Falling in love with Cambodia

Trip Start Jan 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 06, 2011

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Mitri Guesthouse

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Thursday, February 4, 2010

 Angkor Wat is described as the heart and soul of Cambodia. This is something that is hard to understand until you stand in the middle of this ancient kingdom.
True to the saying time is money, the tuk tuk business in Siem Reap is constantly trying to seal a deal for the day at the temples. After being spotted from meters away by every possible tuk tuk driver, "hello tuk tuk? Hello sir, you want to see temple? Hello my friend, tuk tuk? " we felt as though we were being hunted! Determined to find a driver, rahter than be chosen by a driver for the  we set out to brave the Tuk tuk bombardment to find a driver. This is when we met Sall. After I (Kailey) drilled him with every question, "how safe is your tuk tuk, are you a good driver? Do you have a family? Kids? we were satisfied that we had chosen a good driver who would be our companion for the next three days.

Kailey did a great job in researching to find the perfect driver. We did not want to have someone just working for us, we intended to get to know our new friend a little more over the next few days.

We started our three day exploration of the Ancient Kindgdom of Angkor with the smaller and oldest temples, the Rolous group. This group of temples dates back to the early 9th century and reveal some of the earliest Khmer architecture and art. The three temples we saw here were       Lolei, Preah Ko, and Bakong, each one growing in size and detail, building on the designs of their predecessors.

After spending the morning exploring the Rolous group Sall took us to a restaurant packed with other temple hungry tourists for lunch. After much convincing he joined us for lunch in the restaurant rather than sitting outside waiting on us with the other tuk tuk drivers. He very sweetly looked at the menue and said "oh espensive" ! After we reassured him lunch was on us he ordered a local Khmer chicken dish. We had a great lunch and were able to learn more about Sall, his family and his feelings towards the recent history of Cambodia.

The afternoon started with Preah Kan, which we both felt was the most breathtaking and inspiring temple of all the ones we visited. As we entered the perimeter of Preah Kan and slowly made our way though the ancient hallways that connected the cool and dark rooms we both began to feel the magic of the building. We silently walked through, respectfully taking our time to study the immense effort and detail that has been fused into the creation of this incredible structure. We stepped outside into the brightens of the daylight and walked along a broken stone path where there were a number of old trees that had forced their way into the foundations and walls of the temples. The strength of their roots over years of growth were able to separate large cubes of stone that were pieced together hundreds of years ago. Although they were altering the original design of the building, they seemed as though they belonged and added even more life to the spirited surrounding. Kailey and I sat in the center of the temple's opened area for quite a while just taking it all in. You could not ignore the emmense feelings of emotion and beauty as we sat in the still heat of the day.

The rest of the temples we visited were each unique and beautiful in their own way. Each a testamont to the strength and spirit of the Khmer people. Its strong walls and detailed stone work reflects the sheer tenacity of the Khmer Kingdom. Its walls, still standing strong today, like the khmer people, have overcome the brutality of storms, beating sun and horrific violence. It is no wonder that Angkor Wat is described as the heart and soul of Cambodia. It represents on so many levels the battle to surrvive in a world where so much control is lost. And it is this battle which these beautiful people have won, their smiles and laughter are proof that the human spirit is like an ancient temple, it can be battered and brusied but its beauty and magic will never die.

We finished this special day with sunset at the top of Pre Rup. The sunset over cambodia was stunning and we nabbed a spot on the corner of the temple, facing west, where we managed to block out the rest of the onlookers who fled to Pre Rup for its famous sunset views. We shared a cold beer while we watched the sun disapear over the horizon, leaving the sky streaming with color. The ending of another day left us feeling incredibly greatful to be where we are. The sun will rise tomorrow and we will once again be blessed with the wonders of Agkor Wat.

After a full day at the temples the day before we started to the day with a trip to a floating village of Chong Kneas on the Tonle Sap. The village moves depending on the season as water levels which change due to the flowof the Mekong River. Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia and is one of the worlds richest sources of fresh water fish.
We arrived by Tuk Tuk  with our trusty driver Sall and were soon shocked that the price to rent a boat to visit the Village was 20 dollars per person. We were originally told that it would cost 60.00 USD but we soon realised that they were trying to charge us for a young Cambodian child that I (Kailey) was holding. After clarifying that the kid was not ours and some barganing we paid 25.00 USD for an hour and a hakf boat trip. It turned out that the boats were owned by the governemnt and the drivers were paid 30 dollars a month. So our 25.00 went to the government run buisness while the hard worker driver made maybe a dollar or two.

