4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “Cambodia”

Past, Present and Future (by Carmen)

PAST
Looking back on our trip is an adventure unto itself as it provides me a rapidfire onslaught of memories and emotions.
 We had such a variety of experiences this past 14 months, how do I begin to summarize it all?  Fortunately, we have done a couple summary posts already.  Therefore, I’m going to pick up where we left off.  Here is a selection of favorite memories from the last part of our trip, Cambodia through to Hong Kong:

Clockwise from left: cooking amok, hanging out with Dalat locals, banh mi

Clockwise from left: cooking amok, hanging out with Dalat locals, banh mi

  • Squeezing fresh coconuts for milk and adding it to my fish curry in ultra laid back Battambang
  • That first bite of banh mi in Saigon – crispy, crunchy, sour, sweet, creamy, savory goodness
  • Being invited by locals for watermelon and rice liquor next to Pongour Waterfall near Dalat
Clockwise from left: Halong Bay, Thai stewed pork, mushroom bun, Laotian jungle

Clockwise from left: Halong Bay, Thai stewed pork, mushroom bun, Laotian jungle

  • Chilling on the deck of our boat with Julia and Jonathan in Halong Bay
  • Observing a simpler way of life in the jungle villages of Luang Namtha
  • Being served delicious stewed pork by a street vendor in a cowboy hat in Chiang Mai
  • Sampling Yunnan’s famous mushrooms in steamed bun form at the early morning market in Kunming
Clockwise from left: monastary in Zhongdian, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, stinky tofu, rice terraces

Clockwise from left: monastary in Zhongdian, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, stinky tofu, rice terraces

  • Getting up close and personal with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the intense rapids at its base within Tiger Leaping Gorge
  • Devouring dumplings then getting a taste of Tibetan spirituality at Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery in Zhongdian
  • Trying to get my head around the incredible rice terraces of Yuanyang while making new friends Michael and Albert
  • Eating the infamous black stinky tofu of Changsha and actually enjoying it
Clockwise from left: hot pot, hong kong high rises, tied tofu skins in Chengdu, tea house in Zigong in Sichuan province

Clockwise from left: hot pot, hong kong high rises, tied tofu skins in Chengdu, tea house in Zigong in Sichuan province

  • Dipping fresh tofu in a bubbling red hot pot while sitting in a converted bomb shelter in Chongqing
  • Hanging out in the convivial tea houses of Sichuan
  • Finding my food mecca in Chengdu – mapo tofu, gong bao chicken, twice cooked pork, fish fragrant eggplant how I miss you so
  • Absorbing the vivacious energy of Hong Kong in its streets, dim sum halls, hidden bars and Michelin starred hole in the walls
"This food will change your lifestyle" from a 2009 trip to Malaysia

“This food will change your lifestyle” from a 2009 trip to Malaysia

Many of my memories have to do with food because I don’t eat to live, I live to eat. Throughout our travels I was struck by how much difference it made to eat a cuisine in the place it had originated. And it’s not just because things taste fresher. It is a about the environment and the people too. Take dosa for example.  I had eaten dosa, the Indian roll stuffed with potatoes and veggies and served with daal and chutney dipping sauces, in Berkeley.  But it wasn’t until I was in India – eating my dosa at breakfast on a metal plate with a metal cup of chai tea, breathing in the thick humid air, watching other groups chatting happily in their sing song accent – that I really got it.  Dosa is filling but not heavy.  Basically, it is a damn good way to start the day.  In each country, I learned more about foods that I thought I had known with the result being that I now have a greater appreciation for these cuisines.

Of course, travel is about more than food.  Travel changes you but not necessarily in a dramatic way.  I had experiences that caused me to do some thinking, yes, but no light bulb epiphanies that changed my life. When confronted with so many new or unique experiences each day it’s hard to gauge change within yourself. Perhaps a better way to put it is a better sense of self.  Because the saying is true – “wherever you go, there you are.”

Sleeper bus to Yuanyang

Sleeper bus to Yuanyang

And we went a lot of places.  Over the past 14 months I have ridden high speed trains, a 27 hour sleeper bus, overnight ferries, small vans overburdened with 22 people, and what I like to call the rickshaw roller coaster. Powered by my own two feet I weaved through traffic packed streets on a bicycle and walked 500 mile across Spain.  My career is in transportation and I can’t help but feel that these experiences brought greater insight to my work.

