Siem Reap, Cambodia
Next morning Yousroeun, a new driver and our cook for two days, Alin, met me at 7:30 a.m. for our drive to the village of Koh Ker and within a half hour we were driving on a very bumpy dirt road through farmland and rices paddies (what else eh?). As we drove, we came across an entire village harvesting rice in the “wet” paddies. (There are dry rice paddies, but this field was a wet paddy.) The land was surrounded by water buffalo and it was an amazing site to see for this foreigner. I asked the driver to stop and we all got out to watch the goings on in the field. As we stood there, a woman limped towards us. We soon learned that the wet rice paddies are filled with blood suckers because of the presence of the water buffalo and the villagers were being bit. The woman limping towards us was in pain and had been bitten by a huge blood sucker (she indicated it was about 8 inches long). Holy ****. And we think are jobs are tough. (As I lawyer I have heard people refer to lawyer a blood suckers, but at least I have never bitten anyone on my job.)
We stood watching the villagers in the field for a while and as we stood there, a herd of water buffalo moved past us tended to by a very young boy of no more than 12 or 13. As I watched, I wondered “don’t these kids go to school?”
I soon learned that the answer was actually yes and no. The kids in the villages go to school until they are 12 then they stop school because the villages only have primary school. The secondary and high schools are usually only located in larger urban areas and the villagers have no money to send the kids to the areas where the schools are located. In addition, the government only mandates that children go to school until the age of 12. Unbelievable! I can’t tell you how many young people (ie teenagers) I encountered over the next couple days who only had a grade 6 education and were either helping their mothers raise the babies or were helping in the fields. Good grief!
Anyway, we piled back in the car and made our way to the village of Sway Leu where my guide and I got out of the car and wandered through the village. We stopped at the equivalent of the town 7-11 (a shanty with a woman sitting on the ground tending a fire over which she was frying banana strips and selling various sundries).
We stopped and purchased some banana strips, which were not that tasty, and moved on to the rather dingy temple at the end of the road. We encountered a handful of monks and the care-keeper and his family handing outside adjacent to the temple. I ended up sitting down with the family and a couple of the monks talking about their life and the temple on the grounds (which was in the process of renovation thank God).
The monks and the family were very shy (as is the norm in Cambodia) and spent more time asking me questions about life in America than answering my questions. I did learn that two of the novice monks were intending to continue with the monastic life and that their education was much more limiting than that of the Laotian monks. In addition, instead of morning alms, the villagers came to the monks with offerings of food for the week. Yikes. You better ration well.
After the visit to the temple, we wandered back down the street towards the car, but made a little detour to a “dessert” shop where a young woman was serving up sweet treats to the villagers. I took a seat and started talking with her. I learned she was 22, had a grade 6 education, had 3 children and paid the equivalent of $8 per month for the space. She said that her little stand was quite popular and judging by the folks around me, I believed that was true. Anyway, she served me and Yousroeun a delicious dish of fried soy jelly nuts and bananas in coconut milk. It was very rich and very, very good. This entrepreneur may only have a 6th grade education, but she had a winning combination in the deserts business. I paid her 2,000 Riel (the equivalent of $0.25) for the two bowls of goodness and we headed back to the car.
Two hours and a very sore backside later we arrived at the village of Koh Ker. The ride on the pot hole filled road had been bone jarring to say the least. If I hadn’t been thrown around so much in the jeep, I might have actually enjoyed the “massage”.
My driver found the house and opened the gate to the homestay house I was to stay in for the next couple days. The homestay was at the very low end on the modesty scale. The building was made of wood, sat on stilts and I climbed a set of stairs to reach the interior. There were three rooms: 2 bedrooms straddling a large eating area and rest area. The rooms had windows with no glass. Bathrooms were in a separate building out back and in order to flush the toilet you had to ladle water from a bin into the toilet. Mmmm … that’s a new one. And the shower consisted of a large square tiled container filled with water from which you ladled water onto your head. Mmmm …. another new one. This was not modest, this was rustic to say the least.
