We arrived in Siem Reap around 8 am after flying all night and were just a little goofy from lack of sleep so once we checked into the Lotus Blanc hotel we ordered some food and took it easy for a bit. We ate beef lok lak and some fried noodles and was it so delicious!! We rested most of the day and then decided to head out to the old market area of Siem Reap around four-hoping that the heat had passed. We took our first Tuk Tuk ride-Tuk Tuks are little carts that are pulled by motorcylce-very fun!
We were dropped off and weren’t certain what to make of this place, but quickly fell in love. Little shops and kiosks were everywhere and you could buy pretty much anything you ever wanted. There were TONS of places offering those pedicures where the fish eat off your dead skin…so obviously I had three of those. Man I couldn’t even bring myself to walk closely by those things they creeped me out so much. And everywhere you went it was, “Hey lady you want a tshirt, three for five dollars. Hey lady you want pants? Hey Lady blah blah blah.”
There was a mix of actual shops mixed in with the little kiosk things as well. And restaurants everywhere.
Then we made it down to the Old Market area which is where the locals do their shopping. We wandered through all the food items, this fish still swimming in little buckets, the women chopping up recently killed chickens and whatever other kinds of meat they were. Very interesting.
We bought a couple of trinkets and tried the delicious street fruit smoothies that were everywhere. We called it an early night since we had plans to do sunrise at Angkor Wat the next day. We took a Tuk Tuk home and at first thought we were gonna get killed-we were driving on all of these dark dirt roads that we hadn’t seen before and kept telling the driver the name of our hotel and he was like yeah, yeah. And then there were no other cars on the road…and then we pulled up to a hotel that certainly wasn’t ours but definitely sounded like ours. So thankfully it was a misunderstanding and we didn’t get dead!
We woke up at four for our pick-up. SirPaul-I’m not certain that’s how you spell it but that’s how it sounds-picked us up with his diamond studded front tooth, and we were off. We had to pick up our admission tickets and then he dropped us at the gate after telling us where he would be parked. We walked across an impressively large bridge surrounding the moat that encircles all of Angkor Wat in the dark. We had brought a head lamp thankfully. As we stepped over the threshold of this ancient temple it was incredibly serene. We walked through the main gate and could see huge statues of Hindu gods on either side-they were imposing in size and odd to see at night-almost creepy but kind of not. We then entered the main part of Angkor Wat and as we walked on it was kind of magical. I know that sounds cheesy, but it was something unique that’s for sure. There weren’t many people with us as we made our way to one of the lakes by one of the six libraries encased in Angkor Wat. We posted up at the edge of a lake and waited.
As we waited, we were accosted by people wanting to sell coffee, history books (mostly written in Cambodian), sarongs, paintings, etc.
There are also monkeys everywhere and if you set something down, consider it gone-those cheeky monkeys get into everything!
A significant crowd gathered to see this sight. It was magnificent and one of the best sunrises I have ever seen. We were incredibly lucky as there were minimal clouds. Just amazing to see these ancient wonder come to life.
Quickly about Angkor Wat-
Angkor means city, Wat means monastary and it has been in constant use since it was built. It is currently inhabited by Buddhist monks. It is the only temple that faces west, as it is the temple for funerals-sunsetting represents death, sunrise represents birth. It took about fifty years to build and was built under two different kings.
More on the culture here- Arranged marriages are common-about half of the marriages happen this way. It is uncommon to get divorced. People are much older now when they get married-around the age of 20-25. And their marriage date is somewhat based on astrology predictions of when would be a good day. Most people live in the remote villages and have no electricity. Village families are much larger-used to be around 8-12 children per family, but now more along the lines of 6. City dwellers tend to have around 2 children. Kids go to school for free six days a week from the age of 6-18. College is incredibly rare. Kids whose families are too poor to support them don’t attend school and must work instead. These kids are beyond cute and I maybe wanted to bring half of them home with me.
Medical care is rare. You must be able to pay for it before they will provide any care, even if it is an emergency and you are dying, they will take time to make certain you can pay for their services. Regular checkups are unheard of and even if you need medical care, it is often times difficult to obtain transportation to get there from remote areas. Siem Reap has a children’s hospital funded by the Swiss and all services are free, but only one family member can stay with the child at the hospital. But this hospital provides vaccinations for kids and so vaccination is prevalent.
Average monthly salary is around $400. And the cost of living in town is a little more than that. So if you are married, women tend to work now and they are doing more and more of the jobs that men only used to perform.
Families live in small houses, but in the villages these are built up off the ground to keep out bugs, snakes and to help cool. It used to be common to live with extended family, but is now less common. Perhaps the youngest child is left with that responsibility.
Kids often times end up doing what their parents do for a profession, but it is now more common to branch out, but is still considered rare unless families are wealthy enough to make this happen. Rice patties are everywhere and are communal property/responsibility to make sure they are tended and harvested. This year has been incredibly dry and a lot of the rice patties are without the water they usually grow in which bodes poorly for next years crop.
A lot of Cambodians are Hindu, a lot are Buddhist but a lot have adopted a combined religion-this happened when certain kings in history had different religions. The combined religion kind of lets people pick and choose what they like about each religion and leave out what they don’t like. Pets are becoming more frequent with dogs being the most common-but you have to be careful and not leave your pet outside when you aren’t around or their safety is in question.
Siem Reap is around only because of the tourism that the temples command. There are about three or four other large cities or towns, but the rest of the country is remote villages.
