Saturday, July 20, 2013
07.20.2013 - 07.20.2013
Our first full day in Siem Reap and today we would be travelling to Angkor Wat.
Silly me and I stayed up way too late the night before. Blogging, talking and not going to sleep till 1 am. We had to be up at 6 am, have breakfast and then we were picked up at 8:00 am to head to Angkor Wat. We had decided to chip in and hire a guide and it was money very well spent. $30 for the day and the guide was arranged for us through the hotel. As it is the low season right now, the guide, Vannak only works about 10 days out of the month. He says that when it is busy season he will work about 35 days out of the month, often doing two groups in one day.
We learned that despite a thriving tourism industry in Siem Reap, the province is one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia. Siem Reap is the home of $1,000 US a night hotels. There is poverty due to a lack of access to safe water, good healthcare, good nutrition, basic education, regular employment and road safety, especially for children. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cambodia/siem-reap/history http://wikitravel.org/en/Siem_Reap. During our time in Cambodia we found out that many Cambodians travel to Vietnam for health care as they do not trust the doctors in Cambodia.
We will be going to Angkor Wat first. Angkor means city and Wat means temple. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat. It was located a short distance from our hotel. I was surprised it was so close, as I had expected a longer drive to get there. http://natgeotv.com/ca/ancient-megastructures/videos/angkor-wat-how-was-it-built
We were dropped off by our driver and went with our guide to go to purchase our passes for the day. The cost was a reasonable $20 US and we would have our photograph taken and our photo would be on our ticket. It was explained that previously, when there was no photo, people would come to Angkor Wat and then their discarded tickets would be resold. From the ticket booth, it was a short distance to Angkor Wat and the first impression was unbelievable. I had a tough time grasping that we were really there. Six months ago I did not even know Angkor Wat existed. I felt bad that I didn't know and more so, since Cambodia was on my bucket list. Although I had seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and only saw Lara Croft Tomb Raider after returning from Cambodia, I had no idea that these were filmed at a real location and not on a cool movie set. http://www.lovethesepics.com/2012/11/laura-crofts-tomb-raider-indiana-jones-temple-of-doom-ancient-angkor-pics/
Much of the trip to Cambodia was surreal for me. I often felt like I was watching a movie as so much of what I saw was unreal. The scenery was stunning and the people amazing in their resilience. To be lucky enough to come to Angkor Wat is something I am most grateful for. We walked through the various parts of the temple while our tour guide explained many aspects of Angkor Wat to us. Climbing some of the stairs were not easy as they were steep and narrow. Some portions were awkward to climb down. One set of very steep stairs had a railing to hang on to as you ascended and descended. The magnitude and beauty of Angkor Wat is breathtaking. It is truly a wonder of the world.
At the entrance to Angkor Wat are two large snake-like stone figures which are called "Naga". The Naga is a cobra-shaped serpent with five, seven or more heads. It was explained that the serpents are always odd in number, either five, seven or more heads, never even numbered. "Nāga is a Cambodian legend where the Naga were a reptilian race of beings who possessed a large empire or kingdom in the Pacific Ocean region. The Naga King's daughter married the king of Kambuja, and gave rise to the Cambodian people. Today, Cambodians say that they are "Born from the Naga". See: Sage Kambu Swayambhuva" http://www.ask.com/wiki/Early_history_of_Cambodia?o=2801&qsrc=999.
King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat between roughly A.D. 1113 and 1150, and is about 500 acres (200 hectares) in size. To give you an idea of the size, there are approximately 1.6 acres in one square city block (measurements in the United States). So 500 acres is 312 blocks. It was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu. The temple walls were adorned by beautiful and detailed murals and stonework. We learned that it took about 35 years to build Angkor Wat and that over 300,000 people and 6,000 elephants were used and that it was an astounding short period of time based on its size. It was never fully completed. A great deal of restoration work has and is still taking place. We saw piles of blocks labelled with numbers as they were being restored. Other countries were helping with the cost and task of the restoration.
The King Jayavarman VII (reigned c.1181-1218) believed that both the Hindu and Buddisht religions could exist in harmony. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayavarman_VII. 95% of Cambodia's population follows Teravada Buddhism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theravada. Statues of him can be seen all over Cambodia. He has a very serene smile. I was told that he was a most loved King. He was responsible for liberalizing and unifying the country and it was he that built Angkor Thom among many other temples including Bayon. Bayon is the one with the faces and it is definitely my favourite.
I think that all of the statues in Angkor Wat that we saw were missing their heads and we learned that Angkor Wat was looted and many of the heads were taken and sold. The Cambodians just didn't realize the magnitude of what they were destroying.
We also learned that the king that came after Jayaarman VII, Jayavarman VIII believed in the Hindu religion and did his best to obliterate the Buddhist religion. He was responsible for the destruction of tens of thousands of Buddha statues http://www.cambodia-travel.com/khmer/angkor-era3.htm.
We took a great deal of photographs as there were so many wonderful places for unique photographs. We saw some monks and I personally had a special moment when a young monk, likely in his early twenties, walked past me and smiled. There were also a few places where incense could be lit and a donation given.
Life is not easy here in Cambodia. The current government party has been in power for 20 years. The leader was part of the Khmer Rouge. How in the world could that possibly happen? Since we have returned from our trip the current government was re-elected for another five year term on July 28, 2013.
We learned the Pol Pot was a chosen name and is a shortened version of "Political Potential" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pol_Pot. We were told that the Khmer Rouge did actually do some good but most of it was devastating to Cambodia and horrifying. Over 3 million people were killed in their reign of terror.
After going through Angkor Wat, it was now early afternoon and we had lunch at a little restaurant not too far away. After lunch we headed for Angkor Thom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Thom as well as Ta Prohm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta_Prohm. Ta Prohm is where we saw the beautiful strangler fig trees. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strangler_fig, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banyan. The tree is prominently featured in Lara Croft Tomb Raider.
We also went to see the Bayon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayon which was stunning. There are 216 giant faces. Our guide had us stand at a particular angle so that when a photo was taken it looked like we were kissing the Bayon on the lips.
We didn't actually see any monkeys in any of the temples but we did see them outside of Angkor Wat on the grounds. At this time we were already in the van and leaving Angkor Wat at the end of the day. We also saw elephants for rental for rides in this same area. Earlier we had strongly considered paying to ride elephants. Unfortunately, that didn't work out.
We got back to our hotel in Siem Reap and I slept for an hour. I didn't even shower which would have been nice, but sleep was so much more important. I wasn't feeling so well. A combination of tiredness, heat, and upset stomach. We were most lucky that it was overcast for our trip to Angkor Wat, otherwise the heat would have been tough to take. We didn't drink as much as we should have either due to the fact that bathrooms were far and few between.
We had reservations at Koulen Restaurant which had been arranged by our tour guide. http://www.koulenrestaurant.com. I had asked him to please suggest a restaurant where we could go to see Apsara dancers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apsara The show was very enjoyable. Unfortunately, the food was mostly okay to mediocre as it was a buffet, but it was really great to see the Apsara dancers.
After dinner Lily, Linda, Kailey and I headed to Swensens for ice cream. We took a Tuk Tuk back to hotel and they all went to the pool for a while. I was beat and did a little blogging, showered and fell asleep shortly after 11 pm. I needed a really good night's sleep.