After getting settled, Yousroeun and I wandered down the dirt road to the “center” of the village. We passed the home of the neighbor immediately next door to the homestay and I wandered in. The mother was at work scaling and gutting the tiniest fish you have ever seen that were apparently caught from the stream next to the village. In the backyard, a little girl of no more than 9 was washing clothes in a washtub and hanging them up to dry. God. This was tough.
Anyway, as we walked, I bought some candy from a little store (an open fronted building with some supplies set out on a table) with the intention of giving it to the village children. We stopped to talk to two mothers nursing children and a gaggle of children soon converged once word spread that the “madame” was giving out candy. Although the children came running, they were so shy they barely looked at me when I handed them a little packet of candy. But it was adorable when they clasped their hands together as if they are praying and said “Aakoon”, (pronounced awkuhn), which is thank you in Cambodian.
I took at seat on a table and chatted to the woman through my guide who translated. Both were in their mid 20s and each had four children. Gack! Birth control people, birth control! Neither one could read. Both of them eventually asked me if I wanted to adopt their babies. Seriously? Yep. Seriously. They both said through my guide that the babies could learn English and have food to eat. (And this would not be the last time I had women ask me to adopt their babies. It happened over and over during the course of the two days in Koh Ker.) I thanked them both profusely, but told them that they would miss their babies terribly and they would be better mothers than me. Both nodded and thanked me. Holy sh*t!
As we sat their chatting, two men joined us and one of them began to pepper me with questions. “Where is your husband?” “Why aren’t you married?” (These people in Southeast Asia are really preoccupied with marriage.) “What kind of job do you have?” And the most original one: “What was it like to fly in an airplane?” As I described the experience of flying, a number of people joined us and all of them began asking questions about flying. They had all seen planes in the sky passing over the village and were curious about the experience.
One guy even wanted to know if the clouds looked the same from above as below. Such innocent and interesting questions when I thought about it. Things than many of us take for granted or don’t even think about are issues of great interest to those in the third world.
As we sat there, the two young children in the arms of their mothers just kept staring at me. One of the young women motioned to me to take the child and as I reached out to her little daughter the child let our a huge wail. Uh oh. Shades of Egypt. Then the other wee one started crying. I was scaring the daylights out of the babies. I immediately put on my sunglasses and had my guide explain what I thought was the problem. The women laughed and said they wanted my blue eyes instead of the brown eyes.
In order to avoid any further angst to the kiddies, we moved on. We walked past a number of homes designed in a similar fashion to the home I was staying in for the night. The big difference. None of the homes had bathrooms. The folks just use the great outdoors when nature calls. The other thing I noticed is that the animals live among the homes. Cows, pigs and chickens roamed at will. Uh that can’t be good for controlling disease. (In fact, as I was sitting on the table talking to the two women, I felt something rub against my leg and looked down to see a pig with its backside sticking out from under the table.)
Yousroeun and I wandered past a rice paddy and saw some villagers harvesting the rice stalks. We watched for a moment and a woman approached me with a small sickle and demonstrated how to grasp the long stalks, curl the sickle around the stalks and cut and move on. I was then handed the sickle and the woman motioned to me to give it a try. I was, to say the very least, pretty lousy at rice harvesting and am certain if I had made more than a couple cuts, I would have sliced my finger off. I handed the sickle back to the woman with a slight bow and aacoon. She was a professional and I told Yousroeun to tell her that. She smiled as we walked off. (I wasn’t sure if she was smiling at my comment or smiling that I was leaving.)
We then wandered past a gentleman building a boat. I was told he had never built a fishing boat before, but was copying the style of a boat he had seen on a river some time ago. Jeez. Clearly a bright guy as the boat looked pretty darned nice. We then stopped at a house where a man and woman were using long poles to pound rice in rock bowl in what looked like a large mortar and pestle. The two were making rice flower.
We finally headed back to the homestay and had some lunch. I was exhausted mentally from all the images and interaction. I spent a couple hours resting in a chair after lunch. I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, my guide was waking me up. He wanted to know if I would like to take a drive to the “New Village”, the village that had been recently constructed near Koh Ker and is literally called the New Village. I wasn’t sure if I could take any more, but I agreed so Yousroeun and I made the 4 km drive to the “New Village” … and oh my God. This was beyond poor. It made the village of Koh Ker look well off.
