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Siem Reap Travel Blog

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One of the reliefs on Angkor Thom -- this kind of detail was everwhere!

with 7 American students arriving in one a small plane.  To a small airport.  In Cambodia.

For some background.  Cambodia is a mid-size Asian country bordered by Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.  Siem Reap and Angkor Wat are located in the center of the country very close to the large lake of Tonle Sap.  Cambodia was in a state of Civil War until 1998 when the UN intervened.  They are currently in the stages of rebuilding their country while balancing a thriving tourism industry.  In 2002 they had about 200,000 tourists visit Siem Reap.  In 2005 it was over 1.2 million tourists.

I don't think any of us really had any idea of what to expect in Cambodia.

Angkor Thom
  It was just so different.  It is classified as a third-world country.  Which is almost a stretch.  The airport was extremely small and customs was pretty easy to get to.  We had to purchase a visa upon entry, $20.  That was another funny thing.  You could use American dollars.  Actually, they wanted American dollars.  The outlets were American as well.  I am not really sure why this is the case as the French occupied Cambodia for awhile and Americans aren't even the biggest tourist group.  They are something like 6.  The country is visited by more Vietnamese and Japanese (#1 and #2 biggest tourist groups respectively).

After exiting the airport, our guide, Milky, was waiting for us.  We (Katie, more specifically) had arranged the hotel, guide and transportation beforehand because we really didn't know what to expect and didn't want to have to try to figure it out there.

Angkor Wat
  Milky introduced us to our driver and we all piled in the Mercedes minibus that would be our transportation for the weekend and headed to our hotel, with stops for breakfast and ATM on the way.  The hotel was very nice.  Although located on an unpaved road amid piles of rubble, the hotel was brand-new.  I was lucky enough to be in the 3-person room which was on the top floor and extremely large.  As soon as we had dropped off our luggage we immediately headed out for a day of temples.

The majority of the first day was spent at two different temples - Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat.  Both built by the Khmer people between 910-1429 AD.  Both were made of huge sandstone blocks and had intricate carving over pretty much every surface.

One of the many children we encountered every time our van stopped.
  The most interesting part to me was the restoration process that Milky described.  When the French rediscovered the temples in the late 18th Century, they were covered in weeds and growth, etc.  It was the jungle.  Anyway, to restore the temples they removed the blocks one by one and used a numbering system to determine where they fell in the overall plan.  They then removed any vegetation and replaced all of the blocks.  That is one huge puzzle.

It is hard to describe either of these places.  They were just so surreal.  Even looking at my pictures now, I can't believe that I have been there.  Or that they are even real.  It truly is a once in a lifetime thing.

Some other things that were distinctive - the monks in the orange robes at Angkor Wat that climbed up vertical staircases with more agility than I have in my entire body, the holes left in the sides of the temples by gems and pearls that had been looted over the years, and the insane amount of tourists at both locations.

A monk on the top of Angkor Wat. Man, they could take those stairs.
  Very few Americans though.  The animals were also very cool.  There were monkeys, buffalo and cows just wandering around in the streets and in the temples.  I had never seen a monkey in the wild before.  The children were also everywhere.  Usually trying to sell you a bracelet or a scarf.  It was so hard to not hand them all money, and there were just so many of them.

The heat was also pretty oppressive.  Before this, I think I had claimed that the hottest I had ever been was at the Auburn game this year.  Definitely not the case anymore.  With heat index, I am pretty sure it was close to 100 degrees both days.  After showering, the sweat would immediately soak through your shirt.  When we got back to the hotel on that first day I got in the shower without changing the tap from cold to hot.

The hotel. Very nice!
  That is the kind of heat we experienced.

We also did a lot of climbing (although not as much as Saturday).  Climbing up to the top of Angkor Wat was very scary.  The steps were very small and you could hardly fit the front of your foot on them.  It made it easier if you just concentrated on what was in front of you and didn't look down.  However, the view from the top definitely made it worthwhile.

It is hard to describe much else about the temples, but I posted numerous pictures on Shutterfly - over 200 - so looking at those would probably clear that up.

We spent Friday afternoon shopping in the markets and eating at Molly Malone's, an Irish pub.  We tend to somehow find the Irish pubs in every city we visit.

At dinner with our waitress, Lena.
  Shopping was interesting -- most stalls had the same thing but I do like to barter.  Although I would usually feel bad afterwards as the difference between 3 and 4 dollars may not be much to me but could be for a Cambodian family.  I got quite a few t-shirts, some pillowcases with elephants, scarves and yet another bag all for under $15.  Dinner was also good.  Pitchers of Tiger were only $6.  We all turned in early as we had gotten up at 4 a.m. to make our flight that morning and Milky was picking us up at 9 a.m. the next morning.

