After much deliberation, Karri and I decided not to pursue more temples on day two. It was a really tough decision to make, but we were a bit “templed-out” after having spent an entire day looking at ruins, and there were a few other things in Siem Reap that I wanted to see.
The main event on day two was the Cambodia Landmine Museum, what would become the first of a series of heart-wrenching museums that made up the majority of our trip to Cambodia. The museum was quite a ways outside the city and near Banteay Srei, another temple that was described in my guidebook, so Karri and I decided to do both. It wasn’t until our tuk tuk driver took us to the lone ticket counter for the archeological park that we realized Banteay Srei was part of the whole ruins complex and required another $20 full-day ticket. Reluctantly, Karri and I decided to pass on the second ticket, convincing ourselves that we had seen enough temples and would now have more time to see the city.
Our driver, however, didn’t get the memo and somehow Karri and I found ourselves at Banteay Srei anyway, and I quickly began regret not purchasing that second ticket… Banteay Srei, from a distance, looked really incredible, and unlike other temples in the area, had information available to read about the temple’s history and architecture before going in. At this point, we’d already driven more than a half hour to get there and going back to the original ticket counter was not an option. Unfortunately, we soon found out that individual temples don’t sell their own tickets. It’s all or nothing, and if you want it all, you have to go to the lone temple ticket counter just outside Siem Reap.
But after such a long drive I was determined not to give up, so I decided to approach the guards and see if there was anything I could do to change their minds… At first I just played dumb and asked politely if there was any way we could buy just one ticket to get into this one temple. I tried to explain to the officer that we had already seen the main circuit the day before and had traveled a long way just to see this one temple today. He said he couldn’t but referred me to his supervisor, where I repeated my story. Again, I was told to go back to the ticket counter. At this point, I asked the guard if maybe we could pay him to see the temple. At first I offered $5 (well more than one temple is worth comparatively) but went all the way to the full $20 just to see this damn temple. But what do you know, a guard in a country where corruption is rampant still REFUSED to let me in! In fact, he made sure to tell me that people found at the temples without tickets get a $100 fine, despite the fact that he and his comrades were the only point of defense for the ruins and letting us in would be easily unnoticed.
(For the record, I do not support bribes and corruption and all that, but seriously, accepting a few dollars to let some tourists into a temple far away from the city center is not that big a deal, and he could have put that money to back into some preservation fund for all I cared, the whole thing was just ridiculous. Furthermore, the whole system seems like a bad business move. You could make a lot more money off the temples by charging for entrance at individual sites in addition to offering the all-inclusive ticket to accommodate the stupid tourists who find themselves stranded far away from the ticket counter and regretting not buying a second ticket…)
Anyway, with our tails between our legs, Karri and I left the temple site and headed off our original destination, the Cambodian Landmine Museum. Like it sounds, the museum is full of information regarding land mines, especially their presence and history in Cambodia. It also contains an orphanage/school for victims of landmines and other disadvantaged children. The founder was a child soldier under the Khmer Rouge and was forced to lay landmines as a child, watching many of his friends get blown away in the process. He eventually realized the harm he was causing and dedicated his life to removing landmines throughout the world and educating people about their danger.
Though small, the museum is really powerful. There is a large collection of landmines and weapons on display, but what is more interesting is actually reading about the history of landmines and their presence throughout the world. There is also a really interesting documentary video on just how they work and how powerful they are. What is most impactful, however, are the stories of the child landmine victims who now live at the museum’s orphanage. An entire wall is covered with their little biographies, and you find yourself addicted to reading each one, never ceasing to be shocked by their stories. There is also an art therapy project on display where the kids were asked to take a box and paint their aspirations on the outside of it while painting what happened to them on the inside. Today visitors can find four boxes hanging from the ceiling, all with pictures such as teachers, doctors and office workers on the outside, with colorful visions of smoke, fire and missing limbs on the inside. Sadly, there are an estimated 6 million unexploded landmines remaining throughout Cambodia :(.
After that emotional rush, Karri and I decided to relax a bit and just enjoy the streets of Siem Reap during our remaining time there. Next stop: Phnom Penh!