Holiday in Cambodia

Trip Start Sep 07, 2007
Trip End Sep 23, 2007

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

I find myself still here in Siem Reap enjoying a day of rest from my extensive touring of the Angkor Archeological Reserve. After touring 4 different sites on Wednesday, most of which were the outlying temples, on Thursday I got to see the big enchilada...Angkor Wat. I must say that Angkor Wat  rivals Bryce canyon for being the most incredible thing I've ever seen, certainly the most magnificent out of things man-made. It's on par with the pyramids of Egypt, but much more ornate and with incredible detail. Every stone is carved with some sort of inscription, bas relief or sculpted detail, and it's 7 square kilometers. The amazing fact is that it only took 30 years to build. It doesn't seem like it could be done today in 30 years with modern tools, so I can only presume that hundreds of thousands Khmers must have worked around the clock until it was completed. Seriously, this site makes Mt. Rushmore look amatuer, and it's 1000 years older!

What's really funny is that these are ruins...I can only imagine the opulence when the site was populated by the royal Khmer kingdom and teaming with people and elephants being ridden through the gates. Inside the center of the temple complex is the towers that are synonymous with the site (it's even on the national flag here) and a stairwell carved into each of the four sides of the temple. When I say stairwell, I use the term very loosely. These steps protruded out no more that 5 inches, were each at least 12 inches higher than the last and the grade was probably 70 degrees rising up over 100 feet. This made for one perilous climb. Fortunately ther is one side that had a handrail installed, but it really didn't change the geometric facts. These people must have had very small feet but very high steps. If I simply walked on them like a normal step more than half my foot stuck over the edge, so the obvious strategy was sidestepping. Once on the top I was able to wonder all around the top and got to sit down for some introspection.

From there I went into he royal city of Angkor Thom where there were many more sites, several just as opulent though not as large. I won't bore you with the names and details of every site, but I should mention Ta Phrom, which I finally saw on Friday. This temple was lost in the jungle for several centuries, and as a result it has become a site where nature has fused itself with the works of man. While much of the site is in ruins with mossy blocks of sandstone sprawled about, many structures are standing still with trees growing out of the top of them and their roots creeping aroud the structures in search of water. The roots cling around doorways, wrap statues and pillars and seem to have taken over as the new kings of the realm. It is not clear to the eye whether or not the trees have actually contributed to the detruction and decay of the temple or if they are actually what's holding it up!

By the end of the third day I have to say that I'm pretty templed out. The fact is that I have been doing all of this sightseeing alone because John has been sick since the moment he got here. This has created a bump in the road of our plans, but since our plan all along was to be without a strict plan and itinerary it hasn't mattered too much. I did expect to be leaving for Hanoi now, but John is not really in any condition to fly. In fact, today was the first day he got out of the guesthouse! This afternoon our driver Thaeri convinced us that it would be a good idea to take him to the hospital. While we both feared the idea of Cambodian medicine (contingencies of evacuation to Bangkok have swirled around in my mind for the past 48 hours) it turned out that this was an interntional standard hospital that is specifically for foreigner expats and tourists and is in fact a Thai run facility. This eased our mind and using my previous job experience to inspect the needles, syringes and catheters we felt quite comfortable with the care. After running blood panels for both Malaria and Dengue fever it turns out that he very likely has the latter, albeit a milder strain. In John's words "if this is the mild strain, I'd hate to see what the violent one is like." It seems that we need a few more days of R&R for him with some mild exercise (walking around), and we'll be here until at least Monday. From here we are uncertain as to where we are off to...ideally Hanoi, but it will depend on his ability to fly or whether or not we have to find alternate forms of transportation. We are considering a river route into southern Vietnam along the Mekong, assuming that we can avoid fake government checkpoints shooting at us or river pirates. Yes, it's really the Wild, Wild East! (Insert cheesier pirated variation of a Will Smith song here.)


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