After showering and gathering our things, we proceeded to check out and leave our bags with the front desk while we explored for the last few hours of our stay.
Making our way to the Siem Reap Old Market, also known as Psar Chaa.
Escaping the sun’s glare, we made our way into the tented labyrinth of winding stalls
and found everything we could possibly imagine one might want to buy.
There was food,
carved wooden statues and masks,
and a multitude of elephant pants and Siem Reap t-shirts.
We wandered through the stalls, picking up some souvenirs, and taking in the enormity of the market
before exiting and making our way across the street to a cafe in the Made in Cambodia market for lunch.
A quick walk back to the hotel and we were in our taxi headed to the airport.
Cambodia was an incredible place. Siem Reap is so vibrant!
The locals are always smiling and eager to interact with you and Angkor Wat is really just absolutely jaw-dropping. If you go early enough and avoid the crowds, wandering through the massive stone structures is like a step back in time. It is truly awe-inspiring.
While in Siem Reap, a number of locals came up to us trying to sell us the book, “First They Killed My Father.” While it sounded familiar, I couldn’t quite place it. When we got back home, we were flipping through Netflix and there it was! The Angelina Jolie-directed film adaptation of Loung Ung’s memoir about her childhood growing up during the Khmer Rouge. You should watch this movie.
The Khmer Rouge was Communist leader Pol Pot’s four year reign over and subsequent terrorism of Cambodia from 1975-1979. After overthrowing the government in Phnom Penh, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge insurgents emptied the major cities and forced Cambodians into the countryside where they hoped to establish a classless society where personal belongings/status were outlawed. The Khmer Rouge is responsible for one of the largest genocides in history – killing up to three million people – one third of the entire population of Cambodia. They murdered anyone that worked for the government, the rich, the educated and heavily targeted Buddhist monks who they believed were parasites that lived for free off of the common man’s work. They tore families apart, killed people just for knowing a second language (most commonly French), or even for just wearing glasses! Loung Ung was separated from her family and forced to become a child soldier for the regime.
The crazy thing about it all? This all happened in 1975. Loung Ung’s only in her late 40s. The “history” is really only from a few years ago and has had lasting effects on Cambodia’s people, poverty, and story.
Almost 10 million landmines were buried throughout the Cambodian countryside during 30 years of civil war and Khmer Rouge reign. It is estimated that over 4 million active landmines have still not been recovered. Landmines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) kill and injure two people every week in Cambodia. Throughout our stay we encountered a few Cambodian bands playing traditional Cambodian music with signs explaining that the players were all amputees and landmine survivors. Cambodia has over 40,000 amputees – one out of every 290 Cambodians – which is one of the highest rates in the world. There are active efforts to finish clearing the country of the hidden landmines but it is not easy. Experts estimate it will take another 20-30 years (at the current budget/spend) before the country is completely free of the threat.
The movie is a raw and gripping account of a brutal period of Cambodia’s history all told through the eyes of a small 7-year old girl. It was really well done and very informative. Angelina Jolie’s oldest son was adopted from Cambodia and this project clearly meant a lot to her. Cecilia and I plan to read the book. If you are looking for a movie (albeit not a lighthearted one), I highly recommend this pick.
Hardship is evident but Siem Reap was a wonderful city. I haven’t stopped thinking about it and the wonderful people there since we’ve returned.