Enhancing Lives to Alleviate Poverty by Forward Thinking

I am an advancing personality and as such I understand that the surest way to advance in life is by enhancing the lives of others. The trick is in the fact that there are two types of enhancements:

  • Forward Enhancements
  • Backward Enhancements

I take honest pride in enhancing people’s lives by advancing them with forward enhancements. A forward enhancement doesn’t care whether you make the receiver feel good or feel bad. Feelings enticed by such actions are always temporary and should come secondary to the higher purpose – the ultimate goal. Did your actions in the end get your target group to the desired destination or did you end up stuck with perceived added value? Do your actions offer temporary feel good experience which, like drugs delivers temporary illusion of positive feelings only to put the life in serious danger when the effects wear out?

Photo: Would You Give Them a Fish or Teach Them How to Fish?
Photo: Would You Give Them a Fish or Teach Them How to Fish?

Being the most truthful travel blogger in the world, I take a lot of heat from the self righteous protectors of the impoverished people for calling a spade a spade. Take Cambodia for example. Pointing out that Cambodians are lazy and dangerous resulted in a lot of hatemail sent to me by people suffering from fear of reality. These delusional people mean good, but their actions result in naught more than False Enhancements in the lives of Cambodians. The self righteous defenders of Cambodian reputation are like that drug I spoke about earlier. They wanted to help alleviate Cambodian poverty so they gave Cambodians a fish (to use the Bible reference). In their eyes, providing hungry people with fish enhanced their lives. In reality, this presumed step forward was a two steps backwards.

Example of False Enhancements

The result of providing impoverished people with false enhancements is the dependence. Dependence is inability to provide for themselves and that is a perfect set up for a disaster. Let me give you an example – when I was visiting the tropical island of Langkawi in Malaysia, I was tempted to take a boat tour through the mangrove but ended up never taking it because all tour operators and all boatmen combined the tours with “eagle feeding”. Basically, tourists would be loaded into a boat which would head towards the ravine where wild eagles nest. Then in order to provide the tourists with an unforgettable experience, the boatman would throw the eagle soaring around a fish so the eagle comes within the reach of tourists in the boat.

Needless to say, all tourists would end up in awe, which is what the boatman wants because it fills up his pocket with cash. It’s a business I was not willing to support even if I were the only person in the world who would not participate in this activity. What this eagle feeding does, is that it causes dependency and dependency, as mentioned above is a very solid step towards losing the ability to provide for themselves. If this eagle feeding continues, the eagles will get used to the fact that each time a boat shows up, all they’d need to do is come to it and they’d get food. Day after day, their feeding ritual would change from catching their own fish into flying towards boats and if it doesn’t stop, eventually they would lose the ability to catch fish. Then if something happens (and that can easily happen) and boatmen can no longer come, the eagles will be left without food and with lost ability to feed themselves, they’ll die.

And this is what False Enhancements are all about. To a reality fearing mind, feeding eagles may seem like a noble cause. “Poor wild animals have tough time catching fish, so we helped them to survive, right?” I truly understand how some could come to such conclusions and seeing the reactions of the self righteous protectors of the Cambodian people to me instating the True Enhancements in Cambodia only confirmed how gullible much of the population is.

Two Types of People

There are two types of action takers, both sharing the same, honest desire to enhance the lives of impoverished people, but each taking a different approach to it. The types of people are:

  1. Backward Thinkers – The Self Righteous Protectors who Help People By Providing Them with Fish Instead of Teaching Them How to Fish and by Attacking the Forward Thinkers for Taking Seemingly Unpopular Actions
  2. Forward Thinkers – People Who See Past the Point of Their Noses And Address the Issue by Actions That Lead to Resolution, Even If They Cause Temporary Discomfort. Forward Thinkers Focus on Bigger Picture and Achievements of Ultimate Goals, Not Temporary Feel Good Experiences

Let’s take a closer look at how much each of the two types of action takers enhances the lives of impoverished people:

Backwards Thinkers

There is no doubt that the backwards thinkers mean well. In their divine delusion, they are the ones who step up and speak on behalf of the impoverished. They are in the front line when it comes to attacking people like me who dare to speak badly about the impoverished. They are also in the frontline when it comes to helping the impoverished the way the impoverished want. But where does this type of help lead?

Well, let’s take a look at Cambodia again for it’s a good example. Where did the impoverished people get after 30 years of assistance by the backwards thinkers? Yeah… 30 years after the end of the Khmer Rouge rule, and after 30 years of being given handouts on daily basis, the lives of average Cambodians have not approved one bit. I can guarantee you that if backward thinkers continue enhancing the lives of Cambodians backwards, like they have for the past 30 years by encouraging the culture of handouts and attacking forward thinkers for addressing the real issue and encouraging the real change even if it requires slaps on someone’s wrists, we’ll look at what has changed in the next 30 years and we’ll see nothing. Backwards enhancements, the ones practiced by backward thinkers set the impoverished two steps backwards.

30 years is more than enough to achieve a real change – for as long as the backward thinkers are kept at bay so forward thinkers can enhance the society forward without hindrance by the backwards thinkers. Look at Japan, for example. The country was destroyed after World War II and found itself in far more desperate state than Cambodia was after the Khmer Rouge rule, but backward thinkers were restricted from slowing progress down, forward thinkers were put in charge and 30 years later, Japan was an economical superpower. If what backward thinkers do had the potential to change Cambodia around, it would have already happened now that they’d been providing their assistance so relentlessly for 30+ years.

I cannot however deny the good intentions of the backwards thinkers. Sadly, stupidity, even if performed with the best of intentions is the core of hindered progress. A wise man once said that a hyperactive idiot is worse than the enemy of the state. And it’s true. In their bid to do good, backward thinkers rush into “helping” the poor while throwing roadblocks before the feet of the forward thinkers, ultimately hindering the process of enhancement. There is no bigger obstacle to progress than a dedicated moron who can’t see the forest for the trees and relentlessly enforces his/her own backwards agenda.

Forward Thinkers

There is only one shortest distance between two points. And that’s the path the forward thinkers take. Not only does it lead to the finish, it gets you there faster than any other way. As a wise man once said, sometimes you need to lose the battle to win the war. That’s why backward thinkers can never be good generals. They do not have the ultimate goal in mind and focus merely on temporary feel good experiences. They’d focus entirely on winning that battle even if in the end they’d lose the war. Unpopular steps must sometimes be taken so the greater good can be achieved. Forward thinkers take these steps, even though it makes them unpopular in the eyes of the backward thinkers who would not hesitate to assault them.

Despite the looming threat of the attacks by the backward thinkers, forward thinkers won’t give in to their backward thinking and will do all in their power to move the society forward. Roadblocks set by the backward thinkers will ultimately slow the progress down (or completely halt it, in some cases), but without forward thinkers, we would have never gotten anywhere as humans. They are the ones who achieve real results because they are not afraid to think outside the box (Eppur si muove!) and take steps that lead to ultimate goals, even if it creates temporary hardships along the way.

