Hopefully over the next two years I'll be sharing some amazing stories and photos, from what I know is going to be a life-changing experience.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Siem Reap AKA SO glad I went to Cambodia

Siem Reap
Upon entering Siem Reap's beautiful airport I could immediately tell I was going to like it here. Sarah was smart and had an e-visa, however I didn't manage to get a passport-appropriate photo in digital format so I decided to just get my visa upon arrival. This was an unknowingly brilliant plan. The line moved very quickly and I was able to use another one of the printed photos I had and I got a very cool Kingdom of Cambodia visa in my passport. Sarah, the much more prepared on, got only a small stamp saying "evisa" with the inspector's initial. Unfair, I know ;) at this time of year Cambodia is a dry jungle. It was really strange to see tropical forests while being covered in red dust. I found the people to be just as nice as those in Vietnam but definitely less pushy when trying to sell me something than in Saigon. We spent our first night wandering, eating and checking out the night markets and getting cheap massages. I'm starting to sense a pattern here...
We then began a three day tour of the Angkor temples. We decided to hire a tuc tuc driver for all three days. A friend suggested bicycling for part of the tour but it was nice to have someone with us who knew his way around and couple help us choose temples to visit as there was no way we could see all of them. Also, some temples are entered on one side and exited on the other and I can't imagine either bringing a bike with us or having to go back for it. And the breeze was a nice break in-between climbing temples in the sun. When we arrived and were picking up our day passes we ran into a couple of girls from Australia that we had met in Vietnam, and who we ended up having dinner with for all 3 evenings.
The temples were amazing and in various states of ruin. Over the three days we must have seen at least 20 temples (I'd have to back to a map for names). Overall my favorite was Ta Prohm, which is quite ruined and has been reclaimed by the jungle. The trees growing around, through and over the temple were spectacular. I also loved Batneay Srei which is quite a ways north of the main temple areas. It had quite a good tourist info pavilion that was really interesting. However, what made this temple really special was the amount of detail and depth of the carvings, even after hundreds of years. I also liked it's more remote location out in the jungle, without another temple in sight. All of the temples gave me a sense of peace and tranquility. I wonder what will be left standing of our civilization a thousand years from now? The one thing that grated against the tranquility were all of the women and children pestering me to buy something. I had a young girl tell me she was going to cry if I didn't buy postcards from her (I told her that was sad) and experienced 10 women trying to get me to buy water from their cooler even though they all shared a covered seating area. It was just a bit much to take at times, which is what I felt like almost everywhere we went in Saigon.
On our third day we ventured away from the temples to visit the landmine museum that was along the road back from Banteay Srei. This was really interesting and appalling like the War Remnants museum in Saigon. However, the museum also shares its funds and location with a school for children who are victims of landmines or orphans. That is the kind of place I would like to work for part of my life, where you are truly changing lives. The story of the guy who founded the museum was also amazing and inspirational (from child soldier to clearing mines with his bare hands).
Another random thing I did was go for a fish massage with Sarah and the Aussie gals. Which pretty much entails paying a dollar to stick your feet into a tank of small perch and allowing them to nibble your dead skin for 20 minutes. This felt as strange as it sounds. But my feet did come out smoother (if not evenly so).
In the market I also noticed a lot of dresses today I saw in the silk market in Beijing and heard a LOT of mandarin between customers and store keepers...it kind of made me wonder where some of the clothes come from. Either way, they were much cheaper in Siem Reap than Beijing!
I think this is one of those placed that everyone should go to sometime during their life. I would probably go again but armed with more pre-reading and possibly a guide.

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