Monday, May 21, 2012

Cambodia: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

We left Laos with a heavy heart.... the people (and our guide) were just as sweet and wonderful as they could be.  But now the real adventure was going to begin: we were off to Cambodia to see the awesome Hindu Temple complex at Angkor Wat, near the town of Siem Reap.  The ancient name of the town was Angkor - but - after a particularly contentious war with neighboring Thailand, the name was changed to Siem Reap, which means "Victory over Siam (Thailand)"  Nothing like rubbing salt in a wound!  We left the small airport at Luang Prabang on our first of many Vietnam Airlines planes.  I cannot say enough about the staff and service of  Vietnam Airlines.  This particular jet was a small one - a Fokker 70 - and it was a fast little Fokker! We arrived in Cambodia at about 1:30 in the afternoon - and went right out to see the temple called Ta Prohm.  This is the iconic temple with all of the giant heads of Vishnu and other gods (see photo left/above - my head only LOOKS giant!!) - This temple was the one made famous by Angelina Jolie in "Laura Croft: Tomb Raider".  All over Siem Reap - you see signs and notices that "Angelina Jolie ate here!"

The thing you notice about Cambodia first is just what the old cliche says: "It ain't the heat, it's the humidity!"  The daytime temps were not all that much warmer than At Home In Hyderabad - which this time of year is about 40-42-degrees Celsius - or, about 104 to 109 F. But the air is thick with choking humidity...very much like a steam-bath - and it doesn't take long before you are feeling the effects.  After our first temple visit, we felt like wet-dish-rags - and went to our hotel for the next two nights: The Hotel De La Paix - a modern, artsy kind of place that really was just what we needed!  We had a "Spa Suite" - I swear it was bigger than most apartments I ever lived in!!  There we crashed...after I made a short visit to the hotel's absinthe bar downstairs!!

The next day was dedicated to seeing Angkor Wat.  To really see the complex properly (it is HUGE!) - you would need more than 2-3 days as we had - - but - we really did see enough.  Mostly, our guide "Sonny" took us around... but we saw the main temple complex and Angkor Thom with a local Khmer scholar whose father had been an academic and was killed by the Khmer Rouge - if you remember the movie "The Killing Fields" - this fellow lived through it.  The climb to the top of the main temple required a lot of climbing of stairs... and I made it 75% of the way up.  Amy Suzanne made it all the way to the top (and down!) - but the stairs were much too steep for me to try.  She came down and looked like she might pass-out from heatstroke!  As it turned out, the poor thing ended-up sick as a dog for the next 24-hours - and could not leave the hotel room!

The next day, Sonny and I went out to see the Roulous Temple group... these ruins are among the oldest Khmer monuments in the area - dating back to the 9th Century A.D.  There are three main Hindu temple structures that remain: Lolei, Bakong and Preah Ko.  I got to see all three before the heat got to me and I got shuttled back to the hotel to check on Amy.  She was not doing too well.

We spent that night and the morning of the next day making arrangements for the "what if Amy can't make it to the airport and on to Hanoi" scenario.  Thanks once again to Eve Wertsch at Fugazi travel, she gave us sage advice: "Do whatever you can to get her on that plane!"

Thanks be to God the plane did not leave until 6:00 P.M.!!  We got some fluids in her and she weakly made it to the airport for the 90-minute flight from Siem Reap to Hanoi!!

Was Angkor Wat amazing?  Was it the highlight of our trip to Indochina?  Was it a bucket-list trip that everybody should make?  The answers are "Yes, yes and YES!!"  Would we go back?  Not during the summer!  It was brutal...and I thought for a time I just might lose my wife and favorite traveling companion to the heat and some kind of viscous local stomach-bug (we don't think it was anything that she ate...we both ate the same things!)

Anyway - please enjoy these two Facebook photo albums from this part of our trip.  Next - on to Hanoi and Vietnam!!

A Taste of Angkor Wat

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