Yesterday I posted some stamps I’d sent from Cambodia in 1991. When I linked the posting to Facebook, a friend asked to see photos. Here’s one of me standing at Angkor Wat.
It was like a ghost town.
Besides my small tour, made up of British, Mexicans, Germans, some Thais, and a few Dutch (I was the sole American), I only saw a smattering of Cambodians.
It’s hard to see it in this photo, but the spires of the temple behind me were encased in bamboo scaffolding. An India group was restoring the temple in 1991.
I was actually extremely lucky to be in the area that year, one of the only summers of peace in Cambodia back then.
The Vietnamese had pulled out of Cambodia two years earlier, after occupying the country for a decade. Pol Pot, Cambodia’s Hitler, had returned from exile in Thailand. The different parties and rebel forces had come to an agreement (short-lived) in 1991. If I’d tried to visit a year or two earlier or later, it might have been dangerous to fly into Siem Reap.
But my desire to visit the country didn’t come on a whim.
At home in suburban Chicago during my youth, I loved the beautiful framed rubbings of Angkor Wat hung on my parents’ living room walls. My mom bought them in Cambodia when she visited in 1965. I wanted to visit those temples, too.
And sure enough, I found similar rubbings in Phnom Penh (at US$2 a piece, no less), before I flew to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat.
Now they’re hanging in my living room.