Another in our OBT series of articles.
The next stop on our roving retirement Southeast Asia tour was Siem Reap specifically to see the nearly 1000-year-old Hindu temples built by early Khmer kings. There are about 600 temples in the area around Siem Reap but the most famous is Angkor Wat.
Our killer temple morning started at 4:30 am so we could see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. In theory, this would have been great except it was cloudy since it is the rainy season, but we did it anyway. After a super long wait for tickets, we did manage to get to the Angkor Wat just before sunrise, but as predicted, it wasn’t much of a sunrise. On our way to tour the temple, we saw 3 long-tailed Macaque monkeys sitting on the ruins, just like in the Jungle Book.
Laughing with a Monk
Then we toured the entire temple, going up and down, all four levels. It started raining while we were there, but it was just too hot to wear our ponchos, so I was standing in the rain admiring a Buddha in the Hindu temple when I felt a lot more water. So, I looked up thinking it had started to rain harder. Some people in our group started laughing. I turned to them and they pointed at the monk sitting behind me, about 2 feet away, smirking. I’m not sure if monks actually smirk, but he was having some fun at my expense. Apparently, he threw quite a bit of his blessing water at me and that’s why I thought it was raining.
I figured that little provocation deserved a donation, so I handed him a dollar. Then he said sit and take off your shoes. After my panic about maybe having to kneel again passed, I sat down cross-legged in front of him. He proceeded to chant a blessing and throw quite a bit more water on me and I started to laugh so hard that our tour guide had to come get a picture of me. Anyway, the monk completed the blessing and tied another red string around my wrist, so now there are two.
The day got far more challenging after that. We went to the jungle temple used in the Tomb Raider movie and looked at the trees growing in and around the temple itself. It had gotten quite hot and humid and it was packed with tourists.
Finally, we went to the temple with many smiling faces. The temple and the faces were really interesting. In addition to being very crowded there, the other tourists were downright rude, yelling at people to clear the area for their pictures. By this point, we felt like we were melting. I’m not sure I have ever felt that hot and spent before, and Mike was moving very slowly. I’m pretty sure I was dehydrated, so when we finally got to lunch, I had a passion fruit mojito (for the sugar of course) 🙂 By the time we got back to the hotel, it felt like my clothes had molded to my body and I was surprised I could peel them off before getting in the shower.
Supporting Philanthropic Ventures
After a nice rest, some rehydration salts and a banana, we went to the Phare Cambodian circus, similar to Cirque du Soleil, with young, Cambodian performers. The production supports a free educational program for kids and promotes the arts in rural Cambodia. The place where we had lunch is another youth education program supported by Gadventures. Over the course of our tour, we were taken to a number of schools for kids supported by the company. We have 2 more tours planned with Gadventures on OBT, and I’ve been quite pleased with their philanthropic ventures and the tour experience so far.
Floating Villages, not enough water
The next day, we started at the reasonable hour of 8 am. We went to tour two more temples that were far less crowded and much more pleasant to visit. Then, having finished by 10 am, we went to visit the Siem Reap floating villages on Tonle Lake. This part of Cambodia is very low on water, both because of a lighter than normal wet season and the fact that the Chinese are building some kind of dam upriver that has caused a reduction of water flow into the Mekong River. We learned about this in Laos, but the effects in this area of Cambodia were quite startling.
The “floating villages” are actually groups of houses built several stories high on stilts. We had to visit this area in small, long-tail boats because the water wasn’t deep enough for the usual, larger boats. In addition, the rice paddies had no water and the rice plants were getting burnt. We made it to the largest lake in Cambodia where the lack of water affecting people’s ability to fish. There are about 170 communities around this lake. Our guide told us the people here were very resourceful about making a living, but I’m sure this is a very difficult year.
The contrast between the hectic pace in Phnom Penh and the calm ancient temples in Siem Reap leave me with an unclear view about Cambodia. I definitely liked the ancient temples better than the recent history of Phnom Penh, but I’m not sure we’ll go back.
What do you think?