A day in the King's shoes

Trip Start Jul 12, 2013
Trip End Jul 23, 2013

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy 4th anniversary Heather!

So we were supposed to get up for sunrise at Angkor Wat with the rest of the tourists this morning, but I hit the snooze button one too many times and accidentally shut my alarm off. So I woke up at 5:45 in lieu of 4:45 and found our tour guide and driver waiting patiently at the front of the hotel..."how come you guys didn't knock on the door at 5:30?", "oh no, we couldn't. Its no problem, we just wait." (I'm thinking in my head, would you have stayed out here and waited till 7 or 8 o'clock if I hadn't woke up until then?) Oh well, the clouds are the same today as yesterday so there won't be a sunrise worth watching anyhow, back to sleep! No not really, guide will be back at 7, just enough time for us to get ready and have breakfast at the hotel...the box breakfast picnic certainly wasn't worth repeating.

Breakfast at the hotel is considerably better than the box breakfast from yesterday. Eggs your way, bacon, sausage, pancake or waffle, and a grilled tomato; along with cereal, breads, yogurt, and juice buffet table. Pick up at 7, a quick stop by the Angkor Park check-in stand to get our card punched, and onto Angkor Wat while the tourists are eating breakfast. So despite the over sleeping we're still on schedule. This temple is the most famous (its on the Cambodian flag) and thus most visited...need to time it just right to miss the crowds.

I want to diverge for a minute, we are firm believers that there are 2 types of people that visit other places for pleasure; tourists and travelers. We are the later. A tourist follows the guide book, rides in tour buses, follows the leader with the flag, takes audio tours, eats in hotel restaurants, overpays, and falls for scams and tourist traps (regularly). Travellers take the path less travelled, see the things most people miss, and experience "the real". Heather and I have a saying to each other, "quit being such a tourist!".

And another divergence:
-5:45am beautiful sunrise - check
-10 noisy Japanese Tourists in the pool - check.
They have a way of ruining my blogging time while watching sunrise over the South China Sea.

Back to Angkor Wat. Its hard to describe just how impressive this building is, it took 40,000 workers 37 years to build it, and they didn't actually finish it, there is a lot of carving that wasn't completed. And as with many other cultures, it seems their crowning achievement was among their last achievements, as they quickly disappeared after completing this building. But we've timed the morning exactly perfect, the people who went into the complex directly after sunset pass us on the way out on the causeway over the moat (the moat is a 1.5x1.3km rectangle, .3km across, and 3m deep on average...all dug by hand) and the rest of the people who went back to their hotel for breakfast after sunrise are about 10 minutes behind us (we see them entering the front gate while we are at the "god place", which is the true dead center of the island & temple complex. There used to be a statue of vishnu here, but it was long since been plundered. There are 4 huge water pools surrounding this spot (they're dry now), they represent Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water and were used for washing the god statue. Near the back of the complex, and as you progressively work your way higher up in the structure, you enter the area reserved for royalty. The lowest parts were for commoners, the next tier for 'the clergy' (god place), and the highest tier of the city was for royalty. The entrance gate to the city is also segregated into commoners (outside gates), religious and military officers (middle 2 gates), and the center gate for royalty. You have to wear conservative clothing to go to the top area so Heather slipped on a full length black skirt before we went up, but the guards asked to inspect her skirt and check the waistband (maybe they thought it was a wrap?) before we were allowed to climb the stairs; however, at the top we see a Vietnamese woman with her shoulders uncovered and midriff exposed...there are ALWAYS 2 sets of rules! (and prices). The top is a smaller replica of the 4 pools below, very detailed carving, and some great views of the Kingdom.

Out the backside of the temple = the road less travelled. Few people see the King's private entrance and drop off ledge for arriving via elephant. Fewer still leave out the back gate and see the backside of the main temple (AWESOME PICS!).

Onto Bantaey Srei. This small temple is a long way out, and is heavily visited due to its exquisite carving detail. Its among the oldest temples, yet it has far sharper carvings than almost any other due to the stone being different than most of the rest; its made of rose pink sandstone which is harder than the typical gray sandstone. Not much to say other than this place is a beautiful, little (emphasis on little!) temple with carving detail so nice it looks a year old instead of over 1000 years.

