|Eric and Molly's Adventure||
We have taken our first trip to Cambodia and it was a wonderful experience. We started in Siem Reap at the Hotel de la Paix ( http://www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com/en/ ) - which was beautiful. There were three different markets including a night market that we could walk around in during our time. When I think of Cambodia I just remember the horrible images of starvation that I saw growing up due to the regime of Pol Pot's khmer rouge. The extreme Maoist party seized power in 1975 after the vietnam war (where thousands of cambodians were killed since the Vietnamese communists used Cambodia as a staging point which resulted in significant bombing from the US). This party was overthrown in 1979 by the Vietnamese and by that time it had killed an estimated 2 million cambodian's in one of the works acts of genocide in history. Since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge in the early 1900's this part of Cambodia has gradually reopened to the world. Miraculously, in a nation so devastated by war, the great temple complexes have survived remarkably unscathed. Today the clearance of land mines, dense vegetation removal, restoration and conservation are all in full swing.
The big draw to this part of Cambodia is the area of temples from the Khmer era - 800 - 1200......This area is 77 sq. miles and contains about 70 temples, tombs and other ancient ruins. We started by going to the temple of Thom City which was the site of the ancient capital of the Khmer empire. We got to see the south gate, Bayon, Baphoun and the Royal palace compound, Phimeanakas, Elephant terrace, Prah Sat Surprat and Terrace of Leper King. Then when went to the temple of Angkor Wat which is the only temple which has had monks living in it since it was built - so it is the best preserved.
Angkor Wat is the single largest religious monument in the world, and literally means "the City which is a Temple." It was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, the Protector of Creation. The layout is based on a mandela or sacred design of the HIndu cosmos. A five towered temple shaped like a lotus bud and representing Mount Meru, the mythical abode of the gods and the center of the universe. Here is a link to some information about Angkor Wat if you are interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_wat
Angkor Thom means "Great City" at at one point there were over a million people living in this ancient city. There are five gates and each of them have beautiful enigmatic faces carved into the stone pillars. The Banyon is one of the city's most amazing structures and that is one of the places we visited. It represents the period's artistic brilliance and the most unique temple shaped as a pyramid. The best features are several huge calm, smiling faces that adorn its towers and the fascinating bas-reliefs on its galleries. Th Baphuon which was believed to be one of the grandest of Angkor's temples. The terrace of Elephants is over 950 ft long and has three main platforms. The terrace reviews of military and other parades. The entire terrace is elaborately decorated with almost life-size images in the sandstone elephants (video is in the our video section). Here is a link for Angkor Thom if you are interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Thom
We also went out to a remote temple called Banteay Srei (or Citadel of Women) - it has amazing carvings in the Pink Sandstone. It is the smallest of the temples that we visited but was probably the most beautiful. I think there is a close up of some of the carvings in the video section. One the other great parts of going out here was the opportunity to also drive through some other parts of Cambodia and see some villages outside of a main area of Siem Reap. Driving through the countryside you see how many of the people live in Cambodia, and it was really difficult from our perspective. They do not have electricity (or they may have a car battery that they use to have a light at night) and running water is a big issue. The people were extremely friendly and nice even with the circumstances of how they live.
The last temple we went to was Ta Prohm which is perhaps the most evocative and mysterious of the temples. It was built as a buddhist monastery and at its peak, it owned more than 3,000 villages and was maintained by 80,000 attendants, including 18 high priests and over 600 temple dancers. The wealth of the temple was listed to include more than 35 diamonds and 40,000 pearls. It has been left in its existing condition limiting restoration with very little of the dense jungle cut down. As a result of this the temple remains smothered with the roots of giant banyan trees preserving the atmosphere of the temple. It probably felt the most spiritual of all the places we went with the combination of jungle and quiet in the area. It was by far our favorite of the temples that we saw. As a side note this was where Lara Croft Tomb Raider was filmed with Angelina Jolie - and I can understand why they picked it.....
Here is a link if you are interested in more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta_Prohm
Our last big excursion was to Tonle Sap Lake to see the floating village with floating homes, schools and a forest (where the fish spawn during the wet season) and a crocodile farm. This lake is about 110 km long and 34 km wide and it can range in depth from 3 meters to 30 meters during the wet season. It also is where most of the fish are caught - they actually export fish from this lake to both Thailand and Vietnam. Due to the amount of movement of the water the homes are moved regularly so that they can stay closer to shore - the distance they cover is about 2 km from low season to high season....crazy. Of anything we saw this was one of the most difficult - they literally live on the water and are not cambodian's but Vietnamese refugees who do the fishing (there is a video in our video section).
The last night we were there our hotel hosted a Aspera Dance Troop (this is the traditional Khmer dance). It was beautiful and the children who perfromed were from Sangkheum Centre for Children. It is a local orphanage just outside the township of Siem Reap - The name means "Hope". One of the great aspects of our hotel was that they are supporting many local programs to help with the standard of living around Cambodia. They focused on schools and supporting having people learn a skill (sewing, or hospitality so they can work in a hotel). They actually had an additional 5% to everything we do and pay that as a tip to the entire staff -- it was awesome!
This has been a really long blog but I would recommend for anyone to go to this area. I would suggest that you avoid the busy season, because I think it would be overwhelming with all those people and you would not get to really experience the temples the way you can with fewer people. Hope you are all doing well, we can't wait for summer at the lake!