Hindu temples were built on hills or high up and have more height to the infrastructure as they are built based on a class system and the temples are higher to the gods. Buddhist temples are built on flat ground as everyone is considered equal. If a Hindu king took over a Buddhist temple, he would destroy/remove all evidence of Buddhism, whereas the Buddhists would just add to the temple. Ok so now back to our day!
We had a short hiatus at the hotel before getting started. We spent our first day at Angkor Thom which has not been in continuous use since it was built. Bayun (Vishnu temple) and Babphuon (Shiva temple) are two of the big temples there and we got to climb around in them-so intricate and amazing. We toured the royal palace and then we stopped by the Terrace of the Elephants as well where visitors used to leave their elephants while visiting. These temples are built out of three things-sandstone, lava rock and brick and are held together by nothing. There is no mortar its simply these three things stacked on top of each other. The stones were imported from distant Cambodia and in the wet season it was much easier because they could float the rocks to the area, but in the dry season they were just stuck hauling rocks. Bayun took around 30 years to build. They would bring stones from far away and They were all hand carved and it’s suspected that some of the carvings were done with diamonds as they are so deep and detailed. We then toured Ta Phrom-the temple known from the movie Tomb Raider. It’s unique in that it is the only temple where they didn’t clear out all of trees before building it and now it has these huge Silk Cottonwood trees growing throughout-it is beautiful but now the roots are getting so big you can see the cracks in the buildings.
We then stopped for lunch and they asked if we wanted to sit in the air conditioned area like that was even a question. This place is scorching hot and humid and we are lucky we are here in the wet season they say. We are both soaked in sweat allllll the time and Deeter in particular just drips with sweat. We ate some spare ribs and hot basil chicken. Delicious!
Then we decided to call it for the day and head back to the hotel. A dip in the beautiful pool (felt like bathwater-similar to the pools in Phoenix in the summer) and a quick nap and then we were off to the market again in a Tuk Tuk.
We got a traditional Khmer massage and then had dinner. We ate at this Cambodian BBQ place that brings you a hot center stone and pot to cook your food on. We ate chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, ostrich, kangaroo and swordfish. Kangaroo is quite delicious! And while the meats were cooking, the vegetables and noodles on the side were cooking. It was so delicious and fun! We sat right next to some Australian ladies and got to talking to them. They had a horrible guide at the temples and we shared with them that Darith, our guide was amazing. He was so knowledgable and patient and willing to take pictures and make great recommendations of where we should go. So obviously we gave them his contact information he was seriously the best!
Then it was an early night once again after wondering through the market.
We started at 9 am and headed to Angkor Wat which took around 50 years to build. All of the big temples are lined by Naga-a snake shaped symbol-and on one side of the walk it would be the good one and on the other the evil. It only has heads, no tails and that was symbolic of the strong sense of the Cambodian people who are leading the world. We thought the day before had been hot but today was a hole new ballgame. Deeter was drenched within about fifteen minutes and didn’t dry out til we got back to the hotel. Angkor Wat was amazing, full of people, but just amazing. The murals along the walls depict these battles that happened and truly tell the story in an amazing way. You can see the different levels of soldiers, the families that follow them into battle that bring food and things to care for the soldiers, the commanders, the kings, the death, the victory-it was so ornate and just overwhelming to think that they used a chisel to carve alllll of these things. One battle in particular demonstrated A Sri Lankan king who came and stole the Indian kings wife and the huge battle that ensued.
The Chinese actually did the artwork on one wall but it was deemed not up to snuff and they weren’t allowed to do any more artwork. We spent about 2 hours there and then were off to se Bantea Srey-the lady’s or pink palace temple-took around 15 years to build. This is a much smaller temple, but more intricate and ornate than any other one we saw and also much more naturally preserved than any other. The detail of the carvings was mind blowing. There are three main temples in there and they are dedicated to the three main Hindu gods-Vishnu (the protector) Shiva (the destroyer), Brahma (the creator). They all ride on a swan, a bull and a garuda (half man/half bird) and that is why the cow is a sacred animal in the Hindu religion. On one wall of the Lady’s temple the same war was depicted as that I described at Angkor Wat-but the detail was insane. It showed the Sri Lankan king as demons surrounding the Indian king and you could see them praying to a god in the sky and you could see the waves (clouds) and rain (snake is a sign of water) raining down on the demons
Along the way we also got to see before and after pictures of the restoration process. The restoration of these areas sounds like the most enigmatic puzzle ever and is beyond impressive that people were able to do it.
After lunch (beef lok lak and pineapple curry-sooooo good!) we then stopped by Preah Khuu, a temple made out of mostly brick, which was different than most of the places we had seen and climbed to the top. There were still some plaster remnants left in place.
Then it was off to one more temple, Bantay Kdai, that actually not had a lot of restoration which was neat to see in its unaltered state.
We then spent the evening at the market with our first real rain of the wet season. It was a great rain and set the mood for a very relaxed, laid back get to the know the area night. We found an ex-pat bar with live music in the market and had some Angkor beers and enjoyed a crocodile kabob. They have the best sauces to put on your food here! Honestly, everything we ate was fabulous!
As we are on the plane to Bangkok leaving Cambodia-I can’t overstate how much this place and people amazed me. I knew I would like it, but it blew my mind. It was such a great mix of culture and people and adventure-I wish we were staying a couple more days. It is a mesmerizing place and somewhere we loved. Incredibly grateful for the time and experiences we had here. Overall, just phenomenal.
And now we are landing in Bangkok, and there is a golf course in the middle of the runway…why do I think this place may be a little different than where we just came from? We only have a quick layover here then on to Chiang Mai until Saturday.