Siem Reap, Cambodia
My favorite thing about Cambodia was taking a cooking class. I didn't like eating the food that I made that much, but I did like making it.
Another thing that I liked about Cambodia was swimming in the pool at our villa. The scariest thing that I saw was a big, red and black beetle that had wings. It flew into the window where I was looking.
There was a place called the floating village. The thing that I like about it was there were so many dogs and puppies. The puppies were so cute!
The temples were kind of boring for me. But, Hubby always tells me that when I grow up they won't be as boring.
The people that worked at our villas were very kind and they had the best restaurant ever. My favorite food in Cambodia was palm sugar. Palm sugar comes from a palm tree and it is much better than any other kind of sugar.
I got a lot of souvenirs in Cambodia at a place called the night market. That is where I got two long dresses, pens and keychains, a pair of cool shoes, and a gecko and turtle. At the end of our temple tour, Hubby bought me two instruments - one is like a violin but it is made out of coconuts and you don't put your chin on it, the other one makes a boing sound and you play it by putting one part in your mouth and use your thumb to move the other end.
I felt bad for the people living in Cambodia because they were so poor and did not have nice houses.
The only thing I really did not like about Cambodia was that it was so, so, so hot!
WARNING: this is a very long post!!
I was swept away in Cambodia.I struggle to find the right words to describe the beauty of the people and the land. Upon arrival, I was struck by the smell of flowers - frangipani, jasmine, and gardenias. The landscape was lush. I was in awe of the kindness and fragility of the people that we met. The people of this country have been the victims of war, extreme poverty, and hunger - the evidence can be seen everywhere. Yet, there was such peace here. The pace was slow in order to accommodate making meals from scratch using ingredients found in the front yard, sharing the roads with hundreds of people commuting to work and school on their bikes (often entire families on one bike!), and the overwhelming heat. I noticed how the people we met had the desire to work very hard and how important their history was to them. This country was in a state of civil war not very long ago. It struck me that they have come along way, but the memories still influenced their daily lives. I had a strong desire to hold and care for the children. I found myself feeling afraid sometimes, but not ever wanting to leave.
On Thursday evening, we flew from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur for a one night layover at the Pan Pacific Hotel. We sleepily made our way back to the airport for our 6:30am flight to Siem Reap the next morning. We were greeted at the airport by our driver from the Sojourn Hotel. We learned that the proper way to greet one another in Cambodia is by bowing to one another with hands in prayer position…the divine and sacred in me honors the divine and sacred in you. We are not staying in Siem Reap proper on this trip and opted for accommodations in one of the neighboring villages. We drove to Treak Village, a trek on rusty dirt roads. As we approached the village, we see the overwhelming poverty - one-room ramshackle homes on stilts made of nothing more than bamboo and palm thatch roofs. The family cows are tied up in makeshift pastures. Chickens and dogs are roaming everywhere.
We arrived at the Sojourn Villas - a beautiful and extravagant escape. Our villa was simple, large, and clean. A daybed had been made-up for Vagababe to sleep. After settling in, we jumped right into our experiences in Cambodia.
At 9:30 we met at reception for a tour and our Cambodian cooking class. First, we visited a local family. We met our "host", a mother with three little boys. Her husband was working in the rice fields. Her home consisted of one room on stilts, made of bamboo with a palm thatch roof. There was a hammock, but we were told the family sleeps together on the floor. The family's cow had a makeshift paddock located behind their home. They explained how families made deals to mate their cows to produce offspring. The children were beautiful and very shy. They were fascinated by Vagababe. Significant portions of the profits from the hotel are donated to Treak Village, primarily for providing families with water filters and trash removal. We were shown the water filtration "box" and I was shocked by what I saw in that this "improvement" was so important but seemed so inadequate. As a thank-you for allowing us into their home, we gave the family a gift of rice (I wish we were prepared to give so much more!).
We were then led along a path to a private pavilion. Our private chef schooled us in traditional Khmer cooking. We learned to make Cambodian Fish Amok, Khmer Green Mango Salad with Chicken, and Sticky Rice Flour Balls with Palm Sugar and Grated Young Coconut. Our chef explained to us that Cambodian cuisine is not spicy hot, but instead relies on "layers of flavors from fresh herbs and spices". Vagababe was shown such kindness and patience by our instructors. They taught her the proper way to use the mortar and pestle and how to cut with a very sharp knife. She did everything on her own. I was a little nervous about the knife, but she did great!! All of the food we made was from scratch using local ingredients. It was one of the best meals I have ever had! When we were done cooking, we were led to a dining pavilion that sat in pond surrounded by lotus flowers. The lotus has always been an important symbol for me. This all began with my first yoga teacher who would end class by saying "May we live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water, may we bow to life as it is ".This phrase has always seemed to fit my life and here I was sitting amongst the fragrant and radiant lotus with my family and wonderful food.
