It's a Holiday in Cambodia!

Siem Reap Travel Blog

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Entrance Guardians at Angkor Thom

It's a holiday in Cambodia - no really it is - and everyone is off at the pagodas celebrating today, guessing we could have timed this better...

9/22/06

So we woke up early and grabbed a motorcycle tuk-tuk to the airport, at least that's what we thought. After about ten minutes we came to an intersection and the driver motioned us asking which way to go, we were clearly lost.

I tried to pantomime an airplane with my arms out making whooshing sounds to no avail so Cindy tried using her hand to simulate an airplane taking off.

Giant Buddha Head at Angor Thom
This seemed to be understood although we weren't sure for another fifteen minutes since he took a very rural back route. I seriously doubt this guy has ever been on a whooshing airplane so you have to give him credit.

The most exciting thing about the flight was the fact that they actually served food - raw bacon on a hamburger bun! Cindy doesn't like raw bacon (ask her about Puerto Vallarta) so we neglected to eat ours.

The new Siem Reap airport is really nice and we managed to get through the visa and immigration process without the delays or bribes that we had heard of (although my guy groaned when he saw that I was his first customer of the day - perhaps he was expecting Angelina Jolie).

We were actually picked up at the airport by our guesthouse Villa Loti along with a mom and daughter traveling together.

Entrance Guardians at Angkor Thom
The guesthouse is very nice in a secluded garden setting right next to the river but a long thirty minute walk into the main part of Siem Reap. Oh yeah and the mattress are lumpy and kind of suck. On a more positive note, the staff are great and helpful - this 23 year old kid Saren has a perpetual grin on his face and is very knowledgeable and speaks great English.

We trodded into town along the riverside where you see everything from elegant five star hotels to ramshackle, one room  wooden and thatch huts on stilts above the River. It’s kind of strange but everything is in dollars here which is a little annoying and there are hordes of whiney children, many of whom are very fluent in English trying to sell mostly crap. "Hello Mister! You buy! Only one Dahlah!"

There was a nice but smelly little local market along the way including a few open "Movie houses" that seemed to have a bigger TV and maybe a dozen lawn chairs inside. We had an OK lunch since most places were closed for the holiday and wandered around in the heat a bit before deciding to return to the lumpy bed and comfort of air conditioning for a nap.

Traditional Dancing Girl at Angkor Thom

Brief interlude - is it just me or is it ironic that, as we cruise down the highway to Phnom Penh, I am writing this and "Rooster" from Alice in Chains just came on my MP3 player. The song is about either Layne Stanley's (now deceased lead singer) or Jerry Cantrell's (lead guitarist) father during the Vietnam War. His nickname was "the Roster" for his ability to avoid getting killed. OK probably just me... "Yeah, they come to snuff the Rooster, ya know he ain't gonna die..."

Around sunset, we walked to a Wat across the River and ended up talking with a young Monk who wanted to practice his English which was excellent. Its amazing how hard working, happy and resilient these people are, especially if you know anything about their gruesome history.

Traditional Dancing Girl at Angkor Thom
This kid gets up at 4:00 every day and basically does his monk studies all day, not eating after noon. Then he practices speaking English in front of a mirror or with foreigners so he can get his pronunciation correct.  And we can’t even pronounce Hello in Cambodian (something like “suah sleigh”) although the taxi driver did teach me to spot cute local girls for him (“srei sot!”)

The funniest thing the monk said was that he and his friends really like to watch WWF Smack Down, very popular throughout SE Asia, but seemingly something less than Buddhist.

After our monk chat we went to the Foreign Correspondents Club and pretended we were colonial expats having cocktails on the patio - since Cambodia was once a French territory I felt obliged to drink Pastis and Cindy had some sort of Passion Fruit Mojito thing.

Sandstone Carvings at Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom

We ended up munching so many salted peanuts and cashews that we strolled back to Villa Loti and had Bananas and Vodka tonics for dinner. When we were checking out, Cindy realized that we had eaten the bananas from their daily offering - oops!

9/23/06

We ended up talking to Saren yesterday and are going to share a mini-van and guide today with the women from the airport ride yesterday, Carissa and her mom Becky who are from Florida. Carissa is a doctor working in a children's Emergency room (she said many of her cases are mundane and involve kids with things such as peas shoved up their little noses) and had just spent a few weeks volunteering in Vientiane.

