They Call It Progress

Banteay Ampil Temple in Cambodia

Banteay Ampil Temple

Soon after I moved to Cambodia in late 2015 my explorations of the countryside started. The excitement never diminishes each time I made it to a new temple. I am never deterred even when it takes three or four attempts to make it all the way to my quest for the day. It was during these early months that I learned about Cambodian roads, Google maps and the lay of the land. This was also the time I was beginning to fall in love with the roads in Cambodia. One of my early attempts at locating ancient Cambodian temples was Banteay Ampil. 

Built in the middle of the twelfth century Banteay Ampil is about thirty-five kilometers east of Siem Reap. I found the location on Google maps and in theory it looked like a effortless course. Just follow the lines. In America this would have been a simple journey. But this ain’t Kansas. Not by a long shot.

A line on Google maps can be a paved two lane road or a cow path. The lines are not always distinguishable when looking on my computer. On my phone it is even more of a challenge. I could find myself trudging through muddy jungle paths for more than hour only to arrive at my location and find the ‘other’ line on the map would have brought me to the same place via a paved road with restaurants, stores and people to keep me hydrated and fed.

Water usually blocks the dirt paths that lead to Banteay Ampil in the rainy season. It was always a fun adventure taking the longer ride from the east side with the possibility of numerous water hazards. There was never a guarantee that success will cap off the day. The paths are somewhat passable with muddy ruts when and if enough of the water dries up during the dry season. The narrow sandy paths take me over small bridges made out of narrow logs and planks that at first had my heart racing when encountered but now they are just another normal in my life. The bridges look like I can push them over with one hand and they are far from steady as I ride over them but they are the lifeline for the people who live here.

Shaky bridge along the roads in Cambodia.

Scary enough to walk across – even worse by motorcycle!

Along the path there are some points that are so narrow that I can not continue without the branches and bushes scraping my shoulders on both sides. It is not uncommon for me to return home with lines of blood streaking down my arms from the tiny, hidden thorns in the brush. Once in a while I would pass people who seem to appear from nowhere. God only knows what these jungles hold just off to my left and right.

The ride to Banteay Ampil was always one of my favorite areas. It was always a surprise to go out and see which month the water would recede enough to allow me to pass from the west side.

That was until recently.

I recently rode out there on my bicycle and I found what looked like to me to be a wide swath of destruction. Gone was the perennial lake that blocked the road for months at a time. Now the industrial looking result of bulldozing and clearing is all that remains.

The destruction made by bulldozers.

Bulldozing away what used to be.

The small bridges that once crossed numerous water hazards were now destroyed and left by the side of the road. I couldn’t tell where I was now that the narrow dirt paths are now just wide open obliterations. I can’t get my bearings and I am lost in the change somewhere between past and future.

The teetering bridges that once allowed me to traverse the leftover waters of the rainy season were now demolished and thrown to the side like common trash. There is no longer a need for these bridges with the new road in place.

Old bridges strewn along the path of destruction,

What’s left of the old bridges.

On my way out I stopped for a drink at the crossroad in the village. There was a local man sitting on a sawed off log with a cigarette dangling from his lips. Not being an English speaking man he sat politely and listened as I expressed my unhappiness with progress just down the road. Explaining with simultaneous spitting sounds and maneuvers with my hands showing my utter disapproval seemed to get my point across. I believe he concurred with my assessment of the recent changes.

Local Khmer man quietly listens to my unhappiness with the recent changes.

A conversation with a local man about the recent changes along the road.

While I know that in the long run this change is probably for the better. It is not for me to decide since I am not part of the local community. The changes do not affect me in any way that truly matters.

They call it change. Progress.

But I don’t have to like it.

My motorcycle along the 'new' road to Banteay Ampil

The changes along the road to Banteay Ampil

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