Cambodia: Angkor Wat and "Thai" Vodka

February 28th, 2008


I’d like to say this was awe inspiring for me, and it might have been had I given myself enough time, but I was up at 4.30, in the tuk tuk by 5.30 with two new friends, and with the masses as the sky glowed pink.

I only had time to run through Angkor Wat to see the grounds and make some images before needing to be back in Siem Reap for a breakfast meeting. Which was about the right amount of time as the light was turning harsh, the heat was building, and I needed a coffee. I had every intention of coming back out for sunset but things led to things and I found myself watching the sun set on the tour buses and temple tops from the restaurant of a French Algerian named Matthew who at one time photographed the temples for UNESCO. Now he helps determine the wine list for the high end hotel restaurants (rooms at $800-$1500/night) and says who can and can’t be in his establishment.

Hal almost got thrown out for calling an oddly flavored Ukranian vodka “Thai Vodka” until Jon mentioned that Hal was the one who road his bicycle across Australia to raise funds for The Lake Clinic. Immediately Matthew’s demeanor changed and they were best friends.

Ah…the French. Well, we did leave with a friend discount and a case of Duvel. It was an absolutely entertaining afternoon within sight of one of the wonders of the world, one of those moments you’d never be able to imagine until you’re in it.

I’m going to have to come back, wade through the tourists, and make a real effort to see the temples. Of course, that means I’ll have to deal with the Disneyland that is downtown Siem Reap. The outskirts are different–and that’s where most of the brothels, massage parlors, karaoke, and other clubs selling sex are now. But the downtown core is a much more wholesome, tourist friendly environment–compared to the recent past. Not that selling sex is necessarily bad, it’s the exploitation, virgin sales, and captivity that many think Cambodia could do without. I rather preferred Phnom Penh; it was a shock to see so many caucasians. And while working with a health care NGO is a bit of a holiday, I could see very easily where the other part of my work lay. I just couldn’t touch it on this trip.


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