Mark and I decided to go cheap and we took a luxury bus up to Siem Reap for only $22 each round trip. It really was a nice bus, but after 5 hours of being sardined next to each other we were beginning to wish that we had flown up here! Especially since we get to do it again on Friday morning when we head back to Phnom Penh. Anyway, we used the time to get caught up and talked through Mark’s ministry plans for the years to come.
The countryside between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap doesn’t vary much. It’s mostly a flood plain that stretches away flat as far as you can see in all directions, dotted with palm trees and laid out with a checkerboard of small farms. Occasionally a small hill appears, usually capped with a temple. Sometimes, far off in the distance to the south a line of hills appears. It struck me that it is no wonder that during the time of the genocide here people tried very hard to get south and west into the mountains toward Thailand, where it would be much easier to hide. The country is so flat and open that moving from one point to another without detection would be next to impossible, especially if you had a group of people. It is also a main reason why so many did not escape. If you’ve never watched the movie, “The Killing Fields,” you should.
This time of year is usually very dry and hot, but it has been significantly cooler this year, and quite rainy, so everything is beautifully green instead of the usual brown. Most of the villages that we go through simply line the road on either side. Different villages seem to specialize in different trades, whether farming, or stone carving, or lumber, or concrete (making posts, water pipes, etc.). One village was famous for carving Buddhas out of stone, and they lined the road by the thousands in various stages of completion. I was reminded of the biblical statement of the sad irony that must be true of every idolater: “…every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of delusion…” (Jeremiah 10:14, 15).
Cambodia started off as a Hindu nation due to Indian incursion into the area during the Angkor period in the 8th-13th centuries. The temples we’ll see today are actually Hindu places of worship, and we’ll see more idols there relating to Shiva and the asparas (kind of the Hindu substitute for biblical angels). We’re not going for the religious experience though, of course, but rather to appreciate the cultural significance of the place and the wonder and beauty that is there. Upon arriving, we unloaded at our hotel – an awesome place that we got at half price because we’re here in the off season – and walked down to the “Old Market” where most of the tourist craft shops are. We pretty much explored the area in entirety, had some good Khmer food, and saved our money for another day. After an evening meal on a balcony overlooking Pub Street (a street lined with restaurants and shops), we headed back to crash for the night. We hired a guide and a car for our tour of some of the temples tomorrow, and it should be a great day. More on that later! One more thing that I have to mention. Mark and I now know from experience the significance of the phrase, “The elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.” For some weird reason, our hotel’s elevator only went to floor 4, and our rooms were on floor 5! No idea why, but we had to take stairs to finish our trip to the top floor. Still, very nice rooms, and a great breakfast every morning.