Monday, October 19, 2015

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Whirlwind #2 
Early in the morning we flew from KL, Malaysia, to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Before boarding the plane, I was politely asked if I was pregnant. When pregnant, they are thorough in getting a Dr’s note in order to fly.  I quickly informed the airline attendant, that I was NOT pregnant.  He apologized and walked away.  It was a quick 2 hour flight, but we lost one hour of time, which I didn’t realize there was a time change.  We arrived in Cambodia and made our way quickly thru immigration and customs.  We had registered online with the Cambodian Government for an evisa, which meant we could skip the “visa on arrival” line, and head straight to immigration.  We only had to wait on our bags, which didn’t take terribly long since it was a small airport.  After exiting we quickly found our Tuk Tuk driver from our hotel, and we were loaded in with our bags and off to our hotel. 

Again, the scenery was so similar to Central America.  Scooters piled with 3, 4, 5 people filled the roads.  Tuk Tuks pulled by scooters were everywhere.  We were soon at our hotel, where we met our friends, Cody and Caureen.  We promptly checked into the hotel, and then asked for a Tuk Tuk to drive us to church.  I pulled up the church address to show them, but they seemed slightly confused.  The Tuk Tuk driver said he thought he knew where to go, but after a mile or so it seemed we were headed in the wrong direction from the map, so we stopped to correct the driver, and a few minutes later we arrived at Church, only a few minutes late. 

The branch was a good size, the kids were adorable.  The Young men passing the sacrament looked to be about 8 years old.  Wearing white shirts and ties, they were reverent in their duties, and were surely the appropriate age of 12.  The speakers today were 3 young members, soon to be leaving on missions. 2 to Cambodia, and 1 to Salt Lake City.  They were all very excited to be leaving to serve the Lord.  A Sister Missionary translate the meeting for us thru wireless headsets.  We spoke with her after the meeting and she is from Australia, and friends with a family that Cody baptized as a missionary.  Small world. 

After Church we went back to the hotel and made plans to tour the area that afternoon and tomorrow.  We called a member of the branch, that I had found online, who is a driver for the area.  He called us a tour guide and they both met us about 1pm at our hotel.  Meanwhile we took a Tuk Tuk to nearby Pub street to grab some local Cambodian food for lunch. 

Mr. Loy was our driver, but he did not speak that much English.  Sokky was our Guide, and he spoke good English.  We asked him if we could do a Sunrise tour in the morning, and this afternoon see some other sights.  So he suggested we start with Ankgor Thom.  He explained to us much about the area.  There are over 200 temples in the area, hundreds of Km square.  He explained to us they were built during the Angkor period, around 1100 AD.  Angkor means city, and Wat means temple.  What is known as Angkor Wat specifically describes only one temple, the largest, most complete temple in the area.  But the entire area was designated a UNESCO site and is known as Angkor Wat, even though there are hundreds of temples and cities in the area, known by other names, such as Ankgor Thom.

He also explained that when the people first came to the area and built these cities and Temples they were of the Hindu Belief.  But then they were influenced by traders, and became Budhists.  It wasn’t a hard switch for them.  So the cities and Temples built before 1180 were decorated in the Hindu style for the Hindu Gods, and after 1180 they were built in the Budha style, with Budha’s face everywhere.  Some of the older Temples were also “remodeled” in the Buddha style as well, and added Buddha’s face.  Either way the carvings in the stone towers and walls are beautiful.

Angkor Thom, where we started Saturday afternoon, was built after 1180, and in the Buddhist style.  While it wasn’t the largest city during the time, it was the most complete.  The city wall was still in place, and the entry gates.  The Temple, Bayon, has 5 towers with Buddha’s face carved into each one.  It wasn’t that crowded, I know we were a bit on the low season, but Sokky also said most people see Angkor Thom in the morning.  The light is better then, but it was just fine while we were there, but I’m not a professional photographer.  He said most people see Angkor Wat in the afternoon, or the sunrise tour—which is when we will be there, tomorrow.  Monkey’s roam the grounds of the temples.  They walk the walls, roofs, grounds.  I’m sure they know more about this place than we do.

