After we were all seated on the bus he stood at the front and said, “My name is not really Q. I had to change it. Would you like to hear the story of my name?”
We all murmured assent.
“I was born in 1966, so I am 47 now. I was 9 when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 and all school stopped. In 1980, when we were all able to go back to school, my teacher said ‘Your name is the same as one of Pol Pot’s relatives. This is very unlucky. From now on we will call you Q’. And that is how I got my name.”
“The Khmer Empire was founded by King Jayavarman II, and in 790 CE he laid the foundation stone for Angkor. The successors of Jayavarman continued to expand the Empire through cultural assimilation, not war. At its Zenith in the twelfth century, the Khmer Empire covered 1.2 million square kilometres (463,323 miles) – all of current day Cambodia and Thailand, most of Laos, a chunk of Myanmar and Malaysia. By the 14th century the Empire began to weaken and it fell completely by the 15h century.
In the 17th century the Khmer reclaimed the great Thai city of Ayutthaya and renamed it Siem Riep (Thailand was known as Siam in those days).”
When the French came in the mid 19th century, Siem Riep was a sleepy town. That changed with the discovery of Angkor Wat, when an elephant that a Frenchman was riding, used a wall of the Angkor Wat temple which in those days was reclaimed by the jungle, as a scratching post. Today Siem Riep is home to 178,000 families and Siam Ripe Province has a population of 900,000,” he concluded.
By this time we were driving into Siem Riep itself, passing luxury hotel after luxury hotel. “There are now over 136 hotels in Siem Riep.” Q told us as we pulled up to our hotel, the grand old Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa.
“While you are here you might want to try one of our fish pedicures,” Q smiled hopefully. “We are famous for them. You put your feet in a tank of water and fish come and nibble off all the dead skin. Just make sure they are small fish and don’t have big mouths.” He laughed at his own joke.
Fish pedicures tickle.
The Angkor Night Market, located near Pub Street, has a wide variety of shopping stalls for the shoppers and a bar in the middle for the non-shoppers who are dragged along. Foot massages are available as well. I wasn’t about to stay out late though. The next morning was a pre-dawn hike followed by an elephant ride.
Coming up next: Temple Mountain