Women skillfully carrying their goods

Women skillfully carrying their goods in Hubli, India

To remember all these places, experiences and transport modes gives me an immense sense of gratitude.  I know how fortunate I am for the health and resources to do this trip.  As a woman, I’m also grateful for the fact that I was born in the West.  Sexism is alive and well in the USA but I’m happy we got past the women as second class citizens thing.  Not so in many other parts of the world.  It was annoying to see groups of men and women working in China because often the men were sitting around while the women were shoveling or raking or doing whatever job had to be done.  Of course in Turkey there is gender separation as a result of religious norms, though as a tourist I personally did not feel any discrimination. The country we visited where I felt it most was India.  The culture is positively obsessed with gender and the idea that men absolutely can’t control themselves in the presence of a woman.  Women must cover, must hide away, must have their own train car in order to not be groped.  It wasn’t until I arrived in Thailand just after India that I realized how oppressing it all was.  I could finally wear a tank top to deal with the heat and nobody looked twice!  There were more women walking the sidewalks, women riding scooters, women sitting next to the men they didn’t know on transit (gasp!) and life went on.  I do hope that India finds a better balance of equality in the years that come.

This tower of dolma was one of the few things we got to "cook" during our travels

This tower of dolma was one of the few things we got to “cook” during our travels

PRESENT
Given my tales of culture shock and exhausting bus rides, it’s no wonder people often ask if I’m tired of travel. I think I surprise them when I say not really. If someone offered me a ticket to Italy leaving tomorrow, I wouldn’t hesitate to pack my bags.

That said, I am excited to resume some of my hobbies that I haven’t been able to do because of my travels. Cooking and having my own kitchen is a big one. I’m looking forward to have those lazy Sundays when I get to dedicate my day to making a delicious bolognaise. Also, learning about some many cultural histories has me thinking about my own familial one. I’ve always wanted to make a family tree and now I’m more inspired than ever.

Therefore, we are now in the process of settling down. At least for a short while. The big question is where. Part of the impetus of this trip was an was a desire to move from the San Francisco area, where we had spent nearly 10 years. We are looking for a new place to call home. Our main desire is a big city that supports our lifestyle of exploring by foot and eating good food. Will it be New York? London? Hong Kong? I wish I knew! But the main determinant will be where we can land jobs.

In the immediate future, there is our wedding to plan which is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. Meanwhile, we will be posting on some of our local travels to see friends and family as well as advice on how to plan your own trip.

Clockwise from left: the Camino, Hong Kong clay pot restaurant, baklava in Turkey, Santorini, Chengdu delicacies, sunset on the beach in Koh Tao, spring rolls in Saigon

Clockwise from left: the Camino, Hong Kong clay pot restaurant, baklava in Turkey, Santorini, Chengdu delicacies, sunset on the beach in Koh Tao, spring rolls in Saigon

FUTURE
But just because we are staying in one place doesn’t mean I can’t already plan my future travel adventures. Taking a year off just opens your eyes to more places to visit and explore.

My dad asked me where would I return of all the international places I’d been this year, which is much better than asking what my favorite place is (impossible to answer!).  For some places, one visit is enough.  But it’s the ones that call you back that indicate that there’s something special there. Here is a list of places I would return (* means I visited pre-blog):

  • The Camino
  • Greek islands
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Southern Vietnam
  • Thailand beaches
  • Sichuan
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan*
  • Anywhere in Europe*
I want to have a wall map in my apartment (photo credit: Urban Outfitters)

I will definitely have a wall map in my apartment! (photo credit: Urban Outfitters)

And then of course there are the places you hear about and see tantalizing pictures of.  A list of countries I have never been but want to explore:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Korea
  • Western China
  • Nepal
  • The “stans” in Central Asia
  • Russia
  • Croatia
  • Lebanon
  • Jordan
  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Botswana
  • Northern Brazil
  • Southern Argentina

It’s time for us to put down some roots and have a bit more routine in our life. But wherever we end up one thing is for sure. A map will be posted on the wall. Pins will be pushed in to the countries we’ve been to, the ones we need to go back to, and the ones we’ve yet to explore. It will serve as a reminder of fortunate we are to have seen all that have as well as an indicator that the next adventure just around the corner.

