CAMBODIA: Angkor Wat Temples, Bayon Temple

CAMBODIA: Angkor Wat Temples, Bayon Temple

CAMBODIA – September 2011

Wed like to thank our Indonesian Tour Operator, Blue Ocean Tours for the wonderful itinerary that they put together for us, as well as the knowledgeable tour guides in each location we visited (Vietnam [Ho Chi Minh, Can Tho, Mekong Delta, Cai Be, Vinh Long] and Cambodia [Phnom Penh and Siem Reap].

Angkor Wat

Word about travelling during “rainy season” in Indonesia: prepare for that wonderful feeling of having swam (swum?) in your clothes all day. There is no getting around it, unless, of course, you don’t sweat!

A day’s visit to Angkor Wat Temples simply isn’t sufficint to see most of what is available to see but if you have only one day, you can visit a lot of areas.

We visited the awesome complex of structures known as Angkor Wat and also South Gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple (my fave), Bauphon Temple, the Elephant Terrace, Terrace of the Leper King (also a fave), Ta Proum Temple and finished the day at Angkor Wat’s main temple.

Demon & God statue heads at Angkor Thom, South Bridge
One drawback I suppose to visiting some of the most popular sites within Angkor Wat are the crowds.  The pictures depict the gods (left side) and demons (right side) of the Southern Gate entrance and bridge.

In peak season travellers can expect to stand around in the heat waiting for up to 30 minutes as numerous buses, cars, bikes and even elephants push forward to pass through the narrow gateway at Angkor Thom. 

Of all the temples, personally I liked Bayon Temple, for all the thousands of faces atop every single high feature in the temple.

Bayon Temple, Angor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat Temple is magnificent if for nothing more than its immense size. It has a moat that surrounds the temple on all sides, and 5 main gates: East/West/North/South and the Elephant Gate (or King’s gate) which is where the King would have come up to the entrance on his elephant This gate has no stairs to allow the elephant to walk up directly to the gate so the king and his throne could be lifted off and directly into the temple.

Elephant Gate Entrance at Angkor Wat

Our amazing guide, T. at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Angkor Wat reminded me in some ways of Chichen Itza in Mexico for the magnitude of the structures and the planning that went into creating these fortresses for security, for prayer, and for daily living.

The jungle like temperatures will definitely make you feel like you’ve been out swimming with your clothes on, and this simply adds to the full Angkor & Siem Reap cultural experience.

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CAMBODIA: Siem Reap’s Night Market & Dr. Fish

CAMBODIA: Siem Reap’s Night Market & Dr. Fish

Cambodia – September 2011

Siem Reap Night Market: For anyone that loves shopping, local markets with indigenous products, souks and the like, there is a fantastic place located in the center of Siem Reap town with hundreds of little markets selling all kinds of wares from silk scarves, to bamboo carvings, to luggage, to jewelry, to t-shirts, to the ever-available massage (you get accosted walking past the massage ‘clinics’) – Sir, Sir, One Dollah, Massage Sir!

Siem Reap Night Market
Angkor Night Market

The dining choices truly are endless as you get to choose from many local restaurants in the general area of the night market, and the waiters will bring your dinner to this central area with lounge chairs and masseage booths within a hundred metres.

What I loved about Angkor Night Market was that you can sit and have a drink, sample food for about 10 different restaurants in the area and do your shopping all in the one compact area, no strolling around for hours in the sultry night heart of September in Cambodia!

Last but not least in Siem Reap, the “DR. FISH stands everywhere.” On so many levels this concept grosses me COMPLETELY out, but I have to admit it actually works!! We stopped at Dr. Fish – I mean if the store says DOCTOR, it must be legit right!? Plus, they offer free beer or coke while your “feet get eat!” I mean C’mon, what a deal. :))

Dr. Fish, Cambodia. Sir, Sir, Just 2 dollah! ($)

There are tanks full of little minnow type fish (later research of course led me to determine that these fish of course originated in the Country I love most aside from Canada – Turkey, and teh fish are known as Garra Rufa.)

These tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet or hands, (*urge*) but I swear to god they make your feet feel like new. I didn’t do it (in Cambodia), as I had to video the event taking place – god forbid. However, we all know, any man that has feet (that would be most of you) and is not gay (hey it’s a fact that my gay peep friends tend to spa & primp more than the regular dude) tends to have horrible feet. Let’s call a spade a spade here ok, most dudes have gnarly feet! Add to that, men in the military have horrible feet x10 (or more).

So I figure, if these fish (aka: miracle workers) can make a military dude’s feet almost like baby’s feet, this concept MUST WORK yes??!! $2 for 20 minutes, AND a free beer. Life is good my friends! I think you can convince even the most hardened man to  go for Dr. Fish (in a foreign land), and they will love you for opening the world of Spa-dom and Pedicure-dom to them as they walk around on their new ‘baby-like feet.’

CAMBODIA: Tonle Sap Lake

CAMBODIA: Tonle Sap Lake

We arrived in Siem Reap by overland bus travel, again everything arranged by our tour operator Blue Ocean Tours. The overland bus was a great experience and I highly recommend it as a way to see so much more of the local culture and country side
Upon arrival in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we were immediately taken out on the waters of Tonle Sap Lake by our fantastic guide, T.

Pics of T on his wedding day in Cambodia!

Tonle Sap Lake is the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia (located in Siem Reap province) that measures approximately 300 kms long by 50 kms wide and is home to many thousands of Vietnamese people who have crossed the border without documentation.

Local residents on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia
Local resident’s homes on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia
Tonle Sap Lake homes in Cambodia
Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia

Where the homes and storefronts along the Mekong seemed at times unstable as they stood on stilts in the dank water, these homes on Tonle Sap Lake are completely built on boats and the owners move with the dry and rainy season, further up and down the lake as the water rises and falls. When it is dry season and low water, there are rice fields that are accessible (currently under the waters) and during rainy season these rice fields are flooded out and no planting or harvesting takes place. It is definitely a damp, dank and different way to live, completely in and on the water of Tonle Sap Lake.

Cambodia, where the art of hammock sleeping is perfected!! :)))

The English school on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia

If you get the opportunity, definitely try to include a visit to Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia to see a very unique, albeit damp way of living!

CAMBODIA: Apsara Dancers

CAMBODIA: Apsara Dancers

I’ve always wanted to see the Apsara Dancers of Malaysia (or Asia) and I finally had a chance in Siem Reap, Cambodia (Sept 2011)

These beautiful dancers always seemed mystical and exotic from pictures I had seen. After seeing these Khmer entertainers in person, I was even more enthralled with their exquisite beauty, and their intricate facial, hand and foot movements entranced me completely.

I learned that the Cambodia Apsara dancers’ headdress contains 5 points, and 2 rows of decorations similar to the Apsara that is pictured at Angkor Wat temples.

Apsaras are thought to be a form of female spirit representing clouds and waters, and is revered in Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. The Apsara is considered one of the most beautiful women, protraying an image of youthfulness and elegance, and who mystify others with their ethereal movements throughout their dancing.

This evening was as beautiful as I expected/hoped it would be with the Khmer classical dancers portraying this mystical dance!

CAMBODIA: Travelling overland by bus from Phnom Penh-Siem Reap

CAMBODIA: Travelling overland by bus from Phnom Penh-Siem Reap

Overland Bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap:
Travelling overland on local transportation is not for everyone I’ll admit, but I’ve always felt it gives you a great opportunity to get a glimpse into people’s everyday lives of the country you are visiting. This is truly something you cannot experience flying into & out of a city and just visiting the city itself. 

So this bus ride was approximately 6 hours (very bearable) from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. As you can see above there are very clear rules (if you are doing this yourself) as to who to get from Point A to Point B 

As bus travel goes, it was actually great (much better than the bus trip we took in India in 2009!!) Started out with a boxed lunch onboard, pastry with ham and a muffin as well as complimentary water handed out. Onboard were funny ‘black market’ movies that were dubbed so badly in English, they were almost unintelligible and  at times you could see the reflection of the person filming the dubbed movie. Good times!

Loved getting to see many areas of the countryside as we drove from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap province over the course of 6 hours. Seeing people working in their rice fields, walking the water buffalo, or carrying all kinds of EVERYTHING on bikes, donkeys, bicycles – you name it and it carried something on these roads.

Yes, there’s a bike in front of this

Many places the road had been washed out by heavy rains or flooding. It’s truly amazing to see some of these rural areas of Cambodia and previously Vietnam.

Upon arrival in Cambodia we were whisked away to Tonle Sap Lake. Where the homes and storefronts along the Mekong River seemed at times unstable as they stood on stilts in the dank water, the homes on Tonle Sap Lake are entirely built around the boat itself as the main living compartment. This allows the residents of Tonle Sap to move with the dry and rainy seasons, further up and down the lake as the water rises and falls. 

Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap

If your life ever presents the opportunity, take advantage of an overland bus trip in ANY country as you get to see SO much more of the local country and people’s customs even from community to community!

VIETNAM: Mekong Delta Floating Markets (Cai Be – Vinh Long – Can Tho)

VIETNAM: Mekong Delta Floating Markets (Cai Be – Vinh Long – Can Tho)

I love when I visit a place and it is exactly as my imagination expects it ‘should’ be. This is thrilling and gives me some of my absolute happiest travel moments. The Mekong River and its tributaries evolved before my eyes, just as I expected. The river offers up its own style of life and watching people live out their daily lives on the banks of the river was amazing to witness and experience.

Mekong Delta, Cai Be, Vietnam (J Camsell/Copyright)

There is a great deal of poverty evident along the river as we witness people in the murky, brown ebb & flow using the waters as everything from a bathroom and wash-up area, as well as a toilet, a place to wash clothes and throw out dirty dish water, as well as a place to catch fish for eating. We are told there are no more crocodiles in these waters along the banks, but you know all kinds of snakes and water life exist in the muddy waters.

The Mekong is wide and raging at some points and slow and still at other points and just about every form of life activity is carried out on the River. You can witness life happening just about everywhere you look: petrol stations along the way, huge cranes on barges dredging sand and salt from the waters, men fishing in the low, shallow waters, shops offering caskets for sale, other factories selling rice products, coconut products and just about everything one could imagine.

The factories we visited were all family-owned and many generations would all work together to run the many operations of the business. Young men working over labour-intensive hot stoves cooking and puffing rice in black sand (the sand keeps it at a level temperature so the rice doesn’t burn) to make what we call “rice krispie” cookies, another line of women cutting and bagging the puffed rice into the single cut cookies and wrapping them in rice paper or plastic, others shaving coconut from the shell to make coconut milk we buy in cans off the shelf, and still others pressing the rice to make rice wine and rice vinegar.

Making the Rice Krispie Cookies! (J Camsell/Copyright)
Snake Oil anyone? (J Camsell/Copyright)

Amazing factories and way of life. Of course there are many larger factories that use machines to do this, but these smaller, family-run factories along the Mekong Delta will sell their products to buyers along the Delta, who then sell to even larger buyers who may sell to markets overseas. Everything in the circle of life.

Hammock stops: It is the best thing I have ever seen. To offer drivers a place to rest and take a break from the heat if they are driving any long distance, there are everywhere you can see along the roadways, these rest stops or “hammock” stops. Small places where you can pull in your motorbike and jump in the hammock for a quick nap, and you’re on your way again. Fantastic. I am in FULL SUPPORT of the hammock stop!!

We ended our day in Vinh Long area.

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