Tag Archives: temples

Angkor Wat – Revisited

Hello dear readers! It has been quite some time since I last updated this blog, but have no fear, I am back! June was a very crazy, special, busy, beautiful, tiring and eye-opening month. First, my parents came to visit for two weeks and we headed to Siem Reap, Hanoi and Sapa. Less than a week after they left, five of my girlfriends from Wesleyan came for a 2 and a half week visit. We visited Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Bangkok, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket. A lot to see in just one month! Definitely too much to fit into one blog entry, so it’s going to take a few entries to fit everything in. I will start with Siem Reap, the first stop on the trip I did with my parents.

“There’s no place else in the world that looks even remotely like Cambodia. You wake up, you always know where you are.” – Anthony Bourdain, March 8th, 2011 via Twitter.

Cambodia is a magical place. I visited twice in the fall of 2010, so I was very excited to go back and have my parents experience it. Tourists visit Siem Reap to see the various ruins of the Khmer Empire, which achieved great power and success between the 9th and 15th centuries. Many refer to the site as “Angkor Wat” because “Angkor” is the name of the area where the Khmer Empire held power, and the most famous temple in the complex is called Angkor Wat (the world’s largest single religious monument).

The trip with my parents was very different from the previous trip I made to Siem Reap. Instead of doing a 6 hour whirlwind tour of the main temples in the complex like I did last fall, we really took our time and visited a bunch of sites that most tourists don’t visit. We also woke up at 4:30am every morning to arrive at the complex by sunrise. Although I wanted to kill my father at the time, who insisted that we must be there at sunrise to take advantage of the lighting, getting an early start turned out to be a great thing. We avoided the massive tour group crowds which start their tours around 10am. One morning we had Ta Prohm, the place where they filmed Tomb Raider, literally all to ourselves. Waking up early also allows you to beat the intense heat which starts late morning and continues through the afternoon. I definitely recommend seeing the temples first thing, so worth waking up at 4 in the morning!

Angkor Wat. It wasn't the best sunrise, but it was still beautiful.

Entrance to Ta Prohm

Inside Ta Prohm

Photo Frames at Ta Keo

Watching the sunrise at Sras Srang Lake. My parents and I were 3 out of the 5 people there. It was so peaceful!

Preah Khan. In 1191, Jayavarman VII dedicatd this temple to his father. It's not one of the main attractions in Angkor Wat, but the temple is massive and there is a lot to explore. At the exit of the temple there is a beautiful lotus pond. Definitely worth seeing!

Wat Prasat Bakong, a short ride away from the main complex.

If you are interested in seeing more pictures of Angkor Wat, let me know. I took close to 500 photos when I was there! My next entry will be about our trek in Sapa. Stay tuned!

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Siem Reap and more

I wanted to write a post about the Russian Market but unfortunately the regular shops close before we get home from school. To make things even more difficult I didn’t bring my camera the one time we went to eat there at night so I have zero pictures of the place. The good news is two of my housemates, Stephanie and Sean, had their cameras when we went there for dinner and snapped some pictures that are now posted on their blog. So if you are interested, check out their site to read about and see the Russian Market. They also have an earlier post with pictures of the house we are living in. Here is the link: http://ss-abroad.blogspot.com/

Last week we spent most of our time at a local university in class from 9am – 5:30pm. Some of the things we are learning are interesting and will definitely come in handy when we actually start to teach but some things are just plain tedious, repetitive and boring. We get a good amount of breaks during the school day but by 5:30 we are pretty exhausted. But we usually rally by nighttime and have had a bunch of fun nights exploring Phnom Penh.

This past weekend we took a six-hour bus ride to Siem Reap, which is in northern Cambodia. The bus was the tiniest and jankiest thing you’ve ever seen and I’m still amazed that we fit over 20 people in there. Needless to say the bus ride was long and uncomfortable, but it was totally worth it. Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world and is definitely the most beautiful, massive and impressive place I have ever been. We spent the whole day exploring all of the different temples spanning the complex. One of the temples is the location where they shot “Tomb Raider”! As we walked through the grounds I couldn’t get over how much manpower it must have took to build these structures. EVERYTHING is made out of stone and the temples were built in the late 12th century when they obviously did not have the technology we have today. Furthermore, almost all of the temple walls are carved with detailed relief depicting religious figures/events, wars, celebrations and everyday activities. It’s really an unbelievable sight and it’s something that I hope all of you can go see for yourself one day.

On our way back from Siem Reap we stopped at a less touristy temple which was equally, if not more, awesome. We didn’t have an official guide with us so I don’t really know much about the history of the temple, but many stones have fallen and accumulated within the temple walls. Basically, the place was a giant jungle gym. We spent the afternoon crawling around the rocks and exploring the grounds. My friend Dana and I ran into a couple Khmer kids while inside the temple and they acted as our tour guides. Khmer children are seriously the cutest kids ever.

I only have a few more days left in Phnom Penh and I am actually really sad to leave. Cambodia is such an amazing country. It is definitely overlooked by the rest of the world in a number of different ways. I don’t think people realize how beautiful the natural land is and how many mind blowing buildings were erected in the past. The people here are also the most down to earth, friendly, happy and good natured people you will ever meet. Every day I look forward to riding the tuk tuk to school and watching people go about their daily routines. In many ways, life here is much simpler than in the U.S. People here don’t obsess over material goods or constantly worry about if what they are doing is hygienic or safe. Little kids don’t have rooms full of toys and videogames. Instead they chase each other around in the streets. To me, it seems like most people here just make do with what they have and are happy about it.

