Temples and Markets

Trip Start Jul 02, 2012
Trip End Oct 04, 2012

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Flag of Cambodia  , Siem Reap,
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Today was to be our temple day but Michael had developed his first cold of the trip yesterday and woke up full of it so he and Richard chilled at the hotel while I went off to do them on our behalf!

I had a guide with me, a young Cambodian guy who had been a monk for 6 years and a guide for 4 after he left because "he wanted to get married". We travelled by tuk tuk to see the most famous temple in the area - Angkor Wat. ;This temple is the largest Hindu complex in the world and was built in the 12th century. It was later adapted to become a Buddhist as well so many of the once Hinus carvings and statues have adaptations like the addition of a lotus flower to turn them into a Buddhist piece.

When we arrived, the sky was overcast and it was a nice temperature to wander around the temple. The size and workmanship defies belief and the fact that it was built more than 900 years ago with no modern equipment is staggering. The view from the top of the temple was fantastic and I loved the East Entrance which seemed to be unfinished but actually had no steps because it was the elephant entrance so the two steps were 20 feet off the ground. It seemed that not an inch of the temple was left uncarved, and the huge pools in the middle of the temple and 6 libraries within the walls for the concubines added to the majesty of it all.

The majority of the huge blocks of sandstone had holes in them 2.5 cm in diameter and 3 cm deep, Which may have been for rods to transport them The 40 miles from where they were quarried or for pegs to help manoeuvre them. The amazing thing is that modern engineers estimate it would take 300 years to complete Angkor Wat today and yet the monument was begun soon after the king came to the throne and was finished shortly after his death, no more than 40 years.

I stood in the 'knocking arch' and thumped my chest 3 times with the echoes booming all around - my guide told me I'm assured of good luck and prosperity as a result! I also placed incense at the foot of a beautiful Buddah and had a hand plaited bracelet tied around my wrist by a little old woman who chanted a prayer as she tied it.

Bullet holes from the Khmer Rouge regime were all around the walls in terrible displays of wanton destruction and many of the statues were smashed and broken. The other sad part is that many of the supporting columns have crumbled away at the bottom after a restoration project went wrong when the Cambodians used dirty water to scrub down the stained columns which cleaned them up nicely but the water running down eroded the bottoms of the pillars. There is currently a German led conservation project running to restore and maintain the temple.

After a couple of hours exploring the temple (you'd need a whole day at least to see it properly), my guide took me past the souvenir sellers to the Buddhist Pagoda just to the side of the temple where he lived and trained for 6 years. He was still well known there so took me through the very basic kitchen facilities, the meeting place, dining platform and even in to one of the Monk's very sparse bedroom. It was a rare insight in to how they live, it was wet, muddy, rundown, there was no electricity, rainwater was collected in big open air tanks and orphaned kids and children of poverty stricken peasants all lived there too, taken in by the monastary and given a basic education. Very humblimg to say the least.

By this stage there was a steady rain and the monks lent us umbrellas as we made our way back through the grounds of Angkor Wat to the waiting tuk tuk driver. We spent the next couple of hours wandering past, through and over temple ruins in the area of Angkor Thom.

We walked past, through and over temple after temple and then along a huge terrace which included the Terrace of the Elephants and the Leper King Terrace who was confined by 'Hell', a deep moat all around him!

Back on the tuk tuk, we rode past lots more ruins, small temples, Buddhist statues and Pagodas with the monks in them.

Arriving back at the hotel, we all went down to the hotel restaurant for lunch and were once again waited on hand and foot.  The hotel is a boutique hotel with only 7 rooms and only 2 of the rooms had guests while we were there so we pretty much had the sole attention of the staff.  While it was fantastic most of the time, eating at the hotel could sometimes become a little claustrophobic with three sets of eyes watching our every move and trying to anticipate our needs.  We would put our glasses down and someone would rush in to refill them.  I would glance at Richard the wrong way and another person would interpret it as me needing something.  I guess we’re just not used to that level of service!

