Honeymoon - Cambodia

Check out photos from our time in Siem Reap here! This was probably our favorite place out of the four countries we visited. The food was incredible and there were some magnificent sites to see.

We stayed at Raffles Hotel which was really nice. It is one of the few hotels that dates back to before the war, it was built in the 1930's and has plenty of charm. They still have the original cage elevator from when the hotel was first built, which was fun.

When we first walked in, we were greeted and brought to a sitting area for check-in, where they offered us cold towels and tasty juices made from mixes of local fruit. It definitely beats the usual experience of standing up at a counter that you get at most hotels.

When we went to our room, we were greeted by two kissing swans on the bed made out of towels, and between them they held a red rose. In front of them was a heart made of rose petals. How nice! There was also a bottle of champagne and some fruit.

We arrived a bit late in the afternoon to do anything, so we just chilled out at the hotel for a bit. At 7:00 they were offering a complimentary cocktail tasting, so we decided to check that out. They served samples of four tasty cocktails, but I only remember the name of one, Singapore Sling, which was quite good.

After that, we decided to splurge a bit and check out the fancy restaurant in the hotel, Restaurant Le Grand, where they served authentic Khmer cuisine. It was quite the fine-dining experience with white linens, a single tall candle on each table, and very attentive wait-staff. Not to mention, the food was unbelievable! I don't remember exactly what I got, but it was very good, as was Kellian's dish (which I think involved pumpkin). It was a bit pricey for Cambodia, but even pricey food there is pretty reasonable compared to what you would pay here for the same thing.

After a wonderful meal, we headed off to bed since we were tired from travelling and it was getting late. The next morning, we were quite pleased to find that the breakfast was also quite good. It was a buffet, but it was a good one! They had many things to choose from, including a bunch of different juices, six different types of honey, fruit, and pancakes, waffles, and eggs cooked to order.

The fellow who drove us from the airport to the hotel, Lin, was really nice, and offered to drive us around if we'd like and even arrange a tour guide if we wanted. This ended up being about half the price of going through the hotel, so we decided to give it a shot and met up with them after breakfast.

It turns out that we really lucked out on the tour guide Lin was able to find for us. His name is Soeun and he was the first registered tour guide in Siem Reap! He holds a fairly high position in the ministry of tourism, but gives tours on the side for some extra money. Lucky for us! He was extremely knowledgeable about all the sites we saw, spoke English well, and was really nice. Here are their business cards if you're ever in Cambodia!

The first spot we went was Angkor Wat, a massive temple complex near Siem Reap. If you only see one temple, this is the one to see. The whole thing is surrounded by a gigantic moat, then a huge wall. The wall encloses a 203 acre area and in the center is the temple, which is huge. Check out this aerial photo from Wikipedia for a sense of the scale.

So it is huge, but the really amazing thing is that much of it is covered in these incredible carvings. The outer wall is covered in thousands of carvings of dancing women called Apsaras. On the actual temple walls, there are elaborate carvings depicting various battles both real and from Hindu mythology.

Soeun informed us that the Cambodian people tend to think that they are Buddhist, but what they actually practice is more similar to Hinduism with Buddha added in. The religion switched back and forth so many times during the reigns of various kings that it all got a bit mixed up.

We took quite a while wandering around Angkor Wat, since it is so large. It was a hot day and we were pretty wiped out, so we went to grab lunch. Soeun recommended a place called Viroth that was really good. Kellian had one of the best curries she had ever eaten, and I had a traditional Khmer dish called Amok Fish which was very tasty. It was a very moist white fish stewed in a magnificently spiced coconut base. It was so good, we're working on finding a restaurant around Boston that serves something similar. No luck yet!

After lunch, we went back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. This was the hottest part of the day, so it seemed like a good idea just to wait it out a bit before venturing to the next temple. After some rest, we headed to Bayon, a much smaller but nicely decorated temple.

The most striking characteristic is the multitude of towers jutting out of the temple toward the sky. Each has four faces carved on it facing each of the cardinal directions. Also of note are the bas-relief carvings which depict scenes from everyday life during the time that the temple was constructed.