Our driver had a young nephew with him who spoke English v ery well and acted as our tour guide through the Village. The village had a floating school, a floating basket ball course, a fish farm and a crocadile farm. Everyone moved around in row boats, long tail boats and some even in what looked like large mixing bowls! Everyone is paddling around trying to sell you something, whether it be fruit, cold drinks or to show you a giant SNAKE. The lake was very polluted, with rubish floating everywhere. Amazing that it is such a healthy source of fresh water fish!

One small row boat paddled by us and a young women was paddeling with some bananas to sell while her 2 year old was bailing out the boat. Another moment when you realise how good we have it. I guess our chores were not so bad after all!

Our young tour guide offered to take us to visit the school and told us we should stop at the shop and biuy some books and pencils to offer the teracher so we can visit. We both felt this was a good idea. However we were shocked to find out a pack of 20 thin notebooks cost 15.00USD and a pack of 10 pencils cost 5.00USD! Once again tourists prices! The shop apparently supports the school and buys the uniforms for the kids but they made a killing off of us! We got our overpriced books and went over to the school. The kids were having a party for Chinese New Year and watching a movie and were really not very interested in seeing us. A few posed for photos and handed out High Fives but im sure we were not the first boat of tourists to arrive baring very expensive books.

The tour was definitly worth while and very interesting to see how people lived on the lake although we ended up spending far too much money. To finish off the trip Ethan got to drive the boat back. He looked very cool and comfortable crusing up the river and the locals thought it was quite a sight!

We then headed back to the temples for the afternoon to explore some of the temples of the small circuit. Two stand outs were Bayon and Ta Prohm. Bayon is part of the fortified city of Angkor Thom and was built by Angkors greatest King, Jayavarman VII. At the cities height it had a population of one million people in the sourounding area. Bayon boasts stooped corridors, steep stairs and 54 gothic towers carved and decorated with 216 massive smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara that apparently bear a stricking resemblance of the King himself. The faces glare at you from every angle, and you can feel the power and control the King once had to run this immense kingdom. Ta Prohm is like something from a fairy tale. Enormous trees have grown over and out of the temple, their roots embraceing the walls and maing it look like as if it has been swallowed by the jungle. Their branches and leaves casting shadows and sparkling as the sunlight passes through. Trees of such magnitude  and age often make me think of the life they would have seen, as they stand tall above the world below. These magnificint trees are babies in comparison to the temple walls and while walking through the corridors and compounds of Ta Prohm you could only imagine the life the walls, stones, and hundreds of faces delicatly etched in stone would have seen when this Kingdom was at its prime.

Day 3
We woke up before the roosters call this morning and met Sall at 5am in the early morning dark to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. We arrived and people were busy trying to rent chairs and sell coffee and baguets as we navigated through the dark to find a spot to sit on the edge of the pond. The sky slowly began to glow a very faint pink hue, as the outlined silhouette of Angkor Wat began to appear. As a new day began the sun iluminated the sky, rising like a ball of fire behind the worlds largest religous building. We sat quietly together as we watched the sun rise over yet another horizon. As the sky became lighter the pond became littered with pink lillies and a perfectly clear reflection of Angkor Wat. It was a beauitful way to start the day!

With the sun starting its journey to the west we explored the long corridors, beaming pillars and intricate symbols carved into the stonewalls of this breathtaking monument. To finish a perfect morning we headed back to town for a breakfast of Vietnamese Pho (noodle soup).

That night we visited an orphanage where they were putting on a show of traditional dance and music for guests to come and visit. The tuk tuk ride a 4WD track was an adventure in itself. We were greeted with so many happy faces as we arived. The children were very happy and looked very well cared for. The local lady who was the founder of the orphanage was a real mumma and it shoed in her smiles that she was so proud of the children who were performing for us. We we seated and surved some beautuful Khmer food as we wathced the show. Before and after the performance we hung out with some of the kids and Kailey had a dance with some of the girls. It was great to see an organisation that was clearly giving such wonderful oppurtunities to children who would otherwise be living in the streets. 

This was a moving way to wrap up our time in Siem Ream and it proved to be a briliant introduction into the camboidan way of life.  

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