Re-live Tomb Raider at Prasat Ta Prohm. Angkor Wat Sunrise to Khmer Dancing!

May 2019

Our final full day in Cambodia could not have been any more diverse or awe inspiring! Departing the hotel at 4:45 a.m. we joined the masses sitting or standing awaiting mother nature’s artistic sunrise display above Angkor Wat.

As we exited from this location we encountered an active troop/tribe of pigtail macaque monkeys. Research varied on the number of macaque monkeys at Angkor Wat, but estimates are 60 monkeys. Although the macaque played, groomed, and interacted with each other near well used pathways it is always wise to remember that these monkeys are wild and their personal space should be respected.

Here is a collage showing a sample of our day in Cambodia.

Our Intrepid group was off exploring two more temples. Prasat Ta Prohm is the famous temple in the Jungle featured in the Tomb Raider movie. We also visited another small temple Prasat Kravan. Our final group experience in Cambodia was to attend a Apsara Khmer Cultural Dance Performance and buffet dinner.

Departing from our hotel at 4:45 a.m. we drove in darkness to Angkor Wat and carefully followed our guide along the dark path to the favorite look out location. Luckily May is “off season” because clearly this is a popular tourist attraction and hundreds of other tourists were also gathered here to wait for the mysterious display of colors and hues which would light up Angkor Wat this morning. The sky was lovely and if you were close enough to view the reflection on the water it truly was quite spectacular. 

As we returned to our bus we were entertained by the antics and activity of a tribe of pigtail macaque monkeys. The macaque monkeys had appeared near the pathway after the sunrise and were busy playing, grooming, and eating. There were several tiny babies snuggled in tight to their mothers and the parents were keeping a close eye on their babies. As they traveled from location to location the babies hung on underneath or on top of their parents.

Tourists were venturing close to the monkeys. Research uncovered that there have been previous attacks/altercations between the monkeys and humans at Angkor Wat temples. Monkeys are fascinating to observe, but in my experience wild animals (especially mothers with babies) should be treated with an element of caution and personal space. However, the interaction and love displayed between mother and baby monkeys warmed my heart.

Heading northeast our next destination was the jungle-covered temple Prasat Ta Prohm famous in the Western world as the setting for the movie Tomb Raider.

What an incredible location for a photo shoot! Enormous gnarled trees exposed roots and branches that encompassed piles of ancient bricks from remaining ruins of this 12–13 century temple. A feral orange minx cat even appeared out of an opening in the stone wall. Hues of green from various types of algae and moss thriving against the grey/rust stone left a damp, magical sentiment.

This Bayon style temple, originally founded by Khmer King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th to early 13th Century, was intended as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. The original name was Rajavihara. Conservation and restoration of this magnificent temple is a partnership project between Cambodia and the Archaeological Survey of India.

Our next temple stop Prasat Kravan was a small, less popular tourist location.

Kravan is a small 10th-century temple consisting of five reddish brick towers on a common terrace. The Hindu temple was dedicated to Vishnu. After about 10 minutes we were back on the tour bus!

This video reflects our adventures from Sunrise at Angkor Wat to Macaque monkeys and magical Ta Prohm temple!

 

We appreciated relaxing in the hotel pool between the sights of the day and the evening of Khmer culture –traditional dance and buffet. Sadly, one member of our Intrepid tour group slipped on the rain covered tiles while exiting the pool and sustained a nasty fall. She was a trooper but the injury resulted in the couple missing our final dinner together in Cambodia. Accidents happen so unexpectedly, it certainly is a reminder to buy medical insurance before you travel globally.

The rooms we received at the Dinata Angkor boutique hotel in Siem Reap ranged from satisfactory to quite lovely. Our room was quite lovely, but as we entered the room we could overhear a ferocious dog fight nearby. From our balcony we overlooked a dirt courtyard. A dog run fence was located along a white walled building. 

When the green metal gate was left open stray dogs entered the dirt courtyard harassing and threatening the dogs in the narrow fenced area. Adults would eventually chase the strays out with brooms and close the gate. We were thankful we spent very little time at our hotel.

The Apsara Khmer dancers were performing at a lovely hotel nearby. Several of us wore our Khmer scarfs to the event in honor of our tour guide Sareth and the Cambodian people.

The Apsara dance is based on a legend that Cambodia originated from the union of the hermit Kampu and the Apsara Mera. The dance dates back to the 6th and 7th centuries.

The main dancer wearing white represents Mera. The other females clad in colourful regalia are her maidens. Although the female dancers are serious and seem to show no facial emotion, ironically the dance depicts happiness and prosperity for the country.

The female dancers were beautiful and feminine. The costumes were ornate including silk, extensive jewelry and make up, and headpieces. The dances were slow moving and graceful with wrists, hands and eyes embellishing the story message. The men seemed to have the character parts–demons, monkeys. The youth dancers who performed demonstrated vitality, fun, and playfulness.

This pictorial video represents our entertaining Khmer Cultural dance and buffet experience!

 

The buffet dinner was extensive including Khmer/Cambodian food options: Amok Cambodian curry, BBQ, curry soup, mango salad, fish amok, and Khmer desserts.

What a memorable and lovely way to celebrate our last evening in Cambodia.

Tomorrow our Intrepid tour agenda includes a 10 hour bus trip exiting Cambodia and returning to Thailand!

Temple-hop at Angkor Wat!

May 2019

Travelling through Cambodia in May has its advantages and disadvantages. A huge advantage with travelling in the “off season” was more personal connection, physical space, and no line ups or massive crowds at tourist locations such as, Angkor Wat.

Peak season for Cambodia is from November to February when the weather is dry and cooler.  Our biggest challenge was the intense heat and humidity! Walking outdoors for hours exploring ruins and climbing steep staircases in 40 degree temperatures with 90% humidity required hats, hand fans, lots of water and incredible resilience. Don’t plan to pose for photos if you are concerned about looking fresh and beautiful. Saturated clothing, beet red faces, and hair stuck to our heads is the look you will be seeing today!

Angkor Wat world heritage archaeological site is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. The ruins are located on an area over 160 square kilometers. Angkor Wat means “Temple City” in Khmer. Angkor refers to the city of Cambodia and Wat is the Khmer word for temple ground. Angkor Wat is the icon on the Cambodian flag.

Angkor Wat temple is a source of fierce national pride in Cambodia. It has been the source of conflict between religions as well as neighboring countries (Vietnam and Thailand) attempting to claim its ownership.

Angkor Wat opens at 5am for visitors who want to see the sunrise from this iconic spot. The upper level (Bakan Sanctuary) is only open from 7.30am. Angkor Wat closes at 5.30pm.

An entry pass to the temples of Angkor costs US$37 for one day, US$62 for three days (which can be used over a period of 10 days) and US$72 for one week (which can be used over one month). Siem Reap is the closest main center located 7 km away. Our Intrepid tour group stayed at the Dinata Angkor Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap.

After getting our photos taken for the $62 US 3 day pass of Angkor Pass, our day’s adventure commenced.

Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer empire flourishing from 9th to 15th centuries. King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire dedicated to the god Vishnu; however, the temple was transformed into a Buddhist Wat during the 13th/14th centuries.

The sandstone blocks from which Angkor Wat was built were quarried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, more than 50km away, and floated down the Siem Reap River on rafts. Ironically, the floating walkway which safely supported 2.1 million tourists last year as they made their way toward the ancient ruins, originates from Canada. My husband and I recognized Candock immediately!

There is much speculation regarding the purpose of the enormous Wat complex–possibly a potential tomb for King Suryavarman (who was not buried here). Even the manner in which you view the temple has been interpreted as an anticlockwise direction. Angkor Wat’s unique features, include more than 3000 charming apsaras (heavenly nymphs) carved into its walls. The stairs to the upper level are immensely steep, because “reaching the kingdom of the gods was no easy task.” (Particularly in 40 degree temperature!).

