Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, 2010

Kimleng Sang is a tuk-tuk driver with a passion for photography. He had saved hard for over two years to buy a decent camera. If you're looking for good photographic opportunities in Siem Reap, Kimleng is probably one of the better guides you can find.

I was introduced to Kimleng by Jo, my friend who works at AboutAsia Travel, which organises tailor-made Cambodia holidays. They are great at identifying resourceful local guides like Kimleng.

The story of my Moroccan sandals

We set off early on the day of our visit to Angkor Wat in order secure a good spot to view and photograph the sunrise. There were already people waiting, but we were just early enough to avoid the tourist groups from Taiwan and Korea.

As the day progressed, we moved from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom and the Bayon, then to Preah Khan, Ta Prohm and back to Angkor Wat. Along the way, we also walked around some of the lesser known temples. It was a lot to take in, but fortunately I had the free tourist guide, which was actually educational. It is also available online.

I was wearing a pair of mustard-coloured Moroccan sandals. If you have been to Morocco you would know what these sandals look like. They are made of leather and attached to rubber soles. They are soft and comfortable, and you can fold them down quite flat so they're good for travelling as well. Once, while I was on the Tube in London, a man commented that he had owned a pair just like mine and it had lasted him for many years.

I am certain that he had never worn them in the rain. As I followed Kimleng around in Preah Khan, trying in vain to avoid stepping into puddles, the soles of my sandals first flipped open, then detached themselves completely. Had the leather upper been stitched to, say, a piece of canvas before being glued to the rubber sole, they would have had a shot at survival. But alas, it wasn't canvas but cardboard - which immediately disintegrated on contact with the damp ground.

Tourists and postcards

Enormous trees that grew out of (or perhaps into) the buildings, often with exposed roots, were everywhere. Yet people were crowding at Ta Prohm, taking turns to be photographed with the trees. The Chinese and Taiwanese tourists would come in waves, pop in to a hidden 'courtyard', snap group shots of each other in various combinations with the tree roots as background, and then leave. Before I could get in, another group would arrive.

When they had all gone, the Italian group took over. This must be the power of Hollywood. Or of Angelina Jolie.

We got back on the tuk-tuk and headed towards Angkor Wat to see it in the evening light. As we left the tuk-tuk, a boy approached me, trying to sell postcards, "ten for one dollar". There were many such children about. I hadn't bought anything from them, nor was I intending to buy from this boy, but then he repeated his pitch, first in Japanese and then Mandarin.

Me: How old are you?
Boy: Ten years old.
Me: Do you go to school?
Boy: Yes, in the morning.
Me: Is that where you learn your languages?
Boy: I learn from tourists.

Impressed, I bought ten postcards from him for a dollar.

Khmer proverbs

At Angkor Wat, we enjoyed the slightly unreal sight of the soft evening light on the temples as dark clouds gathered behind them. It was a pity that parts of the temple were being restored and hoarded up in ugly green netting.

As we waited for the sun to set, Kimleng shared with me some Cambodian proverbs:

  • When the river floods, the fish eats the ants; when the river is dry, the ants eat the fish. (Moral: treat your subordinates well.)
  • Do not live like a frog or die like a snake. (Frogs invite trouble by drawing the attention of snakes not only to themselves but to their neighbours; I did not quite get the snake reference, but apparently snakes are not well-liked in general.)

Soon, it started to rain, and I could tell that a rainbow was not far behind. I was proven right.

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