The devastation unleashed by this massive earthquake was only a beginning. The tsunami tidal wave that followed was easily the most ferocious in our lifetime. There is a lot of water in the Earth’s oceans and a good chunk of it has swept across the Pacific coast of Japan, destroying everything in its path. There is no way the force of such scale could have been contained.
The tsunami water made it as far as 10km in land in some parts of Japan. Yet as if that weren’t enough, the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami was not the end of it. The earthquake disabled the mechanisms powering the cooling tower of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and subsequent tsunami then knocked out the backup power generators, removing the possibility to cool down the reactor, resulting in overheating and explosions which could lead to the leakage of radioactive materials (how much has been leaked has not been confirmed at the time of this post).
So within a span of a couple of days, Japan suffered from the fifth most powerful earthquake since the recordkeeping started, quite possibly the largest tsunami experienced on this planet in centuries and a realistic possibility of a nuclear catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of people live in make-shift shelters, tens of thousands are unaccounted for, parts of towns have been entirely wiped out, transportation options are either limited or completely paralyzed, there is a shortage of food and a shortage of food in some areas yet there still have been no reports of any looting going on in Japan.
Natural Disasters and Looting
There are several interesting points to consider here:
Almost all natural disasters that happened in recent history were followed by out of control looting. Whether we look at Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 tsunami in IndoChina, or recent earthquakes in Haiti or Chile – the looting seemed to have been a natural part of the aftermath.
No mainstream media reports on the fact that there has been no looting in Japan despite it suffering from one of the largest scale natural disasters in modern history.
If you do a search on looting after natural disasters, you’ll find countless experts talking about and justifying the “psychology of looting”. I can’t help but ask – why do these experts ignore the fact that Japan is not experiencing any looting and how would they explain the inconsistencies in their theories?
Since I’m the first to bring this up, I’ll be also the one who’s gonna say it like it is. I take a lot of heat from internet tough guys for not holding back and speaking the truth even if it’s not entirely politically correct. But rather than toning it down for fear of offending someone – which as a travel writer I seem to be the only one to NOT do – let me get right down to it and say that there is no excuse for looting.
Japan vs Other Countries
Internet tough guys like to excuse inexcusable behavior of uncivilized people using the “necessity argument”. When a Cambodian thief robbed me, I called him a thief, but got bashed for talking badly about a person whose struggle to survive forced him to do it. Forced him to do it my arse. When someone is a rapist, perhaps it’s time to call them a rapist and when someone is a murderer, perhaps it’s time to call them a murderer. Instead of looking for the ways to excuse their unlawful behavior (and encouraging it from re-occurring), it’s time to call a spade and spade even if it may sound seemingly bigoted or racist.
Lack of looting in Japan is a proof of that. If you listen to what the prime minister of Japan tells his fellow Japanese, you will notice that he talks about rebuilding a new Japan. He asks his fellow Japanese to support him in this huge task and doesn’t hide the fact that it will require a lot of hard work, but it won’t be the first time when a Japan will have to rebuild itself from the ashes.
This rhetoric is entirely different from that coming from places like Indonesia, Thailand or Haiti after they’d suffered from similar, even though smaller scale natural disasters. Instead of appealing to their citizens to roll up their sleeves and get to work to rebuild their countries, people of those nations focused on whining about how poor they are and made their recovery a responsibility of others. Utilizing the “oh, we’re so poor” excuse, they sat with their feet up on the items they stole during looting, waiting for the people from the west to send money and workforce to rebuild their country.
While it goes without saying that Japan will receive assistance rebuilding, the Japanese will not sit with their feet up whining about being poor and needing others to fix their country up. They will be in the front line, they will be the first ones and the most hard working to see their country back up and running. Japan was the only country that had cities wiped out with the nuclear weapons. There were parts of it that were literally levelled after the World War II. Yet if you look where it got within a few decades from this total destruction, you’ll see that if you swap whining with hard work, anything can be achieved.
After the WWII, Japan was in a far more desperate state than many other countries. Yet they bounced back and turned into an economic powerhouse. If Japan could do it, then countries that had never been brought this low should find it even easier to recover. Taking that into an account – if Cambodia is still poor 30 years after the rule of Khmer Rouge, then there is nobody else to blame but Cambodians themselves. They can continue blaming Khmer Rouge for additional 30 years and then additional 30 years and so on and on and on and they will still be poor. Because complaining about the past long gone will not fix the problem.
The fix to the problem is in the willingness to roll up the sleeves and get to work. As is seen from Japan’s example (as well as an example of many European countries), hard work can turn a country from being completely depleted into being economically strong. On the other hand, there is yet to be one example of a country becoming economically strong after decades of waiting around and complaining about being poor. It only proves that you cannot help someone who cannot help themselves. No matter how much international aid is sent to Cambodia, it’ll end up being nothing but wasted resources. Supporting this culture of handouts is anti humanitarian and should be avoided. If you do want to donate, then support Japan where your graceful donation will not go to waste or to support the laziness.
Yes, it may sound bigoted, but we can either beat around the bush and look for excuses to justify their laziness, or we can say it like it is, and address the real issue. The Japanese people are not freeloaders. They are hard workers and through this approach they were able to resurrect their country from the ashes after WWII devastation. People with this type of respect for themselves and their homeland will not stoop to the level of a looter. If people of Cambodia, Indonesia, Haiti or other similar freeloading countries turned their whining into hard work, they would have as strong economies as Japan has. And this is the fact, as it is the way to explain why there has been no looting in the wake of the earthquake in Japan.
Preah Khan is a large temple. After visiting Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som and Neak Pean temple ruins, I was a bit spoiled because each of them was relatively small (not that small, but compared to most temples along the Petit Circuit, these were smaller) and didn’t take all that much time to explore. Coming to a temple that counted as one of the largest I have visited anywhere in Angkor yet, I had to mobilize much of my strength to still pull it off after 4 stops full of thorough explorations in this heat. It was already mid afternoon so the temperature were soaring, but the realization that I’m doing pretty good keeping up with schedule, and this is the last big task of the day, I was very eager to get right down to it.
Preah Khan was built during reign of Khmer king Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery which also housed a centre of Buddhist studies. Finalized in 1191, Jayavarman VII dedicated the temple which was built on the site of his victory over the invading Chams to his father Dharanindra. Temple’s central sanctuary originally housed the statue of Lokesvara, the savior god of Mahayana Buddhism which was carved in the image of the king’s father. Unfortunately, this image, as well as all other images representing Buddhism were vandalized during the reign of king destroyer Jayavarman VIII who initiated the reform of Angkor’s religion in favor of Hinduism.
Being similar in layout and style to Ta Prohm (which Jayavarman VII dedicated to his mother), Preah Khan bears further similarities to the former in the many trees which grow among and over the ruins. I found Preah Khan to be the second most jungle overgrown in a huge-trees-intertwined-with-ancient-rock way temple – after Ta Prohm. That just about made it the second most photogenic temple as spots with those monster roots running down the crumbling walls like spilled honey were the most visually appealing feature of Angkor Archaeological Park that drew me to Cambodia in the first place.
Preah Khan, whose name means ‘sacred sword’ (derived from its original name of Nagara Jayasri – meaning holy city of victory) was built on an area covering 56 hectares (138 acres). Including the moat (now dry) which surrounds the outer enclosure, Preah Khan measures 800 x 700 meters. The Jayatataka Baray (huge artificial, rectangular shaped pond) which had the unusually round Neak Pean temple in its middle, was right to the east of Preah Khan. The temple is oriented to the east (as are all Buddhist temples) with eastern wall bearing the main gopura (entrance gate). Each of the exterior walls (each cardinal point) has its own gopura and each has its own causeway over the moat lined on both sides with (now headless) asuras and devatas carrying a body of a naga serpent – similar to what can be found at each entrance to Angkor Thom (best seen at the South Gate).
