Interview With a Prostitute

We woke up to a beautiful morning. It was absolutely gorgeous outside which, under normal circumstances would have been the day I would use to initiate my 7 day adventure through Angkor Archaeological Park. This was the weather I was waiting for. Previous week was rather rainy and since entrance fee to the temples of Angkor is rather steep, I wanted to wait until the weather improves so I get the most out of my money. And here it was, the perfect day to go get my weekly pass to Angkor Wat and start exploring, but I couldn’t do that. I had a very special guest in my room and couldn’t just kick her out of there right away so I can dress up, mount the bike and ride off to Angkor. That didn’t bother me one bit, though. I knew there will be many gorgeous days like this one and Angkor will not run away. Yet even though making friends with a prostitute was not anything I would have actively pursued, spending time together with Ha during the day, far away from flashing lights and loud music of the Temple Club gave me a chance to really know her and uncover her rather fascinating, albeit shocking life story. This was my own personal interview with a prostitute.

It started as a lazy morning but we were wide awake once I got the curtains open. Hot rays of intense Cambodian sun entered the room and tickled our senses with welcoming invite to leave the comfort of an air conditioned room and go enjoy the unbearable heat of the Siem Reap outdoors. We got dressed, brushed our teeth and were about to leave to get breakfast when Ha asked me if I would give her at least some money for food for her daughter. This was a bit disappointing to hear. All I could think of was: “So this was all about money in the end anyway!” Even though disappointed to have been asked that, I sensed that she felt as horrible about asking me as I felt about being asked. There was something undeniably sincere about Ha so I did not make a big deal out of it and handed her a $5 bill from my wallet. Afterall, she’s never attempted to steal from me and take off while I was sleeping. She’s never pulled anything funny against me and remained a loyal and respectful guest to my room. But most of all, her eyes did not lie. I had no doubt that she’s not looking for cash to buy drugs. She was not a prostitute to begin with and she was definitely not a junkie. I felt certain that the money will go to the right cause so I showed support without second guessing.

All ready to go, we left the room and headed straight for the scorching outdoors. Though we were still in the morning hours, the temperature was already near 40 Degrees Celsius making it scary to imagine what it was going to be like in the afternoon. I was covered in sweat within seconds but I tried not to get bothered by that slight inconvenience. We were walking slowly down the south end of Sivatha Road looking for a nice local restaurant where we could park it and order some munchies. The chat was on going. It truly was an interview with a prostitute only as my questions were being answered, horrific details of Ha’s life story kept giving me the creeps.

We sat in a small local restaurant, asked the owner to point their fan straight at us to wash away the sweat from our faces, ordered spicy chicken with rice and digged right in. The food was delicious and now that we had our stomachs smiling and rehydrated with several bottles of mineral water, unwilling to go back in the sun, we talked and talked. I could not believe what I was hearing. I could not believe there are people in the world who have to go through ordeals comparable to that of Ha and her daughter. I was horrified over the life of fear she has to live and how corrupt system of her home country would not provide her with any protection so she must run and hide. The story gave me sads and I can imagine it was but a tip of the iceberg. Details about Ha and her sad life are in the next post.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

In native Khmer language, the meaning of Siem Reap is “Siam Defeated”. This is hardly the case anymore, as Kingdom of Siam, or Kingdom of Thailand as it is known today ultimately defeated the Kingdom of Cambodia and put both Siem Reap as well as entire Angkor area under their control. The name of Siem Reap remained, much to the dismay of Thailand as it’s become the most popular destination town in Cambodia, serving as gateway to Angkor temples so now everybody thinks the Khmer owned the Siam.

Location of Siem Reap on a map. The map is navigable and interactive:

Siem Reap and Angkor were under Siamese control from 1794 to 1907, until French troops came, conquered Cambodia and put it under their control. It didn’t take long before French explorers discovered the ruins of Angkor Wat temples and through them the buzz about the largest religious complex in the world had spread into Europe. Europeans soon started to flood Cambodia to see what the buzz was all about and Siem Reap quickly started to turn from a complex of villages centred around wats to a popular tourist hub.

Fast expansion of Siem Reap continued and come 1929, the town saw its first hotel – The Grand Hotel d’Angkor. Up until the late 1960’s, Angkor Wat remained one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin.

All has been put to an abrupt stop in 1975 when communist Khmer Rouge seized power over Cambodia and drove much of Siem Reap’s population into the countryside. This mass evacuation and prosecution of all who practised religious faith stopped the growing influx of tourists who saw Cambodia as dangerous destination for all travelers. On their crusade to eradicate religion, Khmer Rouge destroyed many of Siem Reap’s temples (though protected by its divinity, Ya-Tep Shrine was beyond the scope of their might).

Photo: Ya Tep Shrine in the Heart of Siem Reap Town
Photo: Ya Tep Shrine in the Heart of Siem Reap Town

When bloody reign of Khmer Rouge was put to an end, Cambodians started the process of rebuilding Siem Reap to its former glory. New temples were built in town, old traditions were dusted off and holy days of Buddhism were celebrated once more. The hit Cambodia suffered in the hands of Khmer Rouge took a while to recover from, though. International community did not regain its lost trust in Cambodia until mid 1990’s when first foreign tourists dared to re-enter the country.

Pol Pot, the mastermind behind Khmer Rouge died in 1998 and his death brought upon the new era of Cambodia. Siem Reap has been vastly rebuilt, Angkor temples made more accessible and tourism industry in Cambodia kept growing exponentially. When UNESCO designated Angkor Wat a World Heritage Site, putting it on the map right up there with the Pyramids in Giza, Machu Pichu in Peru or the Taj Mahal in India, Cambodia, and especially Siem Reap quickly spiked as one of the most coveted travel destinations. Nowadays, tourism is the life force behind Siem Reap’s growth that’s been inadequately faster than in the rest of Cambodia.

Cambodia receives more tourists than any of its mightier neighbours and it’s all only thanks to Angkor Wat. Millions of tourists who come to Cambodia only visit the country because of Angkor Archaeological Park. And since Siem Reap is the closest town with all facilities, virtually all of the visitors to Cambodia make it there.

If you are planning to visit Angkor temples, Siem Reap is where you will be staying, dining and getting entertainment. Full scale of accommodation options ranging from budget guesthouses to 5 star hotels are available in Siem Reap. Same goes for restaurants, bars and shops. However, Siem Reap’s rapid boom in an impoverished country comes with its ups and downs. As you read my blog, you will be introduced to all – the good, the bad and the ugly part of Siem Reap. I do not do urban legends. When something about Siem Reap or Cambodia is good, I will tell you it’s good, but when something about Siem Reap or Cambodia is bad, I will again tell you that it’s bad. My reports and reviews are painfully honest because I value you as a reader and would rather you to know the whole truth, even if political correctness dictates to leave some of the less flattering parts out. Welcome to the real Siem Reap!