Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fall Break 2012 (Siem Reap #1)

In the Spring of 2011, I was standing in line at the grocery store when this caught my eye:

Now, any normal person would have thought, "Hmmm...the journey of relocating 10,000 miles to the other side of the globe is certain to be THE Journey of a Lifetime..."  But, since normal people don't relocate 10,000 miles to the other side of the globe, that's not the thought that crossed my mind.  Instead, I quickly deduced that I might have 40 good travel years left, and I'd better get busy if I was going to see even a fraction of these "must-see destinations".   Into the cart it went. 

I had been on a few of these journeys already, but the pages had incredible photos of exotic places that one only reads about in National Geographic.  Places like Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Of course, I knew about Angkor Wat, but not in a "I might go there one day" way.   When I flipped past Angkor Wat, a picture of Southeast Asia flashed into my brain and I reasoned that it must be relatively close to Singapore.  There was only one problem:  proximity in miles doesn't exactly guarantee that it's a good idea to put Angkor Wat on my Bucket List.  It is in Cambodia, after all.  Is it safe?  Do people actually go there?

Shortly after our move, I had the answers to those questions.  Yes, it's safe, and Yes, people go often.  Let the trip planning begin!

AK had a week off of school for Fall Break in Mid-October, and we debated what to do.  Finally, with only two weeks left before the break, we decided to visit Siem Reap.  Everyone who heard of our plans assured us that we'd have a great time. 

We arranged to have a guide and a driver for the duration of our time there.  While it's not necessary to have either of those, we have found it to be very helpful when travelling with kids.  Our guide, Vudthy (pronounced Wooty) picked us up at the airport and we were off.  Siem Reap isn't a large town, and our hotel was less than ten minutes from the airport. 

After a short stop to drop off luggage at our hotel, Vudthy took us to Artisans D'Angkor to see local artisans creating traditional crafts.  Some of the artisans have disabilities, and others are from local communities that depend on these trades for survival.  Vudthy particularly wanted us to focus on the stone carvers so we would have an appreciation for how much time and effort went into the temples we would visit. 

There are silk painters, lacquer painters, metal workers, stone carvers, and wood carvers.  Watching them work was fascinating.


All of the rooms were covered in detailed drawings indicating what to carve or paint.  It's a little sad to watch so much time, energy, and talent go into Buddha after Buddha, but the process was intriguing.

The next morning, we were up bright and early, thanks to the one hour time change.  Everyone says that they'll sleep in when they're teenagers, and I hope these two aren't the exception.  EARLY risers they are!  We were off to see Angkor Wat, the main reason folks visit Siem Reap.

Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century and is the largest Hindu temple complex in the world.  And, it's huge; the complex is a rectangle measuring over a kilometer on one side and 8/10 of a kilometer on the other side.  It's surrounded by a moat, and aerial shots are incredible.  Obviously, this isn't my photo, but you can take a ultralight flight over the temple complex for just a few dollars.  Maybe next time.

Our guide filled us with stories explaining what all of the carved murals depicted, but since my knowledge of Hindu gods is minimal, I didn't retain much of it.  Still, we all enjoyed walking and looking.  Not only at the temple, since the people watching was spectacular, too.

This couple was having wedding photos taken.  I couldn't help but join in.

Notice the two monks in saffron and rust robes crossing the bridge?

These ladies were part of a tour group.  I loved their umbrellas, but I didn't love how they owned the entire bridge and didn't budge.

These holes are from bullets fired during the Civil War in the 1970's.  A little more on that later . For now, just imagine having such little regard for a place like Angkor Wat that you'd cause permanent damage by looting its treasures and shooting up its walls?

This one's for you, Alicia.  It's the LIBRARY!

Apsara dancers

Did I really pay $2 to have this picture taken?  Absolutely.

As I was taking this picture, I realized someone was about to photobomb my shot...

...and there she is.   This was taken just after she shoved her camera at me and demanded that I take her picture with her friend and my kid.  The friend refused to be in my photo, though.  Go figure.

 The climb to the top didn't look terrible, but you have to be 12 to go up.  So, we didn't. 


These workers are clearing the various weeds and roots from the buildings to protect them from further damage caused by plants . Vudthy says they probably earn about $50 a month. 

 We really didn't spend a lot of time at Angkor Wat, but it was worth the trip.  It was hot, and the little people can only handle so much.  Besides, the big people can handle only slightly more.  Since we started our tour before 8 am, so we were done early.   We moved on to a nearby temple that isn't visited often because it isn't nearly as spectacular as some of the others.

Kravan Temple is very near to Angkor Wat, and it's completely different.  It was built in the 10th century (only triple digit years - OLD!)  of reddish bricks. 

They're renovating, and the scaffolding went right over their shrine. 

In several locations, we saw signs like this one announcing that the renovations were a joint effort between the Cambodian government and those of other nations.  In this case, it was Germany.  Our guide explained that the roads in the area were completely redone by UNESCO recently, and when we later experienced an "unimproved" road, we were very thankful that the rest of the world considers Siem Reap worth protecting, too. 

Everywhere we went, we were accosted and nearly attacked by folks selling t-shirts, books, scarves, postcards, and other wares. We normally just ignored them and kept walking, especially the children. I, of course, wanted to buy from all of the kids just so I could take their photos and give them a dollar, but I didn't take even one photo. Most legitimate aid organizations ask that the kids be ignored in hopes that they don't earn enough money and they'll go to school.

These boys were playing under the shade of a tree while their mom was making bird mobiles to sell. She was quietly working, and the birds definitely caught our eyes.   
 We bought a small one after watching her work.  We don't bring home a lot of souvenirs (unless it's a textile that I cannot resist), but it was hard not to buy from this mom.  Although I certainly have no place to put a bird mobile in our tiny Singapore home, I can just imagine one hanging on the porch of our Little Switzerland mountain cabin.  The porch where you can sit and watch the stars come out and see the car lights twinkling across the valley on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The porch that doesn't exist because there isn't a cabin to attach it to.  Yet.  One day.  I just hope the birds last long enough to see the cabin (honestly,  I hope I  live long enough to see the cabin...).

After the temples, we visited the Silk Worm Farm, which deserves a post all of its own. Stay tuned...


1 comment:

kathryn patton said...

I love reading about your adventures and seeing (and saving) pictures of you all in these places. Can't wait to hear more!