Preah Khan’s central sanctuary (now housing a Buddhist Stupa) is surrounded with four rectangular enclosures. Coming from the east (that’s where you will most likely come from), when you reach the second wall (third enclosure), you will have come to its, rather large gopura which has two huge silk trees growing over its southern side. One of the trees was leaning too much and threatened to take the entire structure down and had to be cut down. Its roots, which hold the coridor together, were however left in place (along with the other tree) and offer a fantastic opportunity for photography. Except that if you come in the afternoon, like I did, you will have the sun creating strong backlight, pretty much ruining what could have been an otherwise awesome picture. You can also take a picture from the opposite side of the wall and have a sun nicely illuminate it, but it doesn’t look nowhere as impressive from there.
Needless to say, the corridor over which the two giant trees grow is crumbled up and very unstable, presenting a very realistic danger of crushing down hence there are signs warning the visitors not to enter that spot. I had to be the one with the death wish and climbed over rubble to get in there for a picture from within the roots and even though nothing happened to me, I must strongly discourage anyone considering doing the same. If you decide to copy my reckless behavior and the weight of the trees delivers the wall its final blow, there will be no saving you. I could think of better ways to die than by being crushed by giant stones. Don’t do it!
Further into the temple you would find another photogenic spot with what was once a huge tree growing over an ancient wall however the wall below that tree already did crumble down and only parts of it still stand supported by the roots and a wooden frame made by the restorers. The tree was too big and threatened further damage to the structure which sealed its demise. Only a stump is left of this once monster, however the stump is atop a big set of roots still encompassing much of the former wall in a composition that is sure to leave the viewer in awe.
Unfortunately, I only got a chance to go across the temple all the way to its western gopura (via the south which is flanked on both sides with cool stone guardians) and back before I started feeling uneasy about leaving my bike out of my sight while only locked against itself and went to repark it only to catch a group of greedy Cambodians attempting to steal it. This unpleasant experience had me abandon further exploration of Preah Khan and even though rather shaken, I moved on to the last few ruins on the Grand Circle.
There is an exceptionally unique two storey high, stand alone building just north of the Hall of Dancers which is on the west side of the third gopura (second wall from the east to cross, aka the one with two trees growing over it). This unique building features round columns – something that’s not found anywhere else in Angkor. Because of the bicycle stealing episode, I did not go back to Preah Khan and as such, didn’t get a chance to take a picture of this unique building (and a bunch of others).
Overall, I did enjoy my time exploring Preah Khan – too bad a bunch of self righteous locals had to totally ruin the experience for me. Its location on the Grand Circuit makes Preah Khan a less attractive target which results in incomparably fewer visitors crossing its gates. If you’re an enthusiast, I’d say the temple is definitely worth the time and would reward the you with great photo opportunities. If you can time your visit for the morning, you’d also get good light for more captivating shots which would make the whole experience so much better.
By the time I got to explore Angkor temples on the Grand Circuit, I have been in Cambodia for one and a half weeks. I adopted to the local way of thinking quickly and took all the precautions to minimize chances of being a subject of crime. The local way of thinking – as it exists in Cambodia – revolves around personal enrichment that involves anything other than working for money. Theft, robberies, assaults and various forms of violent crime (including murder and rape) are a daily happening.
As an observant person, I kept my eyes wide open while I was making my way around the country I have temporarily become a part of. The number of people I securely observed checking my pockets and bags to estimate whether they bore content worth a move was frightening. Frustration I observed in their eyes as I let them know that I am aware of what they are thinking and will be keeping a keen eye on their every move so they can’t make me a victim was noteworthy. I did stand my ground firmly and faced the dangers even though it continuously jeopardize my personal safety.
I did good though. By the time I reached Preah Khan temple, almost two weeks into my stay in Cambodia, I still have not had anything stolen from me. Few people who visited Cambodia can say that. With majority of the local population being constantly, round the clock on the lookout for a foreigner who would drop their guard for a second, it’s always a mere question of time before one succeeds with their pull. And after years of doing nothing but perfecting their art of crime, they’ve become masters of theft capable of getting almost anything from anyone. It’s unfortunate, but no matter how careful and vigilant you are, you cannot be 100% alert 100% of the time. There is bound to be a moment during your visit to Cambodia when you have had a long day and as you blink your eye to sooth your mind, your possessions will be gone. There will always be a local in your vicinity checking out whether an opportune moment to rob you has come. And when it comes – which is something that comes upon each and every one of us – you can bet your Scooby Doo Panties that Cambodians will be there to take advantage of you.
Cambodians are well aware of the above mentioned fact and rely on it for their daily thieving missions to be successful. They are ridiculously skilled in thievery and often work in teams to keep you distracted while the one with the most skilled fingers makes the pull. They are so skilled as thieves, many foreigners who were deprived of their possessions would actually believe that they must have forgotten their wallet, camera, laptop, or whatever the thieves attempted to steal in the restaurant where they dined earlier.
It only gets better in the fact that the restaurant staff, the police and virtually everyone else you encounter as a tourist in Cambodia would also never pass on an opportunity to steal from a foreigner so even if they don’t happen to be around skilled thieves themselves, locals you are around will be well connected with groups who are skilled thieves and will tip them off. You visit a restaurant and the server notices that you are a potentially easy target because you left your camera on the table while you were reading the menu, thus neither holding the camera securely in your hand nor keeping your eyes firmly locked on it, or they would notice that you keep your wallet loosely in your pocket and don’t have it on a chain fastened against yourself, or would simply notice that you carry on yourself something that seems of good value (laptop, jewelry, SLR camera, etc.) and you are a marked man. Cambodia is both a breeding ground for thieves as well as a well connected network of commission seekers. Nobody does anything in Cambodia unless there is a kick back in it for them. And since they are also inherently lazy and always looking for personal enrichment that doesn’t require working for money, vast majority of your day to day encounters will be with locals who will either try to steal from you themselves or will set somebody who is better at it than themselves on you.
Taking all that into an account, there are hardly few people who visited Cambodia and lasted for a week and a half without having something stolen off them by the locals. Being a rare one of the few, I knew that my “luck” if you can call it so was not because thieves never stumbled across me – that is impossible in Cambodia where there are more thieves per cubic meter than there are mosquitoes. It was only and solely because I always made sure that stealing from me would be impossible. I always made everyone visually checking my pockets know that I am aware that they are checking my pockets. I always made it clear that my camera or bag never leaves my grip and are always zipped up and across my shoulders. When I sat in a restaurant to do some work on the laptop, I got the laptop chained against an unmovable bar and laptop bag locked against the chain. When someone came within an arm’s reach of me, I increased my mental alertness to 100% and watched every move of the person closely while at the same time periodically checking my surroundings to make sure nobody else is getting close enough from behind to take advantage of me while the other fellow/lady is keeping me preoccupied.
The reason why virtually everybody who comes to Cambodia ends up having had something of their stolen, is that they do not do it the way I did. It has absolutely nothing to do with being paranoid and everything to do with reading people who surround you well and not fooling yourself they are nice when they are not. Being extra cautious when your environment warrants it is smart, not paranoid. But that’s why I lasted for a whole week and a half without having anything stolen, unlike vast majority of other people who visit Cambodia.
It was only thanks to that utmost vigilance that those suspicious individuals who kept checking my pockets and trying to take a peek inside my bag, started to back off instead of crawling nearer and took their stare away instead of systematically continuing to assess the contents of my pockets. And after whole week and a half, I still had everything that was rightfully mine under my control. And then I came to Preah Khan.
At the Preah Khan Temple
When I was at Angkor, I only carried my camera with me and always made sure I could physically feel it. The only other possessions I had with me while exploring Angkor temples were the cell phone in my pocket and my mountain bike. Cheap and beat up as it was, the bike was still mine and I wanted to keep it for future use as my transportation means to avoid having to deal with the aggressive tuk tuk drivers. However in order to ensure that Angkor touts can successfully bother foreigners out of their money, it is not possible for the visitors to Angkor to take bicycles inside the temples. You will see the locals entering temples with both bicycles and motorcycles, but if they allowed for tourists to do that, it would be much more difficult to for touts to pester them, hence ban.
