Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chasing Kids at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the attraction that draws everyone to Siem Reap. Nearly a thousand years old, it is the largest of a series of massive stone temples built in precise arrangement around the Tonle Sap River at a time when each stone must have been cut, lifted and hauled by many slaves and oxen. We took a long dusty tuk-tuk ride into the temple complex, and together with the hordes of tourists, climbed and crawled and scrambled around the temple ruins all day. We found shady corners with part-broken Buddhas and little pots with incense sticks, endless stretches of walls carved with histories of dynasties, warfare, and overthrows. Ernest trailed slowly behind trying to absorb the meaning of each carving, while Puck and Yoshi chased their way through maze-like ruins. Unlike Russia or China, where a line would be painted showing where to walk, or a guard would be stationed every 10 feet to discipline tourists, Cambodia seems to treat Angkor Wat like the rest of the country-- a total anarchy, where you can run your hands over ancient carvings, where men stand on narrow ledges high above the ground to smoke cigarettes and flick the butts into the ruins below, where kids scramble around stone ruins next to a knocked-over sign that says "Walk at own risk". That the ruins have survived at all with such neglect and through the country's violent history must be a testament to some good engineering from the last millenium.
The kids were pretty spent on looking at Buddha and Shiva and Brahma and Ganesh, and all the talk about empires and architecture. So this evening we headed back for a second round of chucking fish at crocodiles.