But this is not the end!  Stay tuned for Nathan’s thoughts on the trip coming up next.

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Eating Like a Local In Phnom Penh (by Nathan)

Bus ride snack of fried crickets

Bus ride snack of fried crickets

Nothing demonstrates local culture more than the food people eat.  Yes, there is dance, language and tradition, but the day-to-day survival of humans depends on the consumption of local cuisine.  The food of a region shows the struggle and the progress of the people.  So when our bus stopped at a roadside stand and every Cambodian huddled around one stall I decided to get whatever the woman was selling. It turns out she was selling crickets, freshly fried and crispy crickets.  I watched as little girls shared giggles of delight with their grandmas.  My turn came and I was suddenly confronted with a choice: sesame seed or green onion and diced chilies.  I sampled each with everyone staring and I ordered the spicier one.  Imagine the best barbecue potato chip you have ever had, I’m talking caramelized onion, sweet potatoes; these were better!  Excuse me, a leg just got caught in my teeth.

Sunset Phnom Penh

Sunset Phnom Penh

Our bus bounced along and the rice fields disappeared with the growth of a denser city and crowded streets.  We arrived in Phnom Penh, we checked into our hotel and started walking.  There is a nice and peaceful riverside sidewalk that is wonderful for sunset walks.  We passed by the elaborate palace with its spectacular silhouette.  We ended the night with a rooftop cocktail, a great start to a new city.

Central market soup

Central market soup

Sticky rice snacks

Sticky rice snacks

I think my favorite part of every city is the market.  Every village or metropolis has some way for farmers, butchers and cooks to sell their life’s work.  Our first destination was Phsar Thmei, the central market.  After some confused meandering through stall after stall of clothing, watches, beauty products and mobile phones we finally found the hawker center.  We sat down at two stools and two heaping steamy bowls were placed in front of us.  We then mimed our way into getting extra limes and some iced tea.  It was a breakfast for travel champions.  Our savory soup lady shared her stall with a sweet soup lady.  We ordered some rice, mung beans and red beans doused with coconut and condensed milks.  Another woman was wrapping sweet fillings with sticky rice and banana leaves.  Too full, we ordered some to snack on later.

Cambodian National Museum garden

Cambodian National Museum garden

The National Museum of Cambodia has beautiful traditional architecture surrounding  a well-kept garden.  The artifacts are mostly from Angkor temples and show a subtle progression of Buddha statues over time.  The brief video that recreated ancient Angkor was excellent, but the explanations of the rest of the museum was rather poor.  We really wanted to visit the palace, but the gates were locked shut as the country mourns the death (from old age) of their leader.

S-21 Concentration Camp

S-21 Concentration Camp

Cambodia has had a tumultuous and horrendous history.  When they finally gained independence from France in the 1950’s the country was still led my a monarchy.  This lasted until 1970 when a coup overthrew the king, but set off a civil war across the country.  A handful of Paris educated men were excited for communism and they created the Khmer Rouge.  They took control with promises of equality and better living for all.  The Khmer rouge insisted that the country cease all outside influence and return to agrarian means of living.  Thousands were forced to leave the cities and the educated were decimated.

One of the more sad experiences of this entire trip was that we visited Toul Sleng, a former school tuned into the S-21 concentration camp and the gateway for over 15,000 murders.  The barbed wire, tiny cells, torturing devices and meticulous photo documentation are all in tact and graphically showing one of the low points in human existence.  It was the North Vietnamese that eventually stopped this monstrosity.  These were the same Vietnamese that the U.S. was fighting.  And since the enemies of our enemies are…um…friends, the Khmer Rouge went into hiding with their warfare being supplied and funded by the U.S.  Millions of American mines were placed into Cambodian soil.  Two million mines still exist in Cambodia, they are armed and sensitive to the unlucky farmer, kid or animal that stumbles upon one.  There is some amazing and brave work being done out there to identify and disarm these minefields.  I encourage any visitor to Cambodia to visit the mining museum in Siem Reap and S-21 in Phnom Penh to gain perspective on modern warfare.