Angkor Wat is an architectural fascination of intricacy and transformation. To understand the history and complexity of the structures and spiritual Hindu then Buddhist beliefs, it is wise to research prior to visiting this World Heritage site. Beyond the 12th Century origins in Khmer culture, many questions remain as you tour these temples and view evidence of historical transformations at Angkor Wat.

The bullet holes in the walls and missing Buddhas speak of uprisings, wars and periods of time when peace was not obtainable. The Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas (Preah Poan) used to house hundreds of Buddha images before the war, but many of these were removed or stolen.

After viewing majestic Angkor Wat our group gathered at the end of the Candock floating bridge where the monkeys entertained us (mostly from a healthy distance).

Sareth rekindled his energy with some fish kabobs while most of us searched for cool drinks and shade! Then we were off to tour Angkor Thom Temple and the Bayon.

As we trudged over the moat’s bridge (in the intense heat) we were greeted by statues on either side of the road–the faces of Southgate.

“On each side of the causeway are railings fashioned with 54 stone figures engaged in the performance of a famous Hindu story: the myth of the Churning of the Ocean. On the left side of the moat, 54 ‘devas’ (guardian gods) pull the head of the snake ‘Shesha’ while on the right side 54 ‘asuras’ (demon gods) pull the snake’s tail in the opposite direction.”  https://www.orientalarchitecture.com/sid/16/cambodia/angkor/angkor-thom-south-gate

Angkor Thom means ‘Great City’. The Bayon is the captivating 12th/13th century Khmer temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII.  It is adorned with stone pillars originally featuring 216 stone faces created to replicate King Jayavarman VII.

Sections of the facial rock sculptures have been altered and adjusted to reflect the face shapes and cultural representation of subsequent rulers.

After King Jayavarman VII died, several kings adapted and changed the faces in the Bayon temple. Under King Jayavarman VIII, Cambodia reverted to a Hindu country and the faces in the temple were altered. Later in the 14th and 15th centuries, Cambodia became a Theravada Buddhist country and the temple was altered once again.

There is much to observe and reflect upon while wandering through the various temples at the Angkor complex.

Late lunch was perfect timing as a tropical rain storm hit while we were under cover at a local rural marketplace. We observed shop proprietors rapidly and efficiently covering their wares with tarps and plastic sheets then plugging large holes in their roofs with temporary tarps or umbrellas. Although the children trying to sell us palm leaves to protect us from rain were adorable, we were told not to encourage them or give them money. Apparently if children beg or get successful getting money from tourists then they rarely attend school and have less chance of getting educated and improving their life choices.The laterite (red clay soil) shone with new purpose when the rains ceased and the sun exposed itself once again. The rain was refreshing and we were off to tour our third temple.

Banteay Srei, the Lady Temple, built from pink sandstone looked stunning after a fresh rainfall. This 10th Century Cambodian Temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is located near Phnom Dei 38 km from Siem Reap northeast of the main group of temples.

Banteay Srei was gorgeous! The colours and intricate carving made beautiful photo shoot opportunities. A French company has been working to stabilize the ruins and improve the condition of the artifacts. The guard monkeys and adornments of leaf motifs and female deities (devatas) on doorways and walls were spectacular.

But… our tour was not completed yet!

As we journeyed back towards Siem Reap, we encountered our 4th temple which was Prasat Pre Rup.  Pre Rup translated means “turn the body” and it’s believed that funerals took place here. Apparently, the bodies of the dead were rotated during the funeral. Some archaeologists believe that the large vat located at the base of the east stairway to the central area was used at cremations.

This architectural temple-mountain was built in the second half of the tenth century (961) by King Rajendraman II and dedicated to the Hindi god Siva.

