Thursday, June 10, 2004

I don't have access to Photoshop, nor do I have any of the patience or time required to change the banner at the top of this page. Which is a bit of a bummer because I'm leaving to fly to Australia tomorrow and that is not, strictly speaking, or actually in any sense whatsoever, in the tropics.

I have departed from Cambodia now and I am currently writing from Bangkok. My last stop before entering Thailand again was at the town of Siem Reap, situated near the Temples of Angkor which is easily the most amazing place I have ever visited. My second World Heritage Site, the Temples are situated in a beautiful forested archeological park about 400 square kilometers in size. The temples are the remains of structures built between the 9th and the 15th century and include Angkor Wat - the world's largest religious building:

A rather fetching picture of Angkor Wat

Some temples are in a better state than others, but all are covered with exquisite carvings and intricate patterns. I spent three days exploring the temples - and I felt like Indiana Jones. In fact the Indiana Jones inspired film Tomb Raider used most people's favourite temple Ta Phrom. Why should this be so?

Here's an example:

Small bit of Ta Phrom

The archaeologists discovered the site of the temples in the first half of the twentieth century and since then have undertaken a massive clearance and restoration project. However they decided to leave Ta Phrom of an example of what the jungle had done to the temples over the many centuries. So they half cleared it and left some amazing examples of wood clasping stone. I wondered around this site open mouthed.

During my time in Siem Reap I also visited the Aki Ra Landmine Museum which was the most fascinating museum I have ever been to. Please, please, please take some time to read Aki Ra's story. I have used a lot of what might appear to be hyperbole in this entry but I assure you I have chosen my words very carefully. And without exaggeration I also tell you that his story will leave you in utter amazement:

My Story - Aki Ra

Aki Ra still clears mines and uses them to fill his museum, but since his website was written the Cambodian government has confiscated his metal detectorand has tried various times to shut him down. Not being an NGO (although trying to secure NGO status), Aki Ra is not permitted by law to clear mines - he currently uses a spade tied to the end of a long stick. Whilst NGO's clear mines at an agonisingly slow pace and at the cost of $500 per mine, Aki Ra has been clearing mines quickly and very cheaply. His museum is filled with various mines he has recovered and made safe, plus bombs dropped by US planes on Cambodia (very, very heavy) and various other miscellany.

The museum survives on donations and Aki Ra uses the money to educate local farmers about the dangers of mines and to look after orphan children who have been the victims of mines themselves. What is most striking about the issue of mines is that both sides laid them and victims would be as likely to get injured by mines laid by their own side as those placed by the other - although the Americans also laid many mines in Eastern Cambodia when they secretly bought the Vietnam War west over the Vietnamese border. The US' actions during this period and their indifference to anything except their own ends is largely, if not entirely, responsible for the horrors that Cambodia suffered after the US withdrawl from the region. The American's called Cambodia their 'sideshow' - yet their interference with the country's entire infrastructure had direct consequences that are still being felt to this day. I'm currently reading a history book regarding Cambodia and the US' involvement there. I'm almost ripping my hair out with anger at what I have been learning. I promised myself I wouldn't write about this until I finished reading the whole book, so more about this next time....

No comments: