Saturday, July 18, 2009

Siem Reap

When we were heading to Cambodia, I had no idea what to expect out of this trip. I did not really know much about Angkor Wat, except that it is one of the wonders of the world and that Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones were filmed there. That was enough to excite me, but the experience was so much more rewarding than even my sensationalized idea of the place. I am so lucky that I had this opportunity-- not only to see incredible sights, but to expand my understanding of the world just a little bit. Traveling has truly been educational for me. We only spent a few short days in Siem Reap, but I will always remember them.

On the way to Siem Reap, we stopped in Denang, Vietnam. I was really fascinated with the idea of being in Vietnam without actually going there. It made me wish I could just step out of the plane for an hour and take a look around. I thought it looked like a lovely place. The green landscape and blue mountains were stunning through the airplane window.

The first temple we went to was Phnom Bakheng. It is an 9th Century temple on top of a hill overlooking Angkor. It attracts tourists for its spectacular view of Angkor Wat at sunset.

The pictures don't do much justice to this place.
Just believe that it was extremely cool.

Can you see Angkor in the background?
The lotus-shaped towers visible through the trees.

I was amazed at how many people were there to see the sunset. And this is supposedly the low season for tourism in Cambodia.

A truly golden sky.

The shadows start to fall on Phnom Bakheng.

The steps we can to climb to get up and down were so insane! They were about a foot tall each and only enouch room for your toes. Many were worn from the thousands of tourists that climb them day after day.
The challenging path only made the climb more adventurous.

While Purni was taking a picture for me on the steps, a group a Korean boys started down behind me, but hesitated when they saw we were taking a picture. I tried to reassure them, "It's all right," I said. I meant that it was all right for them to keep climbing down while we took the picture. They took it as, "All right! You can be in my picture!"

Haha. Why not have three random korean guys in my picture? They make it much more interesting!
The next day we explored the famous Angkor Wat.
It was a sight to behold.

We had a very thorough tour of the galleries of bas-relief friezes covering the inner walls. Most of them depict stories from The Ramyana (Hindu Epic), but others contained illustrated the history, beliefs, and lifestyle of the people of the ancient empire.

Funny. I didn't know that monks could own video cameras. . .

I'm not sure that this buddhist monk is allowed to take pictures with tourists. oh well.

We spent a few hours exploring Angkor Wat. It was a lot to take in for one day, but there was still a lot to see!

We briefly stopped at a killing field used by the Khmer Rouge during the Communist Uprising that led to genocide in the 70s. Here we saw this windowed pillar full of human skulls and bones-- a memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge's atrocities.

The south gate at Angkor Thom.

I felt welcomed into the ancient city by the smiling Buddha entrance.

This was our guide for the entire three days. He spoke great English, gave excellent insights on the temples, and stuck with us from morning until night every day! A very impressive guy-- Meet Sophai.

Such elaborate friezes throughout the entire Bayon temple.

Can you spot all the smiling Buddha faces in the towers of the temple?
Buddha was the 12th century's smile button.

Rubbing noses with Buddha.

The Buddha meditative pose.
Together at Bayon

The next day we made our way to Banteay Srei. It is diminutive compared with the other temple structures in Angkor, but Banteay Srei is a little gem.

This one is often called the "Lady Temple" for its small size and pinkish sandstone.
The decorative carvings at Banteay Srei were so intricate and ornate. Still striking in appearance after hundreds and hundreds of years.

Ladies at the Lady Temple.

Nearby Banteay Srei, there was a band of landmine victims playing traditional Cambodian music. It was not an uncommon sight to see adults and children who were missing a limb due to the vast amount of landmines that are still active today. Tourists are wisely counselled to stay on the paths when visiting the area.

Purni and I took a hike in the Kulen Hills-- A trek through jungle terrain.
Sophai swinging on a jungle vine.

We hiked there to see Kbal Spean-- a holy site with ancient carvings near the river.

I think this might be the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi, but I'm not positive.

We came upon a gorgeous waterfall where lots of Cambodian boys were playing and having a laughing time.

This is the temple that everyone calls "Tomb Raider" thanks to Angelina Jolie. It is actually called Ta Prohm, and it was a fascinating place.

Buddhist Monks making their way through Ta Prohm.

This place is absolutely overgrown with trees!
It is an astonishing display of nature vs. civilization.

This month's cover of National Geographic.
Funny. When I went to Stone Henge last fall, the cover story was Stone Henge! I think National Geographic is following me.

And here we are! I love the web-like appearance of the strangler fig growing out of the ruins. The sight is enchanting.

I am a hindu goddess.

Isn't this place just like an Indiana Jones movie?

The next morning, we took an excursion to the floating village.
A village that. . . well, it floats.
It's that simple.

This is the floating school. We saw some school children leaving to go home.

As we boated through the village, I felt as though I was watching these people from behind a pane of glass-- their lifestyle seemed so unreal to me. For them living on the water is every day's reality. I have never seen anything like it.

This little boy was just floating around in a tub!

After a long day, we went back to the hotel (whereI had this lovely mango smoothie) and got some rest. That didn't keep us from shopping all afternoon in the Old Market (where I became so lost among the identical stalls that I almost had a nervous breakdown!) and seeing traditional Cambodian dancing in the evening.

Well, I guess it is probably about time that I get back to the good ol' USA, though it is a bit hard leaving when I have no idea when I'll ever gt to go back. I have really fallen in love with this part of the world. Still, after six weeks of traveling, I began to get a little homesick and I really missed this kid. . .

Noah's default expression.
I love my nephew.

Who couldn't love that face?

Goodbye Cambodia!
I hope to see you again someday!


Musing Elitist said...

amazing. brilliant. thank you so much for sharing everything and being you. i love your photos and your commentary. this has been my favorite blog to stalk this summer.

Anonymous said...

your life is so freaking cool. thanks for letting me live vicariously through your blog.

Courtney said...

amazing, yet again. You are getting me way excited for my own travels! I am still curious as to how your trip got put together in the first place...