Alternatives to Temples in Siem Reap – Part 1
Days 838 - 842
Siem Reap is not just about Angkor Wat and the other hundreds of ancient Temples. If you come to visit this amazing place, make time to visit some of the alternative places, including creative and culinary social enterprises, top couture, and learn about butterflies and some landmine clearance projects.
When our lovely driver Keo suggested that we visited Temples on the outskirts of Siem Reap for our second day, I asked if we'd be near the Landmine Museum as it was 12km out of town. Luckily the answer was yes. Better still, Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre was a short drive away, giving Jac somewhere to go. Tim and I wanted to immerse into understanding more about the devastation that not only the Khmer Rouge brought to Cambodia, but also the Americans and Vietnamese.
The American Army dropped a total of 540,000 tons of bombs in Cambodia, despite not being at war with them. They were aiming to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a military supply route running from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam.
The Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) has estimated there are 4 to 6 million mines in Cambodia still active. To put that in perspective, the population of Cambodia was 7.5 million before the Khmer Rouge regime killed 25% of people, so that is more than one mine per person!
One person, Aki Ra, used to plant some of these mines. He was taken from his family by the Khmer Rouge and was given his first gun at the age of ten, subsequently laying thousands of landmines and seeing many of his friends die. He defected from the Khmer Rouge and joined the Vietnamese Army. He only remembers war until he was an adult. After the war, he became a de-miner. He was good at this job; he had plenty of experience laying them.
Eventually, with all the weapons and shells he had collected, he set up this museum and dedicated his life to make Cambodia safe from the ravages of landmines.
The fantastic work he has done was recognised in 2010 when he was named a CNN Top 10 Hero out of 10,000 nominees and by 2018 he and his team had cleared over 155 minefields in small villages, saving thousands of people losing limbs or being killed. Aki personally has removed over 50,000 mines and UXOs, mostly with just with pliers and a screwdriver.
Aki Ra's small Landmine Museum was well worth visiting. We were given audio, made by an American guy who has supported Aki both practically and financially. It was fascinating to listen to; however, our only criticism was that the audio guide numbering didn't match the haphazard flow of the museum route.
This small museum certainly opened our eyes more about the impact that landmines cause long-term. Sadly, according to Wikipedia, there are still 35 countries that have not signed the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, including the United States, Russia, China, and India.
Meanwhile, Jac was enjoying learning about Butterflies. Over to you Jac:
Due to my recent years of depression, I made a decision not to expose myself to the more difficult places to visit in Cambodia. I was glad to have made that choice because Keo took me on to Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre (BBC).
This Butterfly Centre is a delightful place to spend time. There didn't seem to be any other visitors, and I was looked after by a sweet chap called Lai. Founded in 2009, this is the largest enclosed butterfly centre in Southeast Asia and has been designed and financed by Ben Hayes and Mike Baltzer, two British butterfly enthusiasts, who had previously set up the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre in Tanzania, East Africa. Set up as a tourist attraction, generating income for running the centre and local charity projects, BBC is part of the ConCERT project, a Cambodian project connecting responsible tourism with environmental conservation. I loved walking about amongst these amazing creatures and seeing the cycle of life from egg to butterfly; a miracle of nature that never ceases to amaze me.
Lai talked me through the different species, and then we sat, and I told him where I had seen similar butterfly centre s in the UK. I understand that RHS Wisley has decided not to have the butterflies for the foreseeable future, possibly because of the effect on the foliage. But you can still enjoy them at the Natural History Museum in London from March 15th this year. Lai seemed quite surprised, and I'm guessing that the BBC may have well supplied the pupae at the London museum.
My phone battery soon run out having taken so many photos of temples and now the most beautiful butterflies! A good job really, less to sort out for the blog.
Lindsey later reminded me that we actually have a Butterfly centre on the Isle of Wight, but I'm not sure that I have ever been there! I will add this to my "to-do list".
Before our two days of Temple tours, we visited a Couture Shop on the edge of Siem Reap. I still was on the hunt for a wedding outfit and done my homework well. Who would have thought that the incredible designer Eric Raisina would have a shop here?
The clothes are stunning. As Eric Raisina says on his website: "Colours are very important to me, they make me happy and make me dream of faraway places. I grew up with the vivid flamboyant colours and stunning natural beauty of my country, Madagascar, still my biggest inspiration."
Vibrant blues, yellows, pinks and greens sparked my interest, plus greys, which now seems to suit me in my ageing years. The assistants were very patient while I tried on many outfits. A grey one fitted me perfectly, but in the photos, unfortunately, the pattern didn't look right.
As Jac and I were in the changing room, Eric Raisina walked into the shop.
We quickly got some clothes on and went out to meet this charming man. He visited and now lives here in Siem Reap as he heard about their fabulous silks. Having seen Thai and Vietnamese silk, we agreed that this material here is the best. As well as this shop, he has one in the Monnaie district of Paris, where he lived for several years after winning the "New Young Designer of the Year" in Madagascar and getting a scholarship at Ecole Des Arts Appliqués Duperré Paris on a scholarship. He is one talented man.
He and Monique, who has worked for him for over 17 years, are off to Cape Town for a catwalk show, and she kindly showed us behind the scenes, where some ladies were beavering away crocheting and also where the catwalk collection was being stored.
Sadly, despite loving a shirt and a skirt, they didn't match one another, and so I am still on the hunt for that elusive wedding outfit.