On the drive back to the hotel, our guide, Lin, asks us if we want to stop by a local village and see the sugar palm harvesting process...sure why not. So at a roadside stall we learn how they tap the sugar palms to harvest the juice overnight, then they boil the liquid away to leave just the sugar which they form into bite-size candies. They also use the wood from the sugar palm to make bowls, utensils, and small animal carvings. Lin also showed us the villagers water well, which also uses the sugar palm as the shaft, and we snuck a peak inside their house too...not much to see, a small tv, fridge, and some pallet beds on the floor.

Next we asked him to take us by the painter that I visited yesterday with them while out for lunch for beef and red ants. Heather and I have almost the exact same tastes, we both hone in on one particular painting at the second shop we visited...however, we just started looking and have 2 more days, we can always come back so we decide to not buy it that day.

The stop at the painter's workshop bares hidden fruit, there's a small, shambled sign at the edge of the road next to the shop...
English School -->
Wouldn't you know it, all the places to stop and we stop next to the hidden English school for the locals. Down a poorly maintained motorcycle dirt pathway, there's a little 15'x10' brick school house. Unfortunately no kids in school at the moment, but its nice for Heather to see.

Its only just after noon now and we're hungry; we've asked our guide to drop us off in town so we can check out the market and grab a bite to eat before going back out with him for sunset tonight. On the short drive to town the guide suggests a restaurant for lunch for us...he's been great so far, no reason not to trust him...so we take his suggestion without thinking about it. Bad choice, we've fallen for a tourist trap, but don't realize it until we're inside the restaurant and see 4 or 5 other small groups come in after us with their guides in tow. All the guides and drivers head to the back and are eating in a second side room...dang it, how'd we fall for this?!? The food turns out to be pretty decent but a little overpriced.

After finishing lunch and parting ways with our guide we hit the market, but it's a short lived visit as its stifling hot today (101 F) and MD is ready for a nap. So back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a nap.

Car pickup for sunset, we're going back to Pre Rup tonight. The clouds are less dense than they have been for the last 2 days, so maybe we'll be rewarded tonight. I scoped out a spot last night while we were here, so rather than taking the front steps all the way to the top to fight for a spot with the other people that are there for the same reason, we work our way around the back at ground level and climb the back steps 3/4 of the way to the top, to the terrace just under the top level. Off to the side is a perfect spot away from everyone else on the tier above with a perfect view of the sunset through a nice break in the jungle. I'd arranged for Lin to take MD with him back down to the front and wait for us, so he proceeds off and Heather and I enjoy 20 minutes of alone time to celebrate our wedding anniversary watching the Cambodian sunset over the jungle tree tops.

Yesterday Lin had asked us if we wanted him to arrange dinner for us at a restaurant that had a traditional Aspara dance show. We had declined yesterday, but I had asked him to arrange it for tonight, this morning. Thinking to myself that Heather would enjoy a dinner with traditional dancing on our anniversary. In my haste to reserve a spot, I didn't ask enough questions about the restaurant and just took Lin at his 'innocent' suggestion. As he drops us off at the restaurant... we're appalled...are we in Cancun? Its a mix between Golden Corral and a cheap Vegas dance production. I was thinking "romantic, candle lite, dimly lit, authentic restaurant with 2 or 3 dancers. How did I fall for 2 tourist traps in a single day?? Instead of walking out like we should have, we stayed and shared our anniversary dinner with 200 other people at a buffet. ZERO brownie points for me! The only (and I emphasize only) redeeming factor is the dancing. We watched most of the show from the floor in front of the stage with our necks careened up to see them because our table was 45 people deep. As the last notes of the final song play out, 2 Japanese women jump on stage to take their photo with the performers...ANNOYING! The photos are a part of the deal, but damn, wait until the show is done!!!
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Gerard Portelance on

Happy anniversary - Love Mom & Dad

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