Saturday was a little different than Friday.  We had breakfast at the hotel in the morning - pineapple pancakes, I am definitely going to miss all the fresh fruit when I go back to the states before driving to Tonle Sap and the Vietnamese floating village.

Floating village
  We went through numerous depressed looking areas along the way that reminded me a lot of National Georgraphic photo montages.  It is just such a contrast between Cambodia and the U.S. or Singapore.  It makes you wonder about why you were born into such a comfortable lifestyle while these people were not.

We travelled to the floating village by boat after bumping down a dirt road through a marshy looking area for about an hour.  The floating village was created when some Vietnamese refugees came over (during the Vietnam War, I assume?) and needed somewhere to say.  The Cambodian government allows them to live on this lake tax free and thus they remain there to this day.

The village was bigger than I expected.  Tonle Sap is a huge lake during the rainy season, which I could only imagine, especially since we visited in the dry season.

They even had pigs floating in the village...how they got there, I have no idea.
  Even then, it looked like the ocean.  There was nothing to be seen on the horizon but more water.  The village truly was a village.  Floating houses that looked about as apt to sink as the Titanic.  All of them seemed to sag with their own weight.  There were people everywhere.  In boats, in the houses, swimming in the water (which didn't look too clean...).  Milky told us about the people, village growth and how the men made a living.  We then went to a fishing center where we were told about the fish trade and got to see the different types of fish and an extremely large pit of scary looking alligators.  We then proceeded back through and saw floating markets, schools, churches, even a floating basketball court that was donated by the Japanese government.
The floating basketball court at the school
  The children wore uniforms as they paddled boats to school.  There were even more children begging in the village.  Some floating in pots.  Some in boats.  Some swimming in the water.  The whole thing was unfathomable.

Afterwards, we went to another touristy type cafe to eat and then to more temples.  One made of a porous red stone that was imported from even farther distances, two that had these huge trees growing out of the top that looked like they had taken thousands of years to grow (one was the temple in Tombraider) and one that was on the top of the mountain.  Milky saved that one for last.  And when we all thought we couldn't walk another step, we climbed about 3/4 of a mile vertically to the mountain top temple.

Group shot at the Tombraider temple
  And then when we got to the top, we climbed about 6 vertical flights of stairs.  The view was spectacular and although I doubt any of us were glad to have done it at the time, I am very glad now.

The last night was spent with more marketing for cheap shirts and a Cambodian dance and dinner show.  The dancing was interesting, the dancers used pots, sticks and baskets to hit together with their fellow dancers.  There was also one dance that told a story, a Cambodian boy was flirting with a girl.  The food at the buffet was interesting, I accidentally ate some stuff that I probably wouldn't have if I had known what it was but on the whole was very touristy, lots of Japanese and Vietnamese.  The guys had been asking the waiter about some casinos Milky had pointed out on one of our long drives in the minibus and after dinner we went to scope it out.

Girls on the top of the hilltop temple
  The casino was located in one of the 5-Star hotels and was not actually really a typical casino at all.  More of a small room with some slot machines.  We quickly exited and headed back, making it to the hotel in time to pass out by 10:30.  The flight was at 8 a.m., so we checked out at 6.  Made it back to Singapore by noon.

Sorry if this entry was depressing.  It really wasn't a depressing visit.  It was actually quite amazing, I see why they call Angkor Wat the 8th Wonder of the World!

My next entry will be happier, after the Quality Control final on Tuesday, we are going on a UPS and a Tiger brewery tour and Wednesday we are touring the port and having lunch in a revolving restaurant.

Hope everyone at home is doing well!

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One of the reliefs on Angkor Thom …
One of the reliefs on Angkor Thom…
Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
One of the many children we encoun…
One of the many children we encou…
A monk on the top of Angkor Wat.  …
A monk on the top of Angkor Wat. …
The hotel.  Very nice!
The hotel. Very nice!
At dinner with our waitress, Lena.
At dinner with our waitress, Lena.
Floating village
Floating village
They even had pigs floating in the…
They even had pigs floating in th…
The floating basketball court at t…
The floating basketball court at …
Group shot at the Tombraider temple
Group shot at the Tombraider temple
Girls on the top of the hilltop te…
Girls on the top of the hilltop t…
Siem Reap
photo by: genetravelling