Everywhere I looked there were naked children running around and mother’s nursing. (This place definitely needed to learn about birth control.) As we walked, I noticed everyone was filthy. I soon learned that the village was short of water so few people bathed on a regular basis. I wondered what the mortality rate was in this village as kids rolled in the dirt with the pigs and the chickens. It was absolutely brutal. And the homes. I have seen garden sheds in Seattle that were in better shape than these places. Many of the homes consisted of little more than a lean two with some mats on the dirt ground. There were dogs and chickens and ducks and pigs running around everywhere.
Anyway, we wandered through some yards and made a stop at a villager’s home where I spoke to two women who were my age. They had clearly led a very difficult life. Both had very gnarled fingers, were missing numerous teeth and looked very tired. I spoke to them at length and got a good laugh out of both when I admonished Yousroeun for calling them old.
Yousroeun translated for them that I was the same age as them, and when he called them old, I told him that the ladies nor I were old. After the ladies learned I was their age, the ladies wanted to know why I looked younger than them. I told them “no kids”. That got another laugh out of them.
As we sat and chatted, I learned that one lady lived with her son and daughter and their three kids. And as luck would have it, minutes later, the daughter appeared. I learned the daughter had been out in the jungle all day collecting dead wood to use for the fire. She carried the wood in a sack on her back and looked absolutely beat when she returned. However, the universal cure for a weary body is the smile of a child, and as I chatted, the woman’s daughter came running, screaming a word that I soon learned was “Mama, Mama”. The little girl threw herself around her mother’s legs and smiled a thousand lights. The mother instantly perked up. It’s the same routine around the world at the end of a long day and this village, as poor as it was, was no different.
As I sat there chatting, I remembered that I had purchased a bag filled with individually wrapped crackers,w hich I proceeded to hand out to the womens’ grandchildren who were gathered in the yard. As we chatted, a young girl with mottled hair and rags for clothing peeked around the corner. I spotted her and motioned for her to come over. I handed her a bag of crackers, she took it and instantly ran. One grandmother told me that the child’s mother had died when she was an infant and her father had abandoned her when he re-married. The little girl was being cared for by an elderly woman in the village. It was heartbreaking to hear and apparently a very common occurrence when a woman dies leaving the man to care for the children. My God!
We eventually left the home, and I took up a spot on a bench in what amounted to the village square and learned about the water needs of the village. They had two wells, but were in desperate need of two more. Apparently, the government had relocated these folks from the city, given them land to farm, but neglected to provide any access to water. The only water supply came from the two wells courtesy of Hidden Cambodian Adventures. Without water they could not irrigate the land and this meant that they could only farm one crop of rice per year following the rainy season. This also meant a food shortage for the village. And, it meant that the village people did not have enough water to drink and did not have enough water to wash. As the filthy villagers in front of me spoke, however, they frequently smiled and their manners were perfect. Always an accoon and a slight bow with folded hands over the slightest gesture of kindness. These folks were wonderful people, but they had serious problems. Their education was virtually non-existent and they did not understand that the more children they had, the more problems they created for themselves. Education and birth control, in addition to water, were sorely lacking in these towns.
We finally left New Village and headed back to the homestay. On the way, I noticed a painted red circle around a tree and a red and black skull and crossbones. Landmine Danger.
I asked my guide about it because I had understood that the area had been cleared of landmines unexploded ordinances. (A problem from the Vietnam uh “American” War.) Yousroeun said that the area had been cleared and he thought that this was a sign that had not yet been taken down. I didn’t know if he was correct or not, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to venture into the area to find out.