While backward thinkers fight to alleviate poverty by encouraging and deepening the culture of handouts and attacking the forward thinkers for speaking up against it, the forward thinkers understand that the real problem lies somewhere else and must be addressed, even if it requires a slap on the wrist. Take inherent laziness of Cambodians for example. A forward thinker would tell the Cambodians that many of their problems are a result of laziness and would tell them to stop being lazy slacks and start taking responsibility for their lives. A backward thinker, on the other hand would instantly attack the forward thinker for saying things like that and would back Cambodians up saying that they have a difficult life and have gone through a lot, are still recovering from the past and need all support they can get.

Fact be told, the Cambodians don’t need any more support. They got more than too much of it for the past 3 decades and it got them nowhere. They need someone to kick them in the backside and tell them that in today’s information age everyone has equal opportunity to make decent living. Internet gurus earn upwards of 6 figures and can be found in India, Ukraine, Romania, Egypt, and many other countries. Internet creates a level field for everyone so the excuse of living in a poor country simply will not stand. The trouble is that because the internet provides the level field for absolutely everyone, the competition is rough as whole world, down to the last country you didn’t even know existed is your competition. As a result, in order to make it, one needs to work on it daily and constantly grow and improve. And that won’t work if you’re a lazy bum.

Difference Reiterated

I have said it before but it must be said again: backward thinkers feel sorry for Cambodians, give them handouts and attack everyone who speaks badly about them. Forward thinkers tell Cambodians that they are responsible for their own lives and that if they are poor, it’s their own doing because anyone who doesn’t suffer a mental illness has everything they need to make it and have an abundant and fulfilling life.

The problem, as I have personally experienced, is in a fact that backward thinkers are such a loudmouthed congregation of delusional individuals, the presence and actions of forward thinkers are overshadowed and often suppressed by cocky backward thinkers who believe their poop doesn’t stink. As a result, forward thinkers often choose to keep to themselves so they don’t have to put up with the abuse by holier than thou backward thinkers which gives the backward thinkers an impression that everyone does it their way hence it must be the right way.

You don’t have to go too far to see what it does to their ego to have someone go against their religion, address the real issue and call a spade a spade. And imagine how much effort it’s going to take to undo all their actions to start enhancing people’s lives forward, not backwards. I tried in Cambodia, but the damage done by the backward thinkers is so deep rooted, it’s gonna be a major challenge to revert.

I knew that the way out of their misery is for Cambodians to obtain computer skills and market themselves to worldwide audiences on the internet. Regardless of how poor and deprived of opportunities they may feel living in their homeland, it all matters not once they get on the information superhighway. But there was a problem which goes back to the damage done by the years of backward enhancements.

Instead of listening to me and trying to learn a thing or two to actually achieve a change in their lives, the Cambodians I was able to argue into going to the internet cafe with me spent the entire time in chatrooms. Switching between half a dozen chat windows to waste time talking useless crap with random internet acquaintances was more appealing to them than the ability to learn something that could generate them an income comparable to that the people from the western countries earn.

Like eagles on Langkawi, Cambodians know that all they need to do is flock around foreigners when they come to sight and they’ll get stuff for free. Why would they bother studying to gain qualifications which could land them with above average income if all they need to do is a bit of whining and free stuff falls into their laps?

30 years of pampering by the backward thinkers left Cambodians completely uninterested in taking charge of their lives. As I had said many times before, backward thinkers enhance the lives of the impoverished people backwards. They think they move them one step forward, but in reality they set them two steps backwards. They usually do that with good intentions but intentions are useless if the end result is backward movement. Had people listened to harsh, but forward enhancing words of forward thinkers, instead of attacking them, Cambodians would not be this used to getting handouts and unwilling to take charge of their lives on their own.

Things need to be called for what they are, without beating around the bush. There is no polite way to address a lazy person but by calling them lazy. Unless the laziness is acknowledged as such, no attempt will be made to overcome it and set sail for a change. Forward thinkers tell lazy people that they are lazy. Backward thinkers attack forward thinkers by calling them racist bigots for having the audacity to call lazy people lazy.

Conclusions

Cambodians are poor because even though they feel that there is a way out, they are unwilling to put forth the effort necessary to find that way and travel it. And the reason they don’t have that will is because over the decades, they’ve been pampered by the backward thinkers who enforced the notion that accumulating their own wealth was unnecessary. Forward thinkers knew that in order to set them off on that way, they’d need to be kicked down that road. Gently pushing them did not work. They were embedded in their lazy seats so tightly, it delivered no result. A mighty kick was necessary if the ultimate goal of following the road to self made riches was to be accomplished but backward thinkers would immediately step in and attack the forward thinker for kicking a Cambodian. How racist of a forward thinker, isn’t it?

What backward thinkers don’t realize is that the poor don’t need charity. They need inspiration. Unfortunately, actions of backward thinkers, if allowed to perform for a long enough time can kill people’s inherent desire to follow up after they’ve been motivated. When it gets to that stage, simply inspiring people will land little change. Harsh action is then required, oftentimes no lesser than a mighty kick in the backside or a pretty loud slap on the wrist.

Charity only provides the poor with a fish to keep them alive in their raggedness, or to make them forget that they are poor for an hour or two, but wrist slapping action can cause them to rise out of their misery and set on the path to a better life. Anyone wishing to really help the poor is hereby encouraged to enhance their lives forward, not backwards. It is not hard-hearted or unfeeling, as it is not racist or bigoted to bitch-slap an impoverished person if in the end it breaks their poverty cycle. Backward thinkers pity poverty, forward thinkers kick it in the arse. Which one are you?

Laos Visa on Arrival Coming from Cambodia

It used to be that if you wanted to enter Laos from Cambodia, you had to go to the Lao Embassy in Phnom Penh and apply for visa in advance. While Cambodia upgraded their Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor border crossing facility a few years ago to offer visa on arrival, it took Laos a few extra years to follow suit. When I first came to Cambodia, the Lao visa on arrival option was not available but by the time I was ready to leave and head to Laos, this became an option. At least so I’ve heard from a few reports on the internet.

Unfortunately, I have not personally met anyone who got their Lao visa on arrival when entering Laos from Cambodia nor have I gotten a definite YES from any of the bus operators running the bus service between the two countries. I didn’t want to spend extra two or more days in Phnom Penh just so I could secure myself with safe passage to Laos (not a place I would want to spend any more time than I have to), so I decided to take the risk and count on those unconfirmed reports that Laos visa on arrival is now available at the Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor border crossing.

When an Aussie couple who also didn’t have the visa boarded the bus headed for Laos I was on, it made me feel a whole lot better about the whole visa on arrival situation. Until they got on the bus at Stung Treng, I was the only passenger without Lao visa in his passport.

Luckily it definitely is possible and I can now confirm that Lao visa on arrival coming to Laos from Cambodia is now definitely available at the Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor border crossing as I have personally gotten myself one that way. It took less than 5 minutes to have the visa issued during which you wait at the first tiny window on the Lao side of the border. Second window has a different guy whose purpose is to stamp the visa the first guy issued for you. Both visa issuer and visa stamper will insist on a bribe.