In the afternoon, we took a tuk tuk (the hotel had one available for us any time we needed it – it would drop us off wherever we asked and then we would call the hotel and they would send it back to get us) in to town and went to the ‘Old Market’  This is a jam packed, bustling market that goes for miles and has everything you can imagine for sal including meat, fruit, veges, clothing, toys, souvenirs, art, spices etc etc.  We had a great time wandering from stall to stall being harassed with every step and bargaining when we bought anything.  We got better as we went along.  We bought some lovely Christmas lighs at one stall – she asked for $7, we ended up agreeing on $5 and I thought I’d done quite well.  Later though we saw the same thing again and I asked how much – she said 7, I said no we paid 5, she said OK then 4 and I said how about 2 for 7 and she said OK.  Hmm….just no idea how low we should have gone.  In the end our philosophy was that we would be happy paying what we thought something was worth, even if we could probably have got it cheaper by bargaining harder.

The women in particular were the hardest to bargain with, they would plead with you, beg you to help them, stare up in to your eyes with pathetic expressions – and then laugh when you agreed a price.  It was such an act but quite fun to take part in.

The meat section of the market was fantastic – great slabs of meat sitting on display which the stallholder would chop with a great cleaver for a customer.  There were whole pigs heads, fish by the basket full and all sorts of other meat we couldn’t even identify.  Suffice to say our wallets stayed firmly closed through that part of the market!

On our way back to the hotel we saw the first near miss accident.  As one motorbike came round the corner, another was coming in the opposite direction towards it and they both slammed to a stop within inches of each other’s front tyres.   Not a look passed between them, no horn, no words, not even a gesture!  They simply turned their wheels, eased around each other and carried on.  It has been great to see how the traffic just seems to work.  Everyone drives relatively slowly – 20-30kms per hour and so there is always time to react.  Indicators are seldom used and there are no road rules except don’t hit anyone!  So if you come to an intersection (along with 20 other vehicles from all directions), you just quietly weave your way through in the direction you want to go.  If you are travelling along a narrow road and there is someone slower in front of you you beep the horn, they move over and you pass by.  Often they will use their horns to say ‘here I come’, not once to abuse someone.  Awesome!

Richard and Michael tried out the hotel pool later that afternoon and it was gorgeous.  A really deep pool and very new, so crystal clear water and lovely clean tiles.  They had lots of fun and entertained the staff who were on had as always in case we needed anything.  Every time we would leave our room, one of the staff would go in and tidy it, replace towels etc.  One day it was refreshed 4 times!

Back on the Tuk tuk in to town and we chose another restaurant, this one was called the ‘Old House’ and was lovely.  Richard has been sampling quite a few soups and the carrot soup was particularly delicious at this one.

We had been keen to try one of the ubiquitous fish spas that line the footpaths, so we walked up to one to the delighted ‘this way, this way’ calls of the staff who all wait outside for customers.  After having our feet wiped, we dipped them in to a big tank of fish who promptly swarmed all over our feet and calfs, nibbling away like crazy.  Having done lots of swimming in the ocean over the past couple of months, the inherent reaction to something nipping your feet is (for me) to screech loudly(!) and pull away quickly.  It took a huge amount of willpower to not do the same here – I did manage not to pull away although there was quite a lot of screeching in the beginning which sent the staff in to fits of giggles!

As soon as our time was up with the fish ($1 for 15 minuted plus a can of drink!), we were surrounded by girls pleading, wheedling and begging us to go inside for a foot massage.  Actually they needn’t have tried so hard as we were all keen, so in we went and were treated to a lovely (if somewhat firm) massage.  Once again the masseuses were horrified at the state of my bruised legs (they do look quite ugly!), and the way they kept glancing at Richard suggested they either didn’t understand or didn’t believe my explanation about the football game!

Each night at 10pm, the power goes out in our hotel for about 5 minutes.  From what we could understand from the explanation we were given, this is because Siem Reap changes over from Vietnam supply to Thailand supply at that time because the rates are cheaper.  A similar thing happens around 5.30 – 6am when they change back.

It was another fantastic day, we are loving the experience – they people are the friendliest we have met, the sights are amazing and being treated like royalty at the hotel doesn’t hurt either! 


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