We finally reached the homestay, and I decided I could not take any more today. I just wanted to eat and go to bed. As the sun set (around 5:30), the village fell into darkness. You could hear the voices of children all over the place, the occasional moo of a cow and the frequent bark of a dog. The homestay had a generator and once it was dusk, my driver started up the generator only to have it die. Start. Die. Start. Die. This pattern was repeated over and over during the course of the night and every time the generator died you could hear my guide and our cook both say “aawww”. it actually reminded me of my Christmas party 4 years ago when a huge windstorm knocked out the power all over Seattle. Two days later we still had no power, and I ended up having my Christmas party anyway with candles to light the house and a neighbor’s borrowed generator to light the tree. Every time the generator started running low on gas and the lights on the tree would flicker and go out everyone at the party would say “awwww”.
Anyway, because of the faulty generator, I had my dinner by candle light and by 8:00 called it good. I crawled into my bed under a mosquito net and prayed no bugs would get me. (Earlier in the evening I had been lying in a hammock and a HUGE bug flew at me and hit me in the neck. I have no idea what it was, but I am certain they heard my scream in the New Village.)
And then at God knows what time, I was awakened in the pre dawn hours by the local roosters. It was a chorus of cock-a-doodle doos as one after another each rooster in the neighborhood took its turn. It would get quiet for a few minutes and then the chorus would hit again. GACK! But, as I listened, I realized that one rooster was slightly off. He could only get out cock-a-doodle. He had no “doo”. I lay there waiting to hear the “broken” rooster every time the chorus began and it never failed that this poor old bird couldn’t close it. Cracked me up every time I heard him sqwak.
I dozed off again, but finally got up as the sun was rising at the beautiful hour of 5:45 a.m. We had some breakfast and I decided to take one final walk around before we headed off for our trip to the temples. I wandered down the main road and watched some young boys help their teacher move furniture to a new home. (No idea why they were doing this instead of school.) I bought some more packaged biscuits and began to hand them out to the very young children who had surrounded me. Their screams of delight were a riot.
I turned to walked back towards the homestay and one little fellow of about 4 came running at top speed down the road. His little legs moved so fast this little tyke should be training for the Olympics. He came to a dead stop in front of me and looked up. I immediately handed him a package of biscuits and he turned and ran just as fast in the opposite direction. As I laughed, I noticed a young woman comforting a little boy. I walked over and learned that the little boy had twisted his ankle. He had hear that “madame” was giving out biscuits and got so excited he jumped off the ladder in an attempt to make sure he got a package, but twisted his ankle when he landed. His little face was stained with tears, and I felt just awful. I immediately handed him the final two packages, which he took and tore into. Poor little guy.
My driver had started the car and it was time for me to leave. I don’t think I will ever forget my time in the villages and will give some serious thought to how I can help Hidden Cambodian Adventures with their charity work in the two villages.
Our first stop in the Koh Ker complex was the temple of Prasat Thom, which was a marvelous seven tiered pyramid that reminded me of the step pyramid outside of Cairo and to a lesser extent the Inca ruins.
The pyramid temple was covered in green moss, surrounded by a half filled moat and a canopy of trees. We wandered around the complex, and then hiked up the White Elephant Path on the man made hill behind the pyramid to the top where it is believed a white elephant was buried. The views at the top were less than spectacular, but I could see to the mountains on the Cambodia/Thailand boarder.
We hiked back down the hill and walked along the wall in back of Prasat Thom and into the jungle to Prasat Krahom or Red Temple. This was also a beautiful, although somewhat ruined temple that was accessed by walking through a series of Naga or serpent barriers. We wandered through the open temple to the other side. The carvings on the pediments (archways) were very intricate and included a three trunk elephant.
We walked back to the car, climbed in and just as I was getting settled, we stopped and it was time to visit the next temple. Uh couldn’t we have just walked. Over the next hour this pattern was repeated two more times before I finally put an end to it and said we would walk if we were just going to be getting in and out of the car every two minutes (literally).
Anyway, next up was the Linga Pura, a small temple featuring a large linga, a phallic shaped stone symbolic of male power, on a vulva shaped yoni, which is symbolic of female power. These symbols are common in Hindu Shiva temples. Water was sanctified by running water of the linga and as the water ran out of the yoni, worshipers would use the sanctified water to bathe or to drink. In this temple there was a hole in the stone wall that allowed the water to also escape through an outer wall evidencing that it was clearly intended to allow people to shower. Rather interesting temple, but man was it hot and humid (not just in the temple, but in general) and I was starting to fade.
