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JOURNAL OF MY TOUR BY JEEP OF THAILAND, CAMBODJA AND VIETNAM

NOVEMBER, 1956 , page 9


At a little place called Phalok a couple of boys were playing volleyball on a small grass court. I played along with them for a half an hour and we were all greatly amused. Their French was very fluent and their enthusiasm while playing also reminded me of the French. When it got dark, I loaded 4 bikes and boys in the back and drove the last 16 kms of a decent road into Siem Reap. Concrete lined ditches , bridges, locks and sluices along the road made me aware of the extensive irrigation works underway.
Siem Reap looked like a metropolis the first time I saw it. It differed from Thai villages in that it boasted several attractive large buildings and boulevards. So one notices instantly the difference due to the French colonial regime, while Thailand boasts about never having been colonized (by the West). Although the country has a separate atmosphere and people react different, because of this French influence, the true character of the Cambodjans shows in many small details and is intrinsically more like that of the Thai than the French.
This French control dates only from the middle of the 19
th century. The original occupants of Cambodja, the Khmer, had been forced back by the Thai – their former vassals - through the centuries, abandoned their capital Angkor in 1342 and lost more and more land till, in 1864, with the help of the French, they recovered several provinces and a new border was established (in the early 1940's the Japanese helped to recover these provinces for the Thai, at least temporarily).
Nowadays, relations between Thailand and Cambodja are friendly, although some controversy remains about the status of a hill on which are located the remains of a remarkable Khmer temple, Wat Praviharn, at about 14 degrees 20 minutes North latitude and 104 degrees 50 minutes East longitude.
On a terrace along the river I ate some rice and wrote my journal by the light of a smokey oil lamp. Soon the pages were covered with small flies so I stopped and took a walk. Instead of samlors or rickshaws, here people use a streamlined set of seats suspended by springs between two spoked wheels, which is drawn by an ordinary bike. Although it looks rather fragile, it manages to carry entire families. Outside the town I saw a lot of small oxcarts with low, handwoven roofs which double as roofs on the sampans of their owners.
The shops were rather tourist-oriented and sold such items as deerhorn knives engraved with the name "ANGKOR", cheap leather lampshades, and bows and arrows. The prices were low by Thai standards, but true art was hard to find.
A beautiful road through the forest took me to Angkor Wat, another 6 kms beyond Siem Reap. The moon came out and in its faint light I pitched my tent away from the road near a large pond. At the other side, I noticed some ruins which I decided to explore the next morning. Not realizing that this was the true Angkor Wat, I crawled into my tent, and enjoyed the relative warmth of my parachute silk sarong in the cold night. Early the next morning, November 12, 1956, I took a bath in the pond and for the first time was attached (no, not attacked) by a leech, which I removed with tobacco juice as per jungle survivor textbook instructions.


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