Monday, May 31, 2010

Stone Carving

Cale Learns Stonecarving

Cale had three stone-carving lessons while we were in Siem Reap. He carved a Buddha head. I suggest you nag him until he blogs about it.

— Sara

Roluos Group and Banteay Srei

Roluos Group
Bakong

I am a little behind in the ole blogging, about two weeks at this point. I am going to try to catch up today.

Two Friday's ago we went to see the Roluos Group and Banteay Srei. They are both outside of the immediate Siem Reap/Angkor area. Cale and I briefly toyed around with the idea of biking out to the Roluos, which are about 13km outside of town. Thankfully, we got over that idea and decided to hire a tuk-tuk for the day. Clem is friends with a driver from the hostel Green Gecko recommends to its volunteers (
Siem Reap Hostel), so we gave him a call and he picked us up in the morning and we headed out.

Roluos Group

The Roluos is the site of the first major capital of the Angkorian period and the temples there are older than the ones we had been seeing in Angkor. The first one we saw was
Preah Ko. There were quite a few interesting elements to the ruins of Preah Ko that we hadn't seen at the Angkor sites.

Right away I noticed these decorative landings at the end of walkways or stairs.

Roluos Group

Cale conjured up the mental image of a tongue unrolling for the gaping mouth of the temple doorway and cascading down the steps to end in this landing.

The lions of the Roluos Group were also different than the ones we had seen earlier. They were rounder and looked more furry than the others. They were slightly more cartoony too. They seemed more cuddly and less aggressive than the ones on Angkor Wat.

Roluos Group

Finally we had the opportunity to see a dramatic display of restored and unrestored temple features.

Roluos Group
The right side of the structure is being restored, whereas the left side hasn't had as much work done yet.

After Preah Ko we stopped at
Bakong. In addition to being facinating ancient ruins, Bakong also houses an active Buddhist monestary within the fortress walls and moat.

Roluos Group

Strangely we found a bit of graffiti on the temple that looked almost identical to the loetek branding Cale and friends used to use in high school.

Roluos Group

We dropped in briefly on
Lolei, but it wasn't too exciting and appeared to be entirely under construction at the time.

Next we headed north to
Banteay Srei. It is almost 40km out of town, so there was no way we were going to bike there.

Banteay Srei

The thing that is impossible to convey in photographs of this temple is that it is tiny. It has all the features of other Angkorian temples, but at half the size. It is like wandering around a child-sized playground or dollhouse of Angkorian temples. The part of this site that took my breath away was the detailing in the carvings that had been preserved.

Banteay Srei

At that point, it was my favourite temple by far. However, we hadn't been to Banteay Chmmar yet.

Before we had left that morning, Clem had asked us to take some pictures of our tuk-tuk driver, Sophara. She is building a web site for him. I had tried to convince him to go to Angkor Wat and the South Gate of Angkor Thom before we headed north to Banteay Srei in the hopes of getting him in front of those landmarks with some good light. However, he insisted on taking us to all the temples first. On the return from Banteay Srei, he stopped at
Banteay Samre so we could see that one as well. Cale and I were walking around inside the temple and stepped out into a courtyard. I was shocked to see how quickly we were losing the light. It was fast approaching 4pm. If we didn't hurry, there would be no light left to take pictures of Sophara. We took off for the main Angkor site and stopped at picturesque sites along the way to take pictures. Unfortunately, the light was not cooperating (and around Angkor Wat, neither were the crowds).

TukTuk

Sophara wanted a passenger in the pictures, so Cale is in some of the shots. I had the hardest time getting Sophara to smile for the pictures. He is such a happy guy and smiles beautifully when he is talking to you, but is so serious in the pictures.

I will link to the web site when Clem is done building it. In the mean time, if you are in Siem Reap and are looking for a great tuk-tuk driver stop by the Siem Reap Hostel and ask for Sophara.

— Sara

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Seven Years



Shit. That's a really long time.

Cale and I are either spending today on our way to a remote village to see an old man about an elephant or on a bus Kampot-ward. We aren't sure yet.

- Sara

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Green Gecko

Courtesy of Green Gecko

We've been couchsurfing at Clem's place 12 days now (with a brief break in the middle when we went out to Banteay Chhmar..more on that later). Clem is pretty awesome. Last year she volunteered for two months with the
Green Gecko Project here in Siem Reap. This year she is back to work for them full-time as the development coordinator. She recently just secured funding for her job for AusAid and will become a Youth Ambassador. It's sort of funny because she has to return to Australia for the pre-departure training, even though she has been living and working here for months already. That's how bureaucracy works.

We went to visit Green Gecko more than a week ago and it is pretty impressive. Currently the Green Gecko Project is a residential program for about 70 former street/beggar children providing housing, clothing, food, education and a family for those involved. I could rehash the story of how Green Gecko began, but it is explained so eloquently
here, that I would rather just encourage you to click the link and read the story. To briefly summarize: Tania, an Australian women, read a story on orphanages in Siem Reap in an in-flight magazine in 2004. She immediately flew to Siem Reap and found her calling with the children there. Together Tania and her Khmer partner, Rem, have created this large family. Today the 70 children live on the Gecko compound, attend both Khmer and English school and have daily organized educational activities. The Project also provides support to 30 families including nutritional food packs and micro-business trainings, among other efforts.

