Friday, March 18, 2011

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

We had an early morning today - meeting up with Suen and Ret at 5:30 to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat.  Quite a lot of people had the same idea, but we benefited from Suen's knowledge of how to beat the crowds.  He isn't a real big fan of the noisy Chinese tourist.  Angkor Wat is another temple built to honor the Hindu god, Shiva, and to be the mausoleum for the King's family.  It was started about 40 years prior to all the temples we saw yesterday but took about 30 years to build.  It is huge - the largest religious building in the world.  The entire temple complex is surrounded by a moat 1.5 kilometers on each side and 200 meters wide.  It took us a couple of hours to explore the whole place and all three levels.  It has five towers with the center tower on the top level.  The view from the top level is quite spectacular.  We had to climb up a rickety ladder to get to that level - lots of people weren't making it past the fashion police - knees and shoulders can not be showing - so I'm glad I did my homework on that one.  This temple is in the best shape because monks have remained here and maintained it throughout the centuries. 

We were already done with the main event by 8:30, so we came back to the hotel for some breakfast, a quick rest, and freshening up.  We headed back out at 9:30.  Suen and Ret took us on a brief tour of the countryside - local schools and country life.  We also saw the mountain that most of the stone for all these temples came from.  We were surprised to see that so much of the mountain was still there - it must have been at least double the size before all these temples were built. 

On our countryside tour we also saw bootleg gasoline in old Johnnie Walker bottles sold roadside - smuggled in from Thailand where it is cheaper.  We also saw the local staple being offered along the road - rice steamed with coconut milk in the holed out shell of bamboo stalks.  Suen also told us about his being stolen off the school yard, loaded into a bus, and sent out into the jungle with gun in hand (and no training) to fight in the civil war in 1986 - about the time we were graduating high school.  He had a brother who was rounded up by the other side, so he was fighting against his own brother!  He told us about how they planted land mines along the Thai border in northern Cambodia - not a very well thought out or coordinated/recorded effort - they estimate 3 million remain.  Again, he relayed these stories in a matter of fact manner.  When I asked him how he copes with the experiences of his life, he responded that nighttime is very hard - he doesn't sleep.  He is a very smart man - dedicated to making sure his children get a good education and to turning around the 80% illiteracy rate in Cambodia.  Every child we've come across he asks; "Did you go to school today?"

We returned to Siem Reap - sweaty and tired - but made one last stop at an artist school where a younger generation learns many of the ancient crafts used to build the temple complexes around this part of the country.  Many of those who would have handed down this knowledge to the next generation are gone.  There seemed to be a great sense of pride in the great skills being developed at this school and we spent some time and money in the gift shop.

Suen and Ret dropped us off on Pub Street for a late lunch of not so good pizza.  Then we got a tuk tuk back to the hotel for a swim, a rest, a clean up and now a post before dinner.

A couple of notes about dining in Cambodia.  So far, the Khmer food is not tempting.  A popular ingredient is Red Ants.  These are used in place of lemon as they are sour.  Mom, if you are in need of some lemon  you can just go out in the back yard and dig up a substitute!  Frog seems to also be quite popular here as is crocodile.  Suen does not have a birth certificate, but he knows that his father celebrated by cooking frog, so he suspects he was born in a rainy month and had chosen July 1968 - they are pretty sure about the year.

We will be dining at the Foreign Correspondents Club tonight.  Tomorrow is our last day!  We'll go see one more temple in the morning, a village on Tonle Sap Lake, and then rest and pack in the afternoon.  Our flight to Seoul, Korea is at 11:15 PM.  I don't really want to come home.

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