Russian market butcher

Russian market butcher

It is not surprising that after all this turmoil, that Cambodian cuisine remains quite simple compared to their neighbors.  The extremism of the Khmer Rouge appears to have had had an affect of diluting and censoring the food as well.  The flavors of Cambodian cuisine are rustic with a focus on fresh, and sometimes raw vegetables with a nuance of influence from Vietnam, Thailand and China.  We went to the Russian Market for another, but different noodle breakfast.  This market was less organized under rickety wood construction with mounds of vegetables next to cleavers slamming down through bone and flesh of fresh meat.  The market was hot and hazy with humidity; we hovered over our noodles and we were already sweating at 9am.

Skewered delights, note the "Angry Bird" kebab

Skewered delights, note the “Angry Bird” kebab

Night market dessert

Night market dessert

We attempted to stay cool with some 50cent draft beers, but the heat was persistent.  We ventured back onto the streets in search of the night market.  We found twenty stalls selling the same barbecued and fried skewers.  Why don’t they diversify? We sat cross-legged on a central mat with some bitter melon, chicken, short-ribs and sugar cane juice.  Although tempted, we did not try the “angry bird” meat skewers.  For dessert Carmen had banana and coconut pudding and I had shaved ice over various jellies and egg yolk dumplings with condensed milk over the top.

Breakfast pork, egg and rice

Breakfast pork, egg and rice

Our final morning in Phnom Penh was rushed as we embarked on a bus to Vietnam.  With five minutes to spare, we squeezed between the tuk tuk drivers and sat on the tiny stool that rested a mere eight inches above the ground.  We ordered the only thing she was serving- a plate of rice with some dried and re-grilled pork and a fried egg.  A couple spoonfuls of diced chillies and they all smiled at us in astonishment.  We are getting used to this whole eating like a local thing.

Badda Bing Battambang (by Carmen)

Market veggies

Market veggies

The only reason I had heard of Battambang is that a restaurant of the same name was near my office. I thought the name sounded exotic but was completely ignorant to the fact that it was an actual place. As I glanced through the guidebook to plan our Cambodia itinerary I had hoped to find a laid back town to break up our visits to the more tourist-ready Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Battambang (BB) seemed like just the ticket so off we went!

Vegetarian rice soup

Vegetarian rice soup

Rice with savory "meats"

Rice with savory “meats”

At a whopping 140,000 residents, BB is Cambodia’s 2nd largest city. But really it’s more of a town, easily traversed by foot or bike. One of the first places we walked was Vegetarian Foods. In meat crazy Asia even the veg restaurant specialized in imitation meats. They were indeed delicious, served over steamed rice or in a bowl of savory congee.

Bao-licious

Bao-licious

Later, we were walking around the town soaking in the French colonial architecture. But of course we kept an eye open for good street eats and luckily we spied two. One was a huge steamed bun filled with peppery pork.

Nom krok

Nom krok

The other was nom krok, a type of gooey rice ebelskiver. As we walked past this one, I wasn’t entirely sure if the cakes the old woman was cooking were for sale or just for her family. Fortunately, the woman’s granddaughter, who was visiting from the US, was sitting nearby and helped us out. Soon enough we were sitting on our little plastic stools munching away happily. The cakes are a simple mixture of rice flour, coconut milk and green onions. They were served in a broth of more coconut milk, vinegar, fish sauce, and sweet chilies. The sweet savory combo was supremely satisfying. We waved goodbye to the grandma and her family and continued our walk with a big smile.

Sorry, I just had to share this temple statue

Sorry, I just had to share this temple statue

Along the way we stepped into a temple and encountered this. I’m not exactly sure what to say. It no doubt represents an important Buddhist story…in an extremely graphic way. But really, I guess it’s not too different from some Catholic paintings I’ve encountered that depict how the saints were martyred through decapitation, being prodded with hot irons, etc.

BB circus

Battambang circus

That night we did something unexpected – we went to the circus. The Phare Ponleu Selpak group trains impoverished kids to become acrobatic performers good enough to tour the world. I liked the fact that this venue provided opportunities for children to have better futures. In fact many shops, and even cafes in Cambodia seem to be connected to an NGO that somehow assists the disadvantaged. As we sat waiting for the show to start, staff members of some of these NGOs sat behind us chatting about their everyday lives. It was nice to see so many people who were actively trying to improve other communities. As for the show itself, it was greatly entertaining with all the flips and feats of strength one could hope for.