As a result, if you come to a temple on a bicycle, you have to leave it outside of the entrance gate. This is usually not much of an issue on the Petit Circuit, as there is always a busy flow of tourists coming in and out at all times and some have small structural fences around parking areas you can use as unmovable bike racks. However it’s a whole different story in temples that are less popular. Cambodians are always on the lookout for something to steal from tourists. They won’t hesitate stealing if they have to pull it out of your pocket so when you make it easy on them and leave your possession in a stealable form don’t keep a keen eye on it, you will have created an opportunity for which they would hate themselves if they passed up on. It’s a way of personal enrichment without work, which fits their profile to the dot.
Fake Orphanage Kids
When I came to Preah Khan, I did just that. It was incredibly hot and all I could see in the vicinity were trees too big to wrap my chain around. So I merely leaned my bike against one of them and locked the wheel against the frame. This would make it impossible to ride the bike, but if someone were to come with a truck, they could easily load the bike up and ride off. Then once safely in their home, they would deploy whatever tools they had (or borrowed) to remove the chain and voila – they would have just become the new owners of a mountain bike.
I sort of suspected that something like this could happen, but fooled myself for a second that since Preah Khan is on the Grand Circuit and it doesn’t see that many visitors, local traffic in and out of it is not as heavy either so perhaps no truck would come while I’m inside. To further secure my position and have the locals who saw me leave the bike there be on my side and watch it for me, I responded to a swarm of kids who jumped me as soon as I was done locking my bike and insisted that I donate to their orphanage cause they are oh so poor orphans and will starve to death unless I give them money.
Cambodians, in their divine greediness will not hesitate to pull off lies that will stop your brain just to get money off of gullible tourists. They play with visitor’s feelings and try various things until a certain something proves to work. In less visited temples, such as those along the Grand Circuit, they really have to get creative in order to succeed because these temple simply don’t receive traffic comparable to the traffic popular temples along the Small Tour get. So they set up booths, print out a sign and pose as people from an orphanage to make their efforts more fruitful. Knowing darn well that they are fake orphans only using the sob story because it works better in getting money off tourists, I was reluctant to contribute. However since there was nowhere to securely lock my bicycle, I thought that if I gave them money, they would feel grateful and would in return ensure that if someone did try to steal my bike, they would prevent them from doing it. What foolish thinking on my behalf!
Exploring Preah Khan While Bicycle Easily Movable
Feeling slightly better about leaving my bike out of my sight while not properly secured, I walked into the Preah Khan temple and started exploring. The temple looked pretty good – overgrown with jungle intertwined with collapsing walls kind of like Ta Prohm, it offered many great opportunities for photography. It was early afternoon, though, so face of the temple and all of its important elements which were built to face the east had sun behind them, creating a mighty strong backlight which spoilt most of the pictures, but the impressive size of the trees growing over the structure left me in awe never the less.
Still, while I was exploring Preah Khan and taking pictures, I started feeling uneasy about my bike being out of sight and not fastened to anything unmovable. It was extremely hot so any extra steps to take would lead to extra wastage of energy of which you never have enough in this sun, but I decided to backtrack anyway, take my bike down to the paved road and look for a thin enough tree there to lock the bike against. Granted, a dedicated thief could saw the tree down to gain possession of the bike, but the likelihood of one armed with a saw walking around just after I locked my bike there seemed minimal. Plus the effort needed to mow the tree down would take some time which could serve as a deterrent because if it takes an extra time, then chances of the bike’s owner returning to get it increase dramatically. Plus it takes quite a bit of work to take a tree down and Cambodians don’t like to work hard. Locking the bike against a tree simply seemed like the only way to get a more realistic peace of mind, even if it meant extra walking in this unbearable heat. So I interrupted the exploration of Preah Khan to move my bike somewhere where I could lock it against a tree.
Thieving Fake Orphanage Kids
As I come out of the temple unexpectedly early, I see the group of kids and their supervising adults to whom I previously donated money all packed up, leaving with their table used for donations and my bicycle lifted up on their shoulders because they couldn’t roll it due to a locked up wheel and dashing off. The group, after I donated money to them even though they were no orphans, saw the bike was stealable and as I got out of sight, they quickly started packing to be gone the hell out of there along with my stealable bicycle by the time I was done exploring the temple. Somehow early on, I had my guardian angel watching over me and the feeling of uneasiness because I left my bike out of my sight while improperly secured continued to grow until it reached the level of being unbearable so despite the heat, I invested extra energy to return and have my bike reparked somewhere where I could lock it up securely.
I just spotted the thieving kids in the last moment, let out the deadliest shout I could summon and charged full speed towards the group. Scared by my yell of doom, the thieves dropped my biked and took off for their lives. Happy to know that in this, furthest from home point on the Grand Circuit I am still left with my transportation so I’m not at the mercy of greedy tuk tuk drivers who would only see it as an opportunity in itself and would take advantage of me for being out of options, I did not return back to Preah Khan and abandoned this temple never to return. Quite shaken and distressed, I rode on to my next destination. Not only was I shocked to have just nearly had my bike stolen, I was also disgusted by the fact that it was done by the kids to whom I previously donated money. Greed of Cambodians knows no limits whatsoever. You can simply never trust one as giving them a finger merely translates into an opportunity to snatch an entire hand.
The First Mistake
I guess all you can do is give them the finger the right way – by giving them the right one and nicely upright. For one and a half weeks I was able to keep relentless Cambodian thieves at bay only to make my first mistake by fooling myself into believing that by giving Cambodians money, they would respect me and in turn watch out for my property while I am exploring the temple. It was a ridiculously foolish thing of me to think and a valuable lesson to learn. Cambodians are not only greedy beyond words, they are also a bunch of backstabbers without a back bone of their own. There is no low to which a Cambodian would not stoop. And to no surprise of mine, I had it later confirmed by my friends from the Sras Srang village that none of these kids were orphans, none of the adults who were with them were orphanage owners and there was no such orphanage under any such name anywhere in the Angkor Archeological Park.
A trip to the Preah Khan Temple is one of those I will never forget. This is where I had fake orphanage kids attempt to steal my bicycle and had it not been for an intervention by the divine providence, they would have succeeded. Not only would I end up without something that was rightfully mine, I would also end up stuck without transportation at the part of the Grand Circuit that just happens to be the furthest from Siem Reap. And that is not a very positive outlook in a country like Cambodia. I would have to rent services of a tuk tuk driver who, seeing that I was just a subject to crime, would take advantage of the situation for his own personal enrichment. For Cambodians, a person in need is not a person to whom to assist. For Cambodians, a person in need is a person easier to exploit because they are out of the options and cannot be choosers.
Luckily for me, in the nick of time I got that funny feeling that I should repark my bike somewhere where it would be more difficult to steal so I interrupted my visit to Preah Khan only to catch the fake orphanage kids to whom I previously donated money thinking that they would gratefully watch over my bike in return, dashing off carrying my bicycle with them. My untimely show-up with a follow up yell from hell made them drop the bike on the spot and run for their lives. It was hot and I was tired from whole day exposure to that devastating Cambodian sun, but when the feeling of uneasiness about the insecurely parked bike came upon me, I interrupted my visit to the temple thinking that I would return to finish the exploration after I had my bike reparked and locked against something unmovable.
Needless to say, the distress the discovery of the theft attempt caused made the return to Preah Khan a no option. I counted my blessings and feeling happy I still had my bicycle, I rode off, away from this God-forbidden place where some of the most horrible inhabitants of the Earth operate as the lowest form of scum imaginable. However, because I was only partially done exploring Preah Khan when I left to repark my bicycle, I don’t have pictures of all of it. The gallery below contains the images I did take, however I left some for after the repark, which I ultimately ended up not having a chance to capture. Those include a picture of that unique two storey stand alone building with circular columns – something very unique for Angkor Archaeological Park as nothing of sorts can be seen anywhere else within the area. And it also includes the missing picture of the central sanctuary itself.