Want to melt your heart? Check out
this page, where you can see all the Gecko kids.

Cale and I were so impressed with the organization and came away from the visit a little jealous about the teaching the volunteers do there in comparison to our teaching experience in Samoa. The main difference is that in Samoa we had to work within the existing school system and were limited by existing curricula. The Gecko kids attend outside school every day (though I will have to blog about the Cambodia school system soon), so the volunteers at the organization are not limited or hampered by the school system. Instead they are open to make creative curricula that teach useful information that inspire the students.

If anyone reading this blog was wondering how they could help out with street kids in Cambodia,
this is they way to do so.

— Sara

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cold-Hearted

At Angkor Thom

This little girl is probably five years old. Granted, I am very poor at guessing the ages of the Khmer people, everyone between the ages of 12 and 40 appear to be about 16 to me. However, I am going with five. She was outside the Baphuon temple and was one of several children with baskets filled with wares for sale. There is nothing unusual about this. Outside every temple there are vendors hawking souvenirs, food and bottled water. It is easy to get quickly irritated when you are constantly harassed as you bike down the street and as you enter and exit every temple.

"Laaaaadyyyyyy. You want cold drink?"

"Buy my postcard. Ten for one dooooooooollaaaaar."

For some strange reason, all street vendors use the same sing-songy voice when hawking their wares.

However, it is the kids that I have the hardest time with. It is hard to say no to a tiny, adorable, five-year-old over and over and over again. At some point you have to just switch into ignore mode and just pretend they are not there anymore. It sort of breaks my heart a little. I prefer the grown-ups, I don't feel as bad saying no to them or ignoring them when I have already conveyed my disinterest in what they are selling.

It is harder on the touristy streets in Siem Reap. Sitting on Pub Street, the people who approach you are all children or disabled. Some of them are disabled children. I feel like such a cold-hearted bitch turning down the blind man being led from table to table by a child of about six or the one-legged youth selling books.

Clem comforts me by pointing out that there are enough NGOs in Siem Reap to take in every street kid and assist every disabled person. If I give money to the street kids, I am only encouraging their parents (or whoever they are working for) to keep them on the street instead of letting them get assistance from an NGO. Just the other night Clem ran into a young girl on the street. This girl's older brother is being helped by an NGO and this girl was once there too. However, her grandmother pulled her out to have her sell bracelets on the street. Buying a bracelet from her would only encourage the grandmother.

None of this logic really makes me feel better though. I still feel heartless.

— Sara

PS. I don't really have any pictures of the street kids because I don't want to take pictures of them like they are a tourist attraction.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Name This Plant: Dragon Fruit

Name This Plant

I have to give props to both Anonymous and Matt81's Dad for correctly naming this fruit. Like Matt's dad, I know it as Dragon Fruit. However, Anonymous is also correct in calling it Pitaya.

According to
Wikipedia, the dragon fruit grows on a cactus and is native to Central and South America. It also apparently comes in several varieties. I am used to the red exterior with white flesh. However, it also can have purple flesh and, apparently, can come with a yellow exterior. Rumor has it is called dragon fruit because when it grows on the end of the long arms of the cactus it looks like the head of a dragon.


Dragon fruit on the vine (if vine is appropriate)/Wikipedia

The flesh is similar in texture and taste to a kiwi and the seeds are similar to strawberry seeds.


Wikipedia

— Sara

Friday, May 21, 2010

Things Seen on the Back of a Moto

On The Back of a Moto
Somewhere under all that recycling is a single, two-wheel scooter without a trailer or trike wheels or anything

Three Buddhist monks (not including the driver)

Three number three pigs

More than 10 five-gallon jerry cans

More than 10 24-cases of beer

On The Back of a Moto

A huge propane tank

Live chickens

Another moto (granted this one was like a power-wheels-sized one for a kid to play on)

On The Back of a Moto

Trees

A refrigerator (I didn't see this one, Clem, who we are couchsurfing with, did)

— Sara

Name This Plant

It's been a while. So I thought I would bring back everyone's favourite blog feature. I thought I would start with an easy one.

Name This Plant

— Sara

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Making Up For Past Failures

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

You may remember our recent fail day when I lost my ticket and Cale had a flat tire and we failed to see the temples on the east side of the Angkor complex. Several days later we made up for it.

Bayon
Bayon faces

We started out at the
Bayon just before noon for optimal picture taking. The Bayon temple was the official state temple of King Jayavarman VII and is most famous for the myriad of faces carved into the towers. However, the faces are actually more difficult to photograph than one might think. It is hard to portray on film the experience of standing among all these towers with faces on all four sides. Attempts to photograph the temple from a distances causes it to merge into a jumble of indistinguishable stone towers and cannot convey the impression of all these distinct faces. Well, at least that is what happens to me, I am not a professional photographer. However, we weren't at the Bayon to shoot the faces, we were there to shoot the light.

