young to have been in the wars. Happily, there were a couple of men in our group accompanying the guide whose shirts indicated that they were associated with  the Cambodia Mine Action Center, a de-mining organization on the tour.  Both were okder than our guide.  One of them spoke English fluently and was old enough to have lived through some of the civil war times, although not old enough to be a combatant.  The other man in a CMA shirt, who spent the entire tour taking photos with a cell phone, was, apparently, former Khmer Rouge soldier, one who fought with Aki Ra of the Landmine Museum; but when I tried to talk to him in English and French, he indicated that he did not understand.

Our guide pointed out this termite mound, whose open hole was an entrance point for snakes which, he said, Cambodians treat as a delicacy: the more poisonous the tastier

He talked to us as well about a pool that was roped off with a danger sign.  One technique used to kill opposing fighters was to ring a pool of water land mines; the water might also be poisoned.  So fighters would look to see if there were any fish in a pool before drinking from it:  if there was no aquati lcife, that was an indication that the water had been poisoned

Chatting with one of the CMAC men accompanying our tour and got some flavor of rivalries within the anti-mining community.  He told me that the Landmine Museum had been expelled from the location of the War Museum, its original site, because it had displayed a photo showing clearing being accomplished without protective gear.  The government, he said, was worried that inexperienced people enthusiastic about the clearing of mines might be inspired to clear mines the wrong way.  That struck me as n unlikely basis for kicking a museum out of its home; I couldn't help wondering whether the government, which is apparently a part owner of the War Museum (located right night to a defense ministry installation), just wanted a museum it could control.

He also said that when de-mining work first began, with veteran fighters from various sides in the civil war  being employed to do the work on the theory that they would best know how to avoid being killed by landmines and how to locate and disarm them, the deminers were all carrying guns and were as likely to kill each other as work together.  Building trust and learning to work as a team was hard at the beginning, he said.  He also indicated that CMAC was hoping to start its own museum; that might well have explained why his companion was taking so many photos.

We headed back to our hotel to meet up with Sam and Nafisa, who wanted to join us in seeing the Artisans d’Angkor, primarily for its shopping possibilities.  But first we went to lunch and the Butterflies Garden .  The menu was fine with many of the standards found in other Khmer cuisine establishments we had tried, but the highlight was the environment – it was within a butterfly house.  Here was the view from our table:

and here are few of the butterflies we could see from or near our table       

 We visited the workshops at Artisans d’Angkor together, and made a number of purchases from its sales shop.

Then Nancy and I headed over to a newish wat, Wat Preah Prom Rath, which was located right around the corner from our hotel.

Although the buildings themselves are of relatively recent vintage

This reclining Buddha was said by temple signs to be 500 years old

The age of this sitting Buddha was not reported

I had  very interesting restaurant in mind for dinner, but our plans were cut short in two ways – I developed a case of loose bowels and decided that white rice was all I could safely eat after an initial dose of loperamide, and Nancy, still recovering from jet lag, slept for a few hours in the late afternoon and early evening.  By the time we headed out shortly after 10 PM, most dining places were closing.  We were lucky to get a table at Khmer Kitchen, but I can;t tell you anything about how tasty Nancy’s dish was.

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