Thursday, June 05, 2003

6 June 2003, Siem Reap, Cambodia

The children line up outside the house each clutching small net covered baskets. The Englishman counts them into the backyard.

They squat solemnly around him as he pulls out of his pocket a pile of 100 Real notes and divides it into six piles, one for each of them.

One by one the baskets are handed over and the Englishman who gently opens the net and releases the precious cargo into the garden. Golden, brown, cobalt blue and black shapes flutter into the air heading for flowers fragile wings flapping. It is butterfly buying day at the Butterfly House and Bar.

Two late comers creep in, baskets tied to their shoulders by a fine piece of string. The Englishman indicates the empty ground in front of him. The Butterfly budget is spent. Small hands hold forth the two extra baskets and a stream of Cambodian issues from young mouths. The Englishman indicates his watch 'You're too late'. Another stream of Cambodian and with a scowl and much shaking of his head the Englishman gets up and goes into the house. The two children wait, anxious eyes following his movements. In minutes he returns, a few crumpled notes in his hands and opens the net on the last two baskets. Two small faces light up.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

5 June 2003, Siem Reap, Cambodia

The limited amounts of Angkor Wat that I have seen are enough to impress the most jaded of travel critics. Massive temple complexes growing out of jungle. Walls of elaborate carvings produced before any modern tools or methods of design were available.

In fact my first reaction on seeing Angkor Wat, one of the wonders of the modern world, was to be sick all over it! The rest of the world may know it as Angkor Wat.... to me it shall ever be immortalised as 'Vomit Corner'!

Wonders of Angkor aside Siem Reap is showing the signs oof the SARS led decline in tourism to the area. Moto drivers push each other aside in their desparation to pick up a paying fare and in the markets of Siem Reap and Angkor Wat little children follow Westerners around trying desparately to sell postcards, bracelets, and any other type of souvenir that they think might appeal. Needless to say Random returned from an afternoon out at the temples yesterday afternoon with over 30 postcards, various bracelets and an empty wallet!

We keep having to get our big notes broken down into smaller local currency to pay for tips, moto drivers and MORE postcards!

I love the local Psars (markets) but similarly feel heartbreakingly overwhelmed by them. Random and I can walk through the local Psar here in Siem Reap and be the only Westerners in sight. We cause a Mexican wave effect as we pass through. Vendors leaping from their seats at our approach 'You buy, you buy' they cry holding forth their wares.

On the streets girls scarcely old enough to have reached puberty carry tiny infants on one hip, holding out a hat with the other 'Real, real' they ask. Begging for the local money. Are the infants their brother or sister? I don't want to think about the other alternative.

At night the town is strangley quiet. We walk past empty restaurants. It's wet season and the town's 40 westerners are tending to sit in one of the towns two main bars and drink rather than get out and explore. The Elephant Bar at the Grand Angkor Hotel is also quiet. The staff don't even raise an eyebrow at our stained t-shirts and my grotty raincoat. The colour of our skin is enough to indicate our ability to spend.

Even the 'Happy Pizza' restaurant... reknown for it's pizzas with lashings of 'Happy Herbs' is quiet in the evening rain.