We got a three day temple pass which was just the right amount of time to explore them at leisure. We hired our tuk tuk driver Mr. Set (the same one who picked us up from the airport) for 3 days of transport for $45. The first day we did Angkor Wat (pictures in the previous post). The sheer size of Angkor is extremely impressive.
The second day we visited the Cambodian Land Mine Museum which was really something. The museum was founded by Aki Ra who’s parents were killed during the Pol Pot regime. By the age of 10 he was given his first rifle and spent the next two decades at war. He laid hundred of landmines and booby traps as a soldier but in 1994 was trained as a de-miner. He has since deactivated an estimated 50,000 mines.
The Museum is also home to a number of landmine amputee children. They have a safe place to live, and are provided with education and training. The number of amputees that you see around Cambodia is truly heartbreaking. The majority of victims were soldiers and farmers and children of farmers.
We spoke to one young man at the landmine museum who lost a foot. He now has a prosthetic foot – which is extremely rare – he was the only person we saw with one.
Another landmine victim that we met (in Siem Riep – not at the museum) was Top Vanna. He was forced to become a soldier – which was where he lost both of his hands to a landmine in 1988. Top wanted to commit suicide when he came to after the blast and looked down to see both of his hands gone. He tried to reach a grenade that he had in a bag attached to his waist but one of his friends saw and took the grenade away. He spent 9 months in a hospital and became a beggar for a year after he was released.
Top was rescued by an aid worker and was given a job working with Rehab Craft Cambodia. He was then able to realize his dream of a family – he got married and had 2 children. He now has his own business selling books and postcards to tourists.
The damage caused by landmines is devastating – although there are some great organizations helping the victims – the numbers of people who have lost limbs – and their lives – is staggering.
After the sobering visit to the museum, we continued on our journey to another temple – I keep calling it the pink temple because I can’t remember it’s name.
The pink temple was a mere fraction of the size of Angkor Wat. The next morning we went back see Angkor by balloon. The big balloon ride was $15 each for 10 – 15 minutes but totally worth it.
The balloon was a cool experience – everyone stood around the outer edge – and we had to distribute our weight evenly or else the balloon would tip to one side. We got a great 360 degree view of Angkor and the surrounding area.
After our balloon ride, it was on to more temples….we visited Bayon which turned out to be our absolute favorite. Something about all of those faces – it was more moving and amazing than anything we had seen.
And we couldn’t resist being a little goofy:
After Bayon and a little lunch, we moved onto our final temple, Ta Phrohm.
The trees were absolutely amazing, how they would snake their way over the walls.
In some spots it looked like the roots of the trees were the only thing keeping the walls from crumbling down.
We were all templed out by the end of the day but wanted to make one last stop. We had passed an orphanage on our way to the temples with a sign that encouraged you to stop in and buy some of the art that the children had made. I asked Mr. Set to take us there (after a lot of explaining to make myself understood – he thought we wanted to go to a school not an orphanage) but once he got it, he took us to one. It turned out to be a different one than the one I had seen but that was okay. As we got out of our tuk, some of the kids ran up to greet us and the founder of the orphanage welcomed us and gave us a tour. We gave the kids stickers, temporary tattoos and shiny pencils that we had brought from home but we didn’t get a chance to spend any quality time with them. We went back a few days later for a visit where we were able to read with the kids, play soccer, help with their schoolwork and just play with them and give them lots of hugs. The orphanage is completely reliant on tourists and foreign volunteers. We met an 18 year old guy from Germany who was volunteering as a teacher for 6 months. He was covered in tattoos, had a piercing and was wonderful with the kids – they loved him.
The kids were all happy and living in a safe place and enjoyed spending time with us. They especially liked the pictures we showed them on our computer of elephants, fish and cats and of the beaches in Thailand.
They loved posing for the camera and then seeing their photo.
This little one was so cute, she was too young to talk but she wanted me to carry her around and she tried walking in Curtis’s flip flops. When we left she put both of her hands on my cheeks and then gave me a huge hug.
I played ball with this boy for ages and taught him this trick!
Some of the other boys really latched onto Curtis and wanted him to help them with their schoolwork. When we left they were all hugs and high fives. It wasn’t sad leaving them because they were all so well adjusted and received so much love.
Next up: A little more about Siem Riep before the bizarre bus ride to Sihanoukville.