After touring Angkor Thom we stopped to book dinner at a cultural theater for that evening.  After cleaning up at the hotel—really it was rinsing the layers of sweat off.  Have I mentioned how hot it is here?  It is hot and humid. More so then the islands in the Caribbean, but we are closer to the equator here.   Just a few minutes outside and I am dripping in sweat.  But it is worth it.  The experience of seeing the history of ancient civilizations and experiencing a new environment is worth a little sweating.  

That evening we enjoyed a local buffet at the theater and watched a fun cultural show.  But we were exhausted.  The traveling and long day visiting the temples wiped us out, so by the end of the show we were struggling to stay awake.  We left before the final dance ended.

The next morning we were up and going before 6am.  The hotel had prepared a take away breakfast for us, and we were off to see the Sunrise over Angkor Wat.  We weren’t alone, more and more people lined the pond across from the temple to see the Sunrise thru the towers of the Temple.  Soon the sun was up and Caureen had purchased her first souvenir from an artist drawing and painting there in the field.  Once the other roaming vendors saw that she had made a purchase, they crowded around offering their items as well. Sokky guided us away, to the ruins of an Angkor Library.  There we sat and ate our breakfast and looked over the ruins of Angkor Wat.

After breakfast we headed into the Temple to explore and learn about the history.  On the walls are carvings, recording the history of the people and their beliefs. The history learned from the walls is still taught in schools today.  The wall carvings use to be in full color, but the colors have all faded over time and due to the elements of the earth, only a hint of red is left in some areas on the walls. Sokky taught us that the Temples were only used for religious ceremonies.  While the King and the people lived within the city, they did not live in the Temples, they only worshipped there, and held religious ceremonies there. 

The Temple of Angkor Wat is still used for religious purposes today.  To enter the highest towers you must be dressed with clothing passed the knee, and your shoulders covered.  We met these requirements and were able to climb the steep steps to the highest level.  People still bring offerings to the temples and leave them behind.


After touring Angkor Wat, our next stop was Ta Prohm.  This Temple is unique in that when they started restorations on it, they left the trees that had overgrown the area, and overgrown the temples.  It has a very explorer in the Jungle feel, and reminds me of visiting the Mayan Temple Coba in Mexico which is also left overgrown by the Jungle.  In fact visiting the Angkor Temples reminds me a lot of visiting the Mayan Ruins throughout Mexico and Guatemala.  So many similarities.  I find it interesting that people across the world with limited communication means build similar Temples to their God, for similar reasons.

Ta Prohm was also used in the film Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.  We enjoyed walking through the temple ruins and in seeing the beauty that has been created as nature took its course.

Ta Prohm wasn’t just surrounded by nature, it also had some very persistent vendors, both women and children.  They followed us from the Temple exit to the Bathrooms, anxiously waiting outside, and then blocked our way as we tried to head for our van.  They were persistently offering their products, Elephant pants, bracelets, or books.  As we turned them down, the little girl said to Cody “don’t you like me?” So he gave her a dollar.  It didn’t matter that we had purchased a book from them when we arrived at the Temple.  I think having purchased something only spurred them on to try to sell us more.  After making our way thru the blockade, we climbed in the van and were off to a new Temple.

This time we were headed to the Pink Sandstone Temple.  The rest of the 200 or so Temples in the area were built out of a grey Sandstone, but this Temple was made of Pink Sandstone.  It is one of the smallest built and one of the oldest, possible the first built in the area, not long after the Angkor’s arrived in the area.  They have not found the quarry where the pink sandstone came from, so they are a little confused as to where it came from.  They have found quarries that have 100 meter deep pits, with similar properties, but not exact matches.  SO they are still looking. 

Another interesting thing about this Temple is its preservation.  It became overrun with Termites and the foundation of the Temple was destroyed and the Temple sunk down.  When the French found it, it was covered in Termite mounds and because of this much of the Temple and its carvings were preserved.  You can see the carvings are deeper with sharper details.  You can also see ancient Khmer writing in the walls.  The writings are visually beautiful.  Sokky told us this was his favorite Temple, and I have to agree, it is beautiful.  Since it was one of the first built, it was built before 1180 AD, and therefore is a Hindu Temple and had multiple carvings of their different Gods. 