Because it was Sunday, the visa stamper guy insisted on a mighty bribe of $2 per person. He was pretty pissed about the fact that he had to be there on the weekend which was reflected in the tone of voice he used when demanding the bribe. The visa issuer guy, on the other hand only bumped the price of visa by $1 compared to what is listed on the websites.

That’s where my biggest beef came from – I don’t know what exactly Laos has against Canada, but for some reason, if you’re a bearer of a Canadian passport, the cost for the visa is much higher than citizens of other countries have to pay. Even Americans have to pay significantly less than Canadians and unlike them, we (Canadians) didn’t even bomb the living beejesus out of Laos during the Indo-China War.

Whatever the reason, the cost of Lao visa for bearers of Canadian passports (whether applied for in advance or obtained on arrival at the border) is the highest of all. While Aussie guys only had to pay $31 each for their visa on arrival ($30 visa fee + $1 bribe), I was asked for $43 ($42 visa fee + $1 bribe). The man behind the small window wrote the amount on a small piece of scrap paper which he then handed to each of us after we handed him the passport.

Unlike most other visas (visas other countries issue), Lao visa on arrival I got had no mention of validity. I had to ask the people on the bus who believed it was 30 days. Either way, I didn’t want to overstay, so I marked the date in my calendar to make sure I leave the country before it’s too late and promised myself to make the most out of this trip as unless Lao officials get over themselves and start charging Canadians a reasonable amount, I’ll think twice before applying for Lao visa again. There’s no reason whatsoever to be so anal with us. We’ve never done anything to them, so why Canada?

Crossing the Cambodia Laos Border at Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor

The Laos bound bus I boarded in Kratie had only about 10 people on it. Everyone was kind of minding their own business while on the bus, but we struck a conversation during mandatory snack breaks. I’ve heard Lao visa on arrival was available on the Voeung Kam side as of February 2010, but I’ve never actually met anyone who could confirm they got one while crossing the border so I was a bit apprehensive about it. The fact that everyone else on the bus aside from myself already had Lao visa (they applied for in advance at the Lao embassy in Phnom Penh) didn’t make it any easier on me.

Two more backpackers, an Aussie couple boarded the bus in Stung Treng and took a seat right across the aisle from me. They had just finished exploring Ratanakiri, the province I decided not to go to so I asked a bit about how they liked it and what they thought of it. While the guy said he enjoyed the scenery, the girl didn’t like the province at all.

Stung Treng was our last stop before reaching the border crossing at Dong Kralor. There was nothing but a barrier across the road and a small shed on both Cambodian and Lao sides. A true middle of nowhere, with no signs of civilization or any humans involving activity other than the border check huts. The bus dropped us off at Dong Kralor, all of us got off along with our luggage and went to go through the exiting procedure on the Cambodian side.

Bribes on Cambodian Side of the Border

There was one Cambodian inside the border crossing hut and one outside of it. They both worked as a team with demands for bribes. The guy inside would show his palm and say: “One Dolla” while the man standing outside would follow in commanding voice: “Pay one dolla”.

We were all coming from Cambodia so we were all already used to being scammed on every step which resulted in an obedient shell out by the most of us. There was one Dutch fellow who was the most vocal of us all and resisted the scam to the last minute but he was eventually forced into opening his wallet the same way as the rest of us.

I thought that perhaps we should have discussed this beforehand and made a pact that we would all stand up for ourselves as one and then they’d have little leverage to work with. After everyone but me and the Dutch guy were past the immigration and headed towards the Lao checkpoint, we both knew that if we remained adamant, we would get through without paying the bribe, but that wouldn’t go over well with the guys already in the bus whom we’d force into waiting. As I expected the bus driver to be a part of the scamming mafia, he would probably decide to leave if we were to “hinder” the bus by demanding the passage without bribes. But if all of us united against this abuse, the driver would have no option but to wait and the immigration dudes would also have to give in to the group that outnumbered them.

Bribes on Lao Side of the Border

There is a bit of a walk to do after the Cambodian booth to the Lao booth which would constitute actual border crossing. The bus was already waiting for us at the Lao side as it got across while we were dealing with the scammers on the Cambodian side of the border. Bribe demands on Lao side were even worse than on Cambodian side, though.

Luckily for me, the Australian couple that boarded the bus at Stung Treng didn’t have Lao visa either so I wasn’t the only one applying for it. Lao immigration booth had two windows on it. First window was for visa on arrival, the second was to stamp our passports and allow us an entry to the country.

The guy stamping passports demanded two dollars per person for a stamp. That made his bribe 200% higher than the Cambodian one. While I was waiting to get my visa on arrival, I’ve heard the people who already had their visa express their displeasure with unusually high bribe demand.

When asked why he’s demanding so much, the man behind the small, low laid window said that it was the mandatory weekend charge (it was Sunday). He bitched that he had to be at the border crossing on the weekend so he demanded a $2 bribe instead of a more common $1 one.

When my turn came to get a stamp, I already knew what awaited me, but I was still surprised by the way the bribe was demanded. The pocketbook sized window was located where normal sized man’s waist is and all I saw was a hand come out of there, tap the wall and a commanding voice from inside said nothing more but: “Two dolla!” It was said in a voice of an order, not a request. The tone of his voice literally translated into: “Don’t mess with me boy. I’m not gonna ask twice. Hand over two bucks or else!”

Aside from annoying demands for bribes, crossing the Cambodia Laos Border at Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor is an easy and pain free matter. There is no heavy traffic (at least not on Sundays) that goes through this border crossing and if I were to guess, other than the regular bus service between Cambodia and Laos, there are not many days during which this border crossing sees independent travellers with their own means of transportation.

Cambodia has been offering visa on arrival on the Dong Kralor side for a few years but to go to Laos, one needed to apply for visa beforehand. This has changed recently and visa on arrival is now available on the Voeung Kam side for travellers heading to Laos.

Bribes and Scam on Cambodian Border Crossings

The very first local I encountered upon my arrival in Cambodia stole my pen because it had a laser pointer on it and he decided he liked it. It was the only pen I had readily available on me so when he said something was missing on my arrival card, I pulled it out of my camera bag and filled the missing information in. He then took the pen out of my hand and took the card along with my passport to add his notes, signature, a stamp or whatever it is they are supposed to do with those cards on it. He then went to get something else done by standing up from his desk and walking up to the opposite counter and when he came back, the pen was nowhere to be seen. I asked if I could have my pen back yet he insisted he gave it to me previously. Needless to say, this was the last time I have seen my pen.

I had only been in Cambodia for two minutes, and this was the very first Cambodian I had to deal with and I already got my pen stolen and was lied to straight into my face. He was the perfect reflection of what awaits a visitor inside the country. From the moment you’re in until the moment you’re out, there will always be a plentitude of locals looking for the ways to scam you out of your money or possessions.

Because the Cambodian government took measures to prevent scamming by anyone other than their befriended individuals, immigration people at certain points of entry (such as the Siem Reap or Phnom Penh airports) can no longer directly request bribes from foreigners who’d just arrived. That doesn’t however mean that they will miss out on other opportunities to enrich themselves at your expense.

