Siem Riep, Cambodia
11.13.2007 - 11.17.2007 98 °F
Angkor What? (thats a name of a restaurant here, which we thought was funny). Then of course I began to say "Angkor Vat?" as my mom would say (she's Russian and usually says VAT instead of "what?").
In the same caliber as the Pyramids (check! Been there done that), Machu Piccu (Hmm... maybe next year) and the Taj Mahal (in a couple of weeks!!) is the world famous Temple of Angkor - the single largest religous site in the world! Located in Siem Riep, the temples of Angkor are spread over more than 40 miles and were built between the 8th and 13th centuries. Its HUGE and you can see everything from single tower's made of bricks to amazing stone temple complexes. The main Khmer temple is the infamous Angkor Wat (literally translated as "sacred" or "capital city.)" You know when you hear soooo much about something and you get there and are like "hmmm.... its okay." Well, here it was everything we heard about, and more! After 2 days of visiting temples, Angkor Wat, with its lotus shaped towers is by far the most impressive and the most beautiful temple. Pictures don't do it justice, but here it is:
Like I said, its huge and this is just 1 pict of 29034820394823094823094823094 that I took that depicts it more. Its about 4 miles long and has many bas-relief carvings that depicts stories and characters from Hindu mythology and the historical wars of Suryavarman II. Suryavaran II constructed it in early to mid 12th century in a form of a massive 'temple-mountain' dedicated to the Hindu God, Vishnu. Sooo... to say again, it is amazing, even more amazing is the water that surrounds the comples, moat, which was purposely built to represent the edge of the universe (or something like that). Its hard to keep track of all these beliefs and significance of things. I won't bore you (or I'll try not to!!) with details about all the Temples, but they are all very unique and different. Besides Angkor Wat, the next most amazing temple is Angkor Thom ("thom"means 'big'). Its a huge complex (trust me, it was seriously 90+ degrees out and we were baking as we were walking around. Seriously, baking and melting) and is a 3KM walled royal city and was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. Enclosed in the city is Bayon, the state-temple that is called one of the greatest of Angkor's temples (I believe it!). It has 5 entrances (gates) to the city, one for each cardinal point and each gate has 4 giant faces. There is this cool elephant terrace (protecting the temple) on the south gate. The Bayon was built by Jayavarman VII between 1181 and 1220. The Buddha faces are the best part - they are all smiling down on you!! Every detail of the face supposed to mean something, but eh, who can keep track of that?
Sooo.... once again, to try and not bore you with details, the other temples we saw were Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, Preah Khan (known as sacred sword with some amazing carvings), Ta Prohm (also known as jungle temple with these cool trees that are inter-mingled with the temple):
with which we saw the most amazing sunsets at Prasat Kravan and Pre-Rup (this is Pre-Rup):
The restoration process is huge and there are still a lot of temples in ruins, but overall it is sooooo incredibly amazing.
So what do you do in Cambodia, or Siem Riep, besides go to Temples? Well, we went to Tonle Sap Lake, one of Earth's most interesting natural phenomena because each year during Cambodia's rainy seaon, the Mekong River actually backflows into the "Great Lake"" via the Tonle Sap River. So from the dry season to the rain season, the surface area of the lake expands 4X!! Crazy! So the cool thing about the lake is that you get to see the floating villages of Chong Kneas to see the life and homes of Cambodians:
Its kinda sad because they are sooo super poor. Not just in this village, but everywhere in Cambodia. Here is some other facts about Cambodia besides because one of the poorest Asian countries). The Communist regime of Khmer rouge years lasted for many years and were super brutal with radical programs like isolating the country from foreign influences, closing schools, hospitals, and factories, abolishing banking, financing and currency, outlawing religions (FYI, now its officially Buddhism), and relocating people for forced labor = labor camps (12 hours of non-stop work with hardly any rest or food). During this time there were massive deaths, executions, work exhaustion, illness and starvation. Many still refer to it as "darkness" years. Then in the mid-70's, the Khmer rouge takes over again and basically orders hundreds of thousands of educated and middle-classes to be tortured and executed. Others starved to death or died from disease or exhaustion. During this time the death toll, mind you, this is within 3 years, is estimated to be almost 2 million.):
-Almost 50% of Cambodia's population is under 18 years of age
-Avg life expectancy is 57 years old
-About 90% of Cambodia's people are ethnic Khmers practicing Buddhism, with the remaining being Vietnamese and Chinese and very remote tribes.
-Its estimated that 1/3 of Cambodia's population lives on less than $1 dollar per day.
-Unlike the other SE Asia countries we have been to, Cambodia does not have a booming economy.
-The unoffical currency is the dollar, but I would say its the official currency because we have hardly seen the riel. We even went to the ATM and got US dollars! Its kinda weird!!
-In the mid-1960's, Cambodia allowed Northern Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases in Cambodia to continue their attack against the US-backed government in South Vietnam. So in turn, the US began a secret bombing campaign against North Vietnam on Cambodian soil. Then later in the 70's the Vietnamese invade Cambodia, and their war-torn years continue. How many years of guerrilla warfare can one country endure? I read it somewhere (can't remember where now, but it stands out in my head) that there are still thousands of landmines that are still out there from the war and close to a hundred people die each month by accidently coming across it. Its crazy. So we were heavily warned to not go off the beaten path because it is a serious and grave danger.
Cambodia has been really eye-opening. One, to the sad poverty of the people (it always sad to see such young children begging), but also to learn about their (unfortunate) history and more about Buddhism philosophy, such as "live in moderation in all facets of life; material objects stand in the way of greater happiness." Hmm.... once again, as I have realized from traveling, do we really need all those pairs of shoes that we have, or the other countless material things we have?
Remind me, I'll probably need it when we get to Thailand and clothes are less than $5!
Oh, here is a beautiful sunset we saw of Angkor wat and then another temple: