Monday, March 19, 2012

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Crossing the border in to Cambodia. Country number three!

We arrived in Cambodia late on Tuesday night, March 6, via a local bus. It was so late I guess you could call it early Wednesday morning. We were dropped off around 2 am at the Siem Reap bus station. There to greet us were a multitude of aggressive tuk tuk drivers eager to take our cash in exchange for a short ride somewhere.  They really get you when you’re fresh off a bad bus ride.  The town is always too far from the bus station to walk.  The “greeters” also know something important that you don’t know: what makes for a fair and reasonable amount to pay for a ride to town.  We found a driver who agreed to take us to the Garden Village, a guesthouse recommended by a fellow backpacker we’d met on the VIP bus earlier in the day. We climbed into his tuk tuk, and it didn’t take him 30 seconds to try to sell us a ride to the temples of Angkor Wat the next day. We wanted only a ride to the guesthouse, nothing more.  Tuk tuk drivers are an unbelievably persistent bunch! 

We got to the guesthouse in one piece and, much to our delight, they had room for us. Better, they even had a room with A/C.  And even better than that, they directed us to a place where we could get some food.  It was 3 am!  Life is looking good!
While on the bus, we made some new friends, Max and Hugo from France.  They joined us at the Village Garden and also came along with us on our 3 am food hunt.  Now, I’ve always said that I’m no chance-taker when it comes to walking down the street in an unfamiliar place.  However, I will readily admit it’s always nice to have a guy nearby when this occurs at 3 am.  We walked to a place called Pub Street.  Surprisingly, things were rather lively there despite the late/early hour.  We ordered food and a pitcher of Angkor beer – how could we not order the local beer in a new place – and we were back in our air-conditioned hostel room by 4 am.  We treated ourselves to a quick, cold shower, and we were finally able to sleep.

We awoke at 10 am. The plan was to bum around the town for a few hours and go to Angkor Wat later, aiming to be at the famous and fabulous temples for sunset. We learned that If tickets are purchased after 5 pm they are valid for the following day.   So we returned to Pub Street to find a place to eat breakfast/lunch. Now seen in the daylight, it was apparent that Pub Street was an attraction for foreigners.  The entire restaurant staff spoke very good English, and the meal portions were large, more of a western standard. I think this meal was the first time I've overeaten the whole trip.  It was not a comfortable feeling.

Filling ourselves with some western portions...

Earlier, looking for things to do in Siem Reap, we had read about a place called Friends Without a Border. We decided we would explore this place on our “in town” day.  Friends Without a Border is the volunteer organization associated with Angkor Children’s Hospital. The hospital and its partner organization was founded in 1999 by Kenro Izu, an international photographer and physician.  Dr. Izu was visiting Cambodia at the time to photograph Angkor Wat.  He witnessed the passing of a young girl at a provincial hospital who died because her parents couldn’t afford necessary medical treatment.  Deeply moved, Dr. Izu became the moving force behind the creation of the hospital.  Since it opened, over 900,000 children have been treated with expert medical care free of charge. 

We hoped to see more of the children’s hospital, but today was an exceptionally busy day – more than 600 children were scheduled to be seen -- and, unfortunately, no one was available to give us a tour.  We did learn quite a bit about the volunteer program, however.  This is a place that can actually utilize the skills of nurses and put them to work in very useful ways.  We also learned that around this time next year they will be starting up their education program in neonatal medicine.   What?  Did I just say neonatal medicine?  Uh, oh.  I might have another trip to Cambodia in my future that includes some serious volunteer work!

Bears we donated to the kids at Angkor Children's

Fish Pedicure....
After lunch we got cajoled in to the fish pedicure on the street, more so out of curiosity than actually needing a pedicure or really being talked into anything. We slowly placed our feet amid the fish in the tank.  Moments later, we removed them quickly because it tickled so much.  Try again.  Tickled again.  We kept trying and, eventually, we got used to the peculiar sensation of having fish biting softly at our feet and toes.  I suppose we sat there for about 30 minutes talking with others also having dead skin eaten off their feet.  It was strange to say the least.  At the finish, and to my mild disappointment, there was no visual evidence at all of having had a pedicure.  But that’s okay.  Like most things I do now-a-days, it was an experience.

tickle tickle...

The tank with the giant fish feeds on some British feet.

The road on the way to our hostel, it was a surprisingly busy street
This woman appears to be hold up some IV fluids of some sort for her child.
She had just exited the medical clinic when we found ourselves behind her.
 Not long thereafter it came time to head for sunset at Angkor Wat.  We went back to the hostel to find our new French friends and transportation.  The people at Garden Village were able to locate a tuk tuk to take us to and from the temple for a very reasonable price.

Soon after we got there and began exploring around a bit, we realized just how enormous Angor Wat really is.  After all, they do also sell three-day and seven-day tickets to visit the temples, an indication of just how much there is to see.  Given that we had already agreed upon one day at the temples plus tonight’s sunset visit, it was an easy decision to arrange for a guide for our next day’s visit.


Angkor Wat around sunset time....

Full moon came out to be in my picture!

Cruising down the road in a tuk tuk

Our French friends

Angkor Thom...
Our guided day started at the Angkor Thom entrance. Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire. It is 10 square kilometers and was built by Jayavarman, the greatest of the Angkorian kings.  

At the entrance of Angkor Thom

Inside Angkor Thom we explored the stunning Bayon.  Bayon was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King, Jayavarman VII.  It is famous for its 54 gothic towers decorated with 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara
Can you see the faces??

That's Michelle in the pink

And that's us!

looking back after exiting Angkor Thom

Onward to Baphuan.  Baphuan reminded me a little of what some of the Mayan ruins might look like, a very tall, very steep pyramid-shaped temple.  Of course we couldn’t resist climbing to the top!   Descending on the other side we were able to see the reclining Buddha in the stone.



look closely, the Buddha is in the stone

its a little easier to see here...

Offerings at the top of a temple

Ta Prohm...
The temple before lunch was Ta Prohm. I think this might have been my favorite. Actually, the best part about this temple may have been the ice cream I bought on the way in!  Ta Prohm was created in 1186 AD by King Jayavarman VII and is unlike most the Angkorian temples.  It remains in pretty much the same condition in which it was first located while many of the other temples have been undergoing restoration.  It’s a remarkable structure, and there are trees growing up from and out of the ruins.


Angkor Wat...
Finally after the most expensive meal that could be found among the temples (when you buy a guided tour they take you to a pricey place to eat), we came to Angkor Wat - the very heart and soul of Cambodia, and the largest religious structure in the world.  Angor Wat is the Khmers national symbol, the epicenter of their society and a source of fierce and unwavering national pride

excellent translation, right?

inside Angkor Wat

Within Angkor Wat


Enjoying some curry, blue margarita's, local beer, and fun at the tuk tuk bar our last night...

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