China and Cambodia: Part 10

The following day we took a day trip to Kulen Mountain. Our driver had mentioned it the night he picked us up from the airport. So we decided it might be a really neat thing to try. But we had a bit of a time frame to do it. We had to get to the mountain before noon.

We started off early to try to squeeze in a ride on the hot balloon near Angkor Wat. I really wanted to ride a hot balloon and see Angkor Wat from the air. However, both times we tried to go, it was not operational. Boo urns. We were the only people there so I suspect they didn’t want to do it with so few customers.

We headed off to Kulen mountain. It was a lovely drive through the outskirts of Siem Reap. We saw dragon fruit farms, houses of all shapes and sizes on stilts, spirit houses outside all of them and more. After a half hour drive, we were at Kulen Mountain. Our driver told us that the reason we had to get there by noon was that there was only one road up the mountain. So traffic could only go up in the morning and go down in the afternoon! It was a bumpy route to the top of the mountain since the road wasn’t paved but there are amazing views.

Our first stop was the sandstone Reclining Buddha. We found ourselves in a little town around the temple with the Reclining Buddha. We wandered up this incredible staircase with nagas flanking the balustrade. The Buddha at the top of a giant sandstone structure. It was carved into the rock with a structure built around it. To access it, you had to ascend a flight of stairs to find the Buddha taking up the entire room. It was astonishingly beautiful. There were little Buddha statues flanking the larger Buddha. Very impressive that someone was able to carve it up here!

13669286_10100885350866590_3567135474742755114_o

After we descended the stairs, we got a tasty drink, the name I don’t recall. It had these chartreuse colored fat noodles, rice flour?, that was in a coconut drink. Very refreshing.

13668855_10100886161811450_4596419926097616456_o

Our next stop was the RIver of 1000 Lingas. For those of you who are unaware a linga is an abstract representation of a phallus while a yoani is a representation of a vagina in Hinduism. This river had lingas carved into the river bed with a few yoanis around. This was an astonishing thing to see. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of something like before. It was really neat to see it.

13641163_10100885350522280_3153202612525371370_o

Our final stop was a swimming hole with a waterfall. It was the real reason for the trip. It wasn’t something I would normally think of doing but since my friend was keen to try it, I was open to trying something very new. And boy, it was worth it. We parked the car and walked downhill through a village, catering to folks who go to the waterfall. We weren’t alone by the smallest stretch of the imagination.

When we got to the base of the waterfall, it was astonishing. Beautiful scenic area. There was the waterfall before us, roaring and sending off a light spray. We changed in a tiny corrugated tin hut without a light source and put our belongings into a cabinet. To get to the water, you had to climb over some large rocks to get in (no easy beaches here like at Lake Michigan). Once in the water, it was the right amount of cool. There were tiny fish in the water that would nibble if you didn’t move enough or wiggled your fingers in the water. It was a strange feeling to get nibbled on. It didn’t hurt at all but it was a weird feeling. I eventually crawled onto a rock and took it all in. I felt like this was a thing I’d read about in travel books or see photos but never do myself. I felt relaxed.

13667898_10100885349868590_1318409317739155684_o

After we got our swimming and relaxing time in, we decided to head home. We tried to stop at a dragonfruit farm on the way back but the farmers said they had already sold all the good dragonfruit. Oh well.

13653297_10100885351605110_1768525404771632237_o

Where dragonfruit come from. The ones on this succulent look sad.

When we got back to the hotel, I decided to use our free massage from the hotel. It was one of many perks. We had also gotten lunch and snacks made up in boxes for our journey to the mountain. We made the mistake of doing both at once since it was so much food! The massage was great save one small detail. It wasn’t until the end of the massage that I realized that I had gotten a pretty good sunburn on my back! Whoops!

