Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Another Sunday at Angkor Wat

Sundays have been my temple days, so today I decided to spend more time in my favourite temple Bayon, discover "new" temples - and talk to more tourists - after all, if it was not for them, I wouldn't be here.

At Bayon, the temple with the many faces, I had a long chat with Chhay and Om, two boys from a nearby village who just graduated from high school. Every Sunday they come to the temples with their textbook to learn more about Angkor and the temples' history. They also listen in to what the guides have to say...

I had overheard them discuss what is the meaning of the four Buddha faces carved into the four sides of the temples many towers... Charity, Compassion, Sympathy... But what was the fourth one? Now, here I could help - because I had paid attention to my guide last week... Equanimity!! Those are also the four qualities you need to strive towards to become a Buddha. Chhay and Om told me they were not aiming that high. Their dream though - like so many other youngsters here in the Siem Reap region - is to become a guide. And so they spend as much time as they can in the temples - and work on improving their English. Guides are well paid by Cambodian standards. And if you happen to speak Korean or Japanese on top of English you're really in demand and cashing in. There's a high chance you'll be booked out weeks in advance. Russian, a guide told me, is also in fashion, as there are only 10 Russian-speaking guides out of a total of 1,983 (Siem Reap's total population is around 100.000 - just to put these numbers in proportion). I also spotted the first woman guide, also a rarity around Angkor.

Less of a rarity are Korean tourists who make up more than 20 % of all tourists visiting Angkor Wat. Like their Japanese neighbours, they never go out without their hats and I personally LOVE their gloves (you could catch something nasty!). The hordes of tourists can be a bit of drag, but as soon as you leave the circuits mapped out in the various temple guides and venture out to smaller, less visited temples, that's when you experience the real attraction of Angkor Wat.

I'd suggest taking the time to sit down in the shade to speak with young monks who converge to the temples on their days off. Or listen to the tropical forest and marvel at century old genius. The details, the size and the settings, are temple after temple (no matter how many times you've been here) both breathtaking and overwhelming.

I went back to Angkor Wat for sunset. I had been asked what I prefer: sunset or sunrise? I'd have to say you must see both, but the light at sunset is pretty special!


Guy 7 February 2007 at 02:40  


Just out of interest, how much would a guide make per day or per month?

And, do they seek to set up their own tour guide business or join established operations?

Barbara 8 February 2007 at 07:49  

Well, it depends - officially an English speaking guide gets 20 Dollars a day, but this could include up to 5 Dollars for the person or tour operator organising your guide. Then the price goes up - depending for example if you're going for a sunrise tour (add 10 Dollars), if your guide speaks Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Japanese - the more exotic the language, the more expensive the guide. But 20-30$ a day is a lot in Cambodia, when the average income is about a Dollar throughout the country - and maybe 2-3 Dollars in the tourism industry of Siem Reap.

Of course everyone would like to have their own tourism business. But this really means skills and connections to international tour operators - and most Cambodians don't have them...

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