Siem Reap: Temples, Temples, Temples

March 31, 2016

We got to Siem Reap in the afternoon, and spent most of it relaxing before heading to dinner. Most of the food in Cambodia is very similar to Thai food I'm used to at home, though according to our guide (and our eventual experience) it's much less spicy and is sweeter overall.

Our first day there was supposed to be a free day, but we decided to switch up our schedule a bit and move up the stuff we were going to do Sunday before we left.  We visited the local Tonlé Sap lake, taking yet another boat tour.  

The lake rises dramatically during the wet season, but was low for our visit.  On the lake there are many floating buildings, everything from houses to schools.

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A marker in the river.

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A depth marker. You can see the line where the water level sits in the wet season. A pretty drastic change.

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A floating school. You can see some of the kids on the outside, and in the window.

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A man giving us a thumbs up from the porch of his floating house.

We stopped at a small restaurant/fish farm/crocodile farm. They raise the crocs for both their meat and their skin.  There were quite a few in the pit, mostly relaxing in the sun.

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The crocs do not like being annoyed with the rope.

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​On the way back we saw more fishermen fishing in the river.

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A boy catching a quick nap on one of the tourist boats.

On the ride back we stopped at some lotus fields.  They grow the lotus both for the fruit they produce as well as the blossoms themselves, which they sell to the local temples. I'd never tried the fruit before, but it was interesting.  The seed pods are definitely nothing you want to see if you have trypophobia though.

That night, after some much needed time in the pool, some of us headed downtown to grab some food on "Pub Street", the touristy nightlife section of the city.

We took "Tuk Tuk's" there, combination carriages and motorbikes. Sort of like a motorized rickshaws.  Their name is an onomatopoeia, as the motorbike makes the sound "tuk tuk tuk" as it putters along.

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On our way to Pub Street in our Tuk Tuks.

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Who would have guessed the Cheers in Siem Reap would be so classy?

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Dave knows how to work it.

The next day started off with a trip back to the airport.  My uncle John had left his phone in the pocket of the seat in front of him on the flight to Cambodia.  After a couple false starts mostly having to do with the plane being in a different city, they had finally got it back to Cambodia.

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My uncle John and our guide Joe showing off his found phone.

Then it was off to the temples.  Our first stop was Angkor Thom, one of the cities inside Angkor. It was built in the late 12th century, overseen by Jayavarman VII.  The bridge to the main gate was flanked by one row of demons and one row of gods, both pulling on long Naga that make a sort of railing.

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Me at the entrance to the bridge to Angkor Thom.

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The gate to Angkor Thom.

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One of the demons along the bridge.

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Dylan checking out the entrance.

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Another view of the entrance.

Inside we visited a few different places, including Bayon, a temple built by Jayavarman VII.  The temple includes many towers, each with four faces of Buddha, one on each side.  The faces themselves are interesting because while they're clearly Buddha, they also bear a resemblance to Jayavarman VII himself, a not so subtle bit of evidence to prove his holiness.

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Elephants! You could get a ride around the temple.

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The group in front of Bayon.

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Dylan from a distance.

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The faces of Bayon.

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The temple inside the top tower.

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Dylan on the stairs of one of the libraries.

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Sanskrit writing on one of the walls.

We also visited the king's Royal Palace, including a temple and two pools, one for the men and one for the women.

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The temple Phimeanakas in the king's Royal Palace. Built in the 10th century.

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Dave looking over the pool for the women.

Next we had lunch before tackling Angkor Wat, the biggest single religious structure in the world.  The city was built in the early 12th century. It's surrounded by a large moat and inside the walls sit a massive temple along with two libraries and two giant pools.

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View from the entrance way.

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The entrance to the city.

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The group just inside the walls of the city.

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The long road to the temple.

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The view from one of the pools. On windless days you can get a beautiful reflection of the temple.

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The base was built with lava rock and sandstone was laid over top to provide a base for sculpture.

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One of the views from the top of the temple.

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Another view from the top.

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John capturing an image from the top.

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Dylan showing off the height of the central tower.

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The long stairs we needed to climb to get to the top.

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The obligatory depth of field shot.

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Dave continuing his and Dylan's game of 'beers at historic places.'

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The sun just started to work it's way down as we left.

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Our hotel from the pool. I just wanted to show it off.

That night we ended up back down at Pub Street to get some more food and do some more shopping.

The next morning I was in the lobby by 5am to make the hike back to Angkor Wat for the sunrise.  No one else joined me.  I took over one hundred photos, but I haven't had any time go through them with any real effort, so I'll have to save that for another post.

After a quick stop back for breakfast, everyone except for David and Dylan left for our final day of the tour.

We stopped along the way at someone's home, to watch them make palm candy.  Similar to the coconut candy we saw before, they boil the juice until it's in the hard ball stage, and tastes like a very firm fudge.  It's then poured into rounds and allowed to cooled before being popped out.

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Cooking the juice.

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Being moved to molds.

Then we headed to Banteay Srei, a temple built of beautiful red sandstone sometime in the 10th century. It was dedicated to the god Shiva.  The carvings all over this temple were the most intricate we saw anywhere.  The details were so precise, and stood out so well in the red stone.  I think it may have been my favorite temple we saw.

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John in the entrance.

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Who knew they had My Pet Monster back then?

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One of the doorways. Everything there was quite small compared to all the other temples.

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The main towers.

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The crew that day.

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Fire ants!

Next it was off to Ta Prohm, the temple featured heavily in 2001's Tomb Raider.  While most of the temples were cleared of jungle by the French, they decided to leave this one untouched as a way to showcase how the temples looked when they were discovered after all those years. The trees completely overtake the structure, looking more like snakes than roots.

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In the roots of one of the trees.

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John next to one of the trees.

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A join, showing how the temple was built with interlocking pieces.

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John showcasing one of the massive roots.

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The three veterans inside one of the root systems.

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A Buddha trapped in the roots.

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One of the set of roots showcased in Tomb Raider promotions.

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Two devatas. The one on the right is a bit scandalous, as she's depicted topless and with only half a skirt.

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The trees themselves are massive.

We ended our tour at a local area dedicated to the killing fields of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. After taking power, the Khmer Rouge forced the Cambodian people out of urban areas and into collective farms, and other forced work. Around 25 percent of the Cambodian population was lost to execution, working conditions, poor medical care and malnutrition.

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Skulls of some of the victims of the killing fields.

Our last day we packed up and some of us headed into the city for a final lunch.  We left for the airport at 4 and flew back to Hanoi before taking the final trip back to Chicago via Tokyo.

The flights were relatively uneventful other than the fact that, with a sinus infection I had acquired in the days prior, I felt like the entire left side of my head was going to explode.

Now, after 3 days back, I'm starting to feel more like a human.  I took one day off before heading back to work, and cut my first day back a little short, but it's back to the daily grind.

I'll probably write one more post about my overall thoughts on the trip.  Look for that in the coming days.