Bayon
Looks like an Indiana Jones movie

In the roofs of many of the Bayon towers, there are openings that let in streams of light if you are there at the right time of day. Two streams of light in particular are near to the Buddha statue that is still actively worshipped. The Buddha, the smoke from the incense and the light makes for great photographic opportunities.

Bayon
Bayon

Cale also loves the Bayon because it is like a maze. It is easy to become lost in the temple. You may exit a gallery through a doorway only to discover that you are standing a level below what is outside the gallery and must clamber up the stones to reach the floor. I am unsure if it was the original plan or if this was caused by alterations over time. Either way it is cool.

After visiting Bayon, we exited Angkor Thom through the Victory Gate and continued on to
Ta Keo. The steps ascending the temples are frequently steep and are meant to represent climbing Mount Meru (home to the Hindu gods). However, the steps to the top of Ta Keo were the steepest I had seen yet. I believe they compare in steepness to the steps leading to the top of the pyramid we climbed in Chichen Itza.Though the pyramid in Mexico was taller, it had a secured rope that ran down the middle of the steps which allowed me to reach the top with out fearing for my life...too much. Granted, once I was at the top of the pyramid I was scared shitless and had a hard time getting back down. I eventually descended on my butt, one step at a time.

Ta Keo
Steep stairs at Ta Keo

Anyway, back to Ta Keo and its steep steps. The first set of stairs was relatively short and I made it to the second level. However, when faced with the steps to the top, I climbed halfway up before I had to give in to fright and return to the landing. Cale continued on without me. I took comfort in knowing that I was not alone. Others were also stymied by the steep climb and the fact that the dark-colored stones had been baking in the sun all day and were extremely hot to the touch. If you wanted to get to the top, you needed to use your hands and if you used your hands, you burned them a little.

Ta Keo
Sara gives up

Once at the top, Cale discovered it was a popular hang out for Khmer who had caught themselves a grasshopper. He was pretty sure it was lunch.

Ta Keo
Lunch?

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

Next we headed to
Ta Prohm, more famously known as the Angelina Jolie temple. When the French began their restoration of the Angkor complex they supposedly left Ta Prohm in the state it was rediscovered in and only reinforced delicate areas to prevent it from continuing to deteriorate. The temple complex contains a structure our tour guide Molly had called a high school, but what was in fact a monastery and school of higher learning. Apparently, the king's mother taught there. Jayavarman VII is also famous for having built more than 100 hospitals/way stations along the roads of his kingdom. Molly claimed that one of the towers in the temple complex is meant to represent (or be, she used the word represent to mean that something is in fact that thing as well) these hospitals. In this tower or chamber you can stand near the wall and when you beat your fist against your chest it creates this deep echoing noise that fills the chamber. I can find no google references to confirm our tour guide's story that this was a hospital and that you beat your chest for good health. Everything I can locate simply calls it an echo chamber.

Ta Prohm

The most famous photographs of Ta Prohm show the trees that have grown over the temple and have become an integral part of the structure.

Ta Prohm

However, the temple has many other quirks, including a bas-relief that contains a stegosaurus.

Ta Prohm

And the scratched out remains of Buddha bas-relief after a later king tried to return to Hinduism after Buddhism had risen in popularity.

Ta Prohm

We finished our day at
Banteay Kdei. It has been over a week since the visit and nothing about the temple stands out in my mind. It might have just suffered from being the last temple in a long day of templing or it might not be super interesting. I am not sure.

Banteay Kdei

More tales of templing and blog entries about our other adventures outside of Siem Reap are forthcoming. I am more than a week behind in blogging now.

— Sara

Wifi



Every where you go in Siem Reap you see this sign. Every guesthouse advertises free wifi. Every restaurant on Pub Street advertises free wifi. The pool behind our guesthouse advertised free wifi.

1. Who brings their computer to the pool?
2. It wasn't true. The signal was coming from a nearby guesthouse and was so weak you had to stand in the alley to pick up even one bar.

We knew this free wifi thing had gotten out of control when Cale picked up a Khmer-language magazine and it advertised in English in a corner of the cover that it had free wifi. It's a magazine! It cannot possibly have free wifi!

Most of this wifi is insanely slow. I have been uploading all my pictures at 72dpi because to try to upload a full-res picture would take all day. Some times the wireless connection slows to a crawl that must be less than even a 14k dial-up connection. I am starting to wonder if all the wireless hotspots in Siem Reap are in fact sharing one connection. That would explain the speed.

— Sara

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It's Hot in Cambodia

Seriously, very, very hot. Hotter than Samoa. With the heat index, the temperatures here have remained over 100 degrees every day and stay in the 90s well into the night.

When we first arrived we stayed at the Happy Guesthouse, recommended to us by a couchsurfer. It is a very nice place and the staff are wonderful. We were given a fan room on the second floor. The fan was a ceiling fan and though it was quite powerful, it still wasn't as nice has having a pedestal fan aimed directly at you. The first night we tried the bed, but discovered the mattress was too soft for us. The second night we slept on the floor. In general it wasn't too bad, but it was still pretty warm in the room. I always found it cooler in the hallway where there were open doors at either end to the outside that allowed a breeze.

