At first it was very quiet, but now business has picked up. Up to 30 people buy my juice each day.
RURAL Cambodia is full of ancient relics and colourful pagodas barely touched by tourism. As the road network continues to improve, sites previously accessible only to adventurers on dirt motorcycles are becoming open to all.
Angkor Khnong Pagoda is one such place. A few kilometres outside of Suong on the way to the border with Vietnam, a new tarmac road stretches from the main Highway 7 towards the ancient site.
Whereas it used to take the best part of an hour to get here on pot-hole ridden dirt roads that wound their way through tranquil villages, now it takes less than 10 minutes. This has paved the way for tourism.
“More than 50 people come each day, but in the highest season over 100 people visit here,” says Suo Chi, 67, a member of the pagoda’s committee.
The increase in tourism has stimulated a small trade in drinks for thirsty travellers.
Vong Khim Srey, 32, started selling sugar cane juice at the site about a year ago, paying 500,000 riel to buy her cart and juice maker.
“At first it was very quiet, but now business has picked up,” she says. “Up to 30 people buy my juice each day.” She sells these for 1,000 riel a glass, although we appear to be her only customers this day.
The work is still seasonal as few people come here during the rainy season, when Srey reverts to her previous work of growing rice. However, she is still happy about her new business venture.
“I decided to sell here as I can earn some money to send my children to school,” she says. Three children play around Srey’s small stall as we talk, but they are not hers, who are at school.
Angkor Khnong is of significant interest to Khmers. At the palace of Hluang Preah Sdech Kan, who lived from 1483-1525, a statue stands at the entrance depicting the former Khmer general and king riding a horse in battle. Two ancient towers stand next to the modern pagoda with its colourful murals. Around the latter, statues depict people and demons riding various animals.
“I’m happy that they have preserved this historical site, so the next generation will understand more,” says Suo Chi.
According to him, in addition to tourists, many people come to the pagoda to study and to make donations for the ongoing work, which includes a large, reclining Buddha statue behind the pagoda.
Started three years ago, the body and feet are clearly distinguishable with only the head waiting for completion. When completed the statue will be 45.2 metres long and 13.5 metres high. This impressive statue should help boost Vong Khim Srey’s new trade.