#28 Angor Wat — and the land mines of Cambodia

#28 from SE Asia
from Siem Reap, Cambodia
March 9th, 2010

The Temple of Banteay Srei

Siem Reap is where the Angor Wat temple complex is located. Usually people refer to it as ‘Angor Wat’. But Angor Wat is just the the largest and best preserved of the many temple complexes here.

I do not want to repeat the readily available information about all of these temples and ruins here. But here are some points that stood out to me.

1. The temple complex is simply immense. I bought a 3-day pass for $40, and I needed every hour of it. I rode my bicycle 40 km on the first day just to visit the temples in the Angor Wat complex. This included some serious hiking and climbing. By the end of the day, I was really tired. On the 2nd day, it was a 70 km round trip to visit the Banteay Srei Temple to the northeast. This was entirely worth it. The detail and quality of the work was extraordinary. On my 3rd day, I rode 40 km round trip to visit the Rolous temple complex to the east. I had no regrets afterward about making this trip either.

2. Around 1100 AD, Angor Wat supported about 1 million people, while London and Rome each had about 15,000 people. Yet by 1600, no one lived at Angor Wat. Such is life, and empires.

3. If you want to see the wonders of the world before you die, I think the Siem Reap temple complex should be on your ‘must see’ list. I wandered thru and climbed them for 3 days, and never got bored. Only tired. I still have found nothing that has taken my breath away like that spring day in 1970 in the Andes when I walked around the ridge and Machu Pichu revealed itself to me. I found myself saying  ‘oh my god my god oh my god’. But Angor Wat will truly get your attention. We should not miss it in our short lives.


Mine field exhibit at the land mines museum

On the way back from the Banteay Srei temple, I stopped at the land mine museum.

Aki Ra, founder of the land mine museum

How about this guy for a Nobel Peace Prize?

Anyone ever heard of Aki Ra? Aki Ra is not sure how old he is. He thinks he was born in 1970. His family was most likely killed off by the Khmer Rouge. When he was 10 years old, The Khmer Rouge ‘drafted’ him. It was enter now, or summary execution. We would not have had a chance to know about him had he refused, would we? As one of his duties, Aki Ra was forced to lay 1000’s of land mines. He became an expert at planting them.
And then Mr. Ra, who had no family, formal education, tutoring or guidance, had a revelation that what he was doing was wrong. He had seen the results of the mines the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese, and the US had planted. And he personally, without any support or funding, began to disarm mines. They estimate that Mr. Ra has disarmed over 50,000 mines and unexploded ordinance (UXO). No one else comes close to having disarmed that much ordinance. (Think King of the Hurt Locker). Mr. Ra appears to be able to identify ordinance from any of the major manufacturers, Russia, China, the USA, Italy, and Vietnam. He has to be able to recognize exactly who built the mine and what kind it is. With one mistake, Mr. Ra is no more.
Mr. Ra estimates that it costs at least 100 times more to disarm a mine than to build and plant it. If you measure in costs the people killed by the mines and disarming them, then I imagine that this is a low estimate.
The true horror of land mines is that their war does not end. The mines, and the blasts, continue long after the official hostilities have ended. The victims continue to increase.  They kill far more civilians than military, and most of the civilians are children.  The latest anti-personnel mines are built to wound, not kill.  The manufacturers know that a wounded soldier disables the military much more than a dead one.  This explains all the children without legs here.   
On his own, Mr. Ra bought land and began displaying the types of land mines planted in Cambodia. He built his own museum. In it there are 1000’s of pieces of disarmed ordinance. He has trained 100’s of people on how to disarm mines. When he takes his students out to the countryside for on-site training, these are not your normal field trips. They pay attention. Mr. Ra has a large library with pictures and explanations of what to do with each type of mine. He has even built a sample ‘minefield’ for you to observe.
What has gotten my attention is simply the number of people in Cambodia who are missing limbs. You see them along the roadsides, in the parks, the marketplaces. I have been unable to take pictures of them. I feel too gawky and embarrassed to do it. So I am sparing you the photos.
I generally have strict rules about beggars: If the person is not handicapped, I give nothing at all, with the possible exception of food. But how you look in the eyes of a child who has had his legs blown off and refuse them? I can not.

So, I have come to the conclusion that I support a complete ban on the production, storage, sale, and use of land mines, unequivocally, for the whole planet. Only 13 countries have refused to sign the land mine renunciation treaty. Those 13 include 9 Asian nations, plus China, Russia, the USA and Cuba.
I asked some questions while I was there. How about a compromise, where the land mines produced would just have fuses that lasted, say 3 years? What are the problems with this?
1. How do you know it will just last 3 years?
2. How are you going to differentiate it from an older mine?
3. How can you possibly test it, except to wait 3 years?

Allowing short term mines opens the gates to cheating in many ways. We have banned poison gas in warfare. I feel we are long overdue to ban all land mines too.

3 Responses to #28 Angor Wat — and the land mines of Cambodia

  1. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I know that landmines kill far more civilians and non-combatants than combatants.

    This sounds like a place I must visit.

  2. Thanks Dwight. I agree that of all the horror that is war, there is something especially evil about land mines.

    Perhaps it shows the utter disregard for those who inhabit the future. Regarding the suffering of innocents… It is the ultimate example of the end justifies the means.

  3. Just thinking of mines make my steps jumpier.

    Its an amazing country you’re accounting for us. I’d never imagined it until reading all of these great posts. Thanks Dwight!

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