So we left you all back in Phnom Penh a few days ago. We thought we
were being very smart and got tickets on the 'Mekong Express Limousine
Tour Bus.' Sounds fancy, huh? With the swanky name and the $5 more per
person we thought we'd be traveling in luxury. Now, after more than 2 months
on this continent we really should have known better! We were seated in
the back row, Kate under a dripping air conditioner, and Raime getting
his knees hit by everyone who went into the bathroom - for 6 very long
hours. Oh and of course there was loud Cambodian music playing the
entire way as well. The road was ok for most of the way, but mysteriously
in many villages the sealed road became a muddy, potholed mess. Welcome
to Cambodia! We finally got off the bus, hot, wet, and very cranky,
only to be met by the worst horde of tuk-tuk drivers we've seen yet. They
literally grabebd us, trying to get us to choose them to take us into
town. What fun! We did make it to town (on the free van provided by the bus company) and found a nice hotel room. As per another Southeast Asian phenomenon we were able to bargain the price for our
room! Not sure that will happen when we get back home. We got in touch
with a driver recommended by some fellow travelers who was happy to drive
us around the Temples of Angkor for 3 days.
The next day we met up with our driver, Mara, and headed to Angkor Wat,
the biggest, most famous, and best preserved of the temples here. It
was built in the 12th century and it's in amazing shape today. We were
lucky in that there were unexpectedly not many people around Angkor Wat
(as well as many of the other temples we saw), so we were able to
explore its nooks and crannies by ourselves at times. The whole thing is
massive but it also has incredible detail in its bas relief carvings.
After we'd checked out Angkor Wat we continued on the 'Big Circuit' to see
a bunch more temples. We were surprised at how different each one was.
We found we really loved the ones where the jungle had invaded the
temple and the building and nature were inextricable. We found ourselves in
some very quiet spots surrounded by trees and sculptures and crunbled
walls. It was really amazing. Along the way, each time we opened the car
doors we were accosted by women and children shouting, 'Lady, you want
buy cold drink? 2 Coke 1 dollar, mister! You want postcard? You need
book? You buy from me when you come back, lady!' It got a little old,
although the whole cold drink thing was rather convienent at times. At
one point that first day we were walking on the Terrace of Elephants,
where there were big ceremonies at the height of Angkor Thom, when 2
little kids came up to us and began telling us all kinds of things about the
terrace. They were cute and they did teach us some things, so they both
made off with $1 (check out the pix). This probably would've gotten old
if the kids were allowed inside the temples, but as it was it was ok.
We think we saw about 7 or 8 temples the first day before the rain
started up and we headed home. We ate that night at a restaurant that
advertised 'We serve no rat, cat, bat, or worm.' Good news!
Our second morning we got up well before the crack of dawn to arrive at
Angkor Wat just as the sun was creeping up - behind a bunch of clouds
of course! We were disappointed (us and about 300 of our closest tourist
friends) but it meant we had an early start and hardly and company at
the temples we visited that morning. We saw most of the rest of the
temples on the Big Circuit before lunch and then we headed farther north to
see Banteay Srei, the temple most famous for its intricate 3D carvigns.
It was pretty amazing, but we couldn't stay long because of the
unbelievable amount of people there! But it did make us appreciate our
solitude at the other temples even more. We continued on for about another
half hour (on a very bumpy dirt road, but what's new?) to the River of a
Thousand Lingas. We hiked for about a half an hour up into the jungle
and found a river with tons of carvings on the rocks in and around the
river. It was really neat and it was fun to see something so unique. On
our way back we stopped at yet another couple of temples before calling
it a (very long) day.
Yesterday we headed to Angkor Wat in the pre-dawn hours once again, but
this time so Kate could take part in the annual running race. What a
scene! Kate was one of the tallest at the starting line for the women's
5k, which should tell you that there were mostly Asian women running!
Many of them seemed to be out jsut for fun, some had sandals, soccer
cleats, or even bare feet. Some were wearing jeans and button-down shirts! Before Kate's start was one for the 10k, for
those with an artificial leg. It's scary that there are enough land mine
victims here that they have an athletic group, but good that they were
out there having fun. Raime headed out to catch some action shots of
Kate on the course. The race was fun and went well, Kate finished 9th out
of 289 women (but remember, many of them hardly ran at all!). The
finish was fun because there was a big crowd cheering, definitely the first
(and likely last!) time Kate will finish a race feeling like a star
After the race we headed to see our last 4 temples. We thought we'd be
tired of seeing temples after 3 days, but we really weren't. Each one
had a unique story and was quite different. We were still awed by them
even on the last day. After seeing all the temples mentioned in our
guidebook (although there are almost 100 more in the area we didn't see!)
we went to visit the Land Mine Museum. Aki Ra, who was child soldier for the Khmer Rouge and laid thousands of mines (before he was captured by the Vietnamese and made to fight for them) and then became a de-miner, opened it a few years ago to house all the mines he's deactivated in this area, to educate people, and to house a handful of kids who've been injured by landmines. One of those kids showed us around and taught us about all the different mines. It was really sad and scary but we learned a lot and are glad we went. It's
frightening that there are still at least six million mines in Cambodia (including many in areas where people live and farm) and that 3 people are still injured or killed here every day because of mines. And the US won't sign the international ban against landmine production! But that's an issue for another day...
Today we've been totally lazy, just hanging around town. Kate poked
around the market and had her fill of 'Hello, lady! Buy something!' for a
while. We are so excited that when we travel tomorrow we're not going
by bus for the first time in over a month. We've bused it here all the
way from Hanoi, over 50 hours total, and air travel sounds pretty sweet.
We fly to Phuket via a long layover in Bangkok, but we don't care!
We're looking forward to the civility of Thailand, amazing as that may be.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. This year we'll be eating Pad Thai on
the beach instead of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie!