We opt out of the first morning tours since we’ve already seen Angkor Thom, the Terrace of Elephants and the Bayon. Instead we relax at the hotel with a leisurely breakfast and some email/blog catch-up. It’s been 7 years since we were last in Siem Reap and how things have changed. It’s certainly evident that the tourist economy is booming in this part of Cambodia. And, it’s one of our favorite spots in the world for many reasons, but mostly because of the wonderful Cambodian people. On the surface they are efficient, wonderfully polite and respectful, literally running ahead to hold doors, assist with baggage and do anything to make your visit more pleasant. Once you begin to know the people on a bit more personal level, they are inquisitive of your home and honored that you are visiting their country. Most tell stories of moving from the countryside to the city to better their education, English language skills and work opportunities. On a very personal level, many tell the stories of friends and family killed by the Khmer Rouge that took control of Cambodia in 1975. During their 5 years ruling Cambodia they established policies that totally disregarded human life with repression and mass massacres. Over 2 million people, nearly an entire generation, perished under their rule. It’s because of this that Cambodia has a very young work force. Most of the men and women involved in the hospitality and touring industry are in their late 20’s and 30’s. They were all very young or not yet born during the Khmer Rouge rule.
After rejoining the group for the afternoon tour we visit Banteay Srei, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Constructed of red sandstone, many of the intricate and elaborate decorative wall carvings are still beautiful. Tonight we’ll have a group dinner at a local Cambodian restaurant. Tomorrow we’ve signed up to hike to a beautiful old hilltop temple for sunrise, breakfast at a cafe near Ankgor Wat and an elephant ride. Later we’ll rejoin the group for a tour of Ankor Wat and our favorite, Ta Prohm, the temple of the trees. It’s going to be an early wake up call and a very busy day!