Spring rolls with noodles

Spring rolls with noodles

For an after circus snack we enjoyed a fried spring roll served over rice noodles. It was a little taste of the vietnamese flavors soon to come our way.

Central market building

Central market building

Fish vendors

Fish vendors

In the morning it was back to Cambodian cuisine, not just eating it but cooking it. We chose a cooking class at the Smokin’ Pot restaurant. Because of this Nathan insisted on calling the post “We (Went To) Bought-A-Bong and Spent Time (at) Smoking Pot,” but I thought badda bing came with more bang. Anyway, the classes have been taught for 12 years by the very knowledgeable and insightful owner. The first step was a visit to the market housed in an art deco creation left by the French. Our instructor pointed out what to look for in coconut, lemongrass, long beans, banana flowers and more.

Me cooking up some amok

Me cooking up some amok

Loklak close up

Loklak close up

Back at the kitchen we sliced and diced garlic, lemongrass, chilies, and galangal to make a tasty paste. We squeezed fresh shaved coconut with water to make our very own coconut milk. Then we mixed these flavors with fish sauce, salt, sugar and chunks of fish to make amok, the national dish of Cambodia. It was delightfully rich and definitely tasted better since I made it myself. We went on to cook loklak, a simple peppery stir fry, and sautéed morning glory. I was very happy to get back in the kitchen after months of eating out.

Wat Ek Phnom

Wat Ek Phnom

Buddhas Buddhas everywhere

Buddhas Buddhas everywhere

With some extra time we decided to rent some bikes and cruise over to Wat Ek Phnom. It was built in a similar timeframe as Angkor Wat but was definitely left in a more rustic setting. I wonder if the cow appreciates the significance of the ruins it grazes on :) Nearby was a giant Buddha with a set of smaller Buddhas housed within its base.

BBQ'd eggs

BBQ’d eggs

We cycled over to the night market because we had to try something crazy we had seen – barbecued eggs! They were literally skewered and placed over hot coals. Once we cracked them open it seemed like they had been shaken since the yolk and whites had combined into a single delicious mass. I wondered why I had never thought of this before. Nathan ordered four brown eggs and one white egg from a different stack. It turns out the white one was very special, containing a partially formed chick inside. This delicacy is fairly common in Asian cuisines so we half expected it. But that night I wasn’t up for tasting it. Nathan reported that it was a mix of textures, a sort of soft and hard boiled egg rolled into one. But no strange tastes, just egg flavor.

Old window with scooter

Old window with scooter

I truly enjoyed Battambang . Our stopover provided insight into a less visited Cambodia. One where you can still bike past stilted houses and people wave hello. Yet, in the center, the colonial legacy and expat community results in cozy cafes and creative art galleries. It is the kind of place to spend an afternoon on a cafe patio watching the world go by. Battambang is a place to linger.

An Adventure In Siem Reap & Angkor (by Nathan)

Sunrise Angkor Wat

Sunrise Angkor Wat

Does it get more beautiful than that? A visit to Angkor Wat requires a journey, a good story to tell and some real adventure. We tried our best and this is what happened:

Here I am in my upper berth bed on the way to Bangkok

Here I am in my upper berth bed on the way to Bangkok

Crossing borders into developing countries is always an adventure.   We had expected something along the lines of the Bolivian guns and egos that we experienced in April, but crossing into Cambodia was surprisingly smooth and safe.  Go us!  The challenge was that we decided to take transit from the middle of Thailand to the middle of Cambodia.  And thirty hours later with six modes of transit, the trip was a success.  Starting on Koh Tao Island we hopped in the back of a truck to taxi to the port, then a ferry boat to the mainland, then we took a regional bus to Chumphon and, crap, a three hour delay of our overnight train.  Eventually we climbed onto our tiny upper bunks and we slept until morning when we arrived in Bangkok.  We grabbed a local city bus to the edge of town, then a regional bus to the Cambodian border.  With luck we could walk to the border, acquire visas and cross where we bargained for six of us (we met 3 new friends) to pile into a 90’s Honda accord. Another two and a half hours and we arrived in Siem Reap with spending only $46 each for 650 miles (1040km) of travel.