In his adventures, Cale had discovered the guesthouse just down the road (NAME?) had a pool. A lovely, new pool. It cost $3 to use. Cale talked to the guesthouse and discovered it wasn't their pool, but they had a deal with the guesthouse that owned it and if you stayed with them you got a discount on the pool. As they had no guests at the time, Cale got them to agree to the same price we were getting for a fan room at Happy ($6 a night) and a discount on the pool ($1.50 per use). We saw their fan room and I was initially excited. It was all wooden inside with a mosquito net, ceiling fan and pedestal fan. There was so much potential. However, when we returned that night we discovered that our second floor (and also the top floor) room had baked in the sweltering sun all day and was unbearable inside. The ceiling fan only stirred up the hot air, pushing it down on us. The pedestal fan was incredibly weak and barely moved the air. The windows were slits with hurricane shutters that only opened a small amount. There were not screens, so we had to sleep under the mosquito net where the meager fan breezes couldn't reach us. I was suffering. I got up repeatedly to shower with no avail. Finally, I left the room and sat on the second story balcony landing outside where I could feel a breeze and the temperature was a good 10 degrees lower. I contemplated sleeping there, but Cale would not let me. Instead, Cale put the pedestal fan on the bed inside the mosquito net and I slept fitfully through the night.

That day, when we left, we left all the fans on full blast in the hopes of keeping the room cooler during the day, but when we returned we discovered they had come to make up the room and turned off all the fans. Once again the room was a oven. I knew I could not continue to sleep there. The next day we did a search for potential solutions and in the end we stayed with the same guest house only moving from the $6 fan room on the second floor to the $10 air-con room on the first floor. What was funny was that just moving to a first-floor room was enough to make the temperature bearable. However, we figured if we were going to pay for the air-con room, we might as well use it. We spent seven nights in the air-con room wallowing in coolness, only to be walloped with heat and humidity when we left the room. However, by the end of our stay both Cale and I had colds or some sort of upper respiratory problem that Cale blamed on the air-con. Thankfully, we were leaving the air-con behind.

On Tuesday we moved to Clem's. Clem is an Aussie couchsurfer who lives in Siem Reap and works at the Green Gecko (more on that later). She has a darling house with private gate and garden and an extra bedroom. I was still in a stupor with my illness and wasn't noticing much of what was going on, but Cale had eyes on a structure in her front garden immediately. It was a faleo'o! Clem calls it a lunch hut, as do many of the ex-pats I have met. I am not sure what the Cambodian's call it. I call it a square faleo'o. This fale had a fan and a florescent light. With Clem's blessing we took up sleeping in the lunch hut instead of the extra bedroom and have found the temperature perfectly wonderful for the last five nights.

Apparently, we are most comfortable sleeping on a couple of mats in a hut outside. Does this mean we are broken?

— Sara

Fail Day

Angkor Wat
Apsara on top level of Angkor Wat

Last Friday was one of our failure days. We were up and out of the guesthouse at 9am prepared for a full day of templing. First we biked just under four miles to the ticket booth/check point between Siem Reap and the main Angkor complex. This is where you buy your tickets, or if you already have a multi-day pass, you get it punched for that day. With freshly punched passes we continued on another 8.3 miles to Banteay Kdei. At all the major temples there are park employees to check your ticket again. As we approached the man at the entrance to the temple, I began searching desperately in my camera bag. No ticket.

Typically I keep my camera bag slung over one shoulder and fastened around my hips with another strap. The bag itself rides on my back like a fanny pack (it is, however, i would like to point out, in no way a fanny pack). On the part of the bag that is secured against my backside there is a pocket. The pocket doesn't have a zipper, which makes it easy for me to reach behind between my back and the bag and pull things out or tuck things in without having to swing the back around to the front or undo the hip strap to get to things inside the back. This is where I typically keep my ticket. Earlier that morning, as we approached the ticket booth, I had reached in and grabbed the ticket out. After it was punched, I reached behind and tucked it back in. At the time I did notice to myself that I had tucked the ticket back into the back long-ways, which I normally cannot do. Normally if the ticket is in long ways, it sticks out the top of the pocket too much. However, this time it seemed to fit and I thought nothing of it. I should have thought something of it.

We slowly biked the eight miles back to the ticket booth on the wrong side of the road keeping our eyes to the ground looking for the ticket. I knew that if it had fallen out along the way the likelihood of finding it was like nil. I had all my hopes on my having dropped it just after having it punched at the booth and someone picking it up there. When we finally got back to the booth we started to ask around about a lost ticket. No one seemed to have seen one. Everyone asked how many days for the ticket, when they told them it was a seven-day ticket, they were all like, "ooooohhhhh." You know, cause that is the expensive one. Granted we were on day three of our seven days, so it wasn't brand new, but it was still going to be a pain in the ass to buy a new one. They sell one-day, three-day and seven-day tickets. If Cale and I were to have the same number of days, I would have to buy a new seven-day ticket for $60. If I bought a three-day for $40, this would be one of my days and then I would only have two left, while Cale would have four more days left.