Next stop was Prasat Krachap (I thought my guide said Ketchup to which I replied “Hienz”. He didn’t get it. My one liners are lost on these people!) Prasat Krachap had a triangular arched pediment entryway and inside on a number of the walls I saw numerous images of the Hindu god Shiva.
We then moved on to Prasat Banteay Pichean, which consisted of nothing more than two brick towers standing in front of a collapsed central sanctuary. I climbed over a pile of rocks and was dripping in sweat. “Uh Yousroeun this is rather uninteresting and while I get that these are all historically important locations, can we skip some of the temple that just consist of a pile of rocks and stay with temples I can actually see? I am boiling and climbing rocks in this heat and humidity is getting to me.” Yousroeun got the message so he told me we would only visit two more temples both of which I would enjoy.
So we climbed into the car and drove a bit and arrived at Prasat Neang Khmao or Temple of the Black Lady.
The black temple which consisted of a single laterite tower was really unique and really beautiful. And yes, I did enjoy it. The unique aspects of the temple were actuall twofold. First, the temple opened out to the west, which is highly unusual as the temples always open to the east. Second, the burnt look of the temple was not, according to popular belief, the result of setting fire to nearby weeds and brush, its actually was the result of the iron-based laterite rock oxidizing (or rusting) and causing it to darken. The temple was lovely and one of my favorites of Koh Ker
We finished up the tour with a visit to Prasat Bram (Pram), which featured five temples, two of which were used a libraries. Prasat Bram actually reminded me a bit of Ta Prom because one of the temples was covered in creepers and roots of trees. The temples were actually better preserved than many of the temples I had seen at Koh Ker and I enjoyed wandering around the jungle looking at the five temples and examining the lovely carvings on each structure.
Yousroeun and I made our way back to the car and finally left the Koh Ker temple complex. We had one more temple to take in before we headed back to Siem Reap and that temple was Beng Melea on the road to Siem Reap. As we drove, we suddenly took a detour on a side road. Uh where are we going? Yousroeun told me that there was some beautiful stone carvings up on the hillside called Perng Kumnu that he thought I might like to see since we had a bit of time. Uh, can you check with me first before making an executive decision? I looked at him and knew he meant well, so I nodded and we continued up a VERY bumpy dirt road.
When we reached the top, we were greeted by huge crowds of people, dancers, music and lots of monks. Quite a greeting. We soon found out that a new temple was being dedicated that day on the site and all the villagers in the area had come to celebrate. I climbed out of the car feeling once again like a novelty act as people stared at me. We located the path to the stone carvings and followed a group of people down the path. When we reached the site, there was music playing and the Buddhist faithful in front of one rock were chanting and singing. I did not want to intrude, but from what I could see the first stone had a beautiful carving of Buddha and a reclining Hindu god. The singing and rhythmic chanting was awesome.
We walked on to the second stone site which featured a series of Hindu gods in a standing pose. As I reached the site, I was immediately surrounded by a crowd of old women who started touching me. They pinched my hands, rubbed my arms and fondled my hair. I looked at my guide with a WTF look and he explained that many of these women are from the hills and do not see white people so they think that I am some sort of goddess and are touching me for good luck. Oh yea… I’m a goddess alright!
After laughing at the explanation, I nodded and smiled at the old ladies and let them have their fun. I finally ran out of old women and was able to move on to the last stone, which contained a very faint carving of the Hindu god Shiva in the stone. As we wandered back, the crowd around the first stone had disbursed and I was able to see that there were two carvings on opposite sides of one another. The first was the Buddha/Hindu god combination that I had seen from afar and the second was a carving of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god and the son of Shiva. Both were beautiful.
We wandered back, had a look at the new temple and the throngs inside, listened to a bit of music and then headed back down the bumpy road. OK, Yousroeun. Good call. We finally reached Beng Mealea where we had a bit of lunch before heading over to the temple.
