Many Steps, Many Temples

Trip Start Mar 18, 2011
Trip End Apr 15, 2011

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

This was an amazing day. We landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia the night before, coming from Bangkok after getting off of the ship. It was a long day in the Bangkok airport waiting for our flight. Because we got in quite late we checked into our hotel, the historic Raffles d'Angkor and had a delicious buffet dinner of Cambodian cuisine. All excellent and not scary. The hotel we are staying in was built in the 20's by the French. It also served as the headquarters of the Khmer Rouge. During those days the hotel was stripped of it's furnishings. After the Khmer Rouge was run out of town by the Vietnamese, The Raffles hotel chain bought it and restored it to it's former glory. We had a four poster bed and a high ceiling with a little veranda off of the room.

After a good night's sleep we hit the road to the various temples. We had a tour guide who provided us with an interesting version of Cambodian history. He had a lot to say about the Khmer Rouge. It is apparent that no one's life went without impact from this horrible time in Cambodian history when the Khmer Rouge killed over 3 million of it's fellow Cambodians, focusing on the intellectuals and wealthy. A very sad time for this country.

The temples themselves are impossible to describe. It is clear that the people who built them were more artists than engineers, so although they were built at the same time as the medieval cathedrals of Europe, they haven't stood up as well. I had no idea how many different temples there are. When we said we we're going to Angkor Wat, that was the last temple we visited. We saw three other large temple complexes. They estimate there are still temples in the jungle which have not been found.  They are built on many levels, we went up and down and up and down.  The steps are all different rises so you had to step carefully. Most of the steps had no handrails.  We had a number of older people on this tour who were real troupers in the heat, humidity and uneven stones. 
These complexes are huge, Angkor being the largest. They are filled with intricate carvings which, like the stained glass windows of cathedrals, tell the religious epics for people who cannot read. The temples we're originally Hindu and great Hindu epics are wonderful and rich stories. The Cambodian kings and people! eventually became Buddhists so there is a Buddhist overlay to all of the temples. Most of the people in Cambodia are Buddhists now.

So what strikes me in retrospect, about these temples? There is something extraordinarily peaceful about them, despite the crowds of people and the extraordinary heat and humidity. One of the temples we climbed into was filled  with large carved faces with very serene expressions on them.You really couldn't see these faces until you climbed up into the temple, and then they surrounded you.  Where ever you looked you saw these faces. They are much larger than I thought they would be. Many many steps, to g o up and down,many small chambers to walk through. Sadly, many of these temples were damaged during the Khmer Rouge years. I suspect many private collectors have some fantastic, stolen carved images in their private collections today as no one seems to know where this stuff is.

The peopele of Camobodia are extraordinarily friendly and I always felt safe. Everyone wanted to help. There are lots of children selling things and they are very good sales people. I have no idea if these kids don't go to school at all or what. It is the Cambodian New Year now and school is out for two weeks. We saw a number of schools, so some of these kids must be in school. They all had a great sense of humor and spoke enough English to sell things. We had fun talking with them and I now have several things I purchase for a dollar, or, ok, 3 dollars. Be carefull if you come to visit,  it soon became clear that they can smell money and the moment you take out your money to buy something, they all come around asking why you won't buy something from them also. They were good natured when you said no. I started feeling like a buyer for a department store, looking at the stuff they brought to me and saying no, no, no, yes, no, no, no. Some people were very disturbed and irritated by all of this, but I found it vey interesting. They all appeared well fed and seemed relatively content, at Angkor Wat, some appeared to be working for a stall that was owned by someone else. I don't know if it was a parent or not. 

 I was thinking about the fact that the sales kids were almost exclusively girls. This trip has made me concerned about the status of women in Asia. It's very curious. In Vietnam our tour guide told us that the population was 51% girls and 49% boys in the city but 51% boys and 49% girls in the rural areas. Although I did not ask, I wondered what they were doing with the girls in the rural areas. The tour guide didn't seem to be troubled by this at all. In the presidential palace in Saigon we saw the President's son's bedroom which was large and well furnished and his daughtere's bedroom which was small and rather sparsely furnished. Our guide told us this was because boys are more favored in Vietnamese culture.  On the other hand, almost all of the security and gate agents in the Siem Reap airport in Cambodia were women.  I could speculate some more but will stop.

So enough ruminating - let's talk about food. I now know why there are so many Asian buffets in the Twin Cities. This is apparently how they eat (or rather how they feed tourists). On this day we had a buffet breakfast that was astounding with both western and Cambodian breakfasts. Then a buffet lunch that went on and on, food in three different rooms, all delicious. 

In the evening we went to a dinner show. Now, we had a few unhappy people on our tour with this, as when we got to the restaurant the tour guide informed us that we had to take our shoes of to eat. A few of the older folks did not want to take their shoes off. When we got into the restaurant we sat a tables that were floor level with wells for our legs. It was really hard for some of the people to get down on the floor but most made it. Some of the people who didn't want to take their shoes off were accomodated on a upper level wherre they had traditional tables and chairs. The dinner was served to us on a tray that included fried spring rolls, samosas and tempura, chicken lemon grass soup, steamed fish in a banana leaf, red pork curry and fresh fruit and a dessert of cooked chunks of pumpkin with a vanilla custard sauce. We then watched traditional Cambodian dance.
Then we went back to the hotel totally exhausted.
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Susan De Vries on

Hi Andrea! I want to let you know how much I am enjoying your lravelblog. You make the places come alive with your descriptions of food, people, and the variety of buildings. Thanks for sharing your experience this way.


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