The Many Faces of Cambodia
Angkor Wat Temple
Descending the steps (wooden steps were not there on our last visit
Ta Phrom Temple
Roots of the trees once covered all the temple
Entrance with statues pulling on the Naga (the snake)
Visited an orphanage - they entertained us
Visited a village near the temple where they make baskets
Six-hour speed boat on the Tonle Sap from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
Timeless scenes along the river
The Killing Fields Moument
Memorial at the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
The Royal Palace
Wet market shopping
Cooking Experience at the InterContinental
Sokha Beach Resort in Sihanouk Ville
Sokha Beach Resort
Three-island day trip
Sokha Beach Resort - dining by the pool
We arrived in Siem Reap, the city closest to Angkor Wat early in the morning, and were able to obtain our visas at the airport for $20 each. The van from our hotel, La Maison d’Angkor picked us up. La Maison is a wonderful little hotel built in Khmer style that is like a garden oasis in the middle of the city.
We prebooked an afternoon tour of Angkor Wat with Buffalo Trails. The ruins at Angkor Wat are some of the most impressive we have ever seen and cover a vast area. The tour included the main temple area of Angkor Wat but also took us down a short trail to a small village where the ladies were weaving baskets. Most of the village homes were basic structures built on stills but some were more modern stucco buildings. It was a mixture of traditional and modern amenities with water supplied by a well but many people had cell phones and motor bikes. A thousand years ago it was a metropolis of one million when London was a small town and only Native Americans lived in what is now New York State.
The second day we hired a tuk-tuk for $15 and explored the ruins on our own. He took us where we wanted to go, waited, and showed us best place for lunch. Excellent value. At one temple complex, Ta Prohm, an inscription on a stone in Sanskrit told something about the temple. In Ta Prohm there were 3,140 villages, it took 79,365 people to maintain the temple, including 18 high priests, 2740 officials, 2202 assistant and 615 dancers. Among the property was a set of golden dishes weighing more than 1100 pounds, along with diamonds, pearls, and other valued items. As the area declined in power and population the jungle took over. In many areas the jungle has been removed but some of the tree roots in Ta Prohm temples have been left in place. The roots of the banyan and kapok tree are an impressive site and look like huge snakes which we found interesting since the snake, called Naga, is an important part of their Hindu history. Long stone Nagas border most of the main entrances to the temple complexes.
It would take weeks to see all of Angkor Wat and a tour is necessary to get a feel for the place but much of the story line that go along with the carvings are from the Hindu religion of which we have almost no historical background. We try to learn a bit more each trip.
One day our son, Jim, rented a bike for $1 and explored the temples on his own. There are many ways to experience Angkor Wat including from a fixed balloon and elephant rides to the top of a temple hill to watch sunset. All are great. Most people spend three days at Angkor Wat. The complex is huge and there are many areas still not uncovered. Since our last visit to Angkor Wat in 2004 the number of high-end hotels has grown dramatically and so have the number of tourists. Three-day admission is still $40. They have added wooden walkways and stairs in some area which makes it easier for tourists and protects the stonework.
From Siem Reap we took the boat for six hours down the Tonle Sap River to Phnom Penh. We paid $8 in 2004 and $40 this time! But I really like the river trip where the scenes are of National Geographic portion. The weather was great so we sat on the boat roof.
All civil wars are awful but the civil war in Cambodia from 1975-79 under the regime of the Khmer Rouge has to rank as one of the worst. During the reign of Pol Pot one out of every four Cambodians died from starvation, overwork and executions. Nearly everyone has a story. When we were in Cambodia in 2004 our guide said that when the population of Phnom Penh was forcibly evacuated to the countryside he was seven and was sent into the jungle to youth camp. His mom and dad each went to different camps. When they were separated his father said, “Whatever happens never forget your name.” I thought that was a strange thing to say but the guide said the children were all given revolutionary names and after several years many did forget their name. He continued, “After a few years I thought motor vehicles were a figment of my imagination. When we were told we could go back into Phnom Penh and I saw the first motor vehicle I ran behind it sniffing the exhaust.” He never forgot his name and his family was eventually reunited. His is one of the few happy stories. Today the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Prison are must sees only so people do not forget. Sadly, it seems genocide and war never seems to stop. Today, in Cambodia, people want to go forward.
Everything seems much more vital and prosperous than it did six years ago. We stayed at the lovely InterContinental Hotel where there was a very upscale wedding with a reception for 500 but we were told that it was smaller than average. After our son flew back to San Francisco we had a cooking lesson that is offered by the hotel, visited the museum and royal palace.
One example of the “new” Cambodia is the development of the beach area in the south of Cambodia. For $7 we took a four-hour bus trip to Sihanouk Ville that included a bottle of water and a snack. We stayed at the beautiful Sohka Beach Resort. The hotel’s new additions have doubled the size of the hotel. We spent every day around the pool except one when we took an all-day island boat tour for $15. First we stopped at a snorkeling spot and then went to Banana Island where we hung out at the beach for a couple hours and the crew prepared our lunch of grilled barracuda. The barracuda was excellent – meaty and not at all fishy. It made us wonder why we don’t see barracuda on the menu in the US. On the way back we stopped at another island for snorkeling. On our last night we had an amazing seafood buffet that was set up around the pool and a band from the Philippines played familiar songs from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I think tourism has a great future in Cambodia as there is a lot to see and do. More importantly tourism brings money and improvements in all sectors of society.