prasat sambor district, Kompong Thom province – Several thousand villagers cheerfully braved a man-made sandstorm Thursday to greet the princess who gave them a school.
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the third child of the King and Queen of Thailand, created a definite sensation as her three-helicopter entourage landed in the tiny village of Sambor.
The princess was coming to lay the cornerstone of a new vocational school she is giving the village. Roaring winds from the Chinook rotors sent sand whirling around the newly cleared building site, forcing villagers to turn their backs to save their eyes.
Once the stinging stopped, however, the villagers rallied, waving tiny flags and applauding as the princess cemented the cornerstone in what aides said was a symbolic move.
“It shows the strength of the bond between our two countries,” said one. He said the princess has always been so warmly received by the Cambodian people that she wanted to do something to thank them.
The school, which will cost $50,000 and take about a year to build, will provide vocational training for 1,200 students in grades 7 through 12.
Based on the architectural model displayed Thursday, it will be a showplace, with landscaped grounds, an ornamental lake that doubles as a reservoir, and more than a dozen buildings interspersed with experimental garden plots.
Last year, the princess visited Sambor Prey Kuk, a complex of temples 3 km from the village. When she learned the area surrounding the temples is poor, lacking electricity and sufficient water, she set up a committee to plan the school.
The princess is a noted scholar of Southeast Asian culture, and has made at least six previous trips to Cambodia, visiting the temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Banteay Chhmar as well as Sambor Prey Kuk.
She holds a master’s degree in Oriental epigraphy (the study of ancient inscriptions), another in Pali and Sanskrit and she earned a doctorate in developmental education in 1987.
She continued her pilgrimage Thursday, starting the day with a flying visit to Koh Ker, a rarely visited temple complex surrounded by jungle about 50 km north of Siem Reap.
The complex was built by Jayavarman IV, an Angorian king variously described as a usurper and a megalomaniac, who seized power in 928 and clung to it until he died in 941.
He moved the capital from Angkor Wat to Koh Ker, calling his new capital “Island of Glory.” Its most striking feature is a massive pyramid, which rises steeply from the jungle and is crowned with full-sized trees.
The area is not much visited because the roads to it are so bad, and the surrounding area has not yet been demined. And while the princess and her entourage flew in by helicopter, they still faced a rigorous climb to the top of the pyramid.
The Ministry of Culture and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recently announced plans to provide greater security at Koh Ker, which has suffered minor looting. The government hopes to promote it as a tourist destination in the next few years.
The princess, who made no formal speeches Thursday, chatted easily with officials and specialists in ancient civilization as she toured the ruins, both at Koh Ker and later stops at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and Wat Nokor in Kompong Cham.
She took numerous notes in a somewhat dog-eared notebook. The princess has taught at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.
Born in 1955, she is an accomplished musician and linguist, speaking Khmer, English, and French; and studying Chinese, German and Latin.
She plans to travel today to Takeo province to visit the walled city of Angkor Borei, thought to be the cradle of Khmer civilization, and Phnom Da, before leaving for Thailand.