Now to the gallery of photos of the Preah Khan temple:
The entrance causeway is lined on both sides with the same row of Asuras carrying a body of a huge naga serpent that can be found at the South Gate to Angkor Thom, however all Asuras at the Preah Khan Temple are headless. Locals stole the heads during their looting raids and sold them to rich foreigners who yearned to have a historically significant rock in their possession. Some speculate that presence of these Asuras at the entrance to the temple makes Preah Khan more significant than Banteai Kdei or Ta Prohm, both of which receive incomparably more visitor traffic (mostly because they are on the Small Tour).
As for the pictures with those giant trees growing over the structures – because the passages immediately below the trees are crumbling and no way has been found to secure them yet, the access to these parts is restricted by the warning signs (as you can see from one of the photo in the gallery). However there is no one enforcing the no access requirement so a visitor to Angkor with a death wish can freely proceed and stand right below the crumbling rocks on top of which a monster tree is growing ever so tall. I had to be one of the crazy ones. I just could not pass up on this opportunity to stand right below those enormous trees knowing that the piles of huge rocks that support them could come crushing down at any given time. Utmost stupidity and I was fully aware of it at the time, yet still I wanted to stick my head where the danger was. It was my time at Angkor, afterall. For me it was a one in a lifetime opportunity to stand below those famous silk trees that brace the stones of Angkor in substitute for pillars in a frisk of nature that is as astounding as it is precarious. It was this close knit of nature with ancient architecture that drove me to Angkor in the first place.
Anyway, without further ado, below is the gallery of photos of the Preah Khan temple I took before the attempt to steal my bicycle by the fake orphanage kids took place. The few spots I left for after the bicycle repark I never eventually got a chance to photograph as I could not comfortably walk inside the temple outside of which an organized group of large caliber crooks operated without backbone of any form:
It took me two days to thoroughly complete the exploration of temples on the Petit Circuit of Angkor Archaeological Park. I bought a 7 day pass to have enough time to take on every single ruin within the park and even though I had originally wished I would have only spent one day on the Petit Circuit, it proved to be an impossible to task to carry out on the bicycle. The riding itself wasn’t an issue. Riding and exploring in this extreme heat was. And on top of this, a visitor to Angkor spends all of their energy fighting off ever so pushy touts.
Ways to Explore Angkor
There are no air-conditioned spaces at Angkor Archeological Park. But what’s worse – there is never any breeze there. Whether you’re out in the open, hiding under a tree or within the walls of an ancient ruins, there is no escaping the heat. It’s extreme, squeezes every bit of sweat out of you and you won’t get a break from it for a second. It’s like being in a sauna, except that you are also crisped by the sun and need to move. Granted, visitors have an option to hire the services of a driver with an air conditioned car, or join an organized tour that drives around in an air conditioned bus, but these are for people who have deep pockets and no sense of adventure.
A good middle ground is to go in a tuk tuk. Compared to taxis and organized tours, tuk tuks are cheaper and more typical of Cambodia affording a visitor an experience unique to this part of the world. Tuk tuks are not air conditioned, as a matter of fact they are not even enclosed, but they are roofed offering blockage from the intense sun and when on the move, they provide the feeling of breeze to wash away the sweat and cool down the skin. One of the biggest advantages of taking on Angkor temples in a tuk tuk or a taxi is the possibility to have the driver drop you off at one entrance of a temple and pick you up at the one on the opposite side.
Some Angkor temples are fairly large and take quite a bit to fully explore. You would normally enter using one of the main entrances and as you get across, you turn up at the exit on the opposite side of the exterior enclosure. If you hired a tuk tuk or a taxi, the driver would know that and would drive to the exit on the opposite side to wait for you there after dropping you off at the entrance. However if you go exploring Angkor on a bicycle – like me – once you have covered whole temple and turn up at the exit on the opposite side of it, then you have several hundred meters to go back through the maze of scorching hot fallen rocks and extremely aggressive child touts.
The latter makes an already exhausting task an unbearable one. And they know it. They count on the fact that you will be so exhausted by the exposure to the sun, you will not have any power left to fight their endless pressure off. They will be in your face start to finish and there seems to be an eternal supply of them throughout Angkor. Even if you go through unseemly hustle of explaining that you cannot buy their postcard, their bracelet, their t-shirt or whatever it is they want you to buy, and put your whole self into making it your final word, as soon as you’ve exhausted yourself physically and mentally dealing with this one tout, you’ll have a whole new gang of them running towards you and jumping down your throat cause now you’re at the end with your life-juices and for them it’s the opportunity to force you into buying their junk simply because you can no longer fight them off.
As a bicyclist, I got the worst of it. I got no escape from the heat because unlike people riding a tuk tuk, I was unable to go as fast as they do to catch any real breeze that would help wash away the sweat, plus in order to move at all I had to spend my own energy all the while being fully exposed to the sun. Furthermore, exploring each temple meant locking the bicycle at the entrance, battling the touts operating outside of the temple, then touts operating inside, having them bother me on each and every step while slowly progressing towards the far end which once reached, I had to turn around and do the same distance all the way back, all the while battling the same touts again, only in reverse order because if they were unable to trick me into getting my money the first time, now they have a second chance and be more aggressive than the first time since now I’d be increasingly more tired than I was before.
Touts of Angkor
It is common for Angkor touts to use verbal traps as their last resort. Usually, if despite your exhaustion you manage to beat them off and they have no option but to leave you alone (because you’re entering other tout’s territory), they do it by saying something like: “OK, on the way back then. ” Then when they see you going back, they will take their verbal trap and use it against you by stating that “you promised” to buy from them later. It matters not that you didn’t promise a damn thing. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t say a word to begin with. They will make you feel obliged and if that fails, they will resort to their favorite part – calling you names. Even if their total English vocabulary consists of mere 5 words, “stingy” is guaranteed to be one of them. And once they’ve exhausted all English words they know will offend you, then they will proceed with mockery in Cambodian, ensuring you can hear that they are talking about you as they laugh and point fingers knowing you can’t respond. It definitely is exhausting to spend a day in an environment as hostile as this.
Grand Circle Touts
But it wasn’t until I started off my third day at Angkor and set out to cover the Grand Circuit when I realized that it does in fact get worse. See, vast majority of foreigners who visit Angkor Archaeological Park will only get a daily pass. Whatever they get covered within a day will be enough for them. It truly is way too hot even if you get to escape into an air-conditioned bus between the temples. As a result, 80% or more visitors to Angkor never make it to any temple outside of the Petit Circuit, with the exception of Banteay Srei which is a popular citadel some 25 kilometers north of the main temple complex.
Dealing with touts along the Petit Circuit was brutal, yet they get a pile of foreigners served to them every day. Unlike them, touts operating at temples on the Grand Circuit only get a sporadic foreigner every here and there. Virtually every temple on the Grand Circuit I visited on my third day at Angkor was without any other foreigners at the time of my visit. I was the first and only foreigner of the day so you can bet on it that when I showed up, they weren’t gonna let me go easily. The Petit Circuit touts were beyond unbearable, but compared to the ones on the Grand Circuit, they were a bunch of relaxed, easy going peeps.
It was also on the Grand Circuit where I had fake orphanage kids attempt to steal my bicycle. While riding around the Petit Circuit, I only used the lock I had to lock the wheel against the bicycle’s frame, because there was always so much traffic at any given minute, it would be difficult to steal a bicycle without someone noticing. Plus there are no racks or poles or anything of sorts you could possibly lock your bike against anyway so I did all I could.