Similarly, many overland points of entry are still major bribery hubs so if you fly in to Cambodia and continue on with your travels overland like I did, then you will be subjected to scam from the very first person you encounter to the very last (and virtually everyone in between). Similar open requests for bribes at overland border crossing will await you when entering and exiting Laos (on both Cambodian and Lao sides), but from my experience, this is not practised by Thai or Vietnamese immigration officials.

When I went I went to Thailand, scamming ended with the very last Cambodian I had to deal with. It goes without saying that he DID insist on a bribe but it was a breath of fresh air to come to the Thai side and be processed without any scam attempt. It works similarly when entering Cambodia from Thailand whereas Thai officials would process you without requests for bribes, but as soon as you come over to the Cambodian booth and start dealing with Cambodians, it gets to be a whole new story.

Vietnam doesn’t offer visa on arrival (or visa free entry) when entering overland from Cambodia (October 2009) so you have to apply for it in advance with the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh (at least if you’re a bearer of a Canadian passport) but as is the case with Thailand, open requests for bribes will end with the last Cambodian you end up having to deal with.

A Visit to Banteay Srei Temple

Isvarapura, or Banteay Srei as it is known today, is an ancient Khmer temple located about 25 km north of Angkor Wat. Its “out of the way” location and insignificant size make Banteay Srei seemingly unimportant, however through inclusion in most tour packages, it sees a fair amount of visitors. Frequently referred to as “Citadel of the Women”, allegedly because it was the women who decorated it, its name kept popping up in most conversations I had with locals before and during my trips to Angkor. If the temple was completely off my radar before, soon after I started touring the temples of Angkor, the impression that Banteay Srei was a “must not miss” became apparent. From students whom I taught English at the Preah Prom Rath Pagoda, through my coconut friends at Angkor Wat all the way to the villagers from Sras Srang with whom I ended up spending most of my time in Cambodia, everybody kept asking me if I already paid Banteay Srei a visit. When I told them that I’d never even heard of that temple, everybody gasped for the air and insisted that I definitely include it in my plan. I had so much of the “citadel of the women” name enter my ears, I was afraid to look at the toilet paper after I wiped my butt off for fear that I’d see the name of the temple etched on it.

Photo: Gate in the Second Enclosing Wall to Banteay Srei
Photo: Gate in the Second Enclosing Wall to Banteay Srei

Road Trip to Banteay Srei

While all of the temples you would have heard of and wanted to visit prior to coming to Cambodia are located reasonably close to one another and can be visited in one go, a visit to Banteay Srei requires a detour that’ll eat a good chunk of the day on its own. Since everybody kept shoving that Banteay Srei hype down my throat, I decided to dedicate whole day to it and combine it with a road trip present for Ha and her daughter. I picked up Ha from the Temple Club after returning from a nighttime stay at Angkor Wat, made sure she gets good sleep and takes shower in warm water before leaving my air conditioned room the following day to see her daughter. As part of my surprise package, I started the day by giving Ha’s daughter a present, took a bunch of picture of the four year old girl wearing her new top and as soon as we were done, a we heard a tuk tuk pull over just outside of the room where Ha and her daughter lived. It was my student from the English class with whom I made prior arrangements.

I knew Ha didn’t have anything to do during the day, because she couldn’t score a job in Cambodia so there was zero risk of either her or her daughter being unable to go. So when the tuk tuk showed up and everybody kept wondering why it would come to that remote part of Siem Reap where no foreigners ever go, I simply told them to get dressed, because we’re taking a road trip to Banteay Srei. I had to explain to Ha that I didn’t know whether they’d be able to go inside the temple as all non Cambodians need an expensive entrance ticket, however should we fail sneaking them in as Cambodians, I’d just leave them in a nearby restaurant for a meal while I take off on my own to take a few pictures of the temple. The excitement was instantaneous. We picked up a few sandwiches from a store next to their hut and set off for an hour long ride to Banteay Srei on a tuk tuk.

It was a very, very hot day so a ride in a tuk tuk felt very refreshing. The movement of air kept washing sweat off our faces as we rode through Angkor and on to Banteay Srei. The excitement in voice and actions of Ha’s little girl was extraordinary. This was the first time in over a week that she got a chance to do something other than staying inside the shed her mother rented from her Cambodian uncle. It felt like family going on a family trip.

Banteay Srei Temple

In spite of its popularity, Banteay Srei is not as overrun with touts as temples in the main Angkor area. While area around Banteay Srei is as flat as elsewhere in central Cambodia, the immediate surroundings of the temple were rich in plant life growing out of well kept pools of water. Small exhibition hall with brief introduction on the temple can be found on the way to Banteay Srei from the parking lot.

Photo: Admiring Water Flowers at the Banteay Srei Exhibition Hall and Museum
Photo: Admiring Water Flowers at the Banteay Srei Exhibition Hall and Museum

Banteay Srei is the only main temple of Angkor that was not founded by a king. Its founder – Yajnavaraha – the grandson of king Harshavarman served as an ayurvedic medic and a priest during the reign of kings Rajendravarman and Jayavarman V. According to the stele inscription, Yajnavaraha had the temple completed by 967 AD and dedicated it to the Hindu god Tribhuvanamaheshvara (Shiva). The dedication to Shivanism is evident through intricate carvings covering the walls of the temple. Carvings in red sandstone are well preserved and seemingly the temple’s strongest tourist attractant. Many speculate that the fine art that these carvings represent could only be done by the hands of women, hence the temple’s title of the “Citadel of the Women”. Others however maintain that the name relates to the many reliefs of Apsaras (female dancers) found throughout the temple.

Banteay Srei Carvings

The most famous carvings on the walls and lintels of Banteay Srei portray the scenes from the life of Shiva, though parts of the temple were clearly also dedicated to Vishnu. In one of the triangular pediments above doorways, the demon Ravana is seen shaking Mount Kailasa above which Shiva is enthroned. In the same scene, Kama is seen arriving to disturb Shiva’s meditation. Other carvings portray “The Rain of Indra” or “The Killing of Kamsa” both of which are important stories from Indian mythology. Some of the carvings were moved to the Khmer museum in Phnom Penh and some are in Paris, France after being recovered from the hands of collectors who bought them from Cambodian looters. Apsaras stolen by French adventurer/thief AndrĂ© Malraux were also recovered and contributed to the popularity of the temple worldwide.

Thanks to vast funding from the Swiss government, Banteay Srei went through extensive restoration works so temple appears well preserved and carvings are in good shape. The Swiss government also financed the installation of a drainage system around the temple which prevented further damage to the structure by water. Despite vast investments from the Swiss, nothing could prevent the destruction of Banteay Srei by the locals who looted and vandalized the living bejeezus out of it. After the original statues were replaced with replicas, the locals vandalized the replicas. But their greed didn’t stop there. A typical Cambodian mindframe dictates that “if I can’t have it, at least I’ll destroy it”! As a result, after the statues of Vishnu and Uma were removed from Banteay Srei, they were assaulted by vandals while placed at the National Museum in Phnom Penh for safekeeping.

