Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Super Awesome South East Asia Adventure-Siem Reap

I flew into Bangkok and spent one night. It's less expensive to fly there, and I'm coming back at the end of the summer (making a rough circle around SE Asia).

After running around the city looking for an internet cafe with a printer (who knew it was so hard?), I  ended up in MBK mall for dinner, and thought, hey, I'll go see Fast and Furious 6. I may or may not have a crush on The Rock. Holy crap was it big dumb fun. Big, dumb, physics defying, fun.

The original plan was to go to Cambodia on the 5 am train. Which then involved taking a tuk tuk to the border, walking across, and then taking another tuk tuk to the bus stand (all while trying not to get ripped off). Fortunately, in January, they started a new bus service that goes directly through. You still got to walk through. The in-between area is packed with people and Casinos. Really nice looking brand new casinos.

Goodbye Thailand

Hello Kingdom of Cambodia

Of course, it ended up taking just as long, 11 hours. But, at the end, there was a free tuk tuk ride to my hostel. Actually, they're not really tuk tuks. They're motorcycles with a trailer attached. Far more comfortable than the ones I'm used to taking. And open air.

My hostel is more a hotel, run by a local family. The difference between a deluxe and standard is, with the deluxe, they give you the remote for the air conditioner. Totally worth the extra $2.50 a day.

All the stores I've been to take US dollars mostly. In fact, their prices were in Dollars, instead of the Cambodian Riel. There are 4,000 riels in a dollar, just in case you need to know that.

Let me be frank for a moment (you can be Dean and Gus can be Sammy*), my first thoughts about Angkor Wat was "it's just a big stone building." Well, friends, it's so much more than that. It's still a ruin of stone, don't get me wrong, but a massive building structure, with endless hallways, intricate stone carvings, massive bathing pools, an incredible man-made moat, and awesome trees whose roots are thicker around than I am tall.

Originally, Angkor Wat was built as a Hindu temple in the eleventh century (that's during the year 1000's). The front building is the gateway:

Then you cross the bridge (which my guide informed me represented the seven incarnations of Rama. Seven also represents the seven colors in a rainbow, so it's sometimes called the rainbow bridge.

The temple is dedicated to Vishnu, which is the supreme god in Hinduism. All other gods are simply avatars of Vishnu. There are three floors to the temple. The bottom floor is for bathing. There are four baths, each representing one of the elements. The center of the temple is considered the center of the universe. Of course I took a picture there (my Mom always says I act like I'm the center of the universe).

The walls are carved depicting a battle between Vishnu and the Demon King. Vishnu also had a Monkey King on his side. Further proof that monkeys are awesome (not that we needed it).

The stairway to heaven. Although they've added wooden stairs on the back.

The view from heaven. It's amazing.

This is the King's library on the temple grounds. Further proof that libraries are essential (not that we needed it).

Bayon was built in the ancient capital of Cambodia, called Angkor Thom. The king had 216 faces carved into the temple, and they kind of resemble him.

Also in Angkor Thom is Baphuan, which also began as a Hindu temple, dedicated to Shiva.

Next to that were the royal residences, which were mostly in ruin.

This is the royal pool.

This is the terrace of the Leper King. Apparently he probably wasn't really a leper, it was most likely a crematorium. 

After lunch (which was pork noodles), I bought a scarf and went to the Tomb Raider temple.

It's being reconstructed and conserved through a joint program with India and Cambodia.
In fact, several of the temples are being conserved by outside governments. Angkor Wat is being conserved by a German group.

The trees in this area fascinate me. They are gigantic, but the roots are mostly above ground and massive. It reminds me of the banyan tree, but on a grander scale. And they're really rough skinned as well (I touched many trees).

The second day, I went to several more temples in the morning.

Preah Khan

This is the second largest of the temples (after Angkor Wat). It's 800 meters long. As you near the center, the doorways get smaller (because you should be bowing your head in prayer), which makes this really cool perspective.

Me in the central stupa. Everyone was taking a picture like this, so I figured I would too.

Preah Neak Poon
Called the water temple. It's four pools of water with spouts in the center. 
 It was a 300 meter walk on this lovely boardwalk to get there.

Ta Som
I didn't write any notes about it, so I guess I wasn't super interested.

East Mebon

This was probably my favorite temple. It was a different style than the others. There were three levels, but each level had a giant terrace. So they basically built a hill.

The first level had an elephant statue at each corner.

The second level had meditation areas and libraries.

The third level is where the stupa is.

In the afternoon I went to the Land Mine Museum. First I had breakfast at their restaurant. Luklak is a local dish, which is rice, beef, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some kind of delicious gravy. So ridiculously good.

The museum was interesting. A stark reminder that Cambodia has suffered so much during the last half century. First they were heavily bombed by the US trying to cut off supply lines to South Vietnam, then their own civil war. 

There are still thousands of land mines, unexploded ordinance, and bullets just lying around the countryside.

After the land mine museum, I talked my driver into taking me to Bantay Srei for only $5 more (he wanted to charge me $10, which was ridiculous, because it was only a mile more).

I'm glad I did go, it was beautiful. Bantay Srei is called the woman's temple. It is made out of pink sandstone and beautifully carved. They believe, because of the intricacy of the carvings, it was done by women. They also believe that it was used as a university for women.

It was a very long day. My tuk-tuk driver thought I was silly because I said to take me home and I wouldn't need a ride anywhere that evening. Man was I exhausted.

My driver. He was a nice guy. Notice the hammock wrapped around the bar on the left.

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