Sunday, November 16, 2014

Matt's Solo Trip to Cambodia

So, we were supposed to go to Siem Reap, Cambodia as a family at some point while living in Laos. Several people had recommended it as a must-see destination nearby. We talked about going last April, but I read in a guidebook that it was the hottest time of year and I was pregnant so I begged Matt not to make me go. So, we thought maybe we could go for Christmas. Well, while I was in the States to have Marie, I just told Matt he should go on his own. I told him I wasn't going to be excited about hiking through a bunch of ruined temples in the heat with a nursing baby and two little boys. It took a little convincing, but he finally decided I was right and he booked a trip to go by himself. As it turns out he was in Cambodia just two days before Marie was born. (So, technically these posts are out of order. Please forgive me.)

He took over 400 pictures on his tour, and I picked my favorite 52.
I'm handing it over to Matt now for some commentary...

Disclaimer: On top of the 52 pictures Becky selected I added a few more to round out the story. Just thought I'd mention this for those OCD people who at the end of the article would be bothered by the difference.

The taxi driver that took me to my hotel the night before talked me into a tour the following day.  I was planning on asking anyways, but he brought it up pretty much as soon as I sat in the car. He seemed nice enough, and his name was Mato so I guess it was meant to be.

To start off we went to Angkor Thom.  Angkor essentially means city, and Angkor Thom was the largest "city" we visited on our trip.  It was also one of the largest cities of the Khmer empire.

We entered Angkor Thom via the S gate.  My driver dropped me off, and drove through ahead of me so I could have the opportunity to walk through it myself.

The bridge leading to the gate had some pretty cool carvings.  This was just the beginning too.  Pretty much every surface had some kind of carving.

Each of the angkors was surrounded by a moat. 

Here's the S gate.  as you can see there's barely enough space for a car to go through.  There were a few police there, but they didn't do much to control traffic.  I pretty much had to jump in between two cars and move quick enough so that the car behind me didn't run me over.

Once I entered I noticed a cool tree so I took a picture of it.  As you will see in this post there were a lot of cool looking trees on this trip.

First stop was Bayon. This was the main temple and the center of Angkor Thom.

It was covered in carvings.  I kind of wish the "tour guide" was with me so that he could explain what they meant, but either way it was pretty impressive.

Next we visited the Royal Palace group.  This consisted of the palace and some temples.  My driver just dropped me off, gave me some brief information on what I would see and some general directions on which way to travel.  I'm pretty sure I got lost, but the views were very nice.

This is the top of the palace where the king lived.  We weren't allowed up there though.

Like I said before there were a lot of really cool tree formations. 

I started following some random trails and saw some pretty interesting structures.

There were some stairs we were allowed to climb and some that we were not. At first I felt like it was pretty random, but now think it was mostly for preservation.  We weren't allowed to climb the stairs below, probably so that it maintained it's look.  There was a wooden stair case on the other side that we were allowed to climb to get to the first level.

Even though the stairs were wooden they still had signs limiting who could enter the temple.  These signs were at most of the staircases.  One of these signs is shown below.  I'm not sure of all of them, but the few I picked out are: No camera equipment, no smoking, no touching(?), no littering, no children under 12, no spitting, no sitting (?), no shorts, skirts or tank tops, no pregnant women, no yelling, no food, no dogs, no canes or umbrellas.
I saw plenty of people sitting and touching things so maybe those weren't strictly enforced. The no tank top rule was probably the most strictly enforced one.  I saw a few women turned away (they let the men go in tank tops and shorts), but there were plenty of vendors selling covers and pants for exactly this reason.

The first level of this temple had some narrow walkways.

You could get to the top of most structures.  Here is an example of a set of "stairs" that led to the top of this temple.

And here's what it looks like from the top.  There was an old lady up here that said a prayer and then tied a string around your wrist.  I've participated in something similar in Laos whenever they had a baci.

And here are the steps looking down...

Here are a few shots of random scenery as I was exploring.

Hiding behind those trees were two boys who kind of jumped you once you got to the top.  They started explaining a few things in broken English and then asked for a donation for their schooling.  I obliged even though there was no way to prove they were getting money for school.  People aren't paid much there, and I really hope they were using it for school.

The following are from the Leper and Elephant terraces.  This was the end of my long walk around the royal palace group.  Right before here there was a little market so I decided to buy a tour book that had a map and an explanation of the areas I was looking at.  As soon as I bought one thing I was crowded by about 8 other people trying to sell me other stuff.  I had to push my way past them since they completely surrounded me and wouldn't let me pass.  I guess they figure if you buy one thing you're willing to buy more.

Here is a view from the top of the terrace.

You had the option of walking on top of the terrace, around the front of it, or you could even walk in these narrow areas that were inside them.  I alternated between all three as I walked along them and then back again.  As you can see the walls were aligned with carvings both inside...

...and outside.

Here's a view from outside of the Elephant terrace.

My driver then took me to Ta Prohm which is another popular temple there.  It's where they shot some of the Tomb Raider movie.  It was very beautiful, but it was pretty tough getting a shot without people in it.  The busiest section was where the actual scene took place.  I wouldn't have known if someone else hadn't told me (I liked the games, but not a fan of the movie), so I don't really have a picture of that.

Here is an example of some the restoration work they are doing.  As you can see from some of the above photos there were a lot of loose stones.  They were in the process of restoring much of the temple.  They used the original stones and then reinforced it with concrete.

Here's another cool tree.

 Here's a building that looked kind of cool as you were exiting.  The entire roof of it had collapsed so you couldn't go inside it.

Here's a shot to show how busy it was.  This wasn't even the worst of it at this particular temple.

 After Ta Prohm, the driver said we had time to visit one more temple before lunch (I saw a lot of stuff in just half a day, but I move quickly).  Of course it was going to cost me extra, but I might never come back so I figured I'd go ahead and go.

The temple is called Banteay Srei which means "citadel of the women". The driver just referred to it as the woman's temple.  It was similar to the other temples, but it had this red and orange color that made it stand out.

This was a random temple we saw while driving back from the women's temple.  I had the driver stop so I could hop out and take a picture.

After a nice lunch we ended the tour by going to Angkor Wat, which is probably the most popular location in Siem Reap.  This is the bridge leading to the main gate.

Here's the moat surrounding Angkor Wat.  It was pretty big.

At first I thought the main gate was the temple, but it was just a huge entrance.

Once you get on the other side you see the actual temple in the distance.

The front had a lot of construction and a lot of people, so it was hard to get a good shot.  I went around the back and found a good view.

The central temple also had a wall.  Within that wall there were stone buildings in each corner.  Here's an example of one of those buildings.

Here's a shot from within the temple about half way up to show the walls within walls (not including the wall at the main gate).  It's kind of like Inception.

Here's a view of a smaller spire with one of the larger spires in the back.

You are not allowed to climb these stairs.

but it's okay to climb these ones.

Here's a view of one of the mains spires from the top floor.

Carvings everywhere

Here's the view from the central temple overlooking the wall around the temple.  You can see the main wall and gate in the distance.

I realized that I hadn't taken a single picture of myself, so I took a quick selfie as I was leaving Angkor Wat just to prove that I was actually there.  

It was raining a little, extremely humid, and I had walked a lot so I was a little wet from the whole experience, but it was totally worth it.

That night I went to the night market and bought a couple of souvenirs.  The following morning I just rested until my flight.  Maybe if we go back we'll check out the floating market and some of the temples that were a little further away, but I'm very happy with my one day in Siem Reap and Becky's glad she didn't have to go ("It looks like a lot of hiking" and "Could you imagine doing this with the kids?").