Thankfully, we were finally directed to a man that seemed particularly interested in my lost ticket. He wanted to know more about it. How many days, where did I lose it, what was the first day on the ticket, etc. Cale reached into his pocket and pulled out his ticket, "Like this one." The guy took Cale's ticket and then reached into his pocket and pulled out another ticket to compare. It was my ticket! The tickets have webcam pictures on them that are not so hot. So he couldn't really tell from the picture it was me, but he could see that they were issued on the same day at the same time and had the same number of punches on them. Hooray! After admonishing me to take better care of our tickets he sent us off jubilant.

We were less than a mile from the ticket booth on the way back to the temples when we discovered Cale had a flat tire. Thankfully, the roads in Siem Reap are littered with little stations that usually have gas in two-liter coke bottles and air compressors. I have only seen one actual gas station (as we define them) in Siem Reap. Heck, in Cambodia so far (but I have only been in Poipet, Siem Reap and the road in between). Usually you will have the coke bottles on the side of the road for gas. Occasionally, there will be oil drums of gas with these crazy hand-crank pump things on top that dispense gas too.

Anyway, we stopped at an air compressor on the side of the road being manned by a group three kids. I think the oldest looked about ten. He fiddled around with the tire and decided the thing that goes into the hole where you air up the tire was broken and grabbed one out of the bikes they had parked nearby and put it in Cale's bike so he could inflate the tire. It seemed to work and we started out again. Almost immediately, it was flat again. We didn't want it to be an entire waste of a day, so we decided to walk the bikes to Angkor Wat, which was closer than the temples we had originally attempted to see that morning. Our walking attracted the attention of a group of four French girls on bikes who seemed unusually concerned over our plight. They wanted to stop and help, though after some conversation we could think of no help they could offer and we were fine walking the bikes.

Not far from Angkor Wat a man on the side of the road near a row of little shops flagged us down to ask Cale about his bike. Did it need air? No we think it is more broken than that. He said he could fix it and walked us down a path into the woods just behind the shops where his house is. A surprising number of people life in the woods in the park. I am not 100% clear on its legality. He was obviously a little bit of an electronics repair man, what with all the disembowled TVs and other gadgets hanging (literally) around. He set right to work on Cale's tire. Took the tube out, found the leak, patched it up, charged us $3 and sent us on our way.

Getting the Bike Fixed

Getting the Bike Fixed

At this point, it was after noon and we hadn't seen any temples. We grabbed a bit to eat and then went to see them upper terrace of Angkor Wat, which we had not seen in our previous trips (though I already mentioned it in the blog post about Angkor Wat). After all the time we had spent with the bas-relief on a previous day, the upper terrace was a little bit of a let down.

Bayon
Bayon

Next we biked on to the Bayon. When we had seen it on our tour I had seen some excellent potential for photographs and it was already Cale's favorite temple, so we had always planned to return. It was close to 2 pm at this point and I discovered that the light was all wrong for the pictures. Also, lunch wasn't sitting too well with me. So we gave up and headed back the guesthouse.

We spent the rest of our failure day in the pool. Later we went to quiz night at a pub/guesthouse where I got into an argument with an English environmental scientist over the English and American marking systems. I am still not clear on how it is in England (and Ireland and Australia and other places) you can get a 40% in a course and that is passing. Whereas in the States it is 70%. It seems to me that if you demonstrate less than half of the required knowledge you shouldn't pass. However, they insisted that 1. the exams are just harder in England and 2. everyone knows that a 40% pass isn't a very good pass. I need to do more research on this subject because I know there has to be more to it. If you have objectives for a course, the information to meet those objectives is taught and then a reliable assessment to determine how well the students learned those objectives is administered, the in my mind to know only 40% of the objectives should not be passing. However, for them they say that it is virtually impossible to get above a 90% in a course because there is aways room for improvement. Her example was if she took a course in land-management and for the final grade wrote a land management plan, there would always be room for improvement in that plan. That someone who had worked in land management for 30 years could write a better plan. I agree with this statement, however, if I take an intro to physics course there is always room for me to master string theory, but that wasn't the objective of that course, the objective was basic physics. So why make it impossible to get the highest marks because there are things in physics the students don't know if those things are outside the scope of the course?

Anyway, I have started down the road of the argument again and this time I am only arguing with myself, so I should probably leave it be.

— Sara

PS. Pictures and links will have to come later, as the internet is slow now.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tidbits

Pajamas are clothes. You know the ones. Matching top and bottom with the button up shirt with the rounded collars. Most likely to have clouds or sheep or kittens printed on them, but really could have anything printed on them.

Life lesson: When you are not looking the world is covered in frog piss and lizard poo.