Photo: Banteay Srei Pediment Carvings Bear Creatures from Indian Hindu Mythology
Photo: Banteay Srei Pediment Carvings Bear Creatures from Indian Hindu Mythology

Banteay Srei – Conclusion

Banteai Srei is about an hour drive from Siem Reap town. It’s distance from Angkor proper (where most temples are located) makes a visit to Banteay Srei slightly inconvenient. It’s also a small sized temple so one would think that an extra long trip for this little would make no sense. Yet Banteay Srei receives more visitors than many larger temples on the Petit Circuit, including Banteay Kdei where my villager friends operate as touts. What makes Banteay Srei this popular are intricate carvings covering nearly every square inch of the temple. If elaborate, fine carvings are your thing, then made sure you don’t give Banteay Srei a miss.

The temple is also surrounded by nice water gardens which make the access to it more picturesque. I don’t know what they look like in dry season, but rainy season keeps them lush and rich, which offers great opportunities for photography. I am personally glad I went to visit Banteay Srei, but that was because I had 7 days to explore Angkor. If I only had a daily pass, I’d probably give this temple a pass. I’d likely pass on it with a 3 day pass also. However since vast majority of foreigners who visit Angkor do so on a single day pass and buy a tour package from their hotel, they do get to see Banteay Srei because tour companies have this temple included (and temples like Banteay Kdei excluded) in their packages. This is likely part of their marketing strategy. Through its red sandstone walls covered with exquisite carvings, a trip to Banteay Srei offers the visitors something different from majority of temples at Angkor proper. If I had wealthy clients, I’d take them to Banteay Srei too. Taking them to temples like Banteay Kdei, which are in more state of ruin and nigh identical to many other temples would be like showing them the same thing they had already seen.

Photo: Access to Banteay Srei Central Sanctuary is Prohibited
Photo: Access to Banteay Srei Central Sanctuary is Prohibited

BTW – both Ha and her daughter did get inside Banteay Srei even though only I had the pass. Being Vietnamese, Ha looks just as any Cambodian girl would and since she could speak a bit of Cambodian, we were able to fool the guard. It’s not like they would gain anything if they kicked them out and barred from from entering…

More photos of Banteay Srei can be found in the Banteay Srei Photo Gallery

Banteay Srei Photo Gallery

Even though Banteai Srei was very busy when I visited it, based on what I was told, it didn’t used to be that way. Had I visited Cambodia a few years earlier, trying to reach the temple would take a lot of effort because there was no paved road leading to this part of the country and if I did make it here, I would likely be the only person inside. This took a whole different turn after the paved road was laid. Buses were now able to comfortably drive their single day pass holders to the temple and back in a manner of hours, affording them an experience unlike any other within Angkor proper (where all main temples are located).

Trips to Banteay Srei can also be combined with trips to Beng Melea – which is what I did, but explorers who want to see even more can also include Kbal Spean and/or Banteay Samrei to their itinerary, as they are both in the same neck of the woods. Below is a small gallery of photos I took during my stop at Banteay Srei. I was accompanied by Ha and her daughter since we were able to fool the ticket inspector that they were Cambodians.

Road Trip to Banteay Srei

This whole road trip idea was planned out to be a surprise for Ha and her daughter. I knew Ha couldn’t score a normal job in Cambodia – being both Vietnamese (keep in mind that Cambodians are extremely racist – just ask any Vietnamese person who’s ever visited Cambodia) and illegal to seek employment in Cambodia, so the only option she was left with was prostitution in Siem Reap‘s night clubs. However, the more time she spent with me, the wearier she kept getting of this whole idea of selling her body for money. Since she couldn’t have an actual job, Ha would the daytime with her daughter, as there was simply nothing other she could do. If I didn’t go to Angkor, she’d spend the day with me, but I needed to take advantage of good weather after waiting the rain out so I spent three consecutive days exploring the ancient temples, leaving the girls alone in Siem Reap.

Photo: Ha and Her Daughter on the Way to Banteay Srei Temple During Our Road Trip
Photo: Ha and Her Daughter on the Way to Banteay Srei Temple During Our Road Trip

I bought a 7 day pass to have enough time for even the more remote temples, but things went pretty smoothly so after three days, I had all of the temples on the Petit Circuit and the Grand Circuit covered, leaving me with 4 extra days to do the remote ones. The Petit and Grand Circuits are within main Angkor area where all of the famous and popular temples can be found, so by covering them all, I virtually had Angkor explored and everything on top of that would be an added bonus. One exception to this rule was the temple of Banteay Srei.

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei temple is located about 25km from the main Angkor area (the area with where all famous and all biggest temple can be found – aka the area where most tourists go), however even though small in size, its intricate and elaborate carvings on red sandstone make Banteay Srei visually appealing so many organized tours include it in their itinerary. As a result, Banteai Srei, even though much smaller and significantly further away from Siem Reap, sees more visitors that Banteay Kdei – the temple on the Small Tour (Petit Circuit) where I made friends with villagers. While this is mostly a marketing pull on behalf of tour organizing companies, Banteai Srei did also gain notoriety among budget travelers which landed the temple a title of the “Jewel of Khmer Art”. As such, Banteai Srei is very overhyped and attracts tourists like honey attracts flies.

Needless to say – after being to all of the main Angkor temples, Banteai Srei was next on my radar. I knew Banteay Srei was 25 kilometers north of the main Angkor area, which all in all, would add up to being well over 30 km from Siem Reap, but since this part of Cambodia is completely flat, covering such distance on a bicycle wouldn’t be a problem. Sun and heat would be the biggest challenge, with potential of hostility from locals being close second. Afterall, being so far away from Siem Reap, all tourists who make it to Banteay Srei get there either in a bus as part of an organized tour, or by Tuk Tuk they hired in town. Omnipresent Tuk Tuks and motorcycles are fast moving and don’t draw much attention to themselves. Significantly slower moving bicycle with a foreigner on it, in an area of Cambodia far away from police patrolled streets of Siem Reap or Angkor… that sounded like a straight up death wish.

Photo: To Ensure Only APSARA Authority and Sokimex Can Rip Tourists Off at Angkor, Tuk Tuk Drivers Must Wear Specialty Vests with ID Number
Photo: To Ensure Only APSARA Authority and Sokimex Can Rip Tourists Off at Angkor, Tuk Tuk Drivers Must Wear Specialty Vests with ID Number

Road Trip

So instead of going all by me onesy on a bicycle, I decided to make my trip to Banteai Srei a Road Trip with guests and kill several birds with one stone. I could definitely do it on a bicycle, but after I took all other factors into consideration, the idea of a road trip prevailed. The undisputed advantages were:

1 – Tuk Tuk Ride

The idea of covering a long distance on a bicycle didn’t scare me. I was fit enough and enjoyed bike riding to the dot, but there were things in Cambodia a wise traveler never lets to slip his mind. But there was one even bigger reason why I had to consider a road trip on a Tuk Tuk and it goes back all the way to me teaching English at Wat Preah Prom Rath:

I have only been in Cambodia for less than 24 hours and I already taught a lecture in one of the classrooms at Preah Prom Rath. I enjoyed this experience profusely and was more than happy to volunteer my time to that cause as the students who attended the classes at the temple were ones who did not have a sponsor who would pay for a semester at a posh school. With me being part of their classes, they got more out of their lectures than students from incredibly overpriced schools such as the ACE – Australian Centre for Education. ACE – despite its high cost, is one incredibly useless school. If I were a parent of any of the kids who paid an incredible amount of money to attend that school, I’d demand a refund and get my kid the hell out of there. Most girls from the Sras Srang village where I ended up spending several months of my stay in Cambodia did attend ACE after sponsors paid for them, but day after day were forced to ask me to explain the lesson to them because they had no idea what it was about after attending a TESOL certified teacher lead class. After I explained it to them, then they understood, but there wasn’t one time in 5 months when any of the girls would return from the class and understand the topic of that day’s lecture.

