Saturday, February 16, 2013

SE Asia Day 7 - Cambodia's temples of old

We had a good long rest after our massive travel day yesterday. The guest house we booked online, with no recommendations turned out to be a fabulous little place called the Happy Guest House. The rooms were spacious and had a fan and air conditioning.

Downstairs, the reception was welcoming,

The restaurant and lounge area were shady and comfortable,
And they had free wi-fi!
We took our time at breakfast of banana pancakes (a yummy thickish crepe wrapped around fried bananas),cheese omelets and instant coffe with evaporated milk (total about $7 USD), and planned the days ahead.
First item of business was to sort out the Vietnamese visa business. We asked the hotel manager to call down to the embassy in Phenom Phen or to Sihanoukville to see if we could possibly get a visa in one day once we got there on Friday, thinking we would take the late bus on Thursday, which would give us two days to see the temples and Siem Reap. We were still not convinced either officewould be open with the Tet holiday. After some discussion, she understood that we were willing to fly out of Siem Reap straight to Vietnam, so then a visa would be easy! Just $70 USD each, we hand over our passports to her, and her travel agent friend would send them down to Phenom Phen and return them by Friday. No problems! So far, everything we had read and heard of this procedure sounded on the up and up, and the Cambodians generally are not out to scam you at that level, so we nervously handed over our passports, a photo, and a wad of greenbacks, and hoped for the best. It would cost us about $30 more each than doing it ourselves, but we could see the point of going all the way down to Sihanoukville and onto Ho chi min city when our real goal was northern Vietnam. That would be too many long bus rides!
With that in place, we could plan our next move and then enjoy Cambodia. We bought one way airfare to Hanoi for Saturday, which gave us 3 days in Siem Reap. By 10:30 we had hired Kioch, our tuk tuk driver for the next two days. The drivers like to hook up with a tourist and drive them around for a set price all day, which is easier and more profitable than trying to get passengers off the street. Koich was a very nice guy.


With the day partly gone, we decide to go out to a small, very old temple complex 15 km east of town, the Roluos group. These temples were built before the temples around Ankgor Wat, around 877 AD. They, like most of the later temples around Angkor, were built by the Khmer empire.


The first and oldest was Lolei.

These structures were in pretty bad shape, and as we would see, many temples were under some state of reconstruction.


But the carvings were still in pretty good shape for being 1200 years old in a tropical climate.

Many of the treasures have been plundered, but a few statues remain inside.
And the Sanskrit inscriptions on the doorsteps was probably pretty readable, if you read Sanskrit ;-).
These temples were built using brick with plaster covering. Later temples would be built with quarried stone.



The pagoda was not very old, and in good shape. Monks actively live and practice here.

The inside of the pagodas around Angkor are brightly painted, much more so than those we saw around Chiang Mai.

After Lolei, it was back to the tuk tuk...


To the nearby temple site Preah Ko. This site was bigger and in better shape.


The main terrace consists of 6 towers, built of brick and covered with some of the best surviving examples of Angkorian plasterwork..




Here is a good shot of the brick structure covered by the plaster.

We thought it was very cool, but these Chinese tourists thought Facebook ontheir smartphones was more interesting.
Speaking of Chinese tourists, there were large numbers of them, or Korean or Japanese, on huge tour busses. They would get off, wander around in large groups being rude, take a zillion pictures of the women making cutesy poses, buy some junk from the trinket vendors, and get back on their buses. They were not that enjoyable to be around.



Our last temple of the day was the huge Bakong, built of sandstone and laterite. This one was really impressive, and in very good shape. It had been, and was being, restored, but a lot of the carvings were original and in decent shape.

What surprised me is that we could crawl all over the temples. Very few restricted access area at all, so we could go all the way to the top.

Jean Luc could go too! He is taking a liking to elephants.


The view from the top was nice.


Once again, the vihear or pagoda was brightly painted and in good repair.
By this time, we were hot and tired. It was time to head back to town, but not until after a pit stop, where I realized I was ok with Asian travel when I went into the restroom and chose the squat toilet over the sit down Western toilet. Why not, I wasn't about to sit on the seat anyway?



Back in Siem Reap, we sought out some decent coffee, and we found it at a little cafe run by Australians.


Those are big smiles on our soon to be caffeinated faces.

With some coffee in Drew, he was prepared for shopping at the Old Market, where there is all manner of silk items,

And a central area full of food for sale. It smelled like fish!

Temple touring and trinket shopping is hard work. It was time for some of the relaxing type of trying new things. New beers!




We chilled at our hotel for a bit before heading out to a really fabulous dinner at a posh restaurant filled with foreigners. The moat around the dining deck was cool.

And I got to try fish amok, a popular Khmer fish soup made with coconut milk and green curry. A meal like this in this fancy of a place would have cost us $100 easily on the U.S. We paid $23.


We were pretty tired at the end of the day and knew we needed some sleep for our tour of Angkor Wat tomorrow. Back to Happy Guest House we went.


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