Saturday, March 5, 2011

Arriving in Siem Reap, the dynasty today

Well for our family over here, the weekend brought a combination of the thoughtful and the ridiculous. The kids were really happy to have five days off from school (International Women's Day is a big deal here). We took advantage of the long weekend and Cambodia's cheap domestic bus service to travel north. We visited Siem Reap, a city up the Tonle Sap River that used to be the capital, when Cambodia was a powerful kingdom controlling most of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand more than a thousand years ago. The kingdom was Hindi when Indian traders and Chinese traders crossed paths here, and then became majority Buddhist around 1200 AD. Like the Egyptians and the Greeks, the Angkor kingdom charted the stars and created a calendar and a system of architecture and math and laws, before sinking into scientific and economic oblivion, broken apart by rival neighbors, colonized by the French, and then torn apart by their own people in the 1970s. Now Siem Reap is tourist town like Daytona Beach for Cambodians. It has hotels in every price range, casinos, nail salons, massage parlors on almost every corner, and a small center (around Pub Street) overflowing with imported liquor, upscale clothes shops, and high-budget travel bums.

As all-American fun-lovers, we headed straight for the tawdry Crocodile Farm, where for a small fee you can stand over their pen, throw fish, and watch them chomp. I didn't realize what a loud noise they make when their jaws snap shut. Ernest was appalled by the advertisements for crocodile boots and purses hanging on the railings. Yoshi and Puck thought it was awesome. Tika kept her distance. Crocodiles lay still in the blazing heat for a long time like statues, some with their mouths open cooling off. Then one moves and the whole group start diving at each other, grunting and biting until they suddenly freeze again, or the offending croc lurches into the water.