Cambodia | part 2

Here I am again, staying inside the house, in Athens, because of the pandemic measures everywhere… I’m having a great time actually because I love stay at home! It’s also a great opportunity to write about the rest of my trip to Cambodia, and feel like travelling again, just a little bit.

This post is multi themed, always in Siem Reap of Cambodia but with a bit of everything. Temples and monuments, a special floating village and the city of Siem Reap where we were staying.

Don’t forget to click on the images to see some add infos and see them in bigger size!

Starting with the culture section and the amazing Banteay Srei. Maybe you can see a difference from the previous temples at Angkor and there’s a reason for that. It was built by a woman and that’s why it’s more delicate. Banteay Srei, that actually means the “Citadel of the Women”, is a 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, built in pink sandstone. It is one of the smallest sites at Angkor, with everything in smaller dimensions, but what it lacks in size it makes up in beauty and that’s why they call it the jewel of Khmer art.

Leaving the monument area, we met a group of musicians quite interesting! In Cambodia the victims of land mines can have a music band and play in public places in order to make a living. They were actually very good, playing traditional music, I liked it a lot! However, the most strange performance was by an old man playing a leaf!!! Right, a tree leaf…I don’t know how but yes! The sound was like a harmonica but sharper, if you can imagine.
You can check it in this youtube video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpNzMLCHjno

Another temple complex we visited was the Pre Rup, a traditional royal crematorium. Pre Rup means ‘Turning the Body’ and refers to a traditional method of cremation in which a corpse’s outline is traced in the cinders. I remember feeling very inspired there, but on the other hand the Cambodian antibiotics (that I had taken the previous days) had just kicked in and I was feeling very good!

It was really interesting, to see how everything was taking under thought, and how everything was symbolizing something. The use of water, air and fire all together at the end of a life. Also, the site is among the jungle, so the view you have from above is just wow…

Afterwards, we took a very different visit by boat to the floating village of Kompomg Phluk, on the outskirts of Siem Reap where the locals live on houseboats. Believe me if I tell you that you can’t catch how impressive it was, just from the photos! It’s totally amazing how these people have built a huge community, a real town, in the water.

Siem Reap is home to multiple floating villages but I think this one was the larger or the most decent one. It’s impressive how people have adapted to their surroundings and live, work, go to school, to church or other public building, giving you a true appreciation for human persistence.

I think, whoever lives there doesn’t have to pay taxes or something like that, so a lot of people make that choice. So, it’s most about poor families, living in strange conditions – for me at least, but they’ve formed a perfectly working system for everyday life.
I remember visiting a restaurant to see the captured animals they had for clients, among them crocodiles! Some snakes too, and a lot of catfishes that we couldn’t see very well. There was also the home of the family who run the restaurant, who lived also there, watching tv as we passed by them – I was impressed that they weren’t bother at all by us. I remember they had also a little dog living with them which I found it very strange for a pet in a floating house!

People there live from fishing and all the family helps at it. It’s close to the huge lake Tonle Sap after all. Houses and buildings rest on tall, thin stilts that keep the occupants dry during the wet season, with giant ladders to reach the lower levels during the dry season.
It was funny to see children take their little boat to go to school or go play I guess; it was like a normal neighborhood but in boats and poles!

And now it’s time to finish this post about our activities in Siem Reap with the city of Siem Reap itself! Well, only by night because that was when we had the time to explore it. I must say that even if it was quite a touristic city I didn’t felt it in a bad way. It was very vivid, colorful and peaceful place where you could explore things depending your level of feeling comfortable!
The city has colonial and Chinese-style architecture, at least around the Old Market where we were staying. It’s a popular tourist destination so there are a lot of hotels, restaurants and businesses about this kind of industry. The Old Town, the famous Pub Street and Night Market are all together, by a large river, creating a very nice area for strolling around.

I loved the cocktail trucks in the streets, with neon lights and loud music, 5-6 stools to sit for a while and have a drink! Unfortunately, we saw them at the end of our walk, where we were completely exhausted (I was also with antibiotics so no alcohol…) and didn’t try them.
We did try though the famous fried ice-cream! It’s everywhere and you can’t miss it even if you want. So many flavors, but I loved the local mangos so much that everything I tried was mango.

We had dinner at two restaurants, the first one we founded by chance, just by looking around and we didn’t regret it at all! It had traditional Khmer cuisine, soups, curry, rice and fish of course, but in a unique flavor, very tasty. However, I bought a small package with a mix for Khmer’s soup, to cook it at home and it was awful!! I don’t know if it was me or the mix of spices…but it took me days to forget the smell of it in my kitchen!

The second one I found it at the internet and it was so good that I almost didn’t take any photos, damn it! Haven is a special place, it’s a training restaurant that creates new life prospects for underprivileged young adults. By teaching them quality work and life skills they help them gain self-esteem, prepare them for employment and build safe and independent futures. So, by having your meal at Haven you support their program, how cool is that? And the place was very pretty too, with a magical yard, and the food was great! It was a very nice experience eating in Siem Reap after all!

And here our trip to Siem Reap comes to an end, escalating from the quietest (Luang Prabang, Laos) to the most bustling places as we continue. Siem Reap was one of my most loved parts of our whole trip!

