Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cambodia Part One - Siem Reap

We’re back (in Frankfurt) from our amazing adventure in Cambodia. As I sort through the over 1000 pictures I took, reread my travel journal entries, and compare those with the itinerary given by the travel agency, I realize that I have only just begun to process the experience mentally.

As mentioned in my last blog, this was a dream trip. Seeing Angkor Wat was on my “Bucket List” that I compiled back when the movie came out. Now officially checked off. Yay!

In order to make the most of our trip and not have to worry about figuring what, how, where to go in a country that’s very foreign to us, we decided to use a Cambodian travel agency. Erwin found a fantastic one, AboutAsia

Cambodia's problem is that while tourists flock there, the country doesn't see a lot of their money. Started by a former banker, AboutAsia is a socially responsible private Cambodian tour agency with a philanthropic arm to their company. Most tour operators are international, and only one in six visitor dollars stays in Cambodia. With AboutAsia, it's more like six in six. Every penny of profit this company makes goes into providing equipment for Cambodian schools: pens, pencils, exercise books, and uniforms for those in need. As an academic and a student we loved that idea! There is still extreme poverty there, and for anyone who has ever visited a developing country and felt uncomfortable about their comparative wealth and how much of it reaches the local community, AboutAsia has an answer. They will tailor your trip to exactly what you want and then some.  From Angkor Wat at sunrise, to picnic lunch by a floating village on Tonle Sap, to sipping G&Ts on a boat in the moat at sunset… just the right level of sightseeing and relaxation, temple tours and jungle treks, basic village tours and boutique hotels with pools…all with a private guide and driver.

So that’s the back-ground…
now on with just a few highlights of our trip, starting with Siem Reap.

We landed at Siem Reap International Airport at about 1:30 in the morning. A wall of warmth, humidity and the smell of wood smoke mixed with the intoxicating scent of Jasmine smacked into us as we stepped out of the plane and started walking towards the terminal. We were met by Yut who would be our guide for the next four days. 

He was amazing! Very knowledgeable and friendly, a genuinely kind and gentle person, but we soon discovered that Cambodians just are that way. I also loved that when he wasn't being a guide we would just chat about life and share stories. If you're ever in need of a guide in Cambodia he can be contacted directly here. We highly recommend him.

One of my favorite sights was Ta Prohm temple. It became famous when Angelina Jolie was running around as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movie. The fascinating thing about Ta Prohm is all the ginormous cotton-silk trees that seem to have taken over the entire temple with roots and branches poking their way through cracks and crevices everywhere.  It’s as if the jungle is reclaiming the grounds that humans have stolen from it.

It is amazing to think that we were walking on paths and among ruins laid down over 1000 years ago, – just clearing this area to build the temples and moats must have been a “monumental” task.

Walking around the temples is a bit eerie at times – wherever you go, whatever you see there is always a huge stone face looking down at you – with a strange smile.

The intricate stone carvings and monuments that have survived are a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of these ancient people.

One very early morning we, along with Yut, hopped in a tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) and headed off for sunrise at Angkor Wat. I always thought that Angkor Wat was just one temple but, the Angkor temples are a vast temple complex and Angkor Wat is just one of many in the 400 sq. km. including forested area, of Angkor Archaeological Park. The park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to looting, environmental issues, and unsustainable tourism. The temple complex was used by the Khmer people around 600 AD.

We saw so many temples that the names and narratives have, for the most part, all blurred into one (sorry Yut). Thank goodness for Wikipedia and google to help me remember what I saw where.

Erwin and I both took part in a blessing ceremony. We're not Buddhist or Hindus but I feel that a blessing given and accepted with an open heart can only be a good thing. I hope these ladies believed in blessing us for the right reasons and not just for the money.

While in Angkor Park we stopped to take some pics of the monkeys that roam freely there. We were told NOT to feed them or get too close...kinda like the bears in Jasper, Alberta.

On a super hot and humid day (into the 40s) there’s no better way to refresh than by taking a coconut break. Just chop the top of a fresh coconut and drop in a straw. Natures Gatorade.

A boat trip through a stilted village, stilted to protect them from floods during the rainy season.

…and a floating village.

Although many of the touristy areas are officially cleared of mines…there is still great risk if you wander off the designated areas. Some estimates put the numbers at four to six million unexploded ordinances in the country.

We toured a rural village that has some of the poorest of the poor. Here we learned about an NGO called HUSK. They work to provide clean drinking water and have found an ingenious way to recycle all those water bottles. The bottles are collected from hotels etc. stuffed with bits of garbage...

...and then used as building material.

In this case a school.

Water buffalo are hugely important to farming in Cambodia; they haul produce, plough rice fields, and provide transportation.

The central market is nearly impossible to describe and pictures can only begin to show. It's truly a multi-sensory place.

I've heard of these I've seen it. Way to timid to try it for myself though.

All too soon our 5 nights in Siem Reap were up  and it was time for the next leg of our trip, Phom Penh. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Your photos are fantastic! What an adventure! I especially like the temple ones. Wow!

    Here's to many more beautiful and eye-opening adventures.

    You look fantastic by the way!