Back to my English classes at Wat Preah Prom Rath – unfortunately for me, I came to Cambodia with an open mind and a will to dedicate myself to good causes. At the time, all one could find on the internet about Cambodia were utter lies. It took me all together 5 minutes to realize that Cambodians were hostile and that knowledge stayed from the moment I stepped foot on Cambodian soil, to the moment I left it. However even after being in the country for hours and already having experienced much of their hostility, I still lied to myself that there must be some good in Cambodia and if I keep my mind open, I would find it. It was a foolish thing to think.

Unfortunately, this type of mindset set me up for traps from which I could not get out of in the future. The students from my class instantly took advantage of the fact that I offered myself up to them with all openness and used each lecture to pressure me with business solicitations. As days went by and I realized that Cambodians are NOT those nice and friendly people travelers who fear reality make them to be, then I started to build a protective barrier between myself and the locals and didn’t allow anyone to take any more advantage of me, but this wasn’t until a few days after my arrival. During this first lecture of mine, as well as a few subsequent ones, I opened myself up and my students, instead of being grateful that I donated my time and knowledge to them for free, they took advantage of me and swarmed me with business hypes disguised as friendly chats. I reciprocated what I believed was merely an intention to have a friendly conversation with an English speaker, only to be forced into listening to pushy sales pitches from Tuk Tuk drivers and as they kept pressuring me and getting more and more in my face, the only way for me to escape was to eventually say OK to something.

They tried to force me into buying their services, but I told them I wanted to go for a walk that night so I couldn’t use them. Their response was that they would take me to see a sunset over a lake tomorrow then. And then that they would take me to the temples of Angkor. And then something again and again and again and again. From every angle, voices pressuring me more and more and cornering me and getting in my face until I had no choice but to say – “OK, I’ll let you know if I need a tuk tuk, G%$amn it!”

It was truly foolish of me to think that Cambodians would merely care to have a chat with someone from abroad. It’s not the case. It’s never been the case and not even after 5 months in Cambodia it ever happened to be one. But I wasn’t prepared for this to be a fact when I just came there and once a Cambodian forces you into even remotely implying something, then they’re gonna remind you of it day in and day out. And so they did remind me of that time when I said “OK”. Surprise!!!

Tuk Tuk drivers are an incredibly awful lot. They made every minute of my stay in Cambodia outside of my room a nightmare. If I had Ha with me, I could not finish a single damn sentence without one getting in my face and rudely interrupting. As a result, I would not give any of them any business just on principle. If I needed to go somewhere, I’d rather walk in that heat than give a Tuk Tuk driver a penny. Needless to say, they would still bother the living crap out of me, but at least I wouldn’t pay them anything. So it was not easy to actually get one on my own terms and offer him a gig of taking me to Banteay Srei for a road trip. But since this would shake off one of the traps Cambodians caught me in when I was too trusty, I said – why not?

Photo: Ha and Her Daughter at the Entrance Gate to Banteay Srei
Photo: Ha and Her Daughter at the Entrance Gate to Banteay Srei

2 – Fun Day for Ha and Her Daughter

Hellz yeah – to Ha and her daughter, every day was a struggle to survive (as it was for me, but for completely different reasons) with basically no chance to do anything fun. To Ha, every morning started with thoughts of worry about how she was going to buy food for her little girl. When simple day to day survival becomes your #1 priority, you don’t have the resources to buy basic necessities beyond food, let alone take your kid on a road trip. And knowing darn well how much hardship Ha and her daughter already went through, I instantly realized that affording them a simple day of simple joy would mean the world to them.

And this was the main reason why I opted for a road trip on a tuk tuk, rather than a self ride on a bicycle to Banteai Srei. A tuk tuk can seat up to 4 people easily, so taking Ha and her daughter along wouldn’t cost me any more than going on my own. And even though had I not met Ha, I would still have gone by bicycle, despite pressure from my students, knowing that by taking Ha and her daughter out for a day of fun, I could visit an extra temple without risking a ride through potentially hostile territory, and I would shake off the obligation my students forcibly placed upon me, I saw nothing but pure WIN for everyone in this arrangement.

Photo: Admiring Water Flowers at the Banteay Srei Exhibition Hall and Museum
Photo: Admiring Water Flowers at the Banteay Srei Exhibition Hall and Museum

The only trouble was that the night prior to intended road trip I did not make it to the class, because I stayed at Angkor Wat for night photography. I already had my present for Ha’s daughter with me, but I really wanted to make the day when I give it to her even more special. I wanted to take them away from the worries they experience every day and set their mind on something positive – while they are together, and myself with them. So despite being exhausted and wet (it rained like all hell during my nighttime stay at Angkor and I rode back home in that rain), instead of heading home to take shower and relax a bit, I headed straight for Pub Street and started looking for a tuk tuk driver from my class. Since Pub Street is where majority of foreigners who stay in Siem Reap go after dark, that is where majority of Siem Reap’s tuk tuk drivers aggregate after dark. I knew I stood a decent chance of finding him there as ratio of tuk tuk drivers to foreigners in Siem Reap is rather unfavorable (more tuk tuk drivers than tourists).

Luckily for me – he was there, hiding from the rain under the roof of his tuk tuk. I made arrangements with him, told him when and where to come the following day and told him where and how many of us are going. All set and done, I was ready to go to my room, make myself human again and head over to the Temple Club to meet with Ha so I could take her home with me for a warm shower and comfy sleep. I told her not that I had a gift for her daughter and that after the gift, I was taking them for a road trip to Banteay Srei. I kept it a surprise until the last moment and it paid off big time. Not only did the girls have their first worry free, fun day in a long time, it was also the first time for the little girl in years to feel like she had a father. I may not have made her, but she was in daddy’s arms the whole time. I do not have the words to describe how much it meant to them and to me, but what I got back in child’s laughter and mother’s tears has made an impact you can’t replicate.

Present for Ha’s Daughter

After my first meeting with Ha’s daughter, I knew it wasn’t going to be our last. This sort of caught me off guard as all my recent encounters with kids were negative – either trained clowns able to fake-cry on command, going out of their way to get money off of you and telling you to F%$k off if you don’t give it to them, or screaming the entire flight turning an already exhausting experience into a nightmare from hell – so if you even remotely brought up anything to do with kids, I would have told you to keep them as far away from me as possible so nobody gets hurt. But bubbly personality Ha’s daughter was radiating got the best of me.