Our mini-van and guide Sabbath arrived for our all day tour of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat which happens to be the world’s largest temple complex and is absolutely unbelievable.

Giant Buddha head at Bayon in Angkor Thom
It is so vast that you can’t get an idea of its scale without seeing it in person and has everything from crumbling ruins to exquisite carvings to labyrinthine temples overgrown with jungle. Think Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider (Angkor Wat, actually the temple of Ta Prohm, is where it was filmed). Most of the temples of Angkor were built between the 9th and 13th centuries, many by Angkor's greatest king Jayavarman VII.

We spent the morning exploring the major sights of Angkor Thom (which means Great City), a walled city about three kilometers square. The gates are massive with huge carvings of faces covering all four sides. Outside is tourist insanity with guides, touts, souvenirs, elephants and bicycles all vying to enter amidst the cacophony of the little kids hawking books, jewelry, scarves, anything. 

Inside are a number of incredible structures including Bayon, Bophuon, Phimeanakas, the Royal Palace, the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of Elephants.

More Giant Buddha heads at Bayon in Angkor Thom
So as not to bore you, below are brief descriptions (and hopefully eventually pictures) of these main sights.

Bayon is in the very center of Angkor Thom and has over 200 huge four sided heads staring down at you. The walls are covered with detailed murals of Khmer life and mythology and the insides snake their way through arched Corridors higher and higher - really an awesome place.

Bophuon is another huge complex and is supposed to be a representation of Mt. Meru, the mythical home of the gods. There is a long reconstructed raised walkway flanked by what used to be ponds of water and on the backside, the beginnings of the reconstruction of a 200+ foot reclining Buddah.

Phimeanakas Royal Palace in Angkor Thom

Phimeanakas and the ruins of the Royal Palace provide a nice climb up some steep steps to a three tiered temple surrounded by male and female pools for swimming. The Srah Srei or women's pool is much larger than the kings since it had to accommodate the queen and all of the concubines.

The Terrace of the Leper King has a statue of Yama, the God of the Underworld but the lichen covered statue was missing its fingers and supposedly some people confused Yama with a Khmer ruler who died of leprosy and the name stuck. The carvings surrounding the huge base are very detailed.

The Elephant Terrace in Angkor Thom

The Terrace of Elephants is at the other end of a large expanse from The Terrace of The Leper King and has, well lots of Elephants overlooking the Royal Square.

Across from the two terraces are a dozen interesting structures that served two purposes, first for entertainment, acrobats used to tightrope walk between the buildings. Second, the buildings were used for legal proceedings. The judges placed the plaintiff in one tower and the defendant in the other. Whoever remained healthy was innocent and whomever contracted malaria or other skin disease was guilty - break out the DEET and Mefloquin.

After lunch, we headed to Angkor Wat to hopefully avoid the crowds.

Sandstone carvings at the Terrace of the Leper King in Angkor Thom
As you walk up towards Angkor Wat, you can see the five towers looming in the distance past an immense moat up to 200 meters wide and another inner wall and long walkway up to the temple. It was built in the early 1100's and took over 30 years to complete. Supposedly, Angkor Wat is a miniature model of the divine universe. The central and tallest spire represents Mount Meru, the holy peak of the mythical Hindu continent Jambudvipa where the gods live. The smaller surrounding four spires and courtyards represent the other continents and the moat represents the oceans with a Naga (snake) bridge allowing mortals to cross from the land of the mortals to the land of the gods.

Inside, the walls have incredibly intricate wall carvings stretching over 100 meters on each of the fair walls.  All of these represent historic religious scenes, most famous of which is the Churning of the Sea of Milk where the gods and demons engage in a tug of war over the elixir of immortality.

Nun lighting incense at Angkor Wat
The gods win when Vishnu (I think) takes the form of a sexy woman thereby distracting the demons and allowing the gods to grab the elixir.

Inside, you can climb some really steep stairs to get to the top level with the five towers and some vast views of the expanse of Angkor Wat. We all climbed up (all three women a bit nervous as there is no handrail and the steps are narrow and tall) and wandered the perimeter admiring the views.