Stay tuned for the 3rd part of Cambodia days, with Phnom Penh at the next post!

You can check the previous post about Cambodia here
or the posts about Laos here and here!

Cambodia | Angkor

Angkor Wat, the majestic sunrise

Here I am again with the 2nd part of our trip to Indochine, the amazing country of Cambodia!! Well, the first part of it, as we stayed there 4 whole days. A lot of parts I know… but I wanted to divide the posts so that it won’t be tiring to follow the story.

So, as I told you before, it was a very intensive trip, a lot of places to see compressed in so little time. We had a lot of flights and we weren’t sleeping enough, at least at the beggining of the excursion…so my first day at Cambodia I got sick! You can’t imagine my frustrution, I wanted so much to see everything but had no power to follow and with all that heat and humidity got me crazy. I ended up taking some cambodian medication (whaat) which thankfully got me better!

In Cambodia we stayed for 3 days at Siem Reap and one day at Phnom Penh. Siem Reap is a small city near the famous archeological sites of Angkor and the ancient city of Angkor Thom, so it’s very popular. It was really cute and very vivid, quite touristic in some parts but not in a bad way. It had a lot of local character and was very vivid.

Our first morning (well, before morning actually…) in the country was surreal!! We woke up very early to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beauty of it was beyond words… Watching the sun rising in such a beautiful and old monument was sacramental.

Angkor is the old town of the kingdom of the Khmer’s dynasty. It’s a large area with a lot of beautiful temples, the most important of them is Angkor Wat. It’s a real architectural wonder and we were very lucky to start one day of our lives there.
We strolled around the courtyard, admiring everything around us, until we went inside the ancient complex to learn its history. We were very lucky to have a good guide that told us so many interesting thing, of which I remember almost nothing to convey to you!

Angkor Wat actually, this ancient city, with its magnificent monuments and the most clever irrigation system in the rice fields, remained “lost” for centuries until a French explorer discovered it in the jungle at 1860.
It’s the largest religious monument in the world and was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. It was built as a representation of Mount Meru, the mythical sacred center of Hinduism and was dedicated to the god Vishnu, as a Hindu temple at first and gradually trandformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of 12th century.

The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become such a symbol of Cambodia that it appears on its national flag. At the higher level of the complex, where only the priests and the king were allowed to enter, there stand four corner towers and a temple at the centre of them 65m height above the ground. Inside, it is fully decorated with many figures of their mythology and Buddha illustrations. What impressed me a lot was the system of shading at the window openings, with these stone crafted columns that left the sun slipping through them and enlighten different parts of the interior place, creating a magical atmosphere with golden lines.

When we went out again at the courtyard, the sun was dominant already and we were walking to the exit, trying to adjust all this remarkably beauty…until we met the monkeys!! It was the back to earth element that connected us again with the terrestrial. They were so cute and clever!! They were trying all the time to get food from tourists, grabing their sodas from their hands or sneaking inside their stuff! You should be very careful not to carry food or drinks out in the open, because you were a lost cause…

Our next stop was the great Bayon temple! It stands in the exact centre of the city of Angkor Thom. Very different this one, with all these huge, stone heads of Buddha at the top of the towers, with peaceful and smiling faces. On the bridge outside the complex there is on your left a series of smiling Buddhas and on your right a series of sad Buddhas, representing life I suppose.
Some say that the Khmer empire was divided into 54 provinces at the time of Bayon’s construction, that’s the reason for the 54 pairs of all-seeing eyes watchin the kingdom.

Unfortunately for me, I was feeling so sick when visiting Bayon that I didn’t have the strengh to go inside the temple and see more of it. Instead, I sat on a rock and tried to rest as the others continued the tour.
Eventually, I slept for real, there, sitting on a rock of ruins that was actually a door and some tourists walked over me to pass through and at some point I think some monkeys too!!

The third surreal monument we visited was Ta Prohm. Or the so-called ”Tomb Raider temple”! Here was the place where all the world fell in love with Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in that movie. Or the place where Mowgli from the Jungle Book was living!

What makes Ta Prohm so exquisite, is its strangler figs’ silvery roots completely taking over some of the breathtaking temples. It’s a heavily damaged temple complex, where ancient trees grow through the masonry, sometimes the stones and trees are so intertwined that they would not withstand any separation.
You may wonder how this has happened. That I can tell you because I asked the same question our guide: Birds did it! They were leaving seeds when they’re standing on the stones and these seeds (of course with the help of humidity) grew up and became trees!

Undoubtedly the most atmospheric ruin at Angkor. Its appeal lies in the fact that, unlike the other monuments of Angkor, it has been swallowed by the jungle, and looks very much the way most of the monuments of Angkor appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon them.

Built from 1186 and originally known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King), Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. It is one of the few temples in the Angkor region where an inscription provides information about the temple’s dependents and inhabitants. Almost 80,000 people were required to maintain or attend at the temple, among them more than 2700 officials and 615 dancers.

If Angkor Wat is testimony to the genius of the ancient Khmers, Ta Prohm reminds us equally of the awesome fertility and power of the jungle. It’s amazing afterall what nature and man created together, a whole new piece of art!

Stay tuned for the next posts about our trip to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh!

Check out the previous posts about Laos here and here.