If you are going to survive on the roads of Siem Reap, you have to accept that there are no lanes and there are no rules. In theory Cambodians drive on the right side of the road. In theory there is one lane going one way and another lane going the other way. However, there are lots of things that exist in theory and not in real life, (like all those
undiscovered elements) In reality it is more like there are three lanes inside each one. There's the main space for the very few cars and the majority of motos, there's the space to the right for motos when there is a car on the road and there is the space to the right of that for people who want to go in the opposite direction, but don't feel like crossing over to the other side of the road where traffic going that direction is supposed to be. There is the occasional traffic light that people generally obey. However, when the light is green it is green for straight, right turn and left turn. Also, if you want to make a left turn you usually just want to move in to the lane of on-coming traffic or cross to the other side of the street and just that far outside, against traffic lane before you come to your turn. In general all intersections have no lights, no stops and no yields. All traffic moves in all directions at all times. Just keep your eyes open and keep pedaling.

— Sara

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Angkor Thom

At Angkor Thom
South gate

Angkor Thom is aptly named the "Big, Large, or Great City" (depending on who you ask). It is situated just north of Angkor Wat when you enter the Angkor Archeological Park. The most famous temple in Angkor Thom is Bayon and it also the first one you come to when entering the city by the south gate. Seeing has how we had we had already had a quick visit with Bayon on our guided tour and Cale is interested in less well-preserved ruins, we biked on past the Bayon and headed out to the
Preah Pithu Complex of five temples (I would just like to say after reading the Wiki entry on these temples, I don't trust it very much, not very professionally sounding or well written).

At Angkor Thom

It was a very enjoyable visit. Since we are here during the dry season the moats were dry. However, we had these temple ruins pretty much all to ourselves and they are located in much denser tree coverage than other temples, which made for a less hot experience.

We worked our way south visiting the
Khleangs. The most exciting part of the northern Khleang structure was this spider that we noticed.

At Angkor Thom

After that we bought an ice cream from a truck and then revisited the
Terrace of the Leper King. At the top of the remaining structure is a replica of the original statue found at the site. Depending on who you ask (including Wikipedia) the sculpture was so named because it was damaged in such a way that it appeared to have leprosy and because there is a Cambodian legend about a king with leprosy. However, Wikipedia claims that the name of the lepros king was on the original statue, whereas our guide book and other sources don't seem to confirm this fact. The most interesting part of this ruin for us was the fact that it is in fact a double ruin. The original, highly-decorated, bas-relief wall was covered by a second, high-decorated, bas-relief wall not long after it was finished (on a historical timescale) and was excavated in the late 1990s. Needless to say, the one that had been hidden for centuries is in much better condition that the exposed one and was fascinating to see.

At Angkor Thom

We briefly visited the Terrace of Elephants and
Phimeanakas, which were once the site of the Royal Palace (most likely constructed of less durable materials).

We moved quickly to the
Baphoun, which I was particularly excited to see. I knew the Baphoun as the jigsaw temple. Since its rediscovery it has posed a large problem for attempts at reconstruction. The original base for the temple was sand and it has most likely collapsed multiple times throughout history. The first attempts at reconstruction were stymied by multiple collapses and the Khmer Rouge (which I will get into in a later post). Since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, French teams have again been trying to restore the temple. However, they faced one big obstacle. Scattered throughout the jungle were all the cataloged pieces of the temple, left behind by the last reconstruction team. However, the actual catalog of these pieces was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge's rule. It was necessary for the teams to figure out what pieces went where. Further complicating this matter is that the back of the temple had been refashioned into a large reclining Buddha during the 15th century using many stones recycled from the original temple. The reconstruction of this temple is a huge undertaking.

At Angkor Thom

After visiting the Baphoun we were exhausted. For the second time that day we biked past the most famous temple in Angkor Thom (Bayon), putting off a more thorough visit for another day, and headed home to the pool and relaxation.

— Sara

National Museum

On Tuesday it was threatening to rain and we woke up late so we decided to head to the National Museum.

We were a little apprehensive. We had recently discovered that, frequently, museums suck. We saw the National Museum in Bangkok and were less than impressed. Granted we were a little overheated and under-hydrated, but I still don't think that I would have found it too awesome even in optimal conditions. There were lots of things in the museum, but very little information. The places where there was lots of information there were very few things. Oh,and the dioramas. I cannot imagine a single person who would find tiny dramatic depictions of lame historic events to be that fascinating. We had the same experience at the museum in Chiang Mai. Dioramas galore. The best exhibit was the temporary one on hill tribe music traditions.

However, there was no reason to be apprehensive about visiting the Angkor National Museum. It was well laid out, filled with actual artifacts and jam packed with information. In addition to historical information on well-designed wall displays, there was art history information beside many of the pieces explaining, for example, why earlier sculptures of Vishnu contained props (such as staffs) and other supports between the arms and the ground or the extra arms and the head (because the sculptures didn't know how else to support the weight of the statue and keep it from toppling over).

We really enjoyed our time in the museum and recommend it to anyone visiting Siem Reap and the Angkor Archeological Park.

