Naga Cambo, Koh Ke Temple, May 2016 | Photo: Melanie Penicka-Smith
We have a guest blogger to introduce to you today. Many of our friends and partners in Cambodia are facing big changes in circumstance due to Covid-19, so we’re welcoming them to our blog to tell you a bit about their lives in the beautiful Kingdom of Wonder.
Our first interview is with our friend Naga Cambo. Naga is a tour guide who we first met in 2016. We caught up with him again during our scoping trip in January 2019. He’s an excellent story-teller.
In this interview, Naga reveals something of life in Cambodia, particularly under COVID-19, what it takes to become a tour guide, and some of his favourite temples.
My name is Naga Cambo and I am an English-speaking tour guide in Cambodia. At the moment I am living in Thnal village, Sro Nge commune, outside of Siem Reap.
You know, to act as a tour guide is not so easy. You meet a lot of different people; some want this, some want that. If they seem interested about Cambodian stories, I tell more stories, but if they only love taking photos, I will choose a good spot for them to take photos and I won’t talk much! A tour guide must be flexible. As one proverb says, ‘swallow venom, waste honey’.
There were so many subjects that I learned to be a tour guide: first aid, laws and regulations of tourism, understanding the tourist situation, hospitality, tourism statistics and information, the Angkor Apsara Authority, Cambodian geography, participation in protecting and preserving national resources as a tourism guide, Khmer history, archaeology, statues, and Khmer civilisation. Now I would like to bring one of the subjects related to Khmer civilisation to share with you. Khmer people lived in Southeast Asia since pre-historic times, during the stone age. We had our own culture, religion, and performance. We had our own language, but no writing yet, and we lived tribe by tribe. Later on until the first century, the Indian influence gave Khmers two more religions, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Hinduism has three main gods at the top: Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahman. There are two types of Buddhism, Mahayana and Hinayana [also called Theravada - eds]. We are now one of only five countries that still holds on to Hinayana Buddhism: Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Most of the temples were built for the Hindu cult and some were for the Buddhist cult. We divide Khmer history into three main eras. I: called The Pre- Angkorian Era (1st century - 9th century ); II: called The Angkorian Era (9th century - 15th century ); and III: called The Post - Angkorian Era (15th century until now) and inside these three eras, there are more smaller ones.
I tell my clients who never been here before about the Cambodian people: the real living conditions, tradition, culture, civilisation, and any activity that is new or unique that we see on the way and is something that they have never seen in their country. I will not say so much if they’re not interested or don’t ask me more questions.
After we know each other and have had a little talk about simple stories, then I say, ‘OK, please let me show you about something in Cambodia’. I start to show them more; especially I focus on my people. There are around 17 million people living in Cambodia. We have more females than male and more young than old. Most of the young people are gone out of the country for a job to places like Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and other countries. Some old people still know some French language. I’ll also tell my clients about the marriage age previously and now, the amount of children before and now, about the finances for wedding arrangements, and so on!
I have a few favourite temples and they have different features. But I’ll choose one only, so my reply isn’t too long! Banteay Srei temple is one of my favourites, its feature is pink sandstone, when all other temples are grey sandstone. And the carving and decoration are the best compared to all other Khmer temples. Its carving are deep, clear, and so detailed, it looks like a beautiful lady. So that is why it is called Banteay Srei; Srei means ‘lady’. But maybe there are other people whose understanding is not the same as my understanding.
You asked me to tell you about the temple I took an Australian archaeologist to many years ago, which was very remote and which archaeologists hadn’t yet been to. That temple is called Phreah Vihea. It is located in the north of Cambodia near the Thai border, in Phreah Vihea province. It was built by four reigns of the king and was Hindu a temple. The first king was named Yasorvaraman I (889-910), the seconnd king was named Rajendravaraman II (944-968), the third king was named Jayavaraman V (968-1000), and the fourth king was named Soriyavaraman I (1002-1050). It is now possible for tourists to go.
You asked me what I think about the Stegosaurus Dinosaur carving on Ta Prom temple [the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed - eds.]. There is no clear document recorded, even by explorers or archaeologists. It is still a mystery . But most tour guides describe to their own clients the same way I think. We mostly just understand it may be a Stegosaurus Dinosaur that our ancestors discovered before Europeans, or maybe it is just a monster animal from Khmer mythology. There are not any actual facts to report about this. But it looks so much like a real one!
At the beginning of Coronavirus, Cambodians felt very scared. They wore a lot of masks and masks became very expensive everywhere. They worried about their future; no work, no income, everything closed down. And they did not go out, just stayed at home. Most shops and hotels are closed. People became more depressed, including me. I had a serious illness last month, but not Corona! Now Cambodians are seeming stronger, going out more and wearing masks less than before. They have started bicycling a lot to go sightseeing. But everything is still stuck.
Right now my day does not look easy. I am too busy with my son and around the kitchen. I have a lot of housework, without income. The temperature is hot. It doesn’t seem like a good life. But I can still tell stories to my son. He always asks me to tell him stories before he falls asleep.
- Naga Cambo
To book Naga for your next tour to Cambodia, click the CONTACT NAGA button.
Pacific Pride Choir’s guest blogs are brought to you with the support of Rambutan Resorts. The folk at Rambutan are LGBTQI+-friendly and socially conscious. Special thanks to Dirk, Tommy and all the staff for their help facilitating these pages.