Afterwards, we decided to head to the circus in Siem Reap. It’s a socially conscious circus that has themes in its shows. They train young impoverished kids to give them skills and a way to learn a living. We took a tuktuk to their space, which was a tent. THis was my first time on a tuktuk. Now, the carriages are hooked to motorcycle or scooters. It was a novel experience. Soon it would be normal to travel that way in Cambodia. THere’s something special about a tented circus even to  this day. The title of the show was “Influence.” It was a wonderful show. I saw some of the best tumbling I’ve ever seen. They had live music too, which is always a bonus. All the materials and costumes were made from everyday items: brooms, rice bags, and more. It was magical using these everyday things in such creative ways.

After the show, we headed back to Pub Street to find some more food. I saw a vendor selling fried crickets that I wanted to try. I then made a mistake. I wanted a chaser to have after the crickets just in case. Instead, we found a place and had a full delicious meal. After dinner, I had lost my appetite to try the crickets. Very disappointing! Next time I’ll have to try it again. Also, no durian vendors that night. Boo urns.
All in all, a great day despite my cowardice about fried crickets!

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 9

After our wanderings through Angkor Wat, we moved on to another archaeological site in the Angkor Wat area known as Angkor Thom. There’s a series of several temples and the Elephant terrace. We spent several hours wandering around the area. It’s really impressive. I have to saw that i liked even better than Angkor Wat. But let’s get to that in a minute.

Bapoun was our first stop. This temple has an interesting history. Archaeologists were trying to restore it through a method of taking the entire temple apart and putting it back together. They kept plans of the pieces but the plans were destroyed when the Khmer Rouge came to power. OUr guidebook calls it the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the world as archaeologists are trying to piece it back together. We climbed the steep stairways to get a magnificent view of the surrounding area.

13680026_10100886568406630_8069213243071387827_o

Our next stop was Phimean Akas, another tall temple surrounded by a moat. We couldn’t wander around this one like we had Bapoun. It was kinda like a series of increasingly smaller squares stacked on top of each other. One source says that “According to legend there was a gold tower (Phimeanakas ) inside the royal palace of Angkor the Great where a serpent-spirit with nine heads lived. The spirit appeared to the Khmer king disguised as a woman and the king had to sleep with her every night in the tower before he joined his wives and concubines in another part of the palace. If the king missed even one night it was believed he would die. In this way the royal lineage of the Khmer was perpetuated.” (http://www.tourismcambodia.com/attractions/angkor/phimean-akas.htm)

13606682_10100886201941030_7042781526332245369_n

Then we got a bit lost looking for the next temples. We ended up on the Elephant Terrace with amazing carvings of elephants (my favorite). We also stumbled into the Terrace of the Leper King as well.

We eventually figured out where we were and found Preah Palilay, a temple that the jungle has taken over. It has trees and other plants growing out of the temple. There were fewer people around so it felt more peaceful to see how nature was taking over.

13641292_10100886157569950_8244280317917443426_o

Then we made it back to the biggest temple in the area: Bayon. The guidebook described this as one of the most curious buildings in the area. It’s my favorite. There’s a series of hallways and courtyards at the base where you can really just get lost in. We got turned around. There’s amazing carvings and lingas found all over. Throughout Bayon, there are these carved smiling faces, as you get higher they get bigger. Some estimates put the number over 2000 with 54 towers. Like Angkor Wat, there are active shrines within the temple complex so be respectful. You can visit if you take off your shoes and hat.

img_7767

I think Bayon matched my mind’s idea of what Angkor Wat would be like. The large faces are really astonishing. I also loved getting lost below. It honestly felt otherworldly.

One thing I will say about Angkor Thom: it is hot and humid in July. We were definitely keen to get back to the car after our wanderings and enjoyed the air conditioning and the wonder of cold water that our driver gave us. You can go to Angkor Wat area in a lot of different ways: tuk tuk, car, bus, even walking. But hiring a car for the day was a great idea.

We decided to take a lunch break to recoup and enjoy a little air conditioning. We had our first encounter with Cambodian cuisine. We ordered some curry dishes and it was heaven. The food is made from very fresh materials with simple but incredibly good sauces. It was the perfect pick me up after our wanderings in the heat.