But on the Grand Circuit it was different. These temples were quiet, only touts who operate at each of these every day were around and they work together as a gang so when a foreigner comes, they will support each other to make their purpose of separating foreigners from their valuables successful. Luckily for me, my guardian angel was around that day so after locking my bike against itself at one of the temples and walking inside, I got this strange feeling in the gut and instead of continuing with the temple, I returned back to look for a tree even if it required me to walk an extra distance back to the temple, but to have the bike locked against something stationary rather than leaving it loose just like that. And I just got back in a nick of time to catch the kids who gave me a real hard time demanding money for their “orphanage” running away carrying my bike. Their theft attempt was successfully foiled thanks to the hint from the guardian angel.
Temples on the Grand Circuit of Angkor
The reason why so few people take on Grand Circuit is that all of the most famous and most interesting temples are on the Petit Circle. Each other temple is less impressive and usually in greater state of despair so for most, once you have seen the temples on the Petit Circuit, you have seen them all. From that point on it’s just another pile of old rocks that looks the same way a pile of rocked they had seen before did. It worked for me because roads were quiet so I didn’t have to ride in ditches to avoid being run over by speeding buses and it was possible to take pictures without swarms of weirdly dressed foreigners getting in my view. The following is the list of temples from the Grand Circuit I had on my radar for the day:
Prasat Neak Leang
Angkor Thom North Gate
I started my Grand Circle tour properly – in a counter-clockwise direction after learning it the hard way with the Petit Circuit. I also made an emergency stop at Banteay Kdei to meet with my new friends and have a coconut for energy before a long and tiring day. If all was to go well, I would also get a chance to make an emergency stop at Angkor Wat for one more coconut – the last one of the day – with my also new friends who operate there on my way back home. And here I was, taking on the Grand Circuit of Angkor.
This was my second day at Angkor Archaeological Park, but I have already noticed several people with disposable cameras. I could not help but wonder what in the mighty heavens they were thinking – flying all the way to Cambodia to see Angkor temples and bringing only a measly disposable camera with them? It made no sense. But then while I was at Ta Prohm, I was approached by a couple of girls who asked me if I would take a picture of them in front of that picturesque spot with blind door where massive tree roots grow over the structure and a brief conversation with them made it all clear. They handed me a disposable camera so I got an opportunity to strike a conversation and ask why they would come all the way to Angkor without bringing some kind of decent device to capture their memories on.
Given that at this time I have already been in Cambodia for a little over a week, I should really have known without asking. I already had a thief attempt to steal my bicycle but I had my guardian angel on duty that night so he only got away with stolen keys from the bicycle chain lock. I had to carry the bike on my shoulder to the shop to have the lock cut and get a new one, but at least I still had the bike. Theft problem is very prominent in Cambodia (as are other forms of crime) so the real reason why I saw so many people with disposable cameras at Angkor should have really been clear to me straight of the bat but for some reason I needed a heads up from those girls as a slap on the forehead. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Where are you guys from? Girls: Denmark. Me: Beautiful country, continuously ranking as #1 country with the highest standard of living in the world. But why would you come all the way to Angkor, from Denmark and bring nothing but a disposable camera with you? Girls: We had nice cameras, but they were stolen along with our money and passports in Phnom Penh.
Oops! How could I have possibly not figured that out without asking? While Cambodia is not the only country in the world with theft problem, the number of Cambodian thieves on the loose looking for a foreigner who’s had a long day and is too tired to stay fully alert is staggering. After the experience with the Danish girls, each time I saw a person or a group of people with a disposable camera at Angkor, I didn’t go to ask why, I went straight to have the suspicion of theft confirmed.
Since I spent virtually every day of the rest of my stay in Cambodia at the Banteay Kdei temple and the Sras Srang moat, I had a chance to meet and speak with hundreds of Angkor visiting foreigners every day. The numbers of those who were victims of theft were alarming. You could see the sadness and horror in their eyes. You could see they only came to Angkor because they already had the ticket, but they could not wait to get the hell out of Cambodia before something more serious happens.
The stories of how it all went down varied, but the outcome was the same. Devastated individuals, couples and families who will definitely never consider coming to Cambodia again and I don’t blame them. Out of hundreds of people who had their cameras and other effects stolen, there was only one couple who didn’t think they were victims of theft. They told me they’d forgotten their camera on the table of the restaurant where they had eaten that day.
The couple realized they were missing the camera shortly after leaving the restaurant. Being new to Cambodia, they didn’t suspect any foul play and simply thought they must have left it on the table. They returned to the restaurant hastily, but the camera was not there. I asked them if they glanced over the table the way people do before leaving the restaurant and they both said they did but thought that the camera just didn’t stand out among the plates and silverware scattered across so they missed the sight of it and left without picking it up.
What really happened to them is hard to know for sure at this point. The only person who would know for sure is the one who took it. While dining, the couple was approached and bothered by several pestering touts who approached them in an attempt to sell them postcards, bracelets and other stuff Cambodian touts sell. Whether somebody saw a camera on the table and stole it while they were still there, or whether it was taken by someone after they’d left leaving the camera on the table is truly irrelevant, though. Honesty and will to help another are not traits commonly found among Cambodians. Greed and malice, on the other hand are omnipresent.
History of Cambodia is a history of violence. Violence has been part of Cambodian culture and everyday life for centuries and is as prevalent today as it has always been. As a traveller who spent a few months in the country and didn’t go through it locked up behind the safety fence of his hotel, I was exposed to the reality of the Cambodian ways, including its endless violence and crime. I have already shared the stories of other travelers who were victims of violent crime while travelling through Cambodia, and now I would like to share my personal experience and answer the question “Is Travel to Cambodia Safe?” with my own stories.
I stay in amazement when I see certain bloggers or forum members go through lengths to portray Cambodia as a safe country. Whatever the agenda behind such purposeful twists of truth is, I can’t help but express the horror over how public is systematically mislead. It takes savage imagination to call Cambodia a safe country. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
The following is nothing less and nothing more than my personal, firsthand experience after 2 months in Cambodia. These are not reports I got from other people, this is what happened to me personally:
My Personal Experience
I came to Cambodia with an open mind. I have been volunteering and supporting this country since the moment I set my foot on its soil and continued doing so unhindered despite the ordeal locals were repeatedly putting me through. Just as most other visitors to the country, I was also told that it was safe to travel in Cambodia. Having traveled through many countries before, including third world, non western countries (6 months on various islands in the Caribbean and 2 years in Eastern Europe – aside from countless other countries) I knew one has to keep his wits together and play it safe at all times, but still I came here believing that Cambodia was reasonably safe.
The very first time I had an unfortunate encounter was after two weeks in Cambodia at a more remote temple on the grand circle of Angkor. I locked my bike and walked inside the temple when I got that funny feeling that maybe I should have locked my bike against a tree rather than merely locking the wheel against the frame. This was the first time I only had my bicycle locked against itself and sure enough, as I walked out of the temple, I saw little kids who stood around with the banner that they were from an orphanage carrying my bike away. I yelled at them instantly, so they dropped the bike and bolted away. It was particularly disappointing since only minutes prior I had donated money to their orphanage as that’s what they were there for. Needless to say, I left that temple instantly even though I have only seen a small part of it.
A few days later, I had the bicycle lock keys stolen. I know I should have kept it on my chain along with other keys, where it’s much safer than loosely in my pocket, but it was becoming inconvenient as I rode the bike everywhere so I kept using the keys all the time and pulling the whole bunch on a chain became troublesome. Luckily, when a person who was suspiciously getting close to me unexpectedly left, I checked to see whether I still had all of my belongings and as I saw missing keys, I went right to my bike which was still there (in my vicinity all the time), took it to the shop to pay 2000 riel to get the old lock sawed off and spent additional 5000 to purchase a new, vastly superior lock. Unfortunate event, but I still ended up with little loss so I wasn’t making much of it.
