The main focus of the last three days in Siem Reap is the series of ancient ruins of temples built long ago. Angkor contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire. After the fall of the empire the Angkor temples were abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle for centuries. Literally hundreds of major temple complexes dot the countryside, spread over an area of some four hundred square kilometers. We toured two yesterday and two today. Some of our crew did a school as well yesterday. Our half day tour started at Angkor Thom. There is a lot of walking up and down stone stairways to get to the top.
At the bottom we saw a family of monkeys that came out of the trees. They were not at all worried about the thousands of tourists that were surrounding them. Then it was on to the Bayon Temple which included the Terrace of the leper king and the elephant terrace. It got hot on the tour and a shower was a welcome relief when we got back.
This morning the majority of our group did the sunrise tour to Angkor Wat. We were loading the bus before 5 a.m. and walked via flashlights to the base of the temple to wait for the sun to rise. We were not alone .
Angkor Wat is the largest monument of the Angkor group and the best preserved. It is an architectural masterpiece built by King Suryavarman II. It took over 30 years to construct and is oriented to the west to conform to the symbolism between the setting sun and death. Its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, relief’s and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world and is considered the 7th wonder of the world.It is supposed to be a miniature replica of the world. Its five towers correspond to the peaks of Meru. The outer wall corresponds to the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat the oceans beyond.
Our bus ride was going to take 5 hours, so two stops were planned and we were all given a box lunch to eat at a rest stop along the way. The first stop was at a local market that specializes in fried insects. Every stall was loaded with fried tarantulas, crickets, scorpions, meal worms, and roaches. Needless to say, we did not sample the wares. Even if someone would have been adventurous and wanted to try them, our guides discouraged it, not because they weren’t a tasty treat here, but he told us they were only good if you had them freshly prepared. These had been cooked too long and would not have been good. We saw children walking around with live tarantulas. They were also selling fruits here and we saw how they refrigerated things using blocks of ice delivered and cut by the ice man. We saw a lot of rice and lotus production along the countryside as we traveled.
We saw rice being harvested by hand and by a small combine. We also saw it laying on large tarps in front of most homes to dry. Lotus is used for many things from food to decoration. At our hotel in Siem Reap the ladies were making arrangements for use all over the hotel.
Half of our group left for the airport and are flying home as I write, while the rest of us have 3 more days of tours. They took a tuk tuk to the airport while we had a Cambodian native dance and music program and dinner last night.
We are back to high speed internet, so I will catch up from the last official post which ended with the Buddhist monastery. On day 8 we were in the Tonle Sap river where we went on a boat ride through a traditional floating village. These people live year-round in these floating homes. Those that live on the side of the river have a long walk to the river now in the dry season, but when it is the rainy season, the river rises to where they too are at the water level. The children ride a boat to get to school. There is no indoor plumbing or running water, but they do have electricity for television, cell phones and internet service, for which they pay about $6 a month. There were floating stores, restaurants and buildings you could rent for weddings or parties. People were very friendly, waving at us as we drove by. We did see a lot of small farms along the water edge. They can farm there now or fish, but all the land near the water is completely submerged in the rainy season.
Our boat docked at the same place we had for the Buddhist monastery. Our poor crew had to unload our massive amount of luggage by hand up that hillside! It was amazing to watch. Once we were all unloaded we began the dive to Siem Reap which will be my next post.
We are currently driving on a bus to Siam Reap. We have a 5-6 hour bus ride to get to our last part of the tour. We had very slow internet yesterday, so could not send the blog. We said good-bye to our home for the past week and now head to a bigger city.
Half of our group will head home later today, while half will stay for 3 more nights. Hopefully i willhave fast internet andcan post again.
Yesterday our group went to the largest Buddhist monastery in Cambodia. It housed one of the largest pagodas in the country. The compound housed many elaborate buildings and statues with immaculate gardens and walkways. A large number of monks and nuns live here. We got to see a portion of a traditional service and received a Buddhist blessing.
After the tour some went back to the ship while others went on an oxcart ride.
- It was another day of extremes. Half of our group went on a tuk tuk drive through Phnom Penh to see the sights, while the other half went to the central market. The central market was not as crowded as usual since it was New Years Eve. We did some shopping, saw some beautiful flowers and caught the bus back to the ship.
- The afternoon was spent watching the diverse countryside from modern buildings to rundown ones, to elaborate mosques and temples. Fishing and agriculture abound on the river.
- Mid-afternoon we docked at Ko Chen village to see a copper and silver workshop, and visit the community and school. The people here live with no indoor plumbing and are quite poor but the temple is lovely and well-maintained. There were no books in the classroom but we did brings some school supplies. It was quite sad seeing how they live.
- The children sang for us and many spoke English. Others who were not in school were busy trying to sell us silver.
- Then it was back to the ship for a Ne w Years Eve dinner and party.
Today was a day of extremes. We started off driving to our first tour of the killing fields and prison S21. While the distance by miles is not far, with the horrendous traffic it took us 1 1/2 hours to get there. There are only 16 million people in Cambodia compared to over 60 million in Vietnam, there are still a lot of people, not to mention the myriad of scooters and in Phnom Penh, more cars.
The killing fields and prison tour were not exactly uplifting. I am sorry to admit that I had very little understanding of the history of these events. I was just graduating from high school and off to college and it was really not on my horizon, nor did I learn much about it through school. It was another horrifying example of mans inhumanity to man.
We did not take a lot of photos at these stops, and it was fairly subdued group as we headed back into town for lunch back on the boat.
The afternoon could not have been more different. Our first stop was the Royal Palace, the home to the King of Cambodia. The King was in residence, but his private quarters are not on the tour. The grounds are large with beautiful gardens and elaborate buildings and art.
One of the most elaborate places was the Silver Pagoda with a floor made of silver tiles and inside is a huge collection of statues–many of them buddhas, some made of solid gold and inlayed with diamonds. We could not take pictures inside the buildings but we did get many outside.
It was a full day and the temperature was in the low 90’s. Back on the boat we had a demonstration of local dances and music before a traditional Cambodian meal.