Friday, January 6, 2017

Siem Rep and Angkor Wat

By land, Siem Rep is essentially half way on the road from Bangkok, Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  Once again, by booking a hotel in advance and not knowing the lay of the land, we were close, but not directly in the heart of the action.  I initially thought that was bad but turned out quite good since we were a one dollar Tuk Tuk ride away in a nice quiet area.  The hotel had just us and a bunch of pale white Russian tourists. 

Landmines still exist here.  These kids lost limbs and play music for money.
Siem Rep is a very touristy expat type of town like others that we have seen while cruising.  The atmosphere is one of a touring backpackers stop-off and a place with foreigners wanting to live in a fun partying place where you can get 2 beers for a dollar and live well on a pension.  Similar to places like Bali or Puerto Vallarta.   

The activity centers around 'Pub Street' and we did spend quite a bit of time there shopping and eating.  We ate twice at a great Thai restaurant, another Thai place, and a Beer Garden kind of place.  Dinners were around $15 for both of us including a bottle of wine.  Not too bad considering the level of tourism there.

Our tour group in front of Angkor Wat
We took a group tour to the Bayon, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, Angkor Wat, and Phnom Bahkeng temples.  We were picked up at the hotel in a minibus and had 10 others with us for the tour.

Buddhist Monks still worship here
These temples were built in:
Phnom Bakheng - 900
Angkor Wat - Late 1100's
Bayon -1200's
Angkor Thom - Late 1200's
Ta Prohm - 1300

Bas Relief Carvings are still in great condition
They were not living quarters or palaces.  They were built by the kings for themselves and the people to come from long distances to worship their gods, which were originally Hindu but later transformed to Buddhist.  The temples gradually were abandoned and covered by the jungle by the 1600's except for Angkor Wat which has a moat to help protect it from the vegetation.

Phnom Bakheng
A restored head.  Notice the arch in the background still used for traffic
At Ta Phrom
The temples were discovered by French Westerners in 1862.  Surprisingly little damage was done to them during the civil war in the '70's.  The Khmer Rouge troops camping there burned whatever wood they could find for fires, an American bomb blew up a pavilion, and there are some bullet strikes on some of the carvings.  Most of the damage was done in the 1980's and 90's by thieves chopping off and taking the heads of the statues.

Angelina Jolie in the movie 'Tomb Raider'

Booker at the same root
The movie 'Tomb Raider' starring Angelina Jolie was filmed at Ta Prohm in 2000 and now has the nickname 'Tomb Raider Temple.

Heaps of stones needing to be cataloged for restoration
Some places look like a jumble of rocks but Angkor Wat itself has 5-10 million sandstone blocks weighing up to 1.5 tons each.  They came from quarries 25 miles away using elephants only for transport.  The Egyptians only had to bring their limestone for the pyramids a quarter of a mile.

Numbered  Stones ready for placement
These temples are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and restoration is currently ongoing.  Alot of the stones were marker with numbers.  Their shapes had been 3D scanned and reconstructed on computers to put the ancient rock pile puzzles back as they were 1000 years ago.

A nice cold coconut at the end of a hot day
Cambodia, all in all, is a really great country.  The country is safe.  The people are welcoming, the cost of living is good, they speak English, and use the US dollar.  Obviously we liked it here.  What more could you want?