It wasn’t until the time to renew my visa came. I wanted to combine it with a short trip to Phnom Penh. My stay in the nation’s capital started with a boy of about 10 years of age trying to steal my wallet. Cambodians, even though skilled thieves are not very smart and he failed to put two and two together so my wallet stayed safely fastened to the chain with the keys on the opposite end. I’ve worn my wallet on the same chain for 20 years and have never had my wallet, or my keys stolen thanks to it. I would have to be either unconscious or threaten with lethal force to lose it. The boy used the moment when I was posing myself to take a picture of hundreds of motorcycles taking off at the traffic lights, pulled the wallet out of my rear pocket and bolted off only to have the wallet ripped out of his hands by the chain that remained sealed in my other pockets thanks to a bunch of keys attached to it. Even though I was focused on the photo I was about to take, I still could feel the wallet coming out of my pocket so I don’t know how exactly he thought he was gonna be successful with this pull. What do you do with a 10 year old when you catch him stealing, though?
I only had three days to spend in Phnom Penh, but the crime was persistent. The day prior to my intended visit to the immigration office, I was jumped by a man a block away from the riverside, not far from FCC. He came running from behind me and skilfully snatched at my bag in an attempt to steal it. Not willing to part with my $1,600 laptop inside, I managed to grab at the strap as the bag was leaving me and started to fight back for it. It was followed by the thief yelling something in Cambodian, after which I saw several dozen men with metal rods, knives and machete loom out of every direction running towards me. I don’t know what that man yelled at them, but he obviously abused the fact that I was a foreigner so he said something in a language I couldn’t understand to set those people against me. And they surely did.
I have never run that fast in my life. I don’t even know how I escaped getting killed there that day, but I counted my blessings and when the following day came, instead of going to renew my visa, I went to the Vietnamese Embassy and got myself a visa to Vietnam so I could leave Cambodia instantly. I called people from the village where I was volunteering that I would not be back, because I feared for my life and that instead I was going to Vietnam. As I was riding the bike back to my guesthouse from the Vietnamese Embassy, I saw a group of people standing around a bullet riddled body along the road. I didn’t have the camera with me to take pictures of it as I rode across Phnom Penh to spend my whole day dealing with the visa situation, but this has added a seal of approval to my decision to leave the country. Besides, where there is one dead body in Cambodia, there are also people with deadly firearms. I wouldn’t want to join the dead man by being next with a bullets in my head.
Vietnam vs Cambodia
Vietnam was a whole different world from Cambodia. It was a breath of fresh air I desperately needed. Not only has it helped me to relax and get over the terrible experience from Cambodia, it was also a place where locals respect tourists (unlike it is in Cambodia). I could walk into a supermarket, do my thing and walk out – there would be locals there, but no one would start whistling at me from across the street, clapping hands at me and yelling like I’m a cheap whore. It was unbelievably liberating to have this type of treatment after a month of abuse in Cambodia. There were locals out there, but they were minding their own business, leaving me alone to enjoy my time at my own pace.
Then I would go for a walk (I have explored entire Ho Chi Minh on foot) and there would be tens of thousands of motorcycles passing by me every minute, yet I did not get any of them in my face every 3 seconds like it is in Cambodia. It was incredibly refreshing. When I went to highly touristed places, that’s where I would occasionally get asked whether I wanted a ride on a moto, but when I said “no”, it was a “no” and I was not bothered by that person anymore. That’s again unheard of in Cambodia. But what I really liked is that even beggars in Vietnam have respect. Cambodia is the only place I know of where a 10 year old kid would say “Fuck You” straight to your face if you don’t give him any money after he asked for it.
From the beginning I could not understand why treatment of tourists in Vietnam was so different from Cambodia, even though they are so close to each other. Why did people in Vietnam leave me alone? Vietnam is not that rich either and unlike Cambodia, they don’t enjoy extra millions from tourist revenue because they don’t have anything equal to Angkor to attract mass numbers of tourists there. And then it all came together.
I noticed that Vietnam was abuzz with construction. There was work in progress everywhere I looked. People were not bothering me, simply because they were involved with their own lives. Millions on motorcycles are either on the way to work or from work. Unless they are on the way to school or from school or on the way to get something for the family. Either way, they are involved with their lives. They work to provide for their families and as such, they don’t have time or interest to bother tourists. They actually appreciate them and are grateful when they visit their country. I have also encountered unconditional help in Vietnam, which something that doesn’t exist in Cambodia, but that’s a whole different story.
Back in Cambodia
I got caught between a rock and a hard place though. I left Cambodia because it was unsafe and too much crime was being committed against me too often. However I did spend a month there building upon something, using my own finances and knowhow to improve the living conditions of people in a remote village but with my premature departure I left it unfinished. I knew that many people whom I started helping would fall back into poverty if I abandoned them before my work has been finalized.
I started to feel the sense of responsibility for being the only hope for a better life these villagers had, so I decided to give Cambodia another go. I thought – since it was Phnom Penh where my life was put in danger in a violent crime attempt, if I stayed away from there, I should be fine.
So I came back to Siem Reap and commuted every day 12 km each way to and from the village which is close to Sras Srang moat, not far from Banteay Kdei temple within the Angkor area. I continued teaching English there for free and started a campaign to raise funds for the purchase of solar panel to electrify the village while preserving the environment. All was fine again for about a week, until we went to celebrate some occasion close to that traffic circle, by the entertainment park in Siem Reap.
At one point when we were leaving, the street got extremely congested with traffic and we had to push through a group of people which was further congested by food carts on wheels. I had my camera with me and since I felt three young men pressing at me from behind and poking at my beg, I held the bag firmly with my arm, shoving my other arm inside the bag to hold firmly onto the $5000 camera. These young men kept pressing on me from three sides which appeared as though it was on purpose, but I assumed they were in a rush to get through so I didn’t make a big deal out of it and just continued guarding the camera inside my bag. Then at one point the pushing stopped and the boys were gone. I figured they must have changed their plan as these food carts truly kept everyone stuck and gave up on getting through quickly.
The moment I got out of there, I found the cell phone missing from my pocket. I immediately realized what the purpose on pressing on me and poking at my bag was and realized that teamwork and stealing skills of Cambodians are not as backwards as everything else. They work as a team and know very well how to keep you distracted and focused on something while someone skilled at withdrawing things from pockets does what they are best at. This was a painful experience and took me a while to get over with. It was extremely disappointing as I spent a lot of money in Cambodia, brought in some more from other sources, invested a lot of time and effort to improve the lives of people here and this is what I was getting in return.
My faith in Cambodia was broken and despite trying hard, I was having troubles recovering from the disappointment cell phone theft had brought upon me. But the biggest hit was yet to come. A couple of days after my cell phone was stolen, I was riding to the village from Siem Reap where I was staying. It’s a 45 minute bike ride (when you step on it and ride swiftly) and I was almost there. Literally, I only had about 2 more minutes before reaching the turn off to the village.
Feeling good that I was almost there, I saw that man crossing the road. I steered in the opposite direction of his walking, but he seemed to have stopped instead of continuing walking so we could safely dodge each other. As I was getting closer, he snatched at my bag I had hung on the handlebars and pulled at it in an attempt to steal it which was followed by a swing of a machete.
I have a bicycle with gears. Unlike most Cambodian bicycles, it does not have a basket above the front wheel. However I have been using gear shifts on both sides of my steering bar as hooks on which to hook my camera bag. So instead of having it strapped around my body, I had it safely hooked on the gear shifts as the bag has a handle which is just wide enough to stretch on both hooks. I realized that when I hooked my bag on the handle bars like that, from a distance it could look like it’s actually a bag placed loosely in the basket which is a standard part of most bikes in Cambodia. That is likely what the man who snatched at it was thinking.
I cannot describe the horror of the experience. The man grabbed at my bag and yanked at it to run away with it, the bag remained safely attached to my steering bar, but it jerked my bicycle which I had at good speed causing me to fall and nearly splatter on the road. A swing of his machete followed and missed my torso by an inch. Had this one landed, I would have disappeared out of all knowledge like British student Eddie Gibson who came to Cambodia and was never heard from again.