By this time it was the lunch hour, but it felt later.  We had seen so much having started at sunrise.  Sokky took us to a restaurant for lunch, where we invited him and our driver, Mr. Lucky, to join us for lunch.

From here we asked to go see the floating village a little south of Siem Reap on the Lake.  It is the 19th largest fresh water lake in the world, and is lined with multiple floating villages. We boarded a long tail boat to ride down the river to see the village.  We had our own boat, and the son of the boat owner approached David and began massaging his shoulders.  David tried to decline, but this little 10 year old was persistent.  After a few minutes he asked for $1.  David gave him the remaining Khmer dollars we had, it totaled about 50 cents USD.  We didn’t have any single dollars left.  The boy saw the $20 US bill david had, and pointed to it with a big smile, but then finally took the Khmer money he was offered.  He then moved over to Cody and attempted to give him a shoulder massage.  Cody quickly pulled out a $1 to end it. 

The fisherman and their families that live in the floating villages are poor.  Most of the “homes” were the size of a large shed.  With the constant heat, the side of each shed towards the water was open so we could easily see in to each tiny home. Each home is floating on the water, most on top of empty barrels.  When the water level would rise or lower, the homes can be moved closer to the lake or towards land.  They just tie them up to trees along the shoreline.   There were many children around, playing in their homes, or on their boats, or swimming.  The village even had a few schools and churches.  Sokky told us that several of the families are illegal immigrants from Vietnam, you could tell their homes apart.  The Vietnamese filled their homeswith colorful decorations inside, filled with bright colors.  The church signs and schools differentiated these 2 cultures.  One of the school signs, written in English, explained that this School had both Khmer and Vietnamese, but they were “2 different schools, don’t mistake.”  The translation was interesting.

On the way back to Siem Reap we stopped at an art center to see how a few of the local crafts were made.  They grow silk here in Cambodia and it was interesting to see the different products made with Silk.  David and Cody enjoyed watching in the metal center and the wood carving.

It was a long, great day.  As we returned to our hotel we settled our bill with Sokky.  Hiring a private guide was fairly inexpensive, especially split between the 4 of us.  And yet it is considered a great job here in Siem Reap.  Sokky told us of the training, and then tests he had to take to become a licensed guide.  It required both written and oral tests and a lot of training and studying, along with learning English, or one of the other common languages of the world. He has a degree from a University to be a teacher, but he prefers being a certified guide.  He said the pay was better and he liked meeting different people every day.  The cost for our private van with wonderful AC and ice cold water bottles kept ready for us was $40 per day.  Sokky, our guide charged $35 per day. There were a few extra charges, $5 more to each for starting at sunrise, and then another $5 to cover gas out to the Floating Village.  The Khmer currency is linked to the USD, so using the dollar there is common place, you can even get USD from the ATM’s.  We so enjoyed Sokky and all his insight that we wanted to tip him.  Of course, this sort of thing is the norm in our part of the world, but not here in Asia.  As we handed him his payment, he insisted we overpaid him. To which we explained that we enjoyed his services so much that we wanted to give him extra.  Well worth every penny for all that we learned and the convenience in which we saw it.

That evening we again walked around the market and restaurant area of Siem Reap.  We picked up a few souvenirs and enjoyed the local dishes, each ordering something different to share.  As we walked around we stopped for some ice cream, and I loved my Ginger and black sesame flavor. 
The next morning we were excited to sleep in a little and rest up before our next whirlwind.  By 10am we were packed and headed to the airport for our flight to Bangkok… the mini whirlwind.


  1. Hello, we are LDS, have 6 kids, and are planning living aboard a sailboat in the Carribean and /or Mexico, Central and South America. We are in the planning stages and would really love to talk with you. I'm wondering if there is a way to private message you or get your email?

    1. I'd be more than happy to chat. You can email me at