After I embarked on my third day of Angkor exploring, I took on the Grand Circuit in a counter-clockwise direction with a mandatory stop at my new-found friends’ from the Sras Srang village. The temple of Banteay Kdei was about 12 km away from where I stayed in Siem Reap, and just a corner turn away from the Grand Circuit which made it a perfect, strategic stop to recharge on energy with coconut water and cool off the sweat the ride so far has resulted in. But I also had an extra plan for the stop at Banteai Kdei.

When I first went with Ha to see her daughter, I made a quick stop at a convenience store to buy candy. I thought it would make a kid happy and pre-occupied enough to leave me the hell alone. It did make her happy – beyond happy – but it didn’t keep her off of me, though by that time I didn’t mind. Obviously, buying the kid a simple thing which her mother could not afford to buy meant a world to the little girl. Anticipating my next meeting with her, I thought I was gonna buy something more sustainable and less damaging to her already spoilt teeth. I had to take two things into an account:

  • No matter where in Siem Reap I go, I’d get ripped off
  • Ha was always by my side, except from times when I was at Angkor

I wanted to make it a surprise so buying anything in Siem Reap would defeat this idea. And since any business in Siem Reap would try to rip me off as much as any tout at Angkor Archaeological Park would, there was no benefit to buying in town over buying at Angkor. On top of it all – my relationship with the Sras Srang villagers was nicely developing so I thought I’ll get the best of both world and buy something for Ha’s daughter from them.

As much as I enjoyed the company of the villagers, they were still Cambodians and I was still a foreigner. For them it’s always an “Us Against Them” game so as I kept spending more and more time with them, but buying nothing except a whole pile of coconuts every day, they continued bugging me and requesting that I fall for their sales pitch and spend more money. Under normal circumstances, I would not give in to the pressure of pestering touts (except that one time when the little girl tout who broke into tears after a would-be customer bought from somebody else), but since I wanted to buy Ha’s daughter something anyway, so why not from my new friends? Whom better to support financially than people with whom I was gonna spend several month with (though at the time I didn’t quite know it yet)? So I did just that. It didn’t ease the pressure one bit, but gave me an extra argument to counter theirs with when they tried to force me into buying some more.

Granted, everything they sell at Angkor is a piece of junk. There are basically two types of items you can buy: bootlegs of all sorts and miserable quality t-shirts. I didn’t have many options so I went for a low quality t-shirt. I’m not very good at buying presents so I had to make it easy on myself. The biggest challenge I was faced with was trying to guess the right size for Ha’s daughter. They had children sized tops with elephants on them in both small and medium. I asked my friends to get some four year old girl touts to come over so I can test the size on them. Since Ha’s daughter was the same age and racial differences are minimal between the Vietnamese and the Cambodians, I thought this was gonna help me choose the right size. I ended up going with medium sized top as small seemed as though it was meant for infants. I also thought buying the top that’s a bit too big would be better in a long run than getting one that’s a bit too small. The four year olds grow big quickly, so if the garment is a tad large right now, it’ll fit just fine later. Whereas if it’s already tight, it’s gonna be completely unusable very soon.

My suspicion was correct – the medium sized top was still a bit too big for her, but that mattered not. Both Ha and her daughter were beaming with delight when I pulled the top out of my camera bag and handed it to the little girl. I haven’t seen this much happiness in a very long time. The girl was so excited she instantly wanted to pose for pictures with her new top on. She loved having her pictures taken and as a photographer, I loved taking them. Four year old, but so photogenic and just shining with glamour. Little did they know at the time that this was naught but the beginning. The main surprise of the day was yet to come.

Gallery of pictures I took of Ha’s daughter wearing the top I bought her from the villagers at Banteay Kdei temple is below:

Angkor Wat at Night

My day exploring the Angkor temples on the Grand Circuit was long and tiring, but very eventful and overall satisfying. I was done with every temple I wanted to visit and still had my bike with me, despite an attempt to steal it. It only further affirmed the notion I gained after my first day at AngkorCambodians are not nice people and one needs to always watch out while in the country. Nevertheless, I survived another day and since the sun was getting low, it was time to start making my way to Angkor Wat for one more coconut before heading home.

Finding Prasat Tonle Sngout Temple

I made an attempt to find the ruins of Prasat Tonle Sngout – a temple that’s off the main road, but according to the map, just by the side road that branches off the Grand Circuit at the bend north of Angkor Thom North Gate, across the road from Krol Romeas. I took that road and followed it for a few kilometers but found nothing. Locals in the areas – there were beyond plenty of them – were not only not helpful, but showed undeniable signs of hostility as this road clearly lead to a highly populated area but no foreigners ever go that way so I was seen as an invader of space beyond my limits. I tried never the less, but gave up after a while, returning to the relative safety of the paved road on the Grand Circle. Without wasting any more time getting off the road, I headed straight down south to meet with my coconut friends again.

Photo: Rain Cloud Rolling Over Angkor Wat at Dawn
Photo: Rain Cloud Rolling Over Angkor Wat at Dawn

By that time, both weather and daylight started to change rapidly. Dark clouds rolled in out of nowhere and covered the sky, giving me just enough time to make it to the concession area in front of main temple of Angkor Wat before the first drops of rain started to fall. Since 6pm – the official closing time at Angkor Archaeological Park – was only minutes away, not only were there hardly any tourists still in the temple when I arrived, the looming rainfall also rushed the touts and concession stalls owners to quickly start packing and prepare to leave. I was pretty darn tired after a whole day of riding in the sun and wanted to take a breather before the last leg of my journey so the imminence of rain was of no concern to me. I just wanted say “Hi” to the girls and have my coconut before leaving the area entirely.

Photo: Heavy Rain at Angkor Wat Just Before the Night
Photo: Heavy Rain at Angkor Wat Just Before the Night

Angkor Wat at Night

Being already a loyal and regular customer, the girls still served me my coconut but said their good byes soon after. By the time I was finished with this delicious fruit, not only were they gone, but so was virtually everyone else. Only myself, who couldn’t be distraught by the rain and wanted his minute of rest while recharging with a coconut and other two people stayed to hang around. The other two – a mother and her daughter – took advantage of the fact that rain scared everyone away and dusk fell on Angkor Wat and used it to collect Lotus flowers from the pond in the temple – the one which makes for the most photogenic pictures of Angkor Wat. It is otherwise illegal to pick up the Lotus flowers from the pond, as it is an essential tourist attraction in Angkor Wat, but the APSARA people who have the authority to enforce the rule were not around and I clearly showed that I didn’t care, so the mother went into the pool (it was raining so much, she would be drenched wet anyway) to pluck up the stems of the edible plant, while her daughter crouched at the edge to take what her mother collected. APSARA rips locals off enough as it is – I found it only fair that the locals take some of what is theirs for themselves too. This family needed food to eat and this was their opportunity.

