Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 8 - Angkor and the Land Mine Museum

New Travel Tip - When traveling to different countries, be sure to separate the different currencies you will be using so that you don't get them mixed up. My mom learned the hard way when she paid $1000 Thai Baht instead of $1000 Cambodian Riel to use a restroom, which is equivalent to $33 USD as opposed to $0.25...

Heading back to Angkor, we visited the Preah Khan temple at around 7 in the morning. This complex was similar to Ta Prohm, which we visited yesterday. Giant trees covered the grounds and the roots grew under and through the stone walls. Not too many people were here when we visited, which could be explained by the extensive restoration of the complex.

The second temple we visited was Ta Keo, which was a small structure, but tall with very steep steps. It took a while to get up to the top, but was definitely worth it. Again, one of my favorites to visit because of all the climbing involved.

Taking a break from Angkor, we headed to the Cambodian Land Mine Museum, which is a small museum that also serves as a relief center for children who have been affected by the land mines. The museum and relief center are funded by the donations of tourists, gift shop sales, as well as the admission fee of $2 USD. The museum and center were developed by a man named Aki Ra, who was a top ten CNN Heroes of the Year in 2010. His parents were killed when he was little by the Khmer Rouge and by the age of 10, he was recruited into the Khmer Rouge Army, before deflecting to the Vietnamese Army. After the war, he worked with the UN to deactivate mines and bombs. He has been doing this for over 18 years and has deactivated more than 50,000 of them.

There was a lot of useful information about the history of Cambodia and the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. What was interesting to learn was that many believe that the Khmer Rouge might never have taken hold of power, thus leaving 2 million Cambodians dead, had the U.S. not supported a right-wing coup in 1970 by supplying military aid.

What was also interesting about mines was that they were used to maim, but not kill. During war, it was meant to leave soldiers injured so that resources would have to be spent caring for these injured soldiers. For them, it was more expensive to have an injured soldier than a dead one.

The millions of mines still scattered throughout Cambodia can be attributed dominantly to the U.S., Vietnam, and the Khmer Rouge during the wars in the 60s and 70s.

After the museum visit and a little rest back at the hotel, we headed back to Angkor to catch the sunset at Phnom Bakheng, which is probably the highest point in all of Angkor. Climbing up the mountain and on top of the temple provides panoramic views of the entire area and sunset views. We got there at around 4:30, which was a little too early to watch the sunset, even though our taxi driver said to come at that time. We waited for about an hour, but knew the sun wouldn't set until much later in the night.

As we headed out of Angkor, the taxi driver took us to a temple that had a casing of some of the skulls of the victims of the genocide and the "Killing Fields." Such a tragic event in history... I only hope the people of Cambodia can fully recover and redevelop after all that has occurred. So far, the tourism industry is thriving. Next is to educate the people and care for all the children, since they represent the future.

Preah Khan - As you can see, much of the temple is in the process of restoration

I met this young Cambodian student in the Preah Khan temple. He was about to practice his sketching. He has been in school for 5 years, and is in his first year studying art, which takes 2 years. He plans to sell his artwork to tourists once he finishes with school.

Preah Khan - Enormous Trees tower over the temple

The steep steps of Ta Keo

At the Summit of Ta Keo

Ta Keo - Luckily, we got there before all the other tourists came.

Cambodian Land Mine Museum - Next Project - New Toilet Block

Different types of Mine Casings

A picture of Aki Ra deactivating a landmine

Elephants near the base of Phnom Bakheng. $20 to ride up to the top. $15 to ride back down. Although, I'm not sure if the elephants are treated humanely

Monks at the base of Phnom Bakheng

Monks climbing Phnom Bakheng

Monks at the top of Phnom Bakheng, waiting for the sunset

Waiting for the sunset at the top of Phnom Bakheng

Some skulls of Khmer Rouge victims - such a terrible thing to witness

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