Bantaray Srei

Bantaray Srei

Carving at Bantaray Srei

Carving at Bantaray Srei

Bantaray Srei reflection pool

Bantaray Srei reflection pool

Siem Reap is the adjacent city to one of the most renown collection of temples and relics of an ancient empire.  The historic city of Angkor was huge in the 1100’s with over one million people.  Today all that remains are the temples and palaces that were built from stone.  The most known building, Angkor Wat, is just one of twenty ornately carved and grandly built structures.  On our first day we decided to ease into Angkor so we visited a temple further out called Banteay Srei.  We walked in and out of doorways and around domed temples admiring the detailed carvings.  Many of the figures address Hindu gods and stories as well as Buddhist elements because the king that built much of Angkor liked aspects of both religions.

Scootering family

Scootering family

Rice noodles, curries and coconut

Rice noodles, curries and coconut

Our mode of transit was a tuk tuk because some of the temples are 20 miles from Siem Reap.  We hired a friendly man that carted us around for the day. Families would pass us on their scooters and the standing toddlers would wave to us shouting “hallo!”. For lunch we had to repeatedly tell “Smee,” our drivers name, to not take us to one of the tour bus restaurants.  He undoubtedly wanted a commission, but we insisted on a little village center that had a few stands.  We found a place that piled a heap of rice noodles onto a plate and scooped intense curry over the top of it.  A basket filled with local greens sat on the table for us to add as we wished.  We washed it down with a fresh coconut and we were off to see more temples.

Banteay Samré

Banteay Samré

Banteay Samré doorway

Banteay Samré doorway

Banteay Samré was another beautiful temple.  This one sits a little off the beaten tourist track, but we enjoyed exploring the nearly vacant complex imagining thousands of people living around and using this building daily.

Ta Som temple

Ta Som temple

Neak Pean walkway

Neak Pean walkway

Mid-way along our tuk tuk ride we decided that we should organize the places to visit a little better.  We have to admit that we like to be better planned when we travel, but constant movement has made it difficult to know what we want to even do each day.  Most of the Angkor sights are divided among a big circuit and a small circuit.  We talked it over with Smee and then we were chugging along the road to more ancient ruins along the big circuit.  Ta Som had a beautiful tree that took over a wall and Neak Pean was difficult to see because it was fenced off.  The walk to Neak Pean was really special; wood planks along an elaborate man-made moat and a traditional band playing music made visiting the sacred pool feel pleasantly tranquil.

Carmen and the march of rainbow umbrellas

Carmen and the march of rainbow umbrellas

It is possible to feel both overcrowded and alone in these temples. Travelers riding bicycles and tuk tuks intermix with the busses of tour groups.  We were amused, and originally frustrated, but eventually delighted when a group of Chinese women took over our photo with their umbrellas.  In the end I liked the photo with the variety of color more than the one without the bus group.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

Preah Khan carved wall

Preah Khan carved wall

Preah Khan is one of the most beautiful and elaborate of the temples.  Many of the walls and domes have collapsed, but it is possible to meander and weave around the rubble to find beautiful splashes of red and green on the black stone.  A security guard even showed us a place where we could climb to the top of the wall to admire the buildings.

Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng

Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng

Angkor Wat from west

Angkor Wat from west

The main attraction is Angkor Wat, and let’s face it, few know more about Cambodia other than Angkor Wat.  We were still building up the suspense, so we climbed up the small mountain to reach Phnom Bakheng and view the setting sun on Angkor Wat.  At the top we then waited an hour to be able to climb to the top of temple.  There were several hundred people already there, but not looking at Angkor Wat, they were freaking out at the rather plain and hazy sunset.  I love sunsets, but this one was meh, and did not deserve the intense shoulder bumping and screams of delight when it hit the horizon.  A little disappointed, we returned to Siem Reap to ready ourselves for another temple day.

