Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Angkor Wat

From Angkor Wat

Blogging from the road... now in London Heathrow, on my way to Geneva. Just got back from a weekend at Siem Reap / Angkor Wat. It was an incredible experience, travelling with my classmates for a weekend. It was the first time I've been to a country where everything for tourists ran on USD. Restaurant prices were quoted in dollars, not the local currency. Anything that you buy, would be based on dollars. The only time you might receive local currency is if the price was like $4.50, then you'd receive local bills for change.

Cambodia is a poor country, if not one of the poorest in Asia, but you really see an entrepreneurial class developing. Our very nice boutique hotel was $56/night... and that was for a HUGE room. The basic room was $30/night. Meals at nice restaurants would be $5-7 per dish. The infrastructure is clearly developing, and seeing young kids selling things at the major temples is a bit disconcerting when they should be in school, but I had the impression that tourism was really a major force in developing the economy. A lot of Asian budget carriers are flying into Siem Reap, which really is a small town, and there's a hotel boom that's happening. And all the accessory things, like spas, restaurants, entertainment, are developing around this.

It's all an amazing change from the 70-80's, where the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam war created a lot of trauma for the people living here. There are still landmines being cleared here, and you can see victims playing for these "landmine victims bands", playing traditional music for money. Even our guide was telling us stories about how he and his family used to survive in the jungle during the Khmer rouge era. It's amazing for me to think about his experience, from surviving in the jungle, to now, a grandfather, seeing his kids/grandkids grow up safely, earning a decent wage from being a tour guide, exposure to so many foreign tourists, and having very good English skills.

Would definitely recommend a visit to Angkor Wat/Siem Reap... friendly people, amazing history and temples, and your tourism dollars can go directly to improve the economy of this amazing country.

Photos are, as always, up on picasa. http://picasaweb.google.com/kent.x.lee/AngkorWat

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