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On to Bangkok

Last time I did this, I was caught in the coup when Sihanouk was overthrown in favor of Lon Nol in March 1970. The airport at Phnom Penh was closed, and I had no choice but to travel overland to Thailand. Back then, it was not much more than a pig trail, but I understand it is a new highway today.


We were going to retrace that route, but it takes at least 8 hours, not including any delays for the border crossing and changing means of transport. We are due for dinner with Sunthorn Arunanondchai and his wife tonight at 7:00 pm at their home in Bangkok, so there isn't time. Instead we are flying, which takes only an hour. We met Sunthorn Arunanondchai when we both were recognized at the annual University of Arkansas Alumni Awards a few years ago, I for volunteer work and he for being one of Asia's most successful businessmen. Too bad it wasn't the other way around. Sunthorn is President and CEO of the C-P Group, one of Asia's largest corporations. Look them up on Google.


After coming back from the Angkor Wat sunrise yesterday, we visited the furthest out temple, Banteay Srey, which is almost like a scale model of a larger temple with exquisite carvings in pink sandstone. The trip, alone, was worth the time, offering a look at the countryside, including traditional Kymer houses, water buffalo, ricefields and people living their normal lives. On the way back, we hit Ta Keo, Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei. Ta Prohm is the temple complex that still has giant fig and silk trees growing from the sprawling shambles, giving it that authentic Indiana Jones Temple of Doom look. At all the temple stops, we succumbed to the souvenir peddlers and loaded up on cheap bracelets, hats, scarves and t-shirts.


It is hotter and maybe more humid in Siem Reap than in Phnom Penh, which is cooled by the river, but the afternoon monsoons cool everything down nicely.


We had dinner gain last night in "Pub Alley," and sat next to a couple from Osaka and another from Paris, both twentysomethings.


At breakfast this morning, Shirley reminded me of a story about her uncle who in frustration over being unable to find white Cambodian pepper many years ago wrote a letter to then Prince Sihanouk and received free about a hundred pounds. Even after distributing it to many friends, the supply lasted decades.


One thing that is striking about both Vietnam and Cambodia is the almost total lack (at least obvious) of armed police or military anywhere. I have not seen a rifle or machine gun yet on this trip, which is different from even Europe. I have the impression that there is little crime, certainly violent crime. I am sure there is corruption, and apparently sex trafficking is a big problem in Cambodia. We were told that everyone in the tourist industry is trained to watch for sexual exploitation of children by tourists and to notify authorities if they are aware of anything suspicious. Tourists are generally deemed safe in both Vietnam and Cambodia. In Vietnam, the communists took away all civilian guns years ago, and the penalty for even possessing a gun is minimum five years in prison.


We have a couple of hours to walk around, then it's off to the airport.