160921 Siem Reap

Today is ‘temple day’. Siem Reap is the city you must come through to visit the many temples of Cambodia. An archeologist’s dream. After a bit of a disorganised breakfast, we get into smaller buses to make our way to ticketing counter for our photos to be taken and then printed on our 3 day $US40 pass for the duration of our stay here in this very busy city. I would have to say it is the only ticket I have purchased that has my photo on it. They say this saves people transferring the tickets to someone else for ‘recycled’ use. Good on them.

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Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.

The day looks a little damp. During the early morning, there was a large tropical thunderstorm which brought on the humidity big time. Out came the umbrellas and raincoats when we arrived at the first and most important temple, Angkor Wat. The rain stopped soon after but by the time we completed our 2 hour visit, we were bathed in sweat from the humidity. This temple is amazing in that it becomes part of you, especially if you return for another visit. Even though no-one lives there, the knowledge you gain from a good guide stays with you forever. In many ways, in my view, the structure is much more involved and detailed than the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Building a a structure out of large heavy stone and then sculpturing the shapes and windows with fancy frames by hand must have been a long tedious job. However, all was complete within 37 years. Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the masterpiece of Khmer architecture.

Close by Angkor Wat is Bayon Temple. This temple is one of its own kind with many faces of Buddha carved into the large stone blocks.

The distinction between architecture and sculpture disappears. Despite its ruined condition and the undoubted architectural problems caused when a third level was superimposed on the second, cramping the courtyards and galleries, it retains an extraordinarily enigmatic and exotic power. The level of artistic creativity in evidence here is awesome, with richly carved bas-reliefs and a forest of 54 towers showing the heads of Buddha that significantly resemble Jayaverman VII himself.

Many of the temples in the area require steady feet as you jump from stone block to stone block. We were fortunate this visit in that there was no thunderous storm with torrential downpours every 5 minutes. If you enjoy counting, there are 216 faces of Buddha in Bayon Temple.

We came back into Siem Reap for a 4 course lunch at a comfortable restaurant. Our tour director put some chilli slices into his soup. I ventured into this procedure just to ‘try it’. The slice was not in the soup for too long at all, but oh boy. What a difference 30 seconds of chilli in a soup makes. It became HOT!

After a early afternoon nap, we departed on another excursion for the late afternoon. This was to Ta Prohm. The trees are slowly asserting their rights over the crumbling monuments of rubble. It is fascinating how, from just a tiny seed, great trees develop ‘tentacles’ that spread across the stone building-like structures. It’s a great place to take photos.

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Our evening was free, and a group of us walked to the nearby night market and ‘pub street’. Lots of lights and loud music filled the streets, not forgetting the ever present tuk tuk driver harassing you to board his ‘machine of invention’, some with silk padded seating. I suggested to the group to ‘come this way’. Not far and we found a gemstone shop with a convincing seller who convinced the ladies to each by precious gemstones mined in Cambodia. He had the machine to test the stones for authenticity, so his wares were definitely worth buying. I asked him he should pay me spotters fee but that didn’t happen.

Tomorrow very early at 4:30am, we will be woken to board the coach to see the sunrise back at Angkor Wat.

September 28, Wednesday Siem Reap to Saigon

September 28, Wednesday Siem Reap to Saigon

Today has been a day of ‘hanging around an airport’ for a 46 minute flight to Saigon or, Ho Chi Minh City.

We met at the foyer of the Victoria at 10:15am after another enormous breakfast.  We have Anne to blame for the extravagant breakfast ideas.  Yesterday, it was champaign.  Today it was Waffles with Chocolate Fudge Topping.  After breakfast, I went to a main intersection just to watch how the traffic behaved. Amazing! Tuc tucs everywhere.  A smile came to my face as a pushbike went by.   The mother was riding with her baby slung in a hammock between the two handlebars; delightful.  One motorbike had Dad driving, then mother with small baby in arms and daughter on the back holding an intravenous drip, which was attached to the baby.  Perhaps they were the ‘family ambulance on the way to hospital from a clinic.

We arrived at the airport 3 hours before departure for Saigon.  A couple of ladies enjoyed a foot and leg massage while waiting.  Vietnam Airlines was very comfortable and full of Koreans on their way back home to Seol.

It is amazing how each customs or immigration officer, has a sad face – you can tell them a mile away.  Saigon is no different.  However, it was great to pick out our guide who is to travel with us for the whole time we are in Vietnam.  I recognized him in the crowd from pictures Lyn had taken on last year’s group tour.

The weather here in Saigon is around 28 degrees C with cloudy conditions but at least it is dry.  Saigon is made up of 9 million inhabitants and 6 million motorbikes.  Wow!  The traffic here is different to Siem Reap.  The adventurous motorbike riders are so game.  I stood on the corner outside our hotel http://www.majesticsaigon.com.vn/ for 15 minutes just watching the traffic go by.  I counted 53,643 motorbikes.  Very few of the riders checked out the stream of motorbikes they were joining.  It was just a matter of, “get out of my way.  I am joining the traffic.”

