SLEEPY SIEM REAP has grown into Cambodia’s second biggest city. Now, after a day around the temples, you can get a fish foot massage and drink and dance til dawn, maybe play a round of golf.
The people that work the fields and schools and markets of Siem Reap often go unnoticed by the busy tourist. There is plenty of eye-catching life happening in the shadows of the hotels and monuments.
Cambodia's total tourist arrivals for 1993 was 118,000, which likely includes a high number of workers.
Numbers really started to grow around 2004, with Siem Reap's numbers peaking at 2.2 million in 2019.
In 1993, war wasn't even a memory, let alone a distant one. The Khmer Rouge made a show of force visit a few weeks before I arrived.
Growing from the wreckage, the town was basic, with unpaved roads, no street lighting and just the bare minimum of services.
It was a place to sleep, eat, have a drink and arrange transport around the temples.
I made an effort to look more closely at town life on my second visit in 1995.
Sometimes I felt I was looking at the bas reliefs on the temple walls, not a 20th century world.
The primitive ways of the 11th century still prevailed in the 90s.
Siem Reap sits near the great Tonle Sap lake, its floodwaters both a blessing and a curse.
A little water didn't stop the daily market at Rolous.
Some villagers found their homes surrounded by water.
Others were forced to gathering their belongings and abandon.
I joined these villagers for a half hour wade to the small hill temple, Phnom Krom.
The temple monks were on the tools preparing for the upcoming boat festival.
The lay people in town were also busy making boats.
These beautiful hand-made crafts would be racing in Phnom Penh in November.
Irrigated fields around the great Khmer cities have fed Cambodia for over a millenium.
The waterways also provide protein from fish and frogs.
From boats plying the lake, to a hand-made net in the canals, low-tech anglers abound.
Small craft are used when floods turn roads into waterways.
The water which fills massive moats around Angkor Wat serve to buttress the incredible weight of the temple.
A team of workers is employed to clean the weeds and reeds from the moat.
Waters also surround a more modest, wooden house back in town, with lotus flowers in the pond.
Stems and flowers from the lotus plants are eaten in many parts of south-east Asia.
Fishers with a surplus hawk their goods around town.
Other traders cycle about selling sweets and other cooked treats.
A pair of gents peddle the tradition Khmer headscarf, krama.
Restoration work on the monuments provides well paid and secure work for the lucky few.
Others keep the temples clean, sell tickets or trinkets or drinks.
Market trading is a popular way to make ends meet.
But agriculture and fishing remains the most common work for Siem reap residents.
Education is the great hope for this post-war generation, although facilities and opportunities lag far behind ambitions.
Many young Cambodian men also get an education as monks, possibly learning the finer arts of truck driving, too.
In many ways, the temple remains the focus of life for residents, as it has for centuries.
This young baby would be 26 by now, living in a totally diferent town to which she was born.
Siem Reap town has grown into a modern tourist metropolis, but under the surface there will still be plenty of day to day surprises.