When we arrived at Prasat Pre Rup another tour group was posing on the staircase while their guide snapped photos. We enjoyed touring around the ruins, climbing the steep staircases, and observing the canopy of the rainforest from the top of the “temple-mountain”.

However, we were given minimal information about the unique characteristics and religious significance of each archaeological site in the world famous Angkor Wat complex. In retrospect, I would strongly suggest that extensive front loading and research prior to your investigation of Angkor Wat would greatly enhance your understanding and spiritual experience here.

We returned to our hotel for a much needed quick dip in the pool and cool down prior to dinner! Although we had a “free” evening, my husband and I chose to add another experience to our Cambodia adventure by attending a “circus” located on the outskirts of the city.  Siem Reap, population 140,000, is classified as a resort town in northwestern Cambodia and is the closest location to the Angkor Wat complex.

We were naive regarding our Cambodian ‘circus’ expectations, but our tour guide organized the remorque (tuktuk) and tickets for our experience. We had heard that the Phare circus involved Cambodian street kids and orphans who were learning life skills in the ‘circus’ entertainment industry. By attending the ‘circus’ we would be financially supporting positive ways to change the lives of these children and teens. “Phare artists use theater, music, dance and circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories.” https://pharecircus.org/

What a fabulous experience! Same. Same. But Different! When we arrived at Phare Circus Ring Road, south of the Intersection, Sok San Rd, Krong Siem Reap the place was buzzing with activity! “Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is an offshoot project of Phare Ponleu Selpak (Association), which translates into “Brightness of the Arts” in English. PPS Association is a Cambodian non-profit, non-governmental association founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodian ex-refugee artists in the area of Anchanh Village, Ochar Commune, Battambang Province.” https://www.bordersofadventure.com/night-circus-siem-reap/

To get children and teens off the streets, the organization teaches these youth skills to create a safe product which is then promoted and sold by other youth and adults. The money they accumulate goes directly to support their education and career training opportunities. Meanwhile, the public is also getting educated and the youth are gaining a positive purpose and new optimism towards life possibilities.

Keep in mind that due to Khmer genocide discussed in earlier blog posts, we were informed that 54% of Cambodians are 18 years old or younger and many of these youth survive without family guidance. We were totally supportive of, and encouraged by, this social and cultural initiative.

At this location there was a shop selling crafts mostly created by youth–many utilizing recycled materials. There was lovely food and drinks being created and served by the youth. Inside the humorous and athletic entertainment was performed by the older youth who had been through the education and job skills training. I particularly enjoyed the skit on the differences in fixing a power outage–Cambodian verses Foreigners!

There were posters and information displayed requesting that tourists do NOT give money to children who are begging and to phone and report if children are seen accompanying foreigners into hotels.

In addition to an enrapturing evening of entertainment, crowds of tourists were also being educated about Cambodian social awareness and responsibility.  I would highly recommend attending the inspiring Phare circus if you have the opportunity to travel to Siem Reap.

Tomorrow we are up early to observe the sunrise above Angkor Wat, explore more fascinating temples then attend a cultural Cambodian dance performance!

B.B.Q. Rat, Frog, or Fowl? Battambang to Siem Reap.

May 2019

Our morning agenda consisted of a Soksabike half day bike adventure exploring authentic cottage industries throughout the Cambodian countryside around Battambang. While our Intrepid group and Sareth would exercise all morning cycling 22 km in over 32 degree humid heat…I would play the role of the trusty mascot who would be in charge of purses and backpacks and yell encouragements from my position in the back of a covered Tuk Tuk! Ahhh….Those darn knees of mine!

Although this event was included in our Intrepid tour, it can be booked with Soksabike for $27 US/person. This collage depicts some of our sights and experiences today in Cambodia. 

During the Soksabike tour we stopped at several private homes to observe and learn how various food products were harvested and the locations in which they were created! This video represents our morning adventure from orientation at the bicycle rental through the first two countryside visits.

