Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Temples of Angkor

Angkor Wat

The Bayon Life Is Just a Tire Swing - Cambodian Children Playing at Angkor Thom

Trees at Preah Khan

More than anywhere else on this trip, a picture's worth a thousand words, which means I have 126,000 words about Cambodia uploaded over at Flickr. I ended up being quite detailed in the description (which alone took three days to write), so if you're really interested in reading (and seeing) about my trip, go here and work your way though the pictures chronologically. The descriptions are meant to read in order. (Beware; I do reprise my role as the world's most pedantic tour guide.) For the rest of you, the set is here. (Scroll past the Bangkok pictures.)

A few more words that didn't make it onto Flickr. Cambodia was a very last minute addition to my trip. I booked my flight to Siem Reap the day before I left for Bangkok. I wasn't originally going to go because, you know, it's a poverty stricken, politically unstable country where maybe traveling alone as a 23 year old, white female wasn't the safest thing to do. I still think that holds true for most of the country, but two million people visit Angkor Wat a year. It can't be *that* dangerous. And I don't know if I could have dealt being that close to Angkor Wat and not going. Cambodia's the country I've wanted to visit since I was just a kid and Angkor's city I'll never see enough of, and I'm so, so glad I went.

To clarify, Angkor refers to the area north of modern day Siem Reap that was the heart of the Khmer empire. Angkor Wat is the temple with the five towers shown above. Angkor is a city of superlatives. Angkor Wat, the best known of its temples, is the largest single religious monument in the world. The ancient city of Angkor was the largest pre-industrial city, with a million residents during the 15th century. (For the record, it would take another two hundred years and an industrial revolution for London to reach that size.) The Khmer empire it supported was the largest empire in South East Asia. Everything about Angkor is big. (It's a little like Texas. Maybe that's why I liked it. *g*)

I spent almost my entire trip at the ruins. I don't have any pictures of Siem Reap because I was hardly there during daylight. I did explore the town some at night: my roommate and I had some truly excellent Khmer curry at a little shack on the side of the road and I bought many many silk scarves at the night market, but I didn't have enough time at Angkor as it was. Two days just isn't enough time to see the site, and both days by the time I made it back to my hostel I was suffering from a wicked case of temple fatigue.

Cambodia is a shockingly poor country. Even in Siem Reap, which is the most affluent part of Cambodia (white washed for tourism), it's clear how very poor this country is. I paid $15 (they use US dollars) to hire a private tuk-tuk for the day. None of my meals cost more than $2. And, oh, the children at the temples. The temples are swarming with children selling water, postcards, homemade flutes and scarves. I'd get out of the tuk-tuk at a temple and was instantly mobbed by a swarm of children calling out, "Madame, you want water. You want postcard. You want flute." It was annoying, but also heartbreaking. (An interesting side note is how many languages these children could speak. They understood everything I said to them in English, and when I told them I lived in Korea, they would instantly start speaking Korean. My roommate was a German girl and she said they spoke to her in German. And sure, it was all broken, but how many languages can you speak, broken or otherwise.) I didn't have the heart to really bargain for anything while I was in Cambodia. I know I was being ripped off, but if that's their idea of ripping me off, they need my money more than I do.

Cambodia was a fantastic experience and worth every penny it cost and every gray hair it gave my mom.

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