— Sara

Monday, May 10, 2010

Temple Tour Part II

At Angkor Wat

At 9 am on Monday our tuk-tuk driver friend met us at our guest house. Did I mention his name is Mr. Map (or Mr. Mop, I am not 100% sure)? So there is that. He had brought along this tiny little girl with him, Molly (or Moli? or something that sounds like Molly?) our tour guide.

Molly was adorable, but she was not having her best day. At first I was a little concerned because her English wasn't super fabulous and her accent made it a little hard for me to understand her. But I figured we could work around that. Frequently, she didn't seem to be able to answer our questions, either because she didn't understand or didn't know the answer or didn't know how to say the answer. In these instances she would fall back on her rote memorized speech, which would be a repeat of what she had just told us and not an answer to the question.

We quickly had to forgive her distraction when we discovered that all the phone calls and text messages she was getting were because her father was sick in the hospital in Phnom Phen, probably dying from the sounds of it. She wants to go and be with her family there, but she cannot because she has to work. She is both a tour guide and works nights at the
Dr. Fish Massage (for those of you not familiar, you put your feet in a pool filled with cleaner fish and they eat all your dead skin). We took a little break because she was in tears at this point telling us.

We asked her if she wanted to just stop the tour now so she could deal with her family situation, but she insisted that she needed to do her job. However, after the calls started to become more frequent, she asked if we could end a little early, so she could look into getting to Phnom Phen. Before parting ways she accompanied us to the market to show Cale where he could buy a new french press (I accidentally left the old one in Bangkok).

While on our tour we saw Angkor Wat, the
Bayon, the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King and Ta Prohm (most frequently referred to as the Angelina Jolie Temple because one of the Tomb Raider movies was filmed there).

I will go into more detail and provide pictures of these sights in later posts, as we saw them again in more detail on subsequent visits. During our trip with Molly, I took very few photographs because I knew I was going to come back. It let me scope out things I wanted to shoot and let me just enjoy looking around without taking pictures.

— Sara

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Temple Tour Part I

You may remember mention of our surreal trip from the bus station in Poipet to Siem Reap in a van full of tour company employees? That was Friday. One of the employees is also a tuk-tuk driver and conveniently stays just down the street from our guesthouse. He was there Saturday morning at breakfast to inquire about our plans or need for a driver or tour guide. We told him we weren't sure of our plans. Sunday morning? Once again, hanging out for breakfast asking after our plans. You have to give it to the guy; he is sure is persistent.

From the amount of tourism-dedicated infrastructure I see in this city it is obvious that during the high season (i.e. when it is not so balls hot outside) this place is just packed to the gills with tourists. However, we are here during the low season and every tuk-tuk driver and tour guide is desperate to be our friend. Right now, we are the only people staying at our guesthouse, which sits on street of guesthouses, just off another street of guesthouses. There just aren't enough tourists to go around right now.

Sunday Cale and I tried to track down the tourism office, which was also apparently the headquarters for the tour guide association and see what information we could stir up.

Let me just take a moment here to get off track.
Lonely Planet is an utter piece of crap. Before we came here I downloaded from their web site the chapters on Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam from their Southeast Asia on a Shoestring book. It is straight from the web site and supposed to be the most up-to-date. Cost me $10. Right off the bat we discovered that the guesthouse we had intended to stay at based on the info in the Lonely Planet didn't exist. We cannot locate hide nor hair of it. Internet searches don't indicate any listings for it that aren't years old.

We used to mock the
Lonely Planet: Samoa we had when we lived there. The number of inaccuracies, complete fallacies and simple fantasies in it were hilarious. In particular, the book claimed there was a hop-on, hop-off bus service that traveled continuously around the big island of Savaii. You could buy a pass and then just hop on and off the buses all day making your way from destination to destination. HA! Anyone living in Samoa knows that is a complete joke. Poor tourists who came looking for it. After two years we finally found mention of this phenomena some where else that led us to believe that it might have been existance for a very brief period of time years ago.

We always assumed it was because it wasn't the newest edition and that Samoa wasn't high up on the list of popular tourist destinations. However, I imagine that Siem Reap and Angkor Wat are pretty high up on the list of tourist destinations for
Lonely Planet readers, yet the information is generally crap. The ceramic center they say is on the road to the airport far west of town is in fact just north of town on the way to Angkor Wat. The place they refer to as the Singing Tree Cafe is in fact Peace Cafe and the woman who owns it says it has had that name for the last four years. Way to keep things up-to-date guys.

Anyway, back to our search for the tourism authority. We go to the location indicated in the Lonely Planet (and I have to admit also on all the Xeroxed maps the guesthouses hand out..speaking of that, the Lonely Planet also claims "hotels, pubs and restaurants can supply you with the free Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide" and I have yet to see one of those either). So we find this obviously abandoned building with a bunch of tuk-tuk drivers hanging out (I assume waiting for all the lost tourists who think the tourism authority is here). There is a sign on the door that says they have move to "near the Old Market and by the Royal Residence." Well, that really clears that up. Near the Old Market you say. The market only covers a city block, so near there, huh?

