Angkor Wats and the First Encounter

Siem Reap is the city that houses the renowned man-made wonder of the world, the Angkor Wat.  The Angkor Wat is actually part of a larger grouping of wats (temples) lying within a 400 square kilometer area.  Collectively they’re called the Angkor Wats, though it is only the largest one that is actually named Angkor.  These wats date back to the year 802AD.   

 

We hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day to take us around to all the temples.  We started at 7am when the temperature had already reached about 90 degrees.  It was a scorcher, no doubt.  The wats were enormous, old, gray stone structures.  Some had faces built into them, some had shrines, some had silk cotton trees encroaching between stones.  They were magnificent. 

 

We noticed three monks following the same path throughout the wats as Vince and I.  We tried to inconspicuously take a picture of them.  (What better picture can you take in the Angkor then one that has monks in it?)  As it turns out, they were trying to do the same thing. Later on in day they stopped us and asked if we would take pictures with them, first the three of them together with us, and then each of them individually with us. 

 

Later that evening, we visited our last temple of the day.  It sat on top of a hill and provided a view of the Angkor Wat, as well as much of the city.  We were looking out at Angkor Wat when we were approached by a few small children that were entranced at seeing foreigners.  They sat down quietly next to us, and then said “hello”. “Hello,” we replied, “Sawas dei.”  They laughed at our Khmer (language of Cambodia).  One little boy was enthralled with a cheap Chinese fan I had.  I started fanning him and he got so excited. He was so cute. I gave him the fan as a gift. He said, “thank you”.  He began fanning me so I said, “ah kuhn (thank you),” back to him. The children laughed again at my pronunciation.  More children came.  Soon their parents and even grandparents joined in curiosity. One of them, a young man, was able to speak decent English.  He lived in Siem Reap, but we learned that the rest of the group was farmers from a province 400km away.  The young man’s sister had invited them to visit the city.  The families said they would visit as long as the sister would be able to support their trip, since they had no money.  She did, and they were all staying at her house; all 30 of them.   The group was composed of several families and about 10 monks. They had never been to a city and never seen a foreigner.  The children asked us lots of questions (translated through the young man).  The father of the family eventually worked his way over and began to speak, (translated through the young man).   He said how happy he was to meet us.  He was glad we were visiting his country. He was very proud of his country.  He survived the Pol Pot period.  He told us that it wasn’t until he was our age that he realized there existed people who were not Khmer.  He was in awe by farangs lighter skin and features.  Eventually one of the grandmothers jumped in telling us how beautiful we were and how much she liked our nose. They all agreed. They like our noses. J  

 

As the sun was beginning to set Vince and I said goodbye to our friends.  Rain clouds were nearing, we ran out of water and were so thirsty. It was time to make the hike down.  Our friends said they were ready to go, too, so we all walked down together.  They led us, along with the whole troop of them, down a “shortcut”, a.k.a. the elephant trail. It was steep. It was narrow. It was slippery.  It was getting dark.  But if the elephants and the older women could do it (with bare feet), then I sure as hell could, too.  Everyone was so happy, and said on several occasions how happy they were to be walking down with Americans.  Probably because they thought it was funny to see us struggling down the elephant trail while they gracefully strode down with ease.

 

At the bottom we said our goodbyes. All the older ladies wanted to touch us and tell us again how beautiful we were, and good luck. To the children we waved and shouted good byes. To the man who spoke English and the father we gave handshakes, and expressed great appreciation at meeting one another. They all piled into the back of a truck, and rode off.  Just then the thunderstorm came pouring in. 

 

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~ by The Piersas on November 9, 2008.

One Response to “Angkor Wats and the First Encounter”

  1. I love this story. The fact that they were so poor that they never saw foreigners yet were still so friendly touched my heart.

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