There was a large crowd waiting on the descending staircase (where there is a handrail) that seemed to be waiting to watch a misstep. Apparently earlier this year a Korean guide fell down these steps and I asked Sambath if he was ok to which he replied "Not so good" which it ends up in Cambodian means he didn't make it. Yikes.

After Angkor Wat we visited Ta Prohm, another huge temple being slowly devoured by the jungle.

Angkor Wat across the moat
Incredibly photogenic, massive crumbling ruins are covered with monstrous trees and snaking vines that are gradually tearing the place apart - Very eerie and strange.

After a refreshing beer with Carissa and Becky, we went to a local restaurant called Arun for dinner (not to be confused with the awesome Thai meal we had in Chicago with Robb and Cathy Compliments of milt and Diana). It seemed to be mostly filled with locals, many of whom were wearing pajamas which are not uncommon here. The food was good and the kids running around thoroughly entertained us.

9/24/06

Today we decided to share a car again with Carissa and Becky who were going to go to a floating village and then a silk farm. We were somewhat leery about this "three hour tour", especially when we found out that it was $10 each which is a fairly large sum here.

Monk at Angkor Wat
We probably should have listened to our instincts as the Floating village just about qualifies as a must miss government rip-off.

The "three hour tour" ended up being about 90 minutes that started with a long ride out past squalor huts and houseboats to the mouth of Tonle Sap, the largest lake in SE Asia.  Here there were two little boys in tubs paddling around to all the tourists on very un-seaworthy vessels asking for "Wan Dahla!" Great. Not exactly what we had in mind.

The second stop was a tad more interesting, a floating fish farm, souvenir shop and crocodile farm. Since neither our boatman nor his ten year old first mate spoke English, I can’t tell you what the crocodiles were there for. There were however two more kids paddling around in tubs demanding money, this time two particularly obnoxious and nasty little girls.

The last fifteen minutes cruising through the backwater canals was nice but the rickety boat was more concerned with getting back than with our ability to see much.

Cindy climbing REALLY steep steps at Angkor Wat

We decided to take a hot hike up the hill to Wat Phnom Krom and an elevated view of the floating village below which ended up being nice with some interesting ruins and a good but hazy view.

We had a really good lunch at the Khmer Kitchen in Siem Reap, offering to treat our driver to lunch which he shyly refused, eventually telling us that his very pregnant was at home and maybe having the baby today! We told him we would understand if he didn't come back after lunch.

One hour later he was back (no baby yet) and ready to take us to the Silk Factory where we got a very educational tour of how they make raw and fine silk from silk moth cocoons as well as how they dye and weave things, including ikat which is a complicated Indonesian process where they tie the warp threads and dye them repeatedly prior to weaving the weft threads.

Since we still had a few hours left with the car, we negotiated with the driver to take us out to Banteay Srei, one of the more distant but beautiful temples made from pink sandstone.

Three monks at Angkor Wat
This trip was well worth it as the place was great (plus we ate some tasty palm sugar treats).

We made plans to go to Abacus for dinner which is supposed to be good and is owned by the same guy who owns Villa Loti. Unfortunately as we climbed in the tuk-tuk with Mr. Vanny our driver we found out Abacus is closed Sundays but "no problem" Mr. Vanny knows a good place where we get a puppet show for free. To lazy to argue, we ate there and it was pretty good and the show was entertaining even if we didn't understand a word.

9/25/06

Today we decided to rent bikes and ride around some of the outlying temples in Angkor. If you know me, you know that I am not much into bikes (not enough cushion...) but figured it would be a nice casual way to see the countryside and temples.

Trees devouring Ta Prohm - this is the site where Tomb Raider was filmed
Well let's just say that the bikes were a bit less than stellar with under inflated tires, bad brakes, a fair amount of rust and a very uncomfy seat. We cautiously wobbled our way across the bridge and onto the main road to Angkor Wat, about 12km away. New! This should launch in a separate window, but if it doesn't click Back after viewing the video on Youtube.com Riding Bikes around the temples at Angkor

We made a big loop to a number of temples on "the Grand Circuit", first stopping at Sras Srang, a giant pond where we never saw the island in the middle, when it promptly started raining. Rut Roh we are not prepared for that!

