There has been so much changes since I came here 9 years ago. Muddy and bumpy roads are now replaced by wide concrete streets. Many new hotels including five-star resorts opened their doors to welcome guests from abroad. At night, there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from on Pub Street, all the menus are in English and prices quoted in US dollars. I see significantly less people with missing limbs begging for money this time. No more red signs warning about the land mines as far as I can see in Siem Reap. Some kids still sell you 10 postcards for a dollar, but more of them are in school uniforms.
People are still poor, but business seems to be going well.
Our Tuk-Tuk driver, Mr. M (He’s not in the photo to protect his privacy) is a smart and fun guy to talk to. Mr. M’s parents were both killed by Pol Pot when the Khmer Rough was in power. He was only three at the time then he was sent to a temple and ordained as a monk. We asked him how do the people of Cambodia think of Pol Pot. He said some people still hate them but some people choose to forgive because they believe in karma in Buddhism.
“Have people’s lives improved over the years?”
“In Siem Reap, 90% of the local people rely on tourism to feed their family. During the high season, business is good and people are happy. During the low season, people have no work. They run out of money and go crazy.”
It’s a bit ironic. Their ancestors who built these temples and monuments for themselves at the time couldn’t have imagined their efforts would provide better living conditions for people here a thousand years later.
This small country sandwiched by Thailand and Vietnam, has so much for us to learn and it’s so thought-provoking. We end our trip with a sunset at Angkor Wat, tomorrow moving on to Thailand!