Then it was Ta Prohm. It’s a temple complex in the jungle. It’s best known as the Tomb Raider temple but it deserves more than that. This was where the jungle has fought back. All over the area, giant trees grow out of temple buildings. It’s really astonishing. It felt a little like this is what an explorer would have found encountering for the first time (yes, I know it would have been a lot harder to walk around safely and easily if it had really been found recently. Clearly, they’ve removed stones, supported roofs and whatnot to make it safe for tourists). It was another temple where you can easily get lost at, wandering hallways and courtyards.  And like other temples, it is still in use. We met a man who lived in the temple area. I’m sorry we didn’t find out more about him.

13679875_10100886196726480_1682437262907131373_o

After Ta Prohm, we decided to head back to the hotel. THere are more sites in the area but we were content with the three major sites we had seen. At the hotel, I saw by the pool and read while we had our evening rain shower. I had a cool drink and enjoyed the cold towelettes that the hotel gave me.

Then it was time to explore Siem Reap. We walked to the touristy section of the city. Our hotel was well situated to the Night Market and Pub Street. There aren’t a lot of sidewalks so you have to be cautious about traffic but it was generally slow. The Night Market was a tourist market where vendors sell t-shirts, scarves, wooden objects, and more. It reminded me a little bit of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. You could also get a foot rub, back rub, or have small fish nibble the skin of our feet as a “fish massage.” It was fun wandering around the area.

After some shopping, we decided to find some dinner and headed towards Pub Street. On the way, we saw more vendors including folks selling fried insects (I wanted to try) and durian. One of the few regrets of this trip was not stopping to get durian. I love durian but I had never tried it in a place that actually grew it. I’ve only had it in the States. Boo urns.

We eventually found a little place off the main drag with lots of people. We once again were delighted by the freshness of the food. I ordered a fried fish that wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. But my friend’s dish was phenomenal. We did have these egg rolls as an appetizer that were out of this world. I had wintermoon soda; it was a little smoky for my taste.

13781887_10100890642402310_2541683625187442908_n

Before heading back to the hotel, we wandered through Pub Street, where there are lots of bars, restaurants, and clubs. It reminded me a little of Bourbon Street but less raunchy and less obnoxious.

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 8

We woke up in Cambodia. What a wonderful feeling! Granted it was about 4 am since we had elected to see the sunrise over Siem Reap. We groggily got ready and met our driver at the appointed time. We still couldn’t see a tremendous amount of Siem Reap since it was dark. We first had to buy our tickets at a ticket area that was not near the Angkor Wat temple complex. It reminded me of Machu Picchu where you had to buy the tickets at the bottom of the mountain; you couldn’t buy them at the entrance to the park. We along with lots of other tourists waited in lines, got our photos taken for our tickets, and then trundled back into our modes of transportation.

Now, the light was beginning to rise; we could see a little bit more of buildings and trees. What a difference from Shanghai! No skyscrapers dotting the sky. The buildings were shorter and there was more vegetation. Then we approached the Angkor Wat complex. A large river or moat surrounded the temple complex.I learned that Angkor Wat refers both to the specific temple complex and the entire archaeological site. There are several temple complexes to explore in addition to the famous one.

Our driver parked us near the gates and we crossed the river, transfixed by the balustrades showing impressive nagas. We hurried to get to a good viewing spot for the sun to rise. We weren’t along; lots of tourists were also there to watch the event. We did some preliminary exploration but I was keen to find the right viewing place. We eventually found a section of the lawns in front to watch as the sun slowly rose up. I was actually not as blown away as I had been when I had seen the sunrise over Machu Picchu. It was only after the fact that I realized we were on the wrong side of the temple to see it light up.

Angkor Wat was impressive. It’s a series of temples that began to be built in the 12th century. They are still in use; we actually passed by several religious ceremonies. So it’s important to be respectful and dressed properly while you wander around. We were told that women should bring sweaters if they had bear arms; shawls were not sufficient. There are carvings all over the complex, showing gods and goddesses from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. There were lots of Apsaras, dancing female spirits. We headed towards the highest tower, where if you are dressed properly, you can climb to the top and get a great view of the entire area. It’s a steep climb up but well worth it.