We saw a few other things (check out the photos for details), then headed back to the hotel. For dinner, we went to a place that had a buffet and a traditional Cambodian dancing demonstration. Some of the dancing was similar to what we had seen in Bali, female dancers gesturing slowly and moving through unusual poses. Other dances we hadn't seen before, like one with men and women dancing around with old tools used for fishing. There was some kind of love story going on too. I liked that the music was a bit more upbeat at least.

The next day, we were in for some more incredible sights with Lin and Soeun. First we stopped at Ta Prohm, a temple that has been overtaken by trees. About 500 years ago, birds dropped seeds on the temple and the seeds grew into massive trees. The roots cover the temple, and have caused quite a bit of damage. Unfortunate, but it looks very cool. It was featured in the movie Tomb Raider!

I found it pretty remarkable that the temple could support the weight of such big trees. I guess a lot of the weight is taken by the roots, but still it is impressive! Soeun told us that unfortunately the trees are not of much use, the wood is no good for carving or building, and doesn't even burn well!

The last temple we saw is called Banteay Srey. It is actually quite small compared to the other temples we saw, but it has remarkably ornate and well-preserved carvings. They were carved out of red sandstone, which lends itself well to more ornate carvings. You can see the depth and detail in the photo, it was really quite remarkable. There were many carvings like this all around the temple.

By this point, we were getting a bit overloaded with temples, so we decided to check out this school where they train people in traditional skills such as painting, carving, and silver work. They had a nice little tour where we got to see folks working at the different crafts. I particularly enjoyed seeing the stone carving after seeing all of the carvings on the temples that have survived for hundreds of years. Here's a photo of a fellow carving a wooden Buddha head.

Next, we decided to check out a nearby floating village that Kellian had read about. It turns out, this entire town lives on houseboats on the river. Depending on the height of the river, which varies dramatically, they can move the entire village to a different location. They mainly live by selling the fish they catch in a huge lake that is nearby.

We took a boat tour of the village, and it was quite interesting to see the way these people lived. Generally, they are quite poor, so some of the house boats are in pretty rough shape. In this photo, it looks like the house is probably just on stilts, but it is actually floating on the water.

They had floating schools, a floating water purification system donated by the USA, and even a floating volley ball court. It was very interesting seeing people living in such an situation.

After that, we went back for dinner and a shadow puppet show. Rather than waste our dinner on another potentially mediocre meal that accompanied the show, we headed to a place the hotel recommended, I think it was called Khmer Kitchen. Indeed, it was quite good!

Afterwards, the shadow puppet show was pretty painful. There was a lot of extended dialogue in Cambodian, so it was pretty dull if you couldn't understand what they were saying. They gave us handouts that summarized the plot, but without line-by-line dialogue it was really hard to follow. Also, the voices were pretty annoying and the actual puppetry wasn't all that interesting. Oh well!

The next day, we would head to Laos! We went to the airport and waited for a while, but our flight got delayed. Eventually, they told us it was cancelled due to bad weather! The next flight would not be until tomorrow. This was quite unfortunate since we only had one full day in Laos, so delaying our arrival by a day would mean that we fly in one day around noon, and leave the next day around noon, so it is hardly worth the trip.

The airline was kind enough to put us up at a hotel and feed us, but we were still feeling like going to Laos may not be the best plan. Once we got on the hotel's wireless, we found out that there was a flight to Bangkok that we could still make, if we hurried. However, we needed to go to the ticketing office to get a refund on our flight from Laos to Bangkok first, and buy our new tickets. It was going to be pretty tight, since our flight left in about 2 hours!

Fortunately, our trusty driver Lin was available when we called him and he was able to take us to the Bangkok Air ticket office in Siem Reap. Good thing we got there when we did, since they were about 5 minutes from closing! They were able to refund our Laos to Bangkok tickets, but they had shut down the credit card machine so we had to pay for our Siem Reap to Bangkok tickets in cash! Fortunately there was an ATM a few doors down, but it made me a bit nervous handing over that much cash.

In the end, it worked out fine: we got to our flight in time and ended up with two extra full days in Bangkok rather than two half days in Laos, which seemed like a much better plan. Stay tuned for details of the last leg of our trip!

1 comment:

Butlerbythesea said...

Wow i like the place and picture posted by you thanks for posting