We biked by the Royal Residence and by luck came across a building advertising it was the tourism authority. It was still under construction. Next, we went in the direction of the Old Market. Along the way Cale happened to catch a sign out of the corner of his eye that claimed the Tour Guide Association was 60m back the way we came. We back tracked to a second sign indicating the association was down this tiny, residential-looking alley. We were game and lo and behold we discovered the Tour Guide Association tucked down a random residential alley.

Our talk with the guy there led us to believe that the tuk-tuk driver who had been visiting us every morning for breakfast was offering reasonable prices. We decided to return to our guest house and have him pick us up at 9am the next morning and bring his tour guide friend with him.

I was going to get into the entire guided-tour experience in this post, but I got sidetracked complaining about the
Lonely Planet and this post is sort of long already. So I tacked a Part I on the end of the post title and now you will have to wait to learn more about our Monday tour (that was a week ago now).

Also, I just wanted to point out that the
Lonely Planet isn't the only thing filled with lies. The Canby Publications who supposedly publish this mythical Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide have a web site. Their web site claims you can rent electric bikes in town and that there are recharging stations all around the temples and on the way to some of the further out temples. We went to the place the headquarters are supposed to be (the sign on the road seemed to agree, saying we could find electric bikes there) only to find it abandoned and a man who had no idea what we were talking about.

Several days later, as we were biking to the Bayon, Cale spied two electric bikes out of the corner of his eye next to a line of electric cars at the entrance to Angkor Thom (Cale is good at spying things out of the corners of his eyes). This company gives tours on the electric cars and they do indeed rent the bikes. However, they are only for Angkor Thom and there are no recharge stations. Maybe the Canby Publications is anticipating a time in the future when there will be an electric bike infrastructure all around Angkor?

— Sara

Friday, May 7, 2010

Angkor Wat

At Angkor Wat

I don't even know where to start in blogging about the Angkor Archeological Park. I should probably start with Angkor, that's where we started.

Angkor Wat is the most famous of a serious of temples and city remains located in the Angkor Archeological Park. The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings."


Angkor Wat dates from the early 12th century and was originally constructed in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu. Construction of the temple stopped with the reigning king's death and some theories believe that it was built as his mausoleum. Though why his death would end the construction of his mausoleum, I am not sure.

The city was built as the Hindu cosmos in miniature with the surrounding moat representing the mythical ocean surrounding the earth and the towers of the temple representing Mount Meru, home of the gods.

We first visited the temple city at sunset on Sunday. Sunday was the annual
Plowing Ceremony and was held in Siem Reap near the Bayon Temple for the first time in forty years. We had contemplated going, but where glad we decided not to when we saw footage on TV showing the number of people who were there for the event. That night it was still quite busy for sunset at Angkor Wat (though not as busy as I imagine it is during high season; we are here for low season).

Approaching the complex for the first time is awe inspiring. The scope, decoration and detail is overwhelming. I tried to imagine the site when it was new or when it was first being built.

That first night we crossed the stone bridge over the moat leading to the first gallery. There are several doors along the face of the gallery. The one in the middle is for the king. Others were specifically for the prime minister, the common people and even elephants. On the other side of the gallery is a long, stone walkway leading to the temple in the center. On either side it is flanked by smaller "libraries" (I am not sure why they are called libraries, as they were supposedly shrines). The temple itself rises up in the distance.

One the second day we visited Angkor Wat again with our tour guide (more on this later) and made a general pass of the entire complex (with an exception of the very top, center). There are many buddha and partial Buddha statues in the temple now. Both Hinduism and Buddhism seemed to have coexisted in the area though Hinduism fell out of fashion and Buddhism rose to replace it over time, the temples were used for both. At one time there were a thousand or more Buddha statues in the temple, though few of them remain today.

At Angkor Wat

We returned once again the next day to spend time specifically with the extensive bas-relief covering the gallery walls. The most famous of these is the
Churning of the Ocean of Milk. This story is repeated in reliefs and statues through out the archeological park, most notably at the gates to Angkor Thom (more on this later). Unfortunately, the relief at Angkor Wat is currently closed for repairs and we were only able to see a life-sized photograph. Of note, the churning of said milky sea resulted in, among other things, dancing nymphs called apsara. These lovely ladies (with elaborate headdresses and lacking in the shirt department) decorate a significant amount of free space in all the temples we have visited thus far (with racks like theirs, I can see why they are so popular).

At Angkor Wat

We were able to seem some amazingly detailed and intricate reliefs depicting both Hindu mythology and historical Khmer events.

At Angkor Wat

Finally, we went back to Angkor Wat again on Friday to visit the inner sanctuary of the highest towers. Much touted, this was surprisingly not particularly exciting. The view from high up was nice, but there wasn't nearly the amount of carving or bas-relief.

There you have it, Angkor Wat. Tune in next time to hear about our day with the tour guide.

— Sara

PS. I didn't take a lot of those traditional shots you see of Angkor Wat for two reasons. 1. Lots of people have already done it better than me and 2. There is work being done and green tarping covers some of the front.

More temple photographs can be found
here.