Banteay Srei, Cambodian Landmine Museum and BBC
After more than two months away from home one can start to feel nostalgic about even the most stupid things like washing machines and dryers. Your clothes start to smell like cat barf no matter how many times you have it laundered and your socks have holes your toes can penetrate through. Although we feel more than fortunate to experience what we have, we also would die for a In and Out burger and a Dr. Pepper. We figured that there would be country’s that we would visit where the weather would be harsh and unforgiving (on the flip side you save mucho bucks this way), and Cambodia’s hot and rainy season is where our story begins today.
After seeing some of the most wonderful Khmer temples in the Ankor area, we set out day 3 to the farthest of all we visited yet, Banteay Srei. This temple is about 25 kilometers away from Ankor Wat and Ankor Tom, about a 45 minute ride on a tuk tuk. A tuk tuk by the way is a small carriage pulled by a motorbike. We actually prefer traveling like this throughout Southeast Asia because it provides natural air conditioning and you can appreciate the passing scenery. I was interested in seeing this temple because it is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. The temple opened in 967 AD, it is the oldest temple we visited on all three days. Although it is smaller than the other Ankor temples we saw, it is also considered one of the most elaborate of carvings and bas relief work.
After we showed our temple pass to the guards, Angelo and I whizzed passed ladies covered in hats and gloves selling local fruits and young children selling postcards for a dollar. Immediately we noticed that Banteay Srei had much fewer tourists than the other temples, and were quietly relieved. This allowed for us to photograph and take our time walking about the ruins. It was very quiet there, the only sounds we heard were loud insects and small Cambodian children running around and playing. Banteay Srei translates to “citadel of the woman”, everywhere there are beautiful carvings in the red sandstone walls. Although it was slightly overcast, the heat and humidity was intense as we were looking at the temple. Places like this, I like to imagine what it looked like over a thousand years ago. The temple was in use until 1303, after it was “rediscovered” in ruins in 1914. The center of the complex has the most elaborate sculptures and carvings, but no visitors are allowed to enter this area. This temple was by far my favorite of all we visited in Cambodia.
Heading back to town we decided to get the full value of our rented tuk tuk, so we decided to visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Facility. The museum was started by a former child soldier of the Khmer Rouge army, Aki Ra. If you do not know about the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot and the Cambodian genocide I highly advise you to educate yourself about this subject. Everyone in my parents generation know about the Khmer Rouge, but many in my generation and younger do not. Having planted many landmines himself when he was just a child, Aki Ra began to clean up land mines in rural areas of Cambodia. Word got out that a young Khmer boy was clearing landmines and cluster bombs with only a stick and simple tools, and communities started to ask him to help clear mines leftover from 30 years of war. Thus began his current mission which is to help educate and clear Cambodia of these fatal weapons. Eventually with the help of NGO money and others, Aki was able to open the Landmine museum and also the rehabilitation facility for children. These children used to all be land mine victims or orphans, now they also house Khmer kids who are disadvantaged in other ways. The income from the museum goes directly to the children’s housing, education and food.
It is an understatement to say that land mines and cluster bombs have affected Cambodia’s history. If you have ever visited this country, particularly the north, you will be awestruck at how many people have no limbs. There is an estimate that there are 40,000 amputees, and this does not include the many people who have died from mine explosions. Although the fatality rates from accidental land mine detonation has declined every year, there are still 4-6 million that lie unexploded in Cambodian soil. Many of these explosives lie dormant in the ground up to 30 years. Also, many soldiers who set up these land mines do not remember where they put them. Many children are the innocent victims of these land mines, they are just playing outside and loose an arm or leg – or worse. Tickets to the museum are $3 for tourists, free for Cambodian residents. Link: www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/
The last place we visited was the Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre, or BBC. For only $4 a person you get your own tour guide and lots of information about these insects. The butterfly centre is great because it teaches the local community sustainability and a connection to their environment. I got to hold a really cool stick insect and see colorful caterpillars blossom into butterflies. It reminded me of one of my favorite books as a child – The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
It started to rain during the last section of our tour, but we were exhausted anyway. I think it was the only time that we both fell asleep on the tuk tuk ride home.