Siem Reap

9 11 2009

Monday 9th November 2009

hotel balcony

Tropical shower from our room balcony

Up until last week we were still undecided about visiting Siem Reap. Our reticence was mostly due to its reputation for being a ‘must see’ tourist destination and our distaste for hordes of tourists on the one hand (we try and ignore the fact that we are also rubbernecking tourists ourselves) and the city’s focus being built around temples. The temple sites here are quite extraordinary but we find it troubling that they also stand as testament to the clever deceit of the god of this world.

dead fish guesthouse

Chose not to stay at the Dead Fish Guesthouse

Without tourism, Siem Reap would be nothing more than another small village on the plains of northwest Cambodia. In fact until the first wave of tourists arrived following the French ‘discovery’ of Angkor in the 19th Century, there was little to mark the place from anywhere else in the steaming lowlands of Indochina; the jungle had all but reclaimed what was once the vast political, religious and social centre of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer Empire.  The tourist wave continued until the 1960’s when the advent of war and the Khmer Rouge again brought it to a halt only to be begin again from the mid 1990s as Lonely Planet puts it, “…after 3 decades of slumber it is well and truly back on the map as one of the most popular destinations on the planet right now.” One wonders if the authors can see the irony of them making the comment in light of the title of their guide.  🙂

potholes

There is a vast amount of money being ploughed into development of accommodation but nothing into the upkeep of roads.

So here we are in a city of more than ¾ of million people that revolves almost entirely around tourism. Every second place is a hotel or guest house. There are streets that consist almost entirely of restaurants and cafés which are closed to traffic at night because the diners spill out across the street.  There are tour offices all over the place as well as the fact that nearly every other hotel or guest house doubles as a tour agent. The local economy works in US dollars – the only Cambodian currency we see is when change is given from a dollar note which is worked out at 4,000 riel to the dollar – and then the change is in notes. (We have not used coins since we left Australia.)

lost Tuk-Tuk driver

Our Tuk-Tuk driver got lost so he asked directions and got 6 advisers.

There is another side to the tourist dollar of course. It has thrown a lifeline to the long suffering and impoverished Khmer people. We have talked to 3 different young men who have come to Siem Reap from surrounding districts to earn money so they can pay for an education. All three of them have lost their fathers, probably as the result of war. There are also plenty of maimed beggars, most on crutches with amputations demonstrating the appalling evidence of landmines as the aftermath of war.

swimming in muck

Poverty is a reality. Squatter children swim in a very polluted stream.

On a brighter note for Cambodia, there is a relative freedom for the Christian gospel. We went to a local church yesterday and met a good number of Christians who are involved in all sorts of humanitarian outreach. A young lady of 20 who just arrived this week from Adelaide is working with YWAM in a ministry including the rehabilitation of prostitutes. There was also a young family from Texas working with an orphanage amongst other things as well as a surprising number of people from the Philippines working here in ‘tentmaker’ ministries with a heart to see the gospel flourish. God is at work here but our prayers are needed for the door to the gospel to stay open. Two years ago there was a prohibition placed on proselytising and all churches now have to be registered. The church we attended was threatened with closure for advertising their services with a banner outside.

NEWS JUST TO HAND! Exciting news, we are proud grandparents again 🙂  (number 6) a baby girl to Ben and Tori. Born around noon today (Tas time) No name or weight reported yet. Praise the Lord they are all well.

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One response

9 11 2009
betty

congratulations on the birth of Lisa.love mum

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