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Angkor: The best of Southeast Asia

by becca on November 18, 2009

We spent most of this week in Siem Reap, where the Angkor Temples stand. From these temples the great Khmer empire ruled most of Southeast Asia from the 5th century to the 14th century. For centuries, many of these temples were forgotten by all of the world save for the Buddhist monks living in the most famous temple, Angkor Wat. In 1915 a French explorer stumbled across the temples, abandoned and over grown by the jungle, and shared his findings with the world. Some of the temples, such as Ta Prohm, were totally taken over by the jungle and now nature and the remnants of man exist together, creating a surreal setting, fit for the likes of the movie Tomb Raider, which was actually filmed there.

We spent two days exploring the temples, traveling from one to another with our handy tuk-tuk driver, Jon. On the walkways to the entrances were bands of disabled musicians playing traditional Cambodian music, people selling fruit and cold drinks, of course other tourists, and small children hawking crafts and postcards. We brought along handfuls of chocolate coins to give out, thus thwarting their sales pitches. Their reactions ranged from pure joy to “give me one more?” but always ending in a smile.

Both days the temperature must have reached 90 degrees, but the shade of the temples provided a cool retreat and when walking past temple corridors soft wind wistfully greeted us.
At some points the grandeur of the huge structure, the carvings covering every inch of temple, the roots of centuries’ old trees hugging the battered stones, turned us back into children in a make-believe land, as we stared in awe at the beauty man, nature, and time.

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Boating Across the Tonle Sap

by becca on November 15, 2009

From Battambang we took a 5-6 hour boat ride to Siem Reap via the Tonle Sap, which in Khmer means roughly “Great Lake.” The boat was small, with about eight rows of wooden benches under an aluminum roof. It rained in the morning, which was actually nice because it kept the air cool for a few hours. We stopped at a floating house/restaurant where in addition to a few connected houses forming a floating neighborhood, they had pigs and chickens on the floating platforms. I used my first over-the-river-toilet, which was… interesting, squatting on two wooden planks, over the river… don’t fall in. After the stop, the clouds dispersed and most of the western passengers braved the sun and the heat on the roof of the boat.

The scenery was amazing. Sort of more of what we were seeing in Vietnam… vast expanses of wetlands, floating villages, fisherman making their living. But the Tonle Sap lake is a really unique body of water. The lake rises and falls significantly during the wet and dry season. In the dry season it shrinks and then in the wet season totally swells. This shrinking and swelling causes the lake to change direction: flowing into the Mekong River during the dry season and overflowing to the point that it flows into the Tonle Sap Lake during monsoon season. The change is celebrated in Phnom Penh with the Water Festival that we just missed by two days. Damn.

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