Siem Reap, Cambodia
13.11.2007 - 17.11.2007 35 °C
Cambodia is supposed to be the poorest country in SE Asia. They have a sad, war torn history and have only been recovering since the late 80s. They have been fighting the French, the US, and then the Vietnamese for decades. The Americans, after the French had given up Cambodia as a colony had come in and planted thousands of landmines around the country as strategic forces against the Vietnamese (I think). Vietnam and and other local military regimes laid landmines and dropped bombs that never exploded, so Cambodia is the only country to have so many undetonated explosives. Their own government set up the Khmer Rouge, a movement that was meant to ethnically filter the Cambodian people and bring them back to an agricultural country. So for 4-5 years, they closed down hundreds of schools, hospitals, and churches and set up Killing Fields, sights where the government killed millions of those they thought were educated and cultured. For example, people walking down the streets with eyeglasses were killed because they looked educated. They killed about 2 million of their 7 million countrymen in about 4 years and is known to be one of the greatest acts of genocide in history. So tragic.
So they may be the poorest country in the SE Asia, but being here in Siem Reap, you just see how resilient the people are and how much they're using tourism to their advantage and bouncing back from decades of violence and war.
So Siem Reap is the hub to get to the temples of Angkor. They are a series of temples built in a 40 mile radius outside of Siem Reap that were built from the 9th to the 15 centruy and represent the largest single collection of religious monuments in the world. There are lots of buddhist and Hindu influence throughout the temples. Angkor Wat, the most well preserved well known temple, is supposed to be one of the 7 wonders of the world. We visited about 10 temples in 2 days and all of them were so different. It's not like going to China and seeing a pagoda that looks like the previous one until all the pagodas look alike and you can't distinguish one from the other. All the temples here at Angkor were just so unique. Bayon had several heads carved into the towers. Sculptures of elephants and lions guarded the temples of East Bayon. Ta Prohm was the most authentic jungle temple. Neak Pean had 4 lakes that have now dried out and are covered with grass that represent the 4 main rivers in the world. But Angkor Wat was just amazing. It is supposed to be one of the 7 wonders of the world, in the same calibur of the pyramids in Egypt and of Machu Pichu in Peru. It's so beautiful and as I walked down its walkway, I was overwhelmed and breath-taken, similar to the way I felt when I saw the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China, or the ruins in Rome. "Holy Shit. Look at all the history here," I thought. It's moments like these, you just feel so small and insignificant. The world doesn't revolve around you, look at the vastness and splendor of such structures. Kinda cheesy, yes, I know... but I can't describe it any other way.
See the following pictures of Angkor Wat and the Bayon temples...
After a long, hot, day of walking through the temples, our tuk tuk driver took us to Phnom Bakheng, a temple perched high on a hill where you could watch the sunset. The sun was setting fast and it was only 5pm. And we had to run up this steep rocky path to catch the sun. A few storm clouds had accumulated and sprinkled a light rain over us as we climbed. And the whole time, I was hot, miserable, wet, tired, and worried that we had already missed the setting sun. We then had to climb the steep stairs of the temple that were slippery with rain and were flooded with tourists trying to get a good view of the sunset. A dangerous trek in flip flops. But we made it, heaving, panting, wet, and laughing as we saw the sun turn the dark sky orange and red before it fell beneath the horizon. I think it was one of the best sunsets I had seen, a perfect ending to the day. You just work so hard to get there and you actually get to sit and enjoy its beauty. Perfect metaphor for lots of hardships in life (yes, I know, cheesy again)... but there are so many things that SUCK ASS while you're going through the motions, but that just makes the reward that much more sweet; PT school, the boards, marathons, traveling.
We've been ending each day with a delicious Khmer meal, lots of fragrant curries and soups. There's a district in the old market, that closes its streets to cars and fills with tourists looking to chill in a cool streetside cafe and enjoy delicious food, hip hop music, a cold glass of Angkor Beer, or some conversation with other travelers.
Today we went to visit Chong Khneas, a floating village sitting on Tonle Sap lake. The lake fills up every year after rainy season from the backflow of the Mekong River so the houses are built as huge boat-like structures rising and falling to the flooding of the lake. It was pretty touristy, hiring a car, getting on a boat (driven by a 10 year old) and riding down the lake looking at the floating houses, schools, and churches. Locals in speedboats chased after all the tour boats and little kids jumped on trying to sell cold beverages. It took us 2 hours, wasn't very exciting, but pretty fascinating how another set of people live.
Tomorrow, we hired a taxi to take us to Bangkok. Kinda funny that we'll be chaufeured from one country to the next. But the roads are horrible if you make the trek by bus and it would take 14 hours. The 6 hour bus we took from Phnom Phenh (Cambodia's capital) was miserable. Hot, small, stinky, overcrowded, people getting sick, bumpy...I couldn't do it again for 14 hours. The taxi ride will only take 6 hours and we chose luxury.