After a whole day of sitting on gender neutral bicycle seats in unbearably hot, humid weather, my rear was too raw to sit down comfortably and there was no way I was getting back on that terrible bike seat for another whole day. Running non-stop on our whirlwind tour was catching up to us and Ben still hadn’t recovered from whatever was making him so miserable last night. We debated quite a bit on what to do with our second temple day, and finally we decided to hop on the tourist bandwagon and hire a tuk-tuk.
Having decided against riding a unisex mountain bike all the way out to Benteay Srei and the landmine museum, we had time to eat a leisurely breakfast (that may or may not have included more mango milkshakes) before hopping in the back of the tuk-tuk for a ride through the countryside. After days of traveling at a frantic pace, the effortless ride was just what we needed. The wind of the moving vehicle kept us cool and we enjoyed the flat scenery and the rural villages as they drifted by.
We were also pleasantly surprised to discover than when we are not both occupied in piloting our own transportation, we actually could take some photos of of the villages as we moved without having to stop and stare at people as they went about their business.
Within an hour, we’d arrived at the 10th century temple where we were surprised to see so many other people milling around. The temple is a smaller structure, and while it was interesting to view the intricate carvings on such a manageable scale, the heat was already setting in, so we didn’t linger as long as we normally would have. Instead, we found ourselves quickly retreating to the wooded walking paths nearby- shade does a wonder of good in this kind of heavy heat. The temple was interesting and we were glad we’d come, but before very long, we were ready to head over to our next target- the landmine museum.
Cambodia is well known for the war that consumed the country 30 years ago, and the landmines that were planted during those difficult years still remain all over the countryside as a terrible reminder of the war torn years that Cambodia survived. The mines threaten the safety of Cambodia’s people, with 286 landmine incidents in 2010 alone. The landmines also dampen the prospects of economic growth since heavy mining affects some of the most promising agricultural areas and the country lacks infrastructure to care for its many landmine victims.
To this day, the cleanup effort is ongoing and the situation is slowly imporving, aided in part by organizations such as Cambodian Self Help Demining team, a group owned by Aki Ra, a former child soldier of the Khmer Rouge and later with the Vietnamese army. Once the war ended, Aki Ra joined the UN to begin demining his native Cambodia. Not only is Aki Ra dedicated to cleaning up mines in his country, but to educating people of the danger of landmines and helping young landmine victims to have a chance at education. The museum, set up in the outskirts of Siem Reap is just one branch of that effort.
Aki Ra’s story of being taken from his parents, fighting as a child soldier, and more recently of losing his young wife, set a heavy tone to the museum visit. We wandered around for a sobering couple of hours, feeling the weight of human brutality as we read the stories from the war and the lasting heartbreak that the mines continue to bring to the Cambodian people. Despite his heartbreaking story though, Aki Ra’s determination to restore safety and hope to his country was moving, and for probably the hundredth time on this trip, I found myself astounded at the resiliency and the resourcefulness of people who found themselves in the most unfortunate of circumstances.
There is plenty of compelling information out there, even without being able to visit the museum in real life. If you have some time, the National Geographic article about Cambodia’s mines are worth a read.
Once we’d finished off the museum, we stopped for some coconut water at the stand near the museum before heading back toward Siem Reap to view a few more temples. This particularly tall one somehow beckoned us clear to the top, a feat which seemed like a bit of a chore in the heat, but again, once we ducked out of the sun, things became more bearable again.
The ride back was just as fun as the ride out had been, and we enjoyed photographing it as we rolled along.
The ride wound down quickly and we stopped once again at Srah Srang. There isn’t much of a temple to see, but the body of water generally is popular at sunrise because of the waters reflection. Since it was now mid day, nearing a hundred degrees, I was frankly tempted to join the local kids in the murky water.
Even in the afternoon heat, our walk took us by plenty of huts and villagers, and one man with an adorable tiny baby stopped us to find out where we were from and wish us well. We were moving slow, and trying hard to make sure that our many photo stops left us standing in the shade while we played with the camera. Before too long, we were ready to call the day quits, and get out of the heat for a few hours.
Earlier, as we had left the tuk tuk, we passed a number of food stalls with the usual vendors encouraging us to buy a bottle of water or cold drink. Out of the familiar chant, one particularly amusing sales girl ran after Ben, asking his name and then announcing “Ben, you buy cold drink from other girls, you break my heart! I cry a lot if you buy from other girl!” We laughed about it all the way through our long walk around the lake, and soon found ourselves returning to her stall for a couple of drinks.
Before long we were headed back to spend the rest of the painfully hot afternoon hours indoors resting and journaling before heading out to shop in the evening.