13614956_10100884456987930_1690374715029783943_n

13692635_10100890630985190_7639298823708981095_n

At one point, we were looking out and I remarked, “Oh look. There are a bunch of cats wandering on the roofs.” To which my friend explained, “Those aren’t cats. Those are monkeys.” And she was right. There were monkey. I had been noticing the smell of what I thought was cat urine but it was actually monkey urine. These monkeys were actually a little frightening. We saw a few up close. One climbed up steps and growled at another person, making it very clear that there were boundaries. Later, a monkey crawled on a woman and stole an egg from her. It’s very apparent; don’t have food out around these animals. They will get very aggressive.

13731801_10100890632896360_925946561633861303_o

Monkey climbing a monkey

After wandering the endless halls, we decided to take a short walk on the far side of Angkor Wat to see what lay in the area. We found a little temple there, also still in use as evidenced by the offerings. It was time for a mid-morning snack. I had gotten these little fig cookies where we bought our tickets. We did a monkey survey to ensure I wouldn’t have an issue. It was really lovely, sitting on the steps of the temple, staring back at Angkor Wat through the woods. It’s these moments that resonate forever.

13641015_10100886066482490_2389872712258938169_o

That’s all for now. Next time I’ll talk about our adventures at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohn!

China and Cambodia: Part 7

And then it was our last day in Shanghai. We had a early evening flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. So we had to make the best of our last day there: more art!

We dragged our suitcases through town to go to the Rockbund Museum, another contemporary art space. They were kind enough to keep our bags behind the front counter as we explored. They had an exhibition of 11 artists from all over Asia called “Tell Me a Story: Locality and Narrative.” I really liked a few of the pieces. One was a video installation of ancient artifacts being lit up by firecrackers. It was wonderfully spooky and surreal. The piece was “Fireworks” by Apicahtpong Weerasethakul. Another piece by Au Sow-Yee was about a fictional movie studio in the jungle with an archive of ephemera including advertisements to go along with it. The artifacts even had index cards that you could flip through. It was called “The Kris Project I:  The Never-ending Tale of Maria, Tin Mines, Spices and Harimau.”

On the very top of the museum, there was a little deck with a partial view of the river. We could see parts of the skyline peeking over the buildings in front. We also could see a building that was in the process of being torn down save for the facade. We enjoyed eating our Chinese candy that we had gotten at a store in the Oriental Pearl while watching boats pass. I always need to remember how nice it is to slow down and observe the world around me.

13631435_10100883711012870_3955132762335936031_n.jpg

Before we went off to the airport, we stopped by Yu Gardens area again to walk down Old Street. I wanted to do a little bit more shopping before we went. Old Street is so much  more pleasant than the area closer to Yu Gardens! But Qibao was best of all for shopping for souvenirs. So much less bustle!

Before we stepped on the train to get to the airport, we got passport photos for our visas for Cambodia. We did one of those photobooths in the station. Boy, was my heart slick back from the sweat!

It was a jaunt of the subway, involving a change even though we were on the right line. At the airport, it was pretty painless. We had a spot of dinner of an Udon soup that was pretty good.

And then we were off to Cambodia. It was a longer flight than we had originally expected. Over 5.5 hours. There was some prank show on the tvs overhead which was sort of hormusifying.

When we landed in Cambodia, we were astonished by the beautiful airport. Wooden roof with giant statues of Buddha everywhere. Crickets jumped all around us. Getting our visa was easy; we just bought it before going through customs. The hotel we were staying at had a driver waiting (with bottles of water).

We decided to stay at the Golden Temple Hotel. It was the best choice. When we got there, we were greeted with cold towels, refreshing drinks, warm sticky rice wrapped in leaves, and sugared peanuts. They also handed us a local phone if we needed it. We got coupons for a free 60 minute massage, snacks, and one free meal. We felt like queens.

 

We arranged to get a very early start so we could see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. 4:30 wake up!


That’s all for now!