Sunday, March 13, 2011

Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the AngkorTemples

March 16, 2011—We left the Silver River Hotel in Phnom Penh, thanking the staff for a wonderful stay. They were so helpful and the facility was very nice. We loaded our bags in the minivan and drove to the central bus station. Our bus to Siem Reap was there so we transferred our bags and climbed on board. The bus left on time, and we headed northwest to Siem Reap. We had read that the road was excellent, but I think excellent is an operative word. They are in the process of improving the road; however, it was a two-lane road that was quite rough. We stopped after two hours for a bathroom stop, and we stopped one more time for a quick lunch. The trip took us seven hours, and by the time we arrived, we were more than happy to be there.

As soon as our bus pulled into the parking lot, the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers came over to it, holding signs up stating their fees. Women also came running over with food or other items to sell. It was a bit overwhelming. The bus company asked us to wait in the bus while the local Cambodians got off the bus, and then they took our bags and assigned us to a tuk-tuk driver. He drove us to the Frangapini Hotel and carried our bags inside. We were checked in and shown to our room, which was quite nice. After we put our things away, we cooled off for awhile, and then we went downstairs to take a swim in the pool. It felt so good to be in the cool water. We went back to the room and got dressed for dinner at the hotel.

We got up the next morning and got ready for a day of touring. Va, our driver, picked us up at 9 a.m., and we drove out to the temples. We stopped to pay our and $40 fee for the day and receive our picture identification card. We decided to see the major temples started with the South Gate of Angkor Thom and then Central Angkor Tom (late 12th century).

From there we continued on to Bayon (late 12th century), Phimeanakas (late 10th century), Terrace of Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King (both late 12th century), and, finally, Taprohm (mid-12th century).

By now it was 12:30 and hot, so we decided to stop by the lake for a nice lunch. While we were eating we met a father, a Canadian, with his daughter who lives in Oregon. We enjoyed talking with them for a few minutes. After lunch Va advised us to see Angkor Wat because most people take a break until four o’clock, but first we stopped at Banteay Kdei (early 13th century).

After walking through Banteay Kdei, he dropped us off at the bridge that crosses the largest moat we have ever seen that surrounds Angkor Wat. This wat was constructed in the mid-12th century by Suryavarman II in the form of a massive “temple-mountain” dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, and it served as his state temple. The reliefs on the walls of the long hallways were spectacular, and most were still in very good shape.

We finished walking through Angkor Wat around 3:30 so we asked Va to drive us back to town. We stopped at a few shops, the Central Market, and the ATM. We then returned to our hotel and agreed to meet him at 9 o’clock in the morning for another day of sightseeing. We were both pretty hot and tired so we just returned to our room to cool off and relax.

We got a good night sleep and met Va at 9 o’clock for our second day of sightseeing. We drove out about 10 miles to Chong Khneas, a floating village at the edge of the lake closest to Siem Reap. Houses, the school, the medical clinic, shops—everything is floating in this village. Today the government representative was announcing a shot clinic for the children under five.

We watched people moving up and down the river in different styles of boats, most of which had engines. They use car engines, and the propeller shaft in the back must have been eight feet long. Also, the prop sits just below the water because there is a plant that grows in the water, and the prop would get fouled if it was set any deeper. We are at the end of the dry season, which means that the water level is pretty low, and we actually got stuck in the mud at one point.

The tour was very interesting and better than we had expected. When we returned to the shore and stepped off the boat, three hard-sell girls who had plates with Siem Reap written on them and our pictures in the centers. One of them had taken a picture of each of us when we arrived, but we had no idea why. Now we know. We really didn’t want them; however, we decided to buy them. They wanted $3 each so we offered two for $5. The oldest girl gave me the biggest smile and rejected my offer—she held fast. They were so enjoyable that we actually enjoyed being separated from our money.

Our next stop was the Silk Worm Farm. We thought this would be an interesting tour since we had been look at silk products. A guide met us when we approached and welcomed us. We began the tour at the mulberry tree grove where they harvest leaves to feed the silk worms.
Inside a building we were shown the cocoons that lines ringed shallow baskets. When the worm is mature, they kill them by putting the baskets in the sun or by boiling them. Next they remove the worm (and sometimes fry them and eat them) and then separate the silk thread from the cocoon. Once the thread is gently pulled from the cocoon, the spinning begins.

We learned the difference between raw silk and fine silk. We were also shown how they bleach and then dye the silk, mostly using natural plants to achieve the colors but sometimes using dyes. After that the thread is wound onto spools. Our last stop on the tour took us to the weaving building where women were weaving several different patterns in different colors. It was so interesting and informative, and we now have a better appreciation for this beautiful material.

It was now almost one o’clock so we stopped for lunch, followed by a stop at the bakery for our breakfast. Lastly, we enjoyed a one-hour massage for $15 each. We returned to our hotel tired but quite relaxed. We have to pack tonight for our flight back to Langkawi in the morning.

We have been gone for five weeks, and we are ready to get back, but we have enjoyed our time in Southeast Asia, and the countries we have visited have been well worth the time and effort. Monday morning Va came to pick us up at 6:15. We drove to the airport, watching a spectacular sun rise as we went, and unloaded our bags. Va did such a good job for us that we were sad to say our goodbyes. Our flight out of Siem Reap was delayed; however, we made it to Kuala Lumpur in time to catch our flight to Langkawi.

We are back on the boat and are preparing to leave on Monday, weather permitting.


K Chap said...

Linda and Steve,
This is Krista - the Canadian living in Oregon :)
I have been back in the states for a week now and am finally back in my regular work/life routine. I was unpacking more of my stuff (still cannot believe how much stuff we brought back!) and came across your business card.
I've only read the Siem Reap post so far, but loved it :) I'm looking forward to reading more and following you along your amazing journey.
I hope you both continue to have a great time!!

K Chap said...

Thanks so much for the tip of "buy it when you see it, because you may never see anything like that again". Those words of advice definitely came in handy!!