To learn more about the Khmer people, we went to the Landmine Museum, located around 35 kilometres from the city (40 min by tuktuk). We arranged our driver through the hotel again, which cost us $20 for the day. Entry to the museum was $5 each, and was definitely worth it. Not only it is a museum, but it’s also an orphanage, a school and a charity.
Cambodia has an extraordinary history, including French colonisation, and the more recent Vietnam War. Because of the Vietnam situation, the U.S. bombed Cambodia for nearly 10 years, and many of the bombs did not detonate. Apparently the unexploded ordinance can sit in the land for hundreds of years, making the land dangerous for both people and animals. This also means that any kind of development, let alone farming, is out of the question. There were two opposing parties in Cambodia around 70’s – 80’s. The Thai government didn’t want the war to affect their own country so they supplied ammunition through the Thai-Cambodian border to one party, so the other party laid thousands of mines along the border to stop the ammunition supply. Interestingly, in some countries it is legal to produce, trade and use landmines to this day.
The founder of the museum used to lay mines himself when he was a child-soldier, but after the war he realised he could choose his own actions in life. When he met locals affected by the war, he really saw the impact on innocent people’s lives and started de-mining farmers’ fields simply using a stick and a knife! It is estimated that there are still over 5,000,000 active mines in Cambodia.
Reading children’s published stories was heart-breaking. Most of them had lost a limb, some are able-bodied, but come from families so poor that they actually live a better life in the museum… Large area of the property is a school and isn’t accessible by tourists so the children can live a normal life. I definitely recommend a visit, as it’s really eye-opening and factually fascinating.
On our way back to Siem Reap we knew much more about Cambodia’s history and we started looking at the people differently. For one thing I wasn’t annoyed with the tuktuk drivers as much. To this day, people farm the de-mined land and herd cattle, and live on a dollar or two a day. Considering those that are able to invest in a motorbike and a tuktuk carriage and move to the city, they can make anything from $5 to $40 per day. It is evident that people are trying to make a living in any way possible: we drove past many rusty stalls selling souvenirs, petrol and food. We also saw people catching fish in roadside trenches. After seeing the suburban areas we went to explore the city the next day.