Maybe not a typical day, but we’d like to present a day in our lives as global travelers, here in Siem Reap, Cambodia:
The alarm rings. Nancy gets up, Chris a few minutes later. We have to meet our tuk tuk driver, Marom, at 7:00. We are up early to beat the heat. Nancy checks her e-mail: we are hoping to meet up with another Canadian family that is traveling the world like us. She laughs: they are doing the exact same route as us and are already on the road this morning. The kids get up, a little reluctantly. It’s Eva’s turn to have an upset stomach, so she is slow on the go this morning. We have a breakfast of BLT baguettes and are ready to go.
We leave, and head out of the city towards Banteay Srey, one of the earliest temples in the region.
We pass by another temple on the way, Pre Roup, a temple and crematorium built in 961 for Rajendravarman II. Chris senses good photo ops and suggests we stop. Nancy senses a good temple, and agrees. Aran and Eva are still in the process of waking up, and decline. So Chris and Nancy spend a happy fifteen minutes scampering up the steep steps of the temple with only a handful of fellow tourists to mar the view. They come back down to find that Aran has upgraded his seating to first class.
Back in the tuk tuk to continue the drive north. Chris takes snaps along the way. Eva perks up when she and Chris play a game of Cows – simple enough: you get a point for each cow you spot on your side of the road. It’s a game we invented in India, where it was one point for a cow, goat or horse, two for a camel, and five for an elephant.
We arrive at Banteay Srei
Chris here: Banteay Srei is the only one of the Siem Reap temples that wasn’t built by a king. It was constructed around the 900s by a priest. Yajnavaraha was both priest and a royal physician at the court of King Rajendravarman. But he was Brahmin of royal descent, which helps explain why he would want to commission a temple as well. The temple was made out of red sandstone, and it has the some of the best preserved intricate carvings.
It’s beginning to heat up now. We are back in the tuk tuk heading to our second destination, the Cambodian Landmine Museum.
At the entrance to the landmine museum, we connect with fellow Torontonians on a world tour: Katina, Oliver, Mikhaila and Zoe. We’ve been playing e-mail tag around the world, but never actually connected until today. We spend a half hour standing in the heat trading stories until we realize it would be better to do this over drinks this evening.
And into the museum we go…
Aran here – Meet Aki Ra. As a child he was captured and raised by the Khmer Rouge, and during the civil war one of his main jobs was placing landmines. After years of fighting, he returned to villages in which he had planted mines and began defusing and removing them by hand. He first used homemade tools like wrenches and sticks. He now uses safer techniques and has established a formal NGO – Cambodian Self Help Demining. He also created the museum to promote landmine awareness. As one more act of retribution, he also cares for children who have lost a limb to a landmine, a landmine he may have set.
Inside the museum, there is a path leading around a huge glass container filled with defused landmines. Many buildings are connected to this path, each giving a bit of history, stories, and defused landmines to look at. One building focused on the indiscriminate killing power of land mines, and discussed the Ottawa convention that (for the most part) banned the use of land mines.
We stop at a roadside stand, hoping to find some sticky rice cooked in bamboo. No such luck. Apparently roadside stands cluster together in themes. Yesterday, we went by the sticky rice stalls. Today it is palm sugar candies, which, much to Eva’s delight, taste very much like maple syrup.
Nancy here – After the landmine museum, we head further along the road a few kilometers and then stop at the place that Eva has been anxiously waiting to see – the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre. Another project affiliated with CONcert, revenues from the centre provide support for local poverty alleviation and conservation projects. The Centre serves as a butterfly farm and so hatches many on site. However, in order to support local communities, they have also trained local people to establish their own farms, and then they purchase the butterflies from them.
Side note from Chris – We have lunch before entering the butterfly centre. Restaurants in Cambodia seem to prepare dishes one at a time. Aran’s lunch comes second last, and he is starving. Marom’s hasn’t even come by the time we have finished, so we leave him to wait for his lunch as head into the butterfly centre.
Back to Nancy – As we enter the net-enclosed area, we are immediately captivated by the fluttering all around us. Our guide, Vichet, begins to provide us with fascinating details about the secret lives of butterflies. Vichet is clearly passionate about what he does and is very keen to share his knowledge with us. He shows us the little eggs that are the beginning of a butterfly’s life. So tiny, we could barely see them on the leaves. We watched as an employee ever so gently picked them off and transferred them into a small box.
We learn that after 3 days, the eggs hatch and the little worms eat the egg shells which provides them with the protein they need to grow. Eventually, once the worms are large enough, they then spin themselves a cocoon in which they stay for 2 weeks. And then, ta da, they are magically transformed into beautiful, but delicate butterflies. One such fragile butterfly was the leopard lace wing that had 1 million scales on its wings. Our guide told us that the scales are so fragile that if they are touched, the wing would break.
We also learn that through their proboscis, butterflies can smell up to 1 kilometer away and the females can lay 100 eggs.
After a magical, but very hot wander around, it was time to return to the hotel and pool for a quick dip before heading out on our evening adventure. On the way back we stop at another roadside stand, this time to try palm fruit. Not as great a hit as the palm sugar. Gelatinous and somewhat tasteless. But we encourage Marom to keep introducing us to new things along the way!
Some quiet time for homework and blogs
Off to the Circus. We had arranged to meet Katina, Oliver and family for dinner before seeing Phare, the Cambodian circus.
Eva here – We saw the circus with our new friends that we met earlier that day. The circus was founded by refugees that came from a refugee camp. They had been doing circus just for fun but when they got out of the camp they decided to put on shows every night and teach kids with a poor background how to perform. The circus was amazing. It consisted of people flipping in the air and doing hand stands. The story line was of a boy who was hated by everyone so the gods gave him power to change into an attractive woman but he used the power to hurt all the men. The men started to hurt him again and killed him. The gods came and told the men not to hurt him. They brought him back to life then he was much loved. The change from man to woman was much like that in the Kathakali show we saw in India.
Home and bed.
All told, not a bad day: ancient history, geography, architecture, modern history, nature and ecology, food, culture, entertainment, friends, and recreation. Check, check and checkmate!