Tonight we had a delightful meal on a Bonsai junk on the Sai Gon River.  The traditional music had an entertainment value to it that enabled us to enjoy the evening.  This guy had a xylophone made of rocks and banged them with a mallet to make his music.  Good value!  The magician had some tricks that made the eyes wonder if they were seeing what was happening.  The singers sang 60’s music as if we were back in the Hard Rock Cafe.  Everyone enjoyed the evening and are ready for a long sleep.

Today’s “Senior’s Moment”.  One of our guests got excited about the security in his room and has wrecked the safe. (He read the distructions instead of the instructions)  Poor guy!

September 27 Tuesday Siem Reap

September 27 Tuesday Siem Reap

Today has been a raincoats and umbrella day.  Yes, lots of rain with flooded streets and roads.  Tut-tuts galore plowing through muddy waters that just never seem to subside.

After yet another brilliant breakfast (some have tried the champaign breakfast and want it tomorrow too), we took a 37km trip out of town to see more temples.  Banteay Srey, loosely translated “Citadel of the Women”, has beautiful intricate and delicate yellow sandstone carvings everywhere, especially over the doorposts.  This is the first time that flooding has occurred in this temple so we walked through ankle deep waters to see the place.

Banteay Somrei was yet another different type of temple.  Within the outer walls, is a moat, then a wall and a second moat before coming within the area of the temple itself.  This temple had been covered over by previous dynasties, and only recently, the early 1900’s, archeologists dug out what is now, a very interesting temple.  To position such large pieces of stone with intricate carvings, up so high in the structure of the buildings, must have been a grand engineering feat in its day.

For lunch, we were taken to a village place for eating.  Within a short period of time, we had quite acceptable dishes of eastern type food.

The ‘free’ afternoon, started at 4pm.  I had a ‘four hands’ massage on the floor.  Young therapists certainly know how to ‘get in deep’ in this country.  I think I will be bruised for a few days, especially in the calves.

With an afternoon off, three members decided to go shopping. The streets of Siem Reap were awash from the rain and the water level varied from nothing to knee height. One of the three had managed to keep her footware dry all day. She had managed to dodge every little puddle and mini lake all morning. However things were to change! The three decided to return to the Hotel by what seemed to be an almost new Tuc Tuc. On their way they waved to fellow guests and took photos. They rounded a corner for the final approach to base camp, to be confronted by a very flooded street. The Tuc Tuc zigged  and zagged a bit and then plunged into a very deep pot hole. After the initial shock of the sudden drop, rising water level and one handbag floating down the street. The driver of the sinking Tuc Tuc gave the command of “abandon ship” I mean Tuc Tuc. Two managed to make it to ankle depth, while the third tried to upright the damaged machine. The final 100 metres home was done wading through below knee deep water. The shoes that had been kept dry all day are traveling Saigon in a plastic bag, hopefully they will be dry by the time we reach Melbourne.

Others took a $10 for one hour ride around town in a tut-tut.

The evening was taken up at a large entertainment complex where we ate from an eastern smorgasbord and were entertained by some traditional dancing – beautiful costumes and bead gear.  I’m told the local beer wasn’t too bad either.

After a coffee in the bar at our colonial hotel http://www.victoriahotels-asia.com/eng/hotel-in-cambodia/angkor-resort-spa we are ready for a good rest before our flight to Saigon tomorrow.

Today’s “Senior’s” moment.  Lyn put in a strong request for me to include myself (I said, “Why not?  Then it’s out of the way.”)  I left the room with back-pack on shoulders smiling as if I had all my bases covered as far as being organised goes.  We met together before boarding the bus.  As we were boarding, I remembered that I didn’t have tripod and video camera with me – oh rats!  Back to the room and collect what is usually attached to me with an umbilical chord.

September 26 – Monday. Siem Reap

Siem Reap September 26 2011 Monday

What a great day!  If you thought that temples would be boring, try Angkor Thom; Magnificent – part of the ‘Pyramids of Asia’.

To all the group, one of the highlights of today was enjoying a superb breakfast – Cambodian style.  So much to choose from that the mind boggles.  We called everyone to meet for breakfast at 8:00am so we could leave on our Temple tour at 9:00am but they have said that tomorrow will be an earlier breakfast so they can enjoy more than just “weet-bix and milk, toast and vegemite”

Our guide, Lin, is very well versed in the history and the legends of the many temples around Siem Reap.  He enjoys what he does, and enjoys laughing at his own jokes.

The Angkor Thom was enormous. It is a temple place that is never inhabited or slept in.  It has been a place for prayers, chanting, and all things to do with the local religions. It takes up an area of 9 square kilometres, previously the last Capital of the Angorian Empire.  It was built after Jayavarman VII recaptured the Angkorian Capital from the Cham invaders in 1181.  The King began a massive building campaign across the empire constructing Angkor Thom as his new Capital City with existing structure.  So we spent a lot of time wandering through what has become a tourist mecca.  Thousands visit the area each day.