This was a direct murder attempt with intentions to rob me off my bag which I have only avoided by a miracle. The man who attempted to kill me couldn’t have known whether there was anything of value in that bag, but since I was a foreigner and had a bag in an area surrounded by jungle and there were no other vehicles on the road which otherwise sees a fair deal of traffic, he took the opportunity and tried to kill me to steal it. Had he succeeded, he would have just dragged my bloodied corpse into the forest so it rots there until the end of days. Unhindered, the man would be free to continue roaming the roads with his machete waiting for his next encounter.
My guardian angel was by me that day, though. The yank resulted in a complete loss of balance but I have somehow managed to stick my foot down and not splatter, but in that process I scratched it quite badly and bled (especially from the heel) like a stuck pig. I could not believe this. I was almost in the village. Given the proximity to the village, I assumed it could have been either a person from the village I haven’t met yet, or someone who lived reasonably close. Why would they otherwise roam around in the neighbourhood?
When the villagers saw me all bloodied and trembling with fear following the near death experience, they asked me what happened and I told them. They also wanted to know what the man who tried to kill me looked like to possibly identify him, but given that I almost died not expecting it, I was so shaken, the last thing I had on my mind was to take a good look at the guy. Plus, I still had the memory of my last altercation I had with a man who tried to steal my bag in Phnom Penh and that ended up with a group chasing me with deadly weapons. This man tried to kill me. Hurting or not, as soon as I was able to get back on the bike, I darted right off from there not looking back, as if I confronted him, he would likely continue swinging the machete until a hit that disabled me was delivered.
Cambodia IS Dangerous
This basically concluded my stay in Cambodia. I immediately started making plans to change my return ticket to leave asap but Korean Air proved excessively difficult to accommodate such requests when they are made outside of the country of origin. This kept me in Cambodia for a few extra days. I stayed mostly locked in, as from my personal experience, Cambodia is extremely dangerous.
I have been half way across the world, but it took a country like Cambodia for a man to fear for his own life. And these are by no means isolated incidents. Since I have been volunteering within Angkor area and close to one of the main temples (on short circuit which is done by most people who visit the park), I got a chance to meet many tourists with horror stories. It starts with seeing people carrying disposable cameras and asking them why the hell would they come all the way to Angkor with this piece of plastic – and hearing answers that this was their only option since their camera along with the money and passports were stolen, all the way to girls walking out of the temple scared to death, crying because they were just raped inside.
Is travel to Cambodia safe? No it is not. Cambodia is one of the most dangerous destinations in the world, period!
Is Travel to Cambodia Safe? How to Draw Your Own Conclusions
So the question that comes to mind is – then how come there are so many people who insist that Cambodia is safe? Well, at this point, instead of trying to raise any more points to prove my case over theirs, I will leave it up to you to make your own mind up and decide for yourself whether Cambodia is safe or not. And in order to come to such conclusions, you need to know what the people who live in Cambodia are like.
One of the most obvious things I noticed right upon coming to Cambodia are countless banners warning tourists to stay away from child sex tourism. It is forced into everyone’s face by banners throughout the country to a point that it becomes ridiculous. Even if you are someone like me, who would not only ever consider sex with a child, but would not even have it cross their mind, by being constantly reminded about it, it almost seems as though Cambodia wanted to introduce itself as a country with striving sex tourism.
I have spoken with countless people, including the police officers and while there definitely are occasional cases of tourists sexually abusing children in Cambodia, these cases are very sparse. Vast majority of all sexual abuses of children are done by local men – the same men who are responsible for an infamous title attributed to Cambodia – the rape capital of the world. Rapes are extremely common in Cambodia and not only are they never punished, they are never even reported because for one – the police force is a joke and secondly, it is socially and culturally unacceptable for a girl to admit that she had a pre marital sex, even if she was violently forced into it. To sum it up – excessive number of Cambodian men are a bunch of sexually abusive characters who don’t stop at nothing. Not even when it comes to helpless children. This is important to understand when coming to Cambodia and you are unsure after hearing one side claiming that Cambodia is safe, while another claiming that it is dangerous. Just take into an account that it is a country of rapists and draw your conclusions from that.
Aside from being a country of child rapists, Cambodia is also crammed with former Khmer Rouge henchmen. These killing machines who were enlisted as young children to kill on daily basis are now in their 40s and 50s and are as used to kill as they were in their early teens. Just because they took off their Mao hats and put on fake designer shirts it doesn’t mean they forgot how to pull the trigger or hack a head off. Having killed dozens of people since they were kids and never facing any repercussions or punishment for it, these people are all over Cambodia and still have the same guns and explosives they were given when they were recruited to kill. Unpunished and allowed to live freely after countless murders, these men and women are but a small part of a large group of armed and dangerous killers Cambodia is full of. Regardless of whether you believe those who say that Cambodia is safe or those who say that Cambodia is dangerous, by visiting Cambodia you will be entering a country where Khmer Rouge murderers roam freely, equipped with uncontrolled and regulated military grade weapons. Instead of believing one side or another, draw your own conclusions based on facts. Take a close look at the type of people who make up much of the society and the picture should be quite clear.
Aside from West, North, East and South Gate allowing access to Angkor Thom, the royal city had one more gate built on its eastern wall – Victory Gate. The Victory Gate is in line with the Royal Palace area and was clearly erected to allow for direct access to the Royal Square.
Similar to the South Gate, Victory Gate is crowned with the face tower and flanked by Airavata – the three headed elephants plucking lotus flowers with their trunks. Due to extensive theft of Angkorian artefacts by local people of Cambodia, many figures lining the causeway across the moat leading towards the Victory Gate were stolen or damaged during theft attempts. Most lack heads with only parts of their bodies holding naga balustrade as if in a tug-of-war remain.
Having been in Siem Reap for almost a week, I had to go to town’s most prominent entertainment venue – Temple Club. Located in the center of Pub Street, Temple Club is Siem Reap’s heart and pulse of night life. There is a big sign above the entrance on the canopy which reads: “Recommended by Lonely Planet”. This was precisely why it took me a week to pay a mandatory visit to the venue. I’m not particularly fond of places where “everybody else” goes. This is my personal review of the Temple Club as seen and experienced through my own eyes.
Pub Street comes very much alive at night. While it is true that the very reason why the town sees so many tourists lies in the temples of Angkor, when the sun sets and the area falls dark, all those foreigners come out to take advantage of extremely cheap beer (2000 Cambodian Riel which is about 50 Cents US) and well priced food. They are all naturally drawn to Pub Street because that’s where all they are looking for is available at high density. It was no different with me. Even if you’ve never heard of Pub Street, once you come to Siem Reap you’ll learn about it quickly and end up on it one way or another.
Cambodian police come to Pub Street every evening and block both sides of it with their motorcycles to prevent access of any motor vehicles to the street. This is because the street gets so busy at night that there is simply no room for vehicles and besides, something needed to be done to protect those drunk tourists from being run over. There is a lot of movement on Pub Street and a lot of noise from local pubs too. Since Temple Club tends to be the loudest, you notice it right away. You make your first visit to Pub Street after dusk and you’ll be well aware of Temple Club and their bragging sign that they are recommended by the Lonely Planet.
Aside from deafening music, Temple Club also attracts passerbys’ attention by visual leads – laser disco lights the beams of which make it all the way to the street. The thing with Cambodia is that it’s located in the tropical zone, so it’s always hot there. As such, none of the clubs or restaurants have any windows. It’s all wide open, patio style street sitting everywhere you go. This makes Temple Club wide open to the strollers randomly checking out the Pub Street at night and as they hear the music and see colorful lights, they are naturally attracted and come to see what is going on there.
Temple Club – What I Liked
Location is great, food albeit slightly above average for Siem Reap, is well prepared, extremely delicious and well presented on a plate. Beer is definitely above average for Siem Reap, being priced at $.75, making it 50% more expensive than most other restaurants on Pub Street but still not too bad. Service is decent and as is the case with most of Cambodia’s hospitality establishments, you are not expected to tip, even though tips are always appreciated. The biggest positive of Temple Club – free Apsara shows.
