“The population of USA is 300 million minus two. Why minus two? Because you are standing next to me.” These are the clever words of a book salesman who entertained us on our first night in Siem Reap. He also was able to amaze us by knowing just as many state capitols as we d0. As bothersome as the child street peddlers are, this guy actually made us laugh and we thought it was a much better approach than, “You buy book? You buy postcard?” over and over again. We did not buy a book from him, but I’m sure his talents convinced other tourists to purchase his wares.
Siem Reap is most famous for the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and this was the main purpose for our visit here. We took a five hour bus ride from Phnom Penh, getting to see a good cross section of the countryside along the way. John even got a closer look at things because he had to sit in the stairwell of the bus for the last hour of the ride as his seat was starting to buckle from the bumpy road. After checking into our guesthouse and figuring out when our bicycles would be available (free bike use for each guest during your stay), we walked into town to check things out.
The highlight of our first day in Siem Reap was a cello concert we attended in the evening. We had never been to a cello concert before and it was a pleasant surprise. The character of the musician and his passion for more than just his instrument made the evening. Dr. Beat Richner, the musician/founder of the hospitals is a Swiss Doctor who in a former life was also a famous (in Switzerland) cello player and entertainer and started playing again to raise money for the cause. We were attracted to this event because 1) it was free and 2) all donations are given to the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals. Besides the music, we viewed a 40 minute video describing the work of the hospitals for the children of Cambodia. We were particularly impressed by the work of this place as it provides free health care for any child, regardless of the service provided (from surgery to vaccinations). In a country as poor as Cambodia, operating without social health care , this is an important work. In the early 90’s Dr. Richner was asked by the Crown Prince to come back to Cambodia and establish a children’s hospital. There is more to say and you can check out his website for more details. The next night we rode by on our bikes coming home from Angkor Wat and at 7pm there was already a line of mothers and their children camping over night so they could see the doctor the next day.
After the concert, we settled in for the evening knowing our role call the next morning was 4:15am.