Please note the variety of housing as we made our way through the lanes and back roads checking out cottage industries off the beaten path of Battambang.  70% of Cambodian population lives in rural locations. We were so appreciative to have the opportunity to learn how products were made in traditional ways by local Khmer and understand how these gentle people lived, worked and survived. 

At the first location we learned about creating rice paper. Although most of the people we visited did not seem to understand English, our tour guide explained about their lifestyle and what was involved to create their product.

We walked past the racks of drying rice paper into the production area/home. Water is collected in huge ceramic pots at the rear of the home. Inside the home the men sleep on mats beside the fire, motorcycle, and drying racks. We were informed it is safer for the women to sleep upstairs. This family unit worked from Dawn to Dusk every day creating rice paper just to make ends meet. The elderly were cared for by the family. While we were at this location, a monk (in orange robes) arrived to collect contributions of food or money. The lady offered him coins from her meager supply.

 

At the second location we learned the process involved to make dried mango and bananas. Wooden boards supported multiple quantities of bright orange mango which rested on leaves while drying in the sun. Flies were plentiful buzzing around the sweet, sticky substances. There were also long poles drying bananas. In the yard we also observed long bamboo poles with baskets on the ends resting against a fence.

Inside the home a table was set with samples of fruit for us to try. While our guide explained the process for drying fruit, the women sat on the floor in the background peeling fruit. There were also some older men baring war wounds and scars who sat silently. When we departed into the yard one of these men demonstrated the long poles with baskets which he had created to assist removing fruit from tall trees. He also demonstrated the stick marionettes he makes and was delighted when Ecaterina and I purchased one.

Resuming our tour, we noticed that children were quick to wave but adults tended to be serious and sometimes seemed uncomfortable towards us.

The second video reflects the continuation of our cycling tour and introduction to more Khmer traditional foods and drinks including bamboo sticky rice sold in long bamboo tubes and another location producing rice wine.

We have seen several rice wine distilleries during our travels though Asia, but this was by far the cleanest and most modern facility I have witnessed. As usual, no rice wine facility is complete without at least one huge poisonous snake sharing its poison in a large clear jug of rice wine!

As we passed a Wat temple three very serious young boys were exiting–possibly studying there?

Following the cycling tour we checked out of the “Classy Hotel” in Battambang and headed to Siem Reap.

Au revoir Battambang. Although it is the second largest city located in northwestern Cambodia we spent very little time here.

We missed seeing the colonial buildings (Sala Khaet), Provincial museum, Khmer temples or 11th Century pagoda. We did experience the Bamboo train, visited Lok Ta Dambong Kra Nhoung statue, and toured through cottage industries.

En route to Siem Reap we stopped at Sareth’s favorite roadside stop at O Taki. Strettarea to sample Khmer BBQ foods (well…some tried). My husband decided to sample some rat, but I preferred to sample a very chewy frog! 

Roads were packed with bicycles through Banteay Meanchey as school children clad in white shirts and navy pants/skirts exited school grounds on mass for the day.

In the collage above… the top right photo is an example of take out Khmer style! There are several BBQ rats in the white bag on the dashboard.

During the 3 + hour trip from Battambang to Siem Reap we encountered more road upgrades and construction. We were informed most of the funding for these infrastructure upgrades is coming from either China or Japan.

This final video illustrates the BBQ Khmer foods we sampled and what traveling on highways looks like in Cambodia.

Road safety does not seem to be a priority here as people ride in the backs of trucks, on the tops of loaded vehicles, or pass on the right or left! We witnessed 2 lane highways regularly being utilized as 3 lane roads as vehicles manoeuvred between the center while vehicles were occupying both lanes of the highway!

Once arriving at our destination of Siem Reap many of us took advantage of the hotel’s pool for a much needed break to relax and unwind! We are based at Dinata Boutique Hotel for the next 3 nights.

Tomorrow we explore the famous Angkor Wat!