I have already witnessed Amateur Apsara Dancing, but was eager to see an actual choreographed show with paid to dance dancers and musicians. There are several venues throughout Siem Reap offering paid Apsara dancing shows but for the most part they are obscenely expensive. I went to enquire about the price at Apsara Theater near Wat Bo temple, which is supposed to offer some of the finest Apsara performances in Cambodia, but their entrance fees were obscene. Several upscale hotels offer free Apsara shows, but as a guest, you are usually expected to at least order a meal the price of which usually matches their primary clientele.
Having a club on Pub Street offering free Apsara shows every evening is invaluable for travellers on a budget who would like to experience this must see Cambodian art form. Temple Club offers their free Apsara Shows every day from 7.30pm to 9.30pm on their upper floor. Lower floor has small dance floor, pool tables, large screen TVs playing sports channels and a DJ playing gay music, hence that’s where drinkers hang out. Upper floor is dedicated to visitors who seek more from a visit to a Lonely Planet recommended club and anticipate quality dining experience as well as cultural uplift. As such, the upper floor delivers.
One of the biggest positives (and the only reason why I’ve ventured to Temple Club more than once) was fast wireless internet that’s available to their customers. My initial visit to Temple Club was to attend my first Apsara Show. I didn’t have my laptop with me, just a camera for a few pictures and couldn’t stay for too long because of mosquitoes. My subsequent visits were strictly related to the use of their fast wifi internet. I unpacked my laptop, asked for a password and surfed the net without any member of staff coming to imply that I should order something. The internet is fast (for Cambodia) and reasonably reliable.
Temple Club – What I Didn’t Like
Temple Club is too busy, often full of finest sample of loud and obnoxious tourists who take good advantage of cheap beer. Music they play downstairs is absolutely atrocious. I don’t even understand where they are able to pull this crap from. I’m surprised shitty music of this kind is not illegal. Every now and again they would hit an odd good song, but overall it’s all about truly awful crap hip hop and mainstream junk. I’m also not into sports so there was nothing to attract me on their big screens.
Being the hottest club in Siem Reap, Temple Club is frequented by prostitutes and con artists. Theft is very common as are other forms of scam so hang on to your belongings really tight and never ever assume that this local person is nice because they like you. They never do. They only like themselves and the only reason they treat you like you’re a goddess is because they want to brainwash you into trusting them so they can take advantage of you.
If you are one of the guys who attract mosquitoes like honey does bees, you will be having damn awful time at Temple Club. This downside is not unique to Temple Club though, rather to most similar venues in Siem Reap and elsewhere in Cambodia. They are wide open leaving you thoroughly exposed to the blood suckers. If you forget to cover up in bug spray, you won’t last very long. This was unfortunately my case too. I went to see their free Apsara Show on my last night at Two Dragons and couldn’t even stay until the end as I was getting eaten alive. This is never any fun in areas where malaria and dengue fever are endemic – such as Cambodia.
What I didn’t like about Temple Club the most was the fact that they are so obviously bragging about being recommended by Lonely Planet. There’s a thing – even though Lonely Planet contributors plea they never take incentives to recommend certain places, everybody who’s not entirely naive can understand that it’s not quite the case. There is a lot of money in stake and this cross promotion gives it all away. Besides, from what I understand, owners of Temple Club seem to be on the mission to monopolize Pub Street. As far as I know, there are several restaurants and clubs on Pub Street alone that are owned by the same people who own Temple Club (including Khmer Family Restaurant). Any business that’s too big and spreads uncontrollably destroying all smaller business owners around gets a thumbs down from me.
Temple Club Personal Review Conclusion
I’ve enjoyed free Apsara Show provided upstairs at the club and found it to be a must visit gig for everyone who comes to Siem Reap. If you like big crowds of drunk people and enjoy attention con artists and prostitutes give their potential “clients” until they get what they want from them, then downstairs of Temple Club is for you. Being Siem Reap’s epicenter of petty crime, one needs to be very careful about their belongings or should not bring any valuables with them and only as much money as you are going to need for food and drinks. I personally prefer more intelligent entertainment venues so I’ve only visited Temple Club a couple of times. It is definitely worth visiting if you just want a beer or two and need to get on the internet with your laptop while you’re at it. Just keep it low profile so you don’t attract too much attention of truly dangerous Cambodian con artist upon yourself.
Laptops come in a variety of slick designs which along with their great resale value make them an attractive target for thieves. After my laptop was stolen, I was gonna watermark my new laptop with irremovable information that would identify me as a rightful owner. Just as I was about to do that, I found out about Stop Theft Security Tracking Tags and ordered one to use as a superior way to watermark the laptop which not only watermarks it, it further deters theft, increases chances of recovery and unlike regular, hand-crafted watermark, increases resale value if the equipment is sold by the rightful owner. I had ordered my Stop Theft Plate and received it in a little over week despite international shipping (from the USA to Canada). Installation of the tag was easy and straightforward except from one inconsistency in the manual which kept me constantly confused (hope Stop Theft people are going to look into that and fix it). This is how I went about tagging my laptop to prevent theft with Stop Theft Plate:
Stop Theft Tag – What’s In The Box
My Stop Theft tag came well packaged, shipped by USPS after I opted against the UPS delivery (my previous experiences with items shipped to me via UPS from abroad resulted in prolonged delays due to excessive screening of international shipments using non postal delivery services). The box contained the Stop Theft kit and a sales receipt. Within the Anti-Theft System box were the following items:
Stop Theft Steel Plate with Red Warning Sticker
Cleaning Alcohol Swab
Stop Theft Tag Installation
Tagging my laptop with a Stop Theft plate was simple and straightforward except from a confusing statement on both the kit which contained the installation instructions on its rear side as well as on the pdf document containing installation procedure posted on the Stop Theft website. The confusing part consisted of referring to the instant adhesive as “adhesive’, “glue” and “gel”. In order for the tattoo to properly etch on the casing of your laptop, it is important to apply a thin strip of “gel” which will activate chemical process resulting in permanent ink on your equipment. Because you will not find anything labelled as “gel” in the kit supplied to you, referring to something this important as “gel” is extremely confusing and makes you feel like you are not doing it correctly.
I believe Stop Theft people should revise their installation instructions and clarify this statement. Since there is no gel provided with the kit, only Instant Adhesive, it would be advisable to refer to it as such throughout their installation instructions. Confusing the crap out of their customers doesn’t do the otherwise solid company any good. The process of tagging my newly purchased Samsung N150 netbook is shown below with pictures:
I wanted to have the plate on the lid of the laptop, to ensure it is highly visible, but chose the far end of it so it doesn’t deface the flipping side of it too much. In order for the tag to properly attach to your equipment, it is essential that you choose a flat surface and DO make it the front of your computer, not some obscure side of rear end.
Step 1: Cleaning the Area for Tagging
Step 2: Applying Gel to the Plate
I applied a thin strip of adhesive along the entire width of the tattoo and a tiny drop near each corner of the plate before placing the plate on the case.
Step 3: Apply Tagging Plate to Laptop
Step 4: Apply Red Warning Sticker
Step 5: Register Tagged Laptop
After proper hardware application, I went to www.stoptheft.com/trackset to register the laptop and link it to my tag ID. The warning sticker which informed me not to forget about the registration as sole application of the plate without registration of the ID is worthless was on the steel plate and I removed it after I was done registering.
Careful application of the adhesive should ensure that you don’t experience any excess oozing out from under the plate after application. However if you go overboard applying too much, take the protective backing you peeled from the back of the steel plate and use it to gently wipe off the excess.
My laptop was protected. Stop Theft is a simple, yet effective way to watermark the equipment. I was gonna watermark my laptop anyway, but Stop Theft plate made it simple, more effective and more elegant, while retaining the resale value while in control of the rightful owner. This protection will be on my laptop for as long as the laptop is around. If I decide to sell the laptop, new owner will get it with complimentary Stop Theft protection. This added value will increase the resale value of the unit. There are no annual or renewal fees to continue having the tagged equipment protected.