What amazes me the most is that people here can be so happy even though they are still suffering the consequences of what happened to their country not even thirty years ago. When you visit Cambodia or even Laos, you notice that there is a huge age group that is underrepresented. You see tons of people in their twenties and thirties but there are substantially less people in their forties and fifties. This is because during the 1970s there was a massive genocide in the country that wiped out about a quarter of the population. Today I visited Tuol Sleng (also known as S-21), which is a former high school turned prison, where the Khmer Rouge kept people for interrogation, torture and execution. Walking around the site was extremely haunting because they have kept everything intact since the time the prison was discovered. There is still barbed wire hanging over all the windows and terraces that was put up to prevent people from committing suicide. You can go inside the cells where prisoners were kept and there are even visible blood stains left on the floors. There is also a huge photographic exhibit where they have pictures of all of the victims and it was hard for me to view because I wanted to look at each face, but it was literally impossible because there are too many photographs. The prison operated for a little over three years and it is estimated that over 20,000 people died at S-21. When the Vietnamese army finally came to rescue the prisoners there were only seven left alive.  It was a very somber experience walking around but I think it is so important that I went. I knew that there was genocide in Cambodia but I definitely did not realize to what extent it had happened. People in the Western world seem to overlook the genocide in Cambodia and I wish that more people knew about what happened here.

It’s hard to jump back into the swing of things here after visiting S-21, but our busy schedules definitely help with that. We have a jam-packed week including a booze cruise tomorrow night, send off party on Thursday and trip to the beach over the weekend. I leave for Vietnam on Sunday and although I am sad to be leaving Cambodia, I’m very excited to get to Vietnam. I definitely want to live in Vietnam for a period of time, but I have such strong feelings toward Cambodia that I am highly considering moving here before going back to the States. But I guess only time will tell. I didn’t want this entry to be a debbie downer so I’ll leave you guys with some pictures to look at. Pictures take a bajillion years to load on my old-ass computer so I’m only gonna post a few here. To see the full collection of them go look on my facebook. I just made an album entitled Siem Reap. Lots of love from Cambodia!

Bayon Temple

Relief of Chinese army in Bayon Temple

Baphuon Temple - under construction

Ta Prohm AKA Tomb Raider

Ta Prohm

Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

Beng Mealea

Climbing around Beng Mealea

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Welcome to Phnom Penh!

Phnom Penh, once called the “Pearl of Asia”, is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. It is the richest and most industrialized city in Cambodia, yet I am still in shock over how poor it seems. I thought that my time in Huaihua, China would prepare me for being in an underdeveloped city but the atmosphere of Phnom Penh is very much new for me.

The city itself is fairly small. The house that I’m staying at is on the far end of the city and to get to the other end by tuk tuk, motorized rickshaws that are used as taxis, it only takes fifteen or so minutes.

Here is a picture of a tuk tuk. We get driven around by an adorable guy named Dara who is super fun and also lives with us at our house.

There is not much business and infrastructure where my house is located. I feel like everything revolves around bicycles and motorcycles. All the shops on the streets surrounding our house have something to do with motorcycle maintenance. The main attraction in my area of the city is the Russian Market which is a huge indoor shopping center that carries everything from raw duck to “I love Cambodia” t-shirts. I will definitely devote an upcoming entry to that place. Another group of LanguageCorps members live on the other side of the city near the Riverfront, which has many hotels and Western restaurants. This part of the city is much more friendly to foreigners and I feel very comfortable there. The university that we take our classes at is also near the Riverfront.

Yesterday we took a tour of the city and visited two main attractions: the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom. A “wat” is a monastery temple and literally means “school.” The Cambodian population is predominantly Buddhist and wats are sacred spaces that usually hold a large sculpture of the Buddha that people can worship. Wat Phnom is the tallest religious building in Phnom Penh.

These are the steps that you take to get up to the wat.

It is prohibited to take pictures inside wats and other temples so I don’t have any to share with you guys. But I swear it is really cool and if you want you should google image it.

This is a shrine for Lady Phnom. Apparently all the girls in the city will come up here and leave an offering for her when they have an important event coming up.

When you walk around the park below the Wat Phnom it is common to run into monkeys just chilling in the park….like this cute one!

The next place we visited was the Royal Palace. Before we went Dara told me to change out of my shorts because you aren’t allowed into the Palace if you aren’t wearing appropriate clothing. I’m glad he warned me because another girl in my program had to borrow pants from the Palace because her shorts were deemed too short.

The Royal Palace is a huge complex that houses religious buildings, gardens and museums and serves as the residency for the King of Cambodia. The Palace is decorated with multiple statues of the Buddha and what I’m assuming are bodhisattvas and other Buddhist figures.

Here are some pictures that I took while inside the complex.

Now that I’ve been in the city for almost three days I’m starting to like it a lot more. At first I was a little hesitant about it, but as we continue to explore I’m seeing that is has a lot to offer. It’s also nice now that the entire group is together and the group going to Vietnam seems like a lot of fun so it’s a relief to know that I’ll be around good people this upcoming year. It’s still kind of unbelievable that I’m here but it’s all starting to sink in. Classes have started and I feel like from here on out my time in Cambodia is going to fly by. I hope everything in the states is going well. I missed watching football yesterday but the 49ers lost AGAIN so I guess some things never change, eh?

Well I’m going to go rest before we hit up the Russian Market for dinner. Thanks for reading and look out for a new post coming soon!!!

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