The temple, Beng Melea, actually means “lotus pond”. The sandstone temple was built in the Angkor Wat style meaning the temple was constructed as a Hindu temple with a similar architecture to Angkor Wat (large towers with surface relief carvings and bars lining the windows). In addition, the temple contained carvings depicting Buddhist motifs. The temple was pretty much in ruins with very little restoration work having been started on the temple. The temple was shrouded by trees, thick brush surrounded its towers and courtyards and many of the stones that made up the complex lay in mounds all over the place.
We wandered through the ruins and it started to rain. Thank God! It was so hot and humid, this would give some relief. Unfortunately, the rain was brief and did not give much relief at all. As we wandered, my guide, for whatever reason took me on a climbing expedition over the ruins. After about 10 minutes of crawling over rocks, I asked him if there was a point to this exercise. Yousroeun apparently thought I would enjoy seeing all of the various mounds and the carvings on some of the stones. Uh buddy, I am done. This place is nice to look at, but I am done with temples for the day. No more climbing.
We started to climb out and I accidentally crushed my baby finger between two rocks. Damn that hurt, and it immediately began to swell. We got out of there and Yousroeun began to ask people for something as we walked. Suddenly he stopped and an elderly woman pulled out something from her bag, grabbed my hand and rubbed a balm on it. It was apparently tiger balm and minutes later the swelling was down and the pain was virtually gone. Weird!
So we got back in the car, passed through a heavy rainstorm and a couple hours later I was finally back at my hotel. I said goodbye to my guide, Yousroeun, cook and driver and was off in search of food. I found a tuk tuk driver and immediately headed off to Siem Reap.
I wanted to try out a Cambodian barbeque place as I was very hungry. I set off for Pub Street, found the place I was looking for and took up a spot at a table on the street.
As I waited for the gal to set up the barbeque, I watched the crowd wandering down the street. There were Cambodian musicians, 20 somethings from all over the world, tons and tons of Japanese tourists huddled together in throngs, children and adults hawking post cards and various other tourist “necessities” and even the odd hooker wandering the street. It made for a fascinating wait for dinner.
Finally my dinner arrived and it featured a large convex burner surrounded by a soup stock. The idea was to cook meat on the burner and put veggies in the soup stock, dip the cooked meat in sauces and then enjoy. It was actually similar to the hot pots I had found in Laos.With dinner out of the way, it was time to head back to the hotel as I was scheduled to be out the door at 5:30 a.m. for sunrise at the temples on what was my last official day of my sabbatical before the long trip home.
So on Friday, I was up at 5:15 a.m. and ready to go. I met my guide, Nhem, (Yousroeun was tied up with a large tour group for the day) and driver and we set off for Srah Srang, which is one of two or three good spots at the Angkor Temple complex for sunrise.
I had originally thought about going to Angkor Wat for sunrise, but it is apparently so crowed I did not want to bother. Anyway, the sunrise turned out to be lovely and there were only a handful of people there to watch the sun come up over the man made lake. It was a great way to start my last full day in Cambodia.
We stopped briefly back at my hotel for breakfast and then we were back on the road again for the one hour drive to Kbal Spean also known as the River of a Thousand Lingas. Kbal Spean consists of a series of stone lingas and carvings in and around the Stung Kbal Spean river. In actuality, the site contains three motifs: hundreds of lingas (again, Hindu phallic symbols depicting male power); linga-yoni sculptures (Hindu female vulva shaped stone carvings beneath stone linga); and various Hindu mythological motifs, including depictions of gods and animals. The majority of Kbal Spean’s site dates to the 11th to 13th centuries. Apparently, construction of Kbal Spean was started by King Suryavarman I and later completed by King Udayadityarvarman.
We arrived just before 8 a.m. and there was no one at the site. Right on! My guide and I then set out for the 1500 meter climb to the waterfall and the statutes and carvings that make up Kbal Spean.
The hike was absolutely magnificent and incredibly tough all at the same time. We climbed up a path over rocks and down slight slopes through thick brush. I tried not to think about all the tropical bugs and snakes around me as we hiked and just enjoyed the cool jungle. There was even a lookout point where I could see over the entire valley. Loved it!