In the afternoon, after a wonderful luncheon in a ‘side of the road café’, we visited Ta Prohm, or Jungle Temple, where massive fig and Silk-cotton trees grow from the Towers and Corridors offering a Jungle atmosphere.  We also took in Bayon or, Four Smiling Faces, where each of the columns had carved smiling faces pointing in the four directions; a total of over 220 faces.

There have been lots of photos taken.  None of the group have lost their camera but some have lost their wallets – temporarily.  Frustrating in a foreign country! Not sure if they are ‘senior’s moments’ or just the norm.

We arrived back at the magnificent hotel at 6:00pm, a quick dip in the pool before another dinner of delicious food.  Bed is to be a great spot to end the day.

Being in the rainy season, Siem Reap is flooded in many areas with vehicles having to venture through the murky waters.  As you get off the bus to visit a temple, lots of children are there to sell you a book for $5 or $8 or some wrist bands or whatever, for a $1.  The books are history books of the Pol Pot era or stories of the Killing Fields – a reminder of the terrible atrocities of that era.  The tourist currency is the US dollar.  I haven’t seen any local currency yet.  I asked some of the children where they came from and in clear English, “from my mother and father” was the response.  Schools are free, and teach in English but many of the children can speak 3 and 4 languages before they are into high school.  Handy for the 3 million tourists that now come to Cambodia each year.

Today’s “Senior” moment – revealed today but happened at Changi Airport yesterday.  There is a receptacle in the toilet containing sanitizer.  Some paper is provided to apply the sanitizer to wipe the seat.  This unnamed group member applied it to ‘her’ seat instead of the toilet seat.  A new type of hygiene!

25 September 2011 Sunday Siem Reap

Today is the commencement of our group tour to Cambodia and Vietnam.  We thought we could stop off in Siem Reap on the way to Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) just to compare the way of life of both countries.  The main tourist ‘meca’ in Siem Reap is the Angkor Watt, which we will do tomorrow.

After taking cars to Tullamarine and meeting up with Judy & Ian who flew in from Sydney to join us, we departed on time at 5 past mid-night on Sunday morning.  It is the longest Sunday I can remember.  A meal was served just after departure and then we were woken up for breakfast 5 hours later.

As school holidays had just begun, the flights leaving at that time were all full and so immigration was very busy indeed.  However, it turned out to be the funniest time we have ever had in a security area.  Firstly, Lyn got told gruffly, to turn off her mobile (tut tut), but the funniest ‘blonde’ moment happened when Ken told us his episode with the security guys.  Ken has a leg that doesn’t work too well, and so to maneuver around is an effort.  He had placed his belt, wallet and watch in the box to go through the x-ray machine.  When he put everything back in place, he realized that his watch was missing.  He said to security guy ‘I’ve lost my watch.”  The guy wasn’t too helpful but checked anyway to see if it had fallen out of the tray in the machine.  Well, it could not be found – and this was his Dad’s old watch.  So we continued on through all the shops before arriving at the departure lounge and sat down.  Ken felt an uncomfortable feeling in his shoe and took it off – and there was his watch.  His gummy foot has no feeling in it and he hadn’t felt the extra ‘cargo’ in his shoe.  So the first blonde moment is recorded as being in the male kingdom.

The Singapore government, it seems, has intentionally made the airport the most interesting of airports to spend 5 or 6 hours.  There are so many upmarket shops and flower gardens, and entertainment areas, and, and, and……. All enjoyed the 5 hour layover, that’s for sure.  The orchids were just brilliant.  Our flight to Siem Reap was quite bumpy during our 2 hour flight at 38,000 feet altitude.

Arriving and going through customs and immigration at Siem Reap is quite an interesting experience too, with about 15 officials (in smart uniforms) in a ‘chain gang’ each viewing the passport and doing something with it.  After photos and finger printing, customs was a breeze with just a ‘drop the form in a box’ procedure.

Siem Reap is at a very low altitude and flooding at this time of year in their rainy season is all through the area and town.  On the way from the airport, our bus was going through flooded streets.  It was interesting to see motor bikes parked in 6 inch deep water with their riders having a chat with someone on the side of the road – well, not just one here and there, but many.

After checking into the Victoria Angkor Hotel, we sat by the pool for the afternoon, gathering some much needed sleep.  The hotel is just magnificent – old architecture with lots of dark timber used throughout.  Chris, a builder from Wesburn, has been taking many photos of the structure.  And he had a blonde moment too – while taking all his photos, he couldn’t remember his room number, so was systematically knocking on each door.  Eventually, one of the doors that opened, was to his room.  After having a sumptuous meal together, we ‘retired’ early, for Siem Reap time, to our luxurious rooms.

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