We parked the bikes, figuring we could wander around the tree covered Bantay Kdei temple and grounds for a bit and hope it stopped which it eventually did. We pedaled away most of the rest of the afternoon visiting Pre Rup (funerary temple with nice views), the East Mebon (with some cool elephants on each corner), Ta Som (overgrown like Ta Prohm), and Preah Kahn (another large Complex that was a University.

Little boys paddling around Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap
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New!  This is a video of a little souvenir seller - they start them young! Little Business Woman

Here is another video of walking around Preah Kahn Temple The Ruins of Preah Kahn at Angkor

Getting tired and sore, we ambled back through Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat and grabbed some beer and spring rolls for late afternoon sustenance.

We went to town on the ride back to check Email and have an interesting potential new schedule twist. Harjot and Darci from i2 are getting married in New Delhi at the end of October (unfortunately the day after we currently are scheduled to leave Bangkok).

Little girls paddling in buckets on Tonle Sap
Guess we have to look into possibly re-extending.

When we returned to Villa Loti, I asked Saren If he was an uncle yet (yesterdays Taxi driver was his brother) and he was, his sister-in-law gave birth to a baby boy this morning.

Tonight we went in search of the Abacus restaurant again for dinner. It looked like this was going to be another Le Lys episode as we walked up and down the area where it was supposed to be located to no avail. We asked a security guard who said in very broken English "Walk up. Turn left light" which was helpful other than the fact that as he said this he was motioning to turn to the right (plus he was wrong). I was annoyed and Cindy grabbed a tuk-tuk driver who said he knew where it was (he didn't and went the wrong way but got directions). After all that, dinner ended up being pretty good and we managed to finally decide to go to Phnom Penh tomorrow - only six hours by bus!

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Entrance Guardians at Angkor Thom
Entrance Guardians at Angkor Thom
Giant Buddha Head at Angor Thom
Giant Buddha Head at Angor Thom
Entrance Guardians at Angkor Thom
Entrance Guardians at Angkor Thom
Traditional Dancing Girl at Angkor…
Traditional Dancing Girl at Angko…
Traditional Dancing Girl at Angkor…
Traditional Dancing Girl at Angko…
Sandstone Carvings at Bayon Temple…
Sandstone Carvings at Bayon Templ…
Giant Buddha head at Bayon in Angk…
Giant Buddha head at Bayon in Ang…
More Giant Buddha heads at Bayon i…
More Giant Buddha heads at Bayon …
Phimeanakas Royal Palace in Angkor…
Phimeanakas Royal Palace in Angko…
The Elephant Terrace in Angkor Thom
The Elephant Terrace in Angkor Thom
Sandstone carvings at the Terrace …
Sandstone carvings at the Terrace…
Nun lighting incense at Angkor Wat
Nun lighting incense at Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat across the moat
Angkor Wat across the moat
Monk at Angkor Wat
Monk at Angkor Wat
Cindy climbing REALLY steep steps …
Cindy climbing REALLY steep steps…
Three monks at Angkor Wat
Three monks at Angkor Wat
Trees devouring Ta Prohm - this is…
Trees devouring Ta Prohm - this i…
Little boys paddling around Tonle …
Little boys paddling around Tonle…
Little girls paddling in buckets o…
Little girls paddling in buckets …
Banteay Srei Doorway
Banteay Srei Doorway
Banteay Srei Columns
Banteay Srei Columns
Banteay Srei reflection in pond
Banteay Srei reflection in pond
Kids riding old bike in Banteay Sr…
Kids riding old bike in Banteay S…
Cindy at Pre Rup temple
Cindy at Pre Rup temple
Elephant at the East Mebon
Elephant at the East Mebon
Tree strangling Ta Prohm temple
Tree strangling Ta Prohm temple
The entrance to Preah Kahn
The entrance to Preah Kahn
Dancing Apsara
Dancing Apsara
Monks on scooters in Siem Reap
Monks on scooters in Siem Reap
Pigs riding scooters in Siem Reap
Pigs riding scooters in Siem Reap
Siem Reap Hostels review
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photo by: genetravelling