As we approached the top of the climb, I could hear the waterfall in the distance and once I saw the site, I realized that it was more than worth the climb. The waterfall was absolutely gorgeous and the linga and carvings placed in and around the water and ponds were absolutely magnificent. There were lingas galore (they looked like little round saucers in the water) and carvings of Hindu gods and animals in the rocks. And as you approached the water, many of the carvings were visible in the river. Apparently, the site dries up during the dry season so that is how the carvings were able to be made in the river bed. I was lucky to be able to see the site with the water still fairly high.
We wandered around the site for about 20 minutes with no one around. We were later joined by a Japanese couple and did not see another person until the hike down. And once we started the hike down, I was thrilled we had started out when we did. We passed group after group of elderly French tourists. I quite frankly had no idea how some of them were going to make the climb, but if they did, got for them. I was just glad I had the site to myself and didn’t have to share it with them.
We got back to the car and head back towards Siem Reap to visit Banteay Srei, my final temple of my trip. Baneay Srei is built largely of red sandstone and includes elaborate decorative wall carvings and designs. The buildings are very tiny in scale when compared to the massive size of other Angkor temples, and the site rather compact. The temple was apparently built in the 10th century and is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva (who else?).
We reached the site in about 20 minutes and wandered around for about an hour. The place was absolutely gorgeous.
The temple had been nicely restored and he carvings and designs were intricate and lovely. I enjoyed the temple, but not nearly as much as my climb in the jungle to see Kbal Spean.
And just like that, my trip to the temples of Angkor was at an end. We headed back to the hotel where I said goodbye to my driver and guide and immediately found a tuk tuk driver to take me into Siem Reap proper. I wandered the streets for the afternoon and took up residence in a restaurant for some lunch of ish amok (fish steamed in coconut milk, which is a Cambodian specialty that quite frankly did not rock my boat), springrolls and a beer at $0.50 a pint. (I know a lot of Canadians and at least one American who would have run these folks out of business! Yes, I am talking about you BB, David, Charles John and Bull!)
Anyway, I headed back to my hotel and on the way we passed a parade of young children, older women and monks celebrating the beginning of the Water Festival, which officially started the next day (unfortunately). They danced passed me parading signs, baskets of fruit and a dragon. On the river beside the parade route, I watched young men prepare their boats for the Dragon Boat Races the next morning. Damn, I wish I was going to be in Siem Reap to watch that!
So once back at the hotel, I took a nap, packed and then decided to go back into Siem Reap for my last night out. I wandered the streets, grabbed a couple beer and just people watched. And then it was time to make my decision. Was I going to try that fish pedicure or not? I wandered across the street to the Dr. Fish stand and watched the goings on. This was the prime location front and center on Pub Street and everyone was stopping to watch. After talking for a bit to three Lithuanian women who already had their feet submerged and having the folks around me urge me on, I decided to give it a go. Now I am a VERY ticklish person. I giggle at the slightest touch to my feet so this was going to be interesting. I took off my shoes, climbed up to the seating area and slowly lowered my feet into the water. And … feeding frenzy. My feet were in pretty bad shape after almost three and half months of hiking all over the world (despite the best efforts of that young woman in Laos) and so when I lowered my feet into the water, I was like manna from heaven for the fish. Everyone just started laughing as the fish converged on my feet.
As I sat there, I frequently broke into fits of hysterical laughter. It is hard to describe the sensation, but the nibbling was very soft and gentle and at the same time painfully ticklish.
I finally managed to relax a little and enjoy the sensation. I had a lovely conversation with the Lithuanian gals and then it was 9:35 p.m., and I had to leave to meet my driver. I reluctantly pulled my feet out of the tank and … low and behold they felt like a baby’s bottom. Holy ****, these little guys worked wonders. Good thing they don’t have these back home, they would put all the pedicure ladies out of business.
I paid the guys $3 (best pedicure ever), found my driver and said goodbye to Siem Reap and my sabbatical. It had been an incredible, incredible adventure.