Photo: Cambodian Woman Stealing Lotus Petals from the Pool Before Angkor Wat
Photo: Cambodian Woman Stealing Lotus Petals from the Pool Before Angkor Wat

Being so close to the equator, the day changes into the night very quickly in Cambodia. In a manner of minutes, everything went from hot day and bright daylight, into overcast sky and pitch darkness. Still hot as all hell, but now also extra moist due to heavy rainfall. My camera bag is rainproof so the camera was safe. I was feeling content having had a fairly successful day so I didn’t let the rain get the best of me. On the contrary, I thought this was a great opportunity for me to experience what most people who visit Angkor don’t get to experience – see and photograph Angkor Wat at Night. Everybody was gone. The two ladies who were still there were on a mission of their own. I didn’t mess with their business, so they didn’t mess with mine. So as the rain kept pouring down and night engulfed the temple, I had an opportunity to become the king of Angkor Wat. I explored it all over again, enjoying the environment without hassle of touts and obstruction of thousands of tourists. Without planning it, or even considering it in any way, I happen upon an experience which I haven’t even thought of taking on.

Photo: Trio of Palm Trees at Angkor Wat Photographed Against the Night Sky
Photo: Trio of Palm Trees at Angkor Wat Photographed Against the Night Sky

There isn’t much to Angkor Wat at night, though the fact that you can stand in the middle of the causeway and take a picture with not a single person on it was remarkable. This is nigh impossible these days as thousands visit Angkor Wat every day. What I found interesting was that none of the vendors locked any of their merchandise up. It would be highly impractical to take all the merchandise with them every evening, only to haul it back every morning so they leave it all there. The stalls are sheltered by thatched roofs and before leaving, the vendors cover them up with large sheets of fabric but somehow the understanding that this stuff is not to be touched when the owner is not around remains deeply embedded in people’s minds and they don’t take it lightly. It could be because unlike with most other temples, these stalls were within the walls of Angkor Wat and Cambodians seem to become different people when they walk on a holy ground (except from the rapists, who use it to their advantage and there are more than too many of them in Cambodia). I noticed that when I first visited the Preah Prom Rath Pagoda in Siem Reap. Tuk Tuk drivers would be harassing me relentlessly no matter where in Siem Reap I was, but as soon as I walked within the pagoda, even though Tuk Tuk drivers were there, they all left me alone. Hypocrisy of the highest caliber as they’re nothing like what they are in a temple, when they are outside, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Photo: Causeway Before Angkor Wat Can Only Be Seen This Free From Tourists At Night
Photo: Causeway Before Angkor Wat Can Only Be Seen This Free From Tourists At Night

Photos of Angkor Wat Illuminated at Night

Even though I did stay at Angkor Wat at night, I didn’t get a chance to take any photos of the temple illuminated with external lights. I’ve seen such pictures on the internet, but I don’t understand how and when they were taken. Angkor Wat was not illuminated when I stayed there at night but most of all – I have not seen any light fixture anywhere around it and this area has (purposefully) no electricity. I simply don’t have an answer as to how these pictures could have been taken. Perhaps portable lights and power generators are used on some occasions (New Year?) to illuminate the temple, but at the time of my visit, it didn’t seem like any form of illumination existed. Besides – all visitors are expected to be the hell out of Angkor by 6pm anyway, which is when it starts getting dark – so installation of light fixture would make no sense as there would be no tourists to see the temples illuminated against the nightly skies. And since I never enquired with anyone who might know how and when the pictures of Angkor Wat illuminated at night were taken, I still don’t have an answer to that.

Photo: Not Illuminated, But Nicely Showing Silhouette of Angkor Wat Reflecting in the Pool at Night
Photo: Not Illuminated, But Nicely Showing Silhouette of Angkor Wat Reflecting in the Pool at Night

After getting properly drenched with rain (it actually felt better than being drenched with sweat, which was the case of most of the day prior to coming to Angkor Wat) and snapping a few pictures of Angkor Wat at Night, I walked out of the temple, mounted my bike and rode through the rain to Siem Reap. I could not wait to meet with Ha again and tell her all about some kids trying to steal my bike earlier. Needless to say, my decision to stay at Angkor Wat for the night meant that I missed the English language lecture at Preah Prom Rath temple, but that was OK for a day. And what a day it was.

Angkor Thom North Gate

Out of 5 gates that afford access to the royal Khmer city of Angkor Thom, only two are heavily trafficked. Being on the Petit Circuit through Angkor Archaeological Park, both South Gate (the busiest one, because it’s also part of the Grand Circuit) and Victory Gate have people passing through them often. Since Angkor Thom North Gate is on the Grand Circuit and off the itinerary vast majority of visitors to Angkor restrict themselves to, it is a much quieter gate than the other two.

Photo: Angkor Thom North Gate - Not Much Left of Devatas on the Left Side of the Causeway
Photo: Angkor Thom North Gate - Not Much Left of Devatas on the Left Side of the Causeway

Angkor Thom’s square shaped exterior wall has one entrance gate on cardinal point, except from the east wall, which has two – East Gate and Victory Gate. East Gate, even though it’s in the middle of the wall and in line with Bayon, sees very little in terms of traffic because everybody who passes through Angkor Thom simply takes the paved road which was laid to pass through Victory Gate. Yet there still is a gate traffic through which is even scarcer. West Gate is almost totally abandoned and hardly gets any visitors through. Only the most determined explorers who also decide to visit West Mebon (huge water reservoir west of Angkor Thom) take this detour which requires whole day (unless you have motorized transportation) and has very little else to offer.

Needless to say, South and Victory Gates, being the busiest of five have seen more restoration work than the other three gates. North Gate did get restored a bit, but it was one of the gates that was pretty well preserved to begin with. When looting became a profitable past time activity for average Cambodians, many stone giants (Devas on the left and Asuras on the right) adorning the sides of the causeways spanning the dried up moats in front of each gate were vandalized and their severed heads sold to collectors from abroad. Many of the North Gate giants didn’t escape this fate either, leaving this part of the North Gate desperately devastated, but the gate itself remains in pretty good shape.

Nothing otherwise makes the North Gate of Angkor Thom special in any way. It is quieter than South Gate, so if you seek less disturbance from the Cambodian touts of doom, you can find it here. However since all Angkor Thom gates were built to be identical, your best bet for pictures is to stick with the South Gate due to well restored Naga bearing Apsaras and Asuras on either side of the causeway. South Gate also gets many elephants through it which also makes for rather interesting, albeit sad pictures. Like all other gates as well as the towers of Bayon, the North Gate is crowned with the faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara bearing the likeness of king Jayavarman VII who had them build.

Photo: Raw of Asuras Before the North Gate of Angkor Thom
Photo: Raw of Asuras Before the North Gate of Angkor Thom

I didn’t spend much time at the North Gate, just passed through it, making only a minute long stop to snap a couple of pictures. By entering Angkor Thom through the North Gate, I returned to the area I had previously explored, so North Gate concluded my adventure on the grand circuit of Angkor. I did a lot that day. It was incredibly hot and I even managed to foil an attempt to have my bicycle stolen. I was ready to start riding back towards Siem Reap where my cozy bed at the Prom Roth Guest House and Ha were waiting for me. I only had one more stop to take – back at Angkor Wat to say “Hi” to the girls and have one more coconut for the energy to ride back after a long and tiring day.