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[caption id="attachment_2166" align="alignnone" width="261"] Tonle Sap map: pale blue outline shows lake at extent of annual flood.[/caption] Fish fatten, rice paddies flourish and the people eat well.
Sadly, new dams upstream in southern China where the Mekong begins its journey through Southeast Asia present potentially damaging environmental problems in a country that has already experienced more than most.
[caption id="attachment_2187" align="alignnone" width="262"] Guide with Apsara statues at Angkor Wat.[/caption] Landmines scattered around this area have only recently been removed with the help of a German aid organisation.
[caption id="attachment_2179" align="alignnone" width="407"] Landmine clearing sign.[/caption] Carried away again by the tomb raiding atmosphere, I completely forget that it’s a jungle out here. [caption id="attachment_2170" align="alignnone" width="448"] Beng Melea is far from Angkor Wat's madding crowds.[/caption] At Bantey Srey, a lovely pink-hued sandstone temple, known also as the ‘Citadel of the Women’ for its delicately carved inlays of village women, we are also alone.
These sites are only 90 minute’s bone-rattling drive from Angkor Wat, but off the beaten track.
There are numerous nearly forgotten places, just as hauntingly beautiful as Angkor Wat but minus thousands of tourists.
The flood down the Mekong can be intense so that water begins to back up the Tonle Sap channel, annually refilling this amorphously shallow lake.
When the rainy season reaches full stride during the torrid Cambodian summer, life here changes rapidly.
Fickle climate change has increased unpredictability. Now, heavy rain may fall at any time, though January through May is normally dry.
Given the scores of camera-toting tourists lined up at the artificial lake in front of Angkor Wat waiting for the requisite dawn or dusk money shot, it continues to be a global tourism drawcard.
[caption id="attachment_2168" align="alignnone" width="448"] Angkor Wat in late morning sunlight.[/caption] Other temples such as Angkor Thom and Bayon attract similar sized crowds.
In short, I’m not appreciating what I should be appreciating and need a break. [caption id="attachment_2181" align="alignnone" width="336"] Angkor Wat complex gateway arch.[/caption] Prepared for a week’s touring around Siem Reap to focus on Angkor Wat and to sample some of Cambodia’s intriguing cuisine, I am fortunate instead to be allowed a glimpse into present day realities, a privilege granted by the Hotel de la Paix.