Call me shallow, but I was feeling a bit over temples at the outset of this excursion. We zoom from one thing to the next at such a frenetic pace it all blurs. I would have happily stayed and chilled, but you know, seemed rude not to go with the flow, so off with the flow I duly went. So glad I did.
All back in the fun bus for a short drive to see a really old temple. This is where you have to accept my version of it all may be somewhat of a garbled reconstruction of the facts as I understood them, however, the pictures will tell a story, and frankly, it isn’t so much the details of the temple that are of interest here, it is the stories we got along the way that made it such an excellent outing.
So, key points though, this particular temple is again one of hundreds scattered over quite a small area. It is Hindu, not Buddhist, and pre-dates Angkor Wat by many centuries. It is thought to go back to 6th Century – well that was my understanding. Whilst much of it is in ruins, some striking carvings and structures remain, though depressingly it isn’t a fantastically well-maintained site (some litter) and parts are known to have been looted. One fine statue is known to have ended up in France as part of someone’s collection. Even so, the collection of towers on the site are amazing, some are overgrown and have a definite hobbit-hole, otherworldly feel to them. A few structures had minimal trappings of current use, some incense or a gold cloth thrown somewhere, but fairly minimal. The setting though is jungle, and it is undoubtedly spectacular.
Honestly, I’m not even sure if I’ve got the name of the temple right, but I do know what our guide told us, and he was really interesting.
This town, it where Pol Pot was born. It is therefore even more shocking that once again our guide confirmed that he did not learn about Cambodia’s own history in school. He taught himself. His own story is quite inspirational. He iw one of nine siblings, and originally was taken out of school at a young age as he was needed to work the rice fields. By the time he was about 13 he could do it all. Sew, harvest, fish, drive oxen to plough. But he didn’t want his whole life to be like this. He pleaded to be allowed to go away to study English, and did so in his mid-twenties, learning at some mission school. He worked the kitchens and cleaned to afford to stay. After two years, he could read, write and understand English, but was still too scared to speak it. Talking to foreigners terrified him. His whole education was from non-native speakers. Eventually, he gained confidence, and got a job as a teacher, later on, he had the opportunity to return to his home community to do this. That led to progression and his current job as a guide. He is in his forties I think. It has been a long hard journey to get there. He described so much about his own life. How his uncle disappeared during the Khmer Rouge period. How when he was young children were needed in the fields so school was actively discouraged. Now his family are proud of him. Education is seen as a route out of poverty, and the acquisition of English a really important part of that.
As we walked through the ruins dodging biting ants. We saw dug out pools, we asked if they used to be full of water. Yes they did. In his lifetime. When he was young and came into the jungle to get wood he could drink clean water from these pools. However, over time the Chinese were given licences by (corrupt) Cambodian officials to ‘develop’ the area. In fact they came in and took away all the valuable trees, upsetting the balance of the forest. He remembers truck after truck driving away all through the night, laden with beautiful wood. The development never came, the local community never benefited, and the forest is not the same. The water courses have changed – maybe even the water table, and many mature trees have gone. Again and again, you see the impact of recent history.
Our guide had accompanied his talk with showing us pictures in a rather good laminated guide-book. It is his only copy. It turns out it was given to him by some Japanese development initiative. They are paying for a lot of the conservation work you see, also I’ve seen advertised on the telly here various construction projects involving Japan. It puzzled me. Well, history homework awaits me, or at least proper googling once I have time and a decent internet connection. It seems that Japan does this in lieu of reparations following hostility in war. Whether all the aid they give is used for it’s intended purpose, who knows, but there is an impact. Our guide was delighted with his guide book and treasured it greatly, and it was good. Very informative indeed – shame I struggle to remember many of the salient points within….
As we explored, periodically, troupes of small children hawking wares would descend on us. They weren’t aggressive, but it is pitiful. What are they doing in the forest. There weren’t many visitors – us and a smallish French group with impressive tripods for their cameras. I don’t think any of us bought anything, and nor will we. It is sad. You feel cruel ignoring their pleas, but I don’t want the stuff, and I do believe buying it will collude with parents sending their children to do this, instead of being in school, and it isn’t a sustainable way to live. So sad to see though. These are children, no adults in sight, vulnerable doesn’t begin to describe it.
The final tower was the most spectacularly overgrown. Enormous tree routes having almost entirely encircled the tower, strangling the brickwork and near obscuring what was the entrance. Curiousity got the better of me and I went to peer in through the roots.
SURPRISE! Brilliant scare! One of our number was lying in wait to shout at the next person that peered in. Genius, only wish I’d thought of it myself. We conspired to get others to fall for the same wheeze. Only one did, but it was spectacular, so well worth it. He got the full effect of two people hiding. Unfortunately, they then spooked themselves by disturbing some creepy crawly or other that then took umbrage and flew at them. Cue lots more shrieking and fear. Not appropriate probably for an ancient sacred site, but it was entertaining to observe I’m ashamed to say.
So all in all, an interesting afternoon, sobering at times, thought-provoking and also on assault on the senses. I wonder if my head will actually explode from all this information and input. It might, it really might….
We also all posed by a tree, just to show how enormous it is, which it is. Look: