Wat’s Up Cambodia

Cambodia is a land filled with ancient temples, lush jungle, and poverty-stricken smiling faces.  Kate and I spent our  few nights in Siam Reap, Cambodia’s claim to fame and the home of Angkor Wat.  One can’t mention Cambodia without Angkor Wat and Cambodians have  a deep pride tied to the magnificent temples.  Everything seems associated with the landmark as it is featured on the riel, is included in half of the businesses names,  and the main beer is called Angkor.  There is a sense that the wat is a bright light in the cloudy Cambodian past, as if to say we may have had the Khmer Rouge and a history of poverty and hardship, but look what our ancestors were capable of.

Much to my surprise, the main area of Siam Reap is fairly Western.  Walking down Pub Street, bars and restaurants line both sides of he street with outdoor seating areas and signs touting happy hour specials at every entrance.  We wound up frequenting Viva, a Mexican joint with delicious dollar tacos, $1.50 frozen margaritas, and $.75 drafts.  We also decided to try some traditional Khmer food, such as amok, and savor some crocodile burgers.  All of this Kate and I did with two chill Aussie girls from our hostel, Pheobe and Georgee, who were great company.

Our first full day in Siam Reap the four of us rented a tuk-tuk driver to tour us around the different temples.  Our first stop was the jungle temple made famous in the Tomb Raider movies.  Impressive, gigantic roots wrap around the aged structures and extend toward the sky, making the temple look like something straight out of Middle Earth.  We hopped around to a couple of nearby temples (which allowed for some impromptu climbing) and then headed outside of the city to the floating villages.

Hanging outside of the entrance to the jungle temple used for the Tomb Raider movie.  Arguably as beautiful as Angelina Jolie.

Hanging outside of the entrance to the jungle temple used for the Tomb Raider movie. Arguably as beautiful as Angelina Jolie.

The floating villages are exactly what the name implies, entire towns on top of the murky river.  We boated past the local church, bars, and schools as children steered their outboard motors to maneuver past us.  Eventually we docked at a bar where small girls holding pythons asked for money to take pictures of the snakes.  From atop the bar we threw back a few Angkors and watched the sun set over the river in the distance.

Boating through the floating village.

Boating through the floating village.

The next day we woke up at 5 and hopped in a tuk-tuk to reach Angkor Way for  the sunrise.  Using Phoebe’s head lamp for light, we crossed the bridge to the temple grounds.  We sat and waited as the tourists piled in, congregating near a flower pond and setting up their tripods to catch the perfect shot.  As the sun slowly ascended, the three ornate spires shifted from shadows to rocky protrusions.  It was neat to watch but I wouldn’t consider the sunrise a must see.  The  next few hours were spent exploring the inside of the temple.  The amount of detail in the stone carving is hard to comprehend. Small holes in the floor reveal where a system of pulleys were employed to move the rocks for construction.  To think that something so grand was built many centuries ago is a testament to man’s ingenuity.

The sunrise over Angkor Wat.

The sunrise over Angkor Wat.

Aside from temple hopping, we spent our remaining time at the night market.  A large area of the market is devoted to art.  Huge paintings of Angkor Wat in every color scheme are for sale for a mere $30-$50, depending on your haggling skill.  I wound up purchasing  a large canvas painting of a Siberian tiger in a river, an abstract oil painting of a family of elephants, and a mostly black and white landscape painting of a river village.  The total cost was $61, likely less than what it will cost to mount on frames.

One afternoon we decided to grab some happy special herb pizzas and then catch a movie at the theater.  Here you select a movie from a large catalouge and have a private room with a projector screen and large couch.  We decided on Skyfall and the pizza kicked in as the movie started, making the classic Bond opening sequence especially trippy.

The next day we said hasta la vista to Siam Reap and caught the night bus down to the beaches of Sihanoukville.