After a little time to rest and an incredible massage, we joined our driver for a trip to Tonle Sap lake for a picnic dinner at the floating villages. We drove for quite awhile and the further away we got from the city, the more of the countryside and village life we were able to observe. Upon arrival at the "marina", we were quickly led to a "boat" for our sunset trip down the river to the lake. I am not even sure what kept our boat afloat. The boat was so dilapidated. The floorboards were worn to the point that I could stick my hand through the holes to the water below us. Our boat "captain" could not have been more than 12 years old. I hesitated with the thought that I was in such a strange place in what seemed to be less than safe circumstances and no one, not one single person in my life knew where I was at that moment. As a mother, alarms started ringing loud in my head!! Our adventure was unfolding so rapidly though, I did not have time to think rationally or react to what was happening around me. The only comfort I had was that Hubby and our driver were also on the boat with Vagababe and me. I was grateful that my Hubby was at least 3x as large as any other human being around us! Did I mention that Cambodians are petite? The trip down the river took about a half hour. As we approached the mouth of the river, my fears about safety resurfaced as boats passed us left and right, rocking our boat and splashing large amounts of water into our vessel. We arrived at the lake and I was stunned by what I saw. We had come upon the floating villages. I had heard about this, but had no comprehension of what it might be like until I saw it for myself. There were two distinct villages, but I would never be able to guess the delineation between the two. I had imagined that the floating villages would be located on calm water but Tonle Sap was big, rough, and muddy. I could see floating homes, working stations, community centers, and a restaurant. I saw children floating around their homes in what looked like tin buckets. I asked how the children went to school. One of the villages had a school on the water. The children from the other village went up river every morning by boat to a school on dry land. We stopped at the restaurant for our sunset picnic. The restaurant had two large pits: one for crocodiles and one for catfish. Apparently, we could order either on the spot! We brought our picnic with us from the hotel and enjoyed watching the sunset over the villages and lake.
After our trip to the lake, we wanted to explore Siem Reap proper and the night markets. We had our driver drop us off in town. We had one hour to explore. Again, I found myself overwhelmed with the sights, smells and sounds. I fell in love with the ingenuity and creativity found in some of the stalls at the night market. We treated ourselves to hand carved Buddha statues, recycled rice bag totes, and silk scarves. I passed on the massages and fishy pedicures - all to be had for $1!!
When we arrived back at the hotel, we were exhausted. Hubby and Vagababe fell into bed and right to sleep. I, on the other hand, layed awake for hours. I heard thumping, driving music and singing and couldn't sleep through it. I thought I was hearing the equivalent of a Cambodian night club, but that didn't make sense in our sleepy village. The next morning I learned that what I was hearing was a wedding in progress!
The next morning, we were up again at 4am to trek to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise over the temple. A small crowd had gathered to watch this spectacular display. Make sure to see the pictures.The feeling I had when we approached Angkor Wat was akin to the feeling I had the first time I saw the ruins in Ephesus or the sight of the Grand Canyon at dawn. The sheer size and incredible fine detail of the carvings were beyond belief.
We drove back to the villas for a quick breakfast and then met our tour guide for the day, Sokha. Sokha took us to the Ta Prohm temple, often referred to as the "jungle" temple or "tomb raider". This is the sight where Angelina Jolie was filmed in the making of Tomb Raider. Of all the sights we saw, this temple was the least preserved. It was not surprising as this temple features ancient trees and stone locked in battle with one another. The landscape was dramatic! Ta Prohm was built by King Jayavarman VII in dedication to his mother. The central sanctuary was hers alone for meditation and worship. See the picture of the stones from the central sanctuary. Each of the small holes in the stones used to be filled with precious stones and diamonds!!
Next, entering through the east gate - famous for its depiction in Tomb Raider, we explored Angkor Thom. We toured the Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, the hospitals, and the Bayon temple. I was intrigued by the explanation of the hospitals that consisted of one room buildings (12 total), each with its own medicine man. The Terrace of the Leper King was probably the location of the royal crematorium and at least two of the Angkor king's were thought to suffer from leprosy.One of the statues shows a king missing fingers and toes. The Bayon temple, located exactly in the middle of Angkor Thom, was my favorite with its 54 towers and 216 Buddha faces (or possibly faces of the king, Jayavarman VII).The towers are thought to represent the 54 provinces of the Khmer empire at the time the temple was constructed. We exited Angkor Thom through the South Gate which features 54 gods to the right and 54 demons to the left. Our guide explained how the gods and demons worked together for many years to churn the sea to extract the elixir of immortality. The demons hold the head of a king cobra snake and the gods hold the tail. The body is coiled around an island mountain, which as the demons and gods move in opposing directions serves to churn the sea. As Sokha was explaining the stories about the gods and demons along the south, we overheard another guide rush past with his charges explaining that this was simply good guys vs bad guys! We were grateful for Sokha, who explained everything we were seeing in magnificent detail. Throughout the day, we learned of the repeated conflict throughout history between Cham (Muslim), Hindu, and Buddhist. I asked a lot of questions and Sokha always had the answer. The restoration and use of the temples for tourism is a recent development in Cambodian history. We learned that many citizens of Siem Reap have never been to the temples.
We took a break for a quick picnic lunch. Vagababe and I treated ourselves to ice cold coconut juice. Our guide explained that this juice was good for the stomach and aided in digestion. I was surprised when I tasted the coconut juice. I thought it would be sweet, but it had no flavor! I was grateful for something cold to drink. The heat was starting to get to all of us. Vagababe and I had on longer skirts/pants out of respect for our visit to the temples. All of us were very hot!
Our last stop was a trip back to Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the best preserved of all of the temples in the area as it was never completely abandoned to the jungle that surrounds it. Angkor was originally built as a Hindu temple in honor of the god, Vishnu. A statue of Vishnu used to rise tall in the central tower. When Buddhists took over the temple, Vishnu was moved to a lower gallery and Buddha statues were placed in the central tower. The size of Angkor Wat is epic. No details were spared in its design. Every inch is carved in intricate detail. My favorite reliefs were of the over 2000 asparas (heavenly nymphs churned up from the sea), each of which was unique in hair style, jewelry, and clothing.Angor Wat consists of three, non-overlapping levels. The climb to the highest level was extremely steep and nerve wracking. I walked along the corridors of the central tower and reveled at the Buddhas and the thought of walking in the ancient footsteps of those pilgrims who had visited here so long ago.
After an exhausting day of temple hopping, we were in desperate need of a dip in the pool and dinner. Cambodian cuisine is just incredible. I chose the Chicken and Mango Patties on lemongrass skewers for my starter, followed by Stir Fried Chicken with Kroeung. Kroeung is the base of many Khmer dishes and is made from Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal, rhizome, garlic, shallots, and chilli. What's not to love about that? VagaBabe had her first taste of Laksa and we are both quickly becoming fans of that dish!Laksa was on the Children's menu. I loved this! Hubby enjoyed Tom Yum soup and Beef with Kroeung. Many of the flavors that we sampled in Cambodia will be on our regular menu when we get back home! During dinner, a storm came through. It was nice to sit under the pavilion and listen to the cleansing rain. We inquired at reception about how long they thought the storm might last and we were quickly corrected. This was NOT a storm, just rain. There were heavy downpours, high winds, thunder, and lightening. If this was not a storm in their books, I would be a little afraid to find out what they DO consider a storm! The storm finally passed and we made another trip into town to the night markets.
After a good nights rest…which I was able to get after finishing my book The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (that trilogy is just so darned addictive!)…we spent our last day resting and relaxing at the Sojourn. We were treated to manicures, pedicures, and massages. I found the massage quite interesting. It was done in the Khmer tradition. The best way I can describe it is that it seems to be a cross between trigger point therapy (lots of pressure in purposeful places) and yoga (body being pulled and stretched during said pressure). I loved it and my hamstrings were grateful!Soon it was time to head back to the airport. Hubby, VagaBabe and I were all sad to go, but so grateful for the people that we met, the incredible food we ate, and the beautiful Sojourn. I hope that someday we can return to this beautiful place. More than anything, I hope that the people of Cambodia will recover from their wounds and continue to live in peace.