Wall frieze at Angkor Wat

Wall frieze at Angkor Wat

The temple is dedicated to Vishnu

The temple is dedicated to Vishnu

Carved window pillars

Carved window pillars

Exploring Angkor Wat takes several hours.  The approach is a wide bridge that crosses a moat that is a big as a small lake.  Through the main gate we have our first view of the temple from the ground.  Huge fields flank the walkway with two smaller temples at about midway.  Beyond the temples the elevated walkway sits above two large ponds that are used for the notorious reflection shots of Angkor Wat.  We then entered the main gate and were memorized by the elaborate carvings.  It appears that the temple was etched throughout.  Room after room were carved stories of Brama, or the monkey king, or battles long since forgotten.

Angkor Wat East

Angkor Wat East

Angkor Wat South

Angkor Wat South

The Wat sits in its own shadow for most of the day, so we walked around the back and the side to get a better look enormous building  There is a mountainous hierarchy of domes that symmetrically towers overhead.  This a truly magnificent 800 year old building.

Angkor Thom South Gate

Angkor Thom South Gate

The faces of Bayon

The faces of Bayon

We had rented some ancient bikes that appeared to have been operational for the last fifty years. But they worked great and we explored big portions of the Angkor small circuit.  Angkor Thom is a huge walled complex that housed the palace buildings of the former king.  At each entrance there is a huge gate with the carved face of King Jayavarman VII, look closely and you can see Carmen on a bike.  One of our favorite temples was Bayon.  This elaborate building contains 216 carved faces.  The beautiful carved contours of each has stood the weathering of time, but like real humans each has aged uniquely.

The elephant terraces

The elephant terraces

The Leper King Terrace carved wall

The Leper King Terrace carved wall

A huge field in Angkor Thom has elaborately carved elephants into the retaining walls.  This elephant terrace allowed for the king and companions to board their elephants when traveling throughout the region.  The terrace of the Leper King also has an elaborate retaining wall with detailed carvings that meander around the hillside.

Carmen Croft, Tomb Raider

Carmen Croft, Tomb Raider

Thom Prohm dome

Thom Prohm dome

Thom Prohm tree take over

Thom Prohm tree take over

Thom Prohm is most known for being highlighted on Tombraider.  Carmen showed us her guns.  The abundance of trees that have taken over and destroyed Thom Prohm is amazing.  Huge 80ft trees tower above while wrapping themselves around a wall or small dome.  Streams of people and tour groups admire the beauty these ancient buildings being intertwined with a forest of trees.

Crazy sunrise photographers

Crazy sunrise photographers

The sun rises over Angkor Wat

The sun rises over Angkor Wat

I did not realize the hoards of people that were possible at a sight until I went to see Angkor Wat at sunrise.  We have seen crazy tourists wielding cameras at the Cristo,   Iguazú, and Taj Mahal, but this was all out war of photography. On the third day I woke in the dark and I left Carmen sleeping to begin my bicycle ride to the temple.  The 12km seemed endless as a pumped the peddles to get there before sunrise.  When I arrived, the scene was horrendous- thousands of people all trying to get the perfect shot.  I believe in “camera karma,” but I had finding trouble peaking over the ten person deep crowd.  Eventually after wading into the slimy muck I waited patiently.  I watched a Chinese man take his 200th photo and I asked if I could squeeze it.  The look I received from him and his wife was as if I was asking to go in on a threesome, cameras left aside, unfortunately they did not budge.  The colors faded from reds to pinks and surprisingly all the tour groups deserted the banks. Apparently tour groups have a schedule because I remained, now with elbow room to admire the oranges and yellows and the sun cresting over the top of the temple.  For a micro-moment I felt alone and peace with this beautiful sight. Angkor Wat is stunningly magnificent.

Sunset Angkor Wat moat

Sunset Angkor Wat moat

Pond lily

Pond lily

Some of the most beautiful and wonderful aspects of Siem Reap were not even the temples.  A sunset on a reflection pool or the lily flowers blooming in the pond at Ankor Wat were as amazing as all the beautiful temples.  I biked back to the hotel after the sunrise, but I decided to stop at a small market for breakfast.  I pointed my way to get a bowl of rice porridge and a glass of iced coffee.  We packed our bags and scheduled a regional bus.  Siem Reap was short and eventful, but something was missing from the experience- good Cambodian food.  Battambang here we come, and we’re hungry.

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