Sunday, June 8, 2008

Angkor Wat

The most impressive and best preserved Khmer temple, Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century and is the world's biggest religious monument. It was built as a Hindu Temple but was changed to a Buddhist temple complete with monks. The temple is surrounded by a huge moat with a causeway leading over it. I has heard that you really have not seen Angkor Wat until you have seen sunrise there. We left our hotel at 5:00 am and the light was already starting to show. But we got there for the show along with about 150 other people. Angkor Wat is an amazing place. As we walked across the causeway into the temple you felt as though you were stepping back in time. Here is our first view. Then when you enter the temple you feel like you have entered another place. The detail and architecture was surreal. The sun rise put in the show that was promised. When it was over we continued on to tour the temple, but many tourists go home for breakfast. We really had the temple to our selves with about 25 other people. Our guide explained the carvings in the wall. Some are religious and others are stories of history. Many of the stories here are similar to stories they tell in India as well. Unfortunately this with the other temples were looted as time went by. We even saw Japanese Graffiti. These Buddhas are the only ones left, from the originals. You might notice that none of them have heads. Kim, our guide, said that the heads were the easiest thing to carry off. Many of the temples have or are having restoration done. Many countries, France, Taiwan, China, even Russia are helping to preserve these beautiful temples. Melissa and I were really surprised that there is very little things you can not do, very little you can not touch and almost no where you can not go. Security is minimal mainly it consists of people just sitting there making sure you do not do anything. But I am not really sure what they would do to stop you. They have built some wooden walkways to protect the stones where you must walk like steps in and out of temples. They do not let you touch most of the major carvings and you are not supposed to take rubbings any more. I am hoping that all of the restoration will mean that my great grandchildren will get to see these amazing temples.

We decided that breakfast sounded good and after eating we were off to Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is one of the most well known temples. If you have seen either movie Tomb Raider or Two Brothers you have seen this beautiful place. Ta Prohm was built in 1186 by King Jayavarman VII to honor his mother. It has only been partially restored, but you still see giant trees growing over and through the walls. Many of the trees actually starts as droppings from birds and grow downwards. Most of them cannot be removed now since they hold the temple walls up. Around every turn we were amazed by the beauty of the temple intertwined with the trees.
Kim our guide was very nice spoke excellent English and took wonderful care of us. He was quite stylish. He wore DG glasses, crocodile shoes, and a Gucci belt. He told us he was one of the lucky ones. His parents sent him to a Buddhist monastery to study in the nineties so that he would be safe and that is where he studied history. Kim then spent several years with an American family which is how he learned English. I had no idea that the civil war only ended in 1997 Cambodia is still trying to put it self back together according to Kim.

Next our guide took us to a temple that has not been restored and is not even on the tourist maps. It was amazing we had the whole place to ourselves. The jungle has not taken over here, but he walls are broken down and crumbling in some places and in others they are standing tall. We felt very privileged to see what was found by the French explorers in the 1880's. We walked through this small temple and it is confession time I took a rubbing. I found a spot away from the sun, and wind. I used a crayon that we had to give the children when they would beg for money and a piece of paper that was an email. But I love it. Just a little piece of history.

After leaving this small temple we moved onto Angkor Thom which is a huge city in its own right. It was built in the late 12th century at the height of Angkor Thom 1 million people lived with in its walls. The walls are 12 km long and surrounded by a moat. We drove in through the victory gate. The bridge over the moat leading to the gate is lined with massive stone guardians holding a giant serpent. The Gate (see above) is named so because this is where the armies would march as they entered back into the city after they have gone off to battle. The gate is large enough for elephants to walk through which means that cars can drive through, but buses can not. Inside Angkor Thom we stopped first to see the elephant terrace. Truth time I have become a little crazy about elephants. They are everywhere in south east Asia in all shapes and sizes. So I was amazed to see hundreds of them carved into the wall of the terrace of the temple.

Next we moved on to the center of Angkor Thom the Bayon temple. It is a ornate Buddhist structure with over 54 towers. On each tower their are four faces, carved it is said so that the gods are watching the four corners of the world to see all the people doing their good works. I was amazed by how intricate this temple was concerning the amount of carvings there were and the detail that was put into each one.

At this point the temples were filling up with tourists and it was getting hot. Though it was only one o'clock we had been up for seven hours and it was time to take a break. We had lunch relaxed by the pool and took a nap. That night we headed over to the Raffles hotel for dinner and a show which involved traditional dancing. It was beautiful and enchanting.

After a good night's sleep, my travel partner Melissa did some fast talking and arranged an exciting trip out to some of the villages. As I told you previously our hotel has a hospitality institute and they give part of their profits to the Cambodian people. We had a conversation with some other people staying at our hotel and they had been out to the villages to deliver supplies and ended up at a wedding. Melissa really wanted to have this same experience and she is quite persuasive. So off we went. We took three bags of rice, two bicycles and several backpacks full of school supplies. We went to two different villages. They people were warm and open. They were beautiful and thankful. The children had eyes full of hope and love. But they had so little. Shinta Mani also works to help families get water wells and houses. They start by giving the family a bicycle and seeds for a garden they tell them to plant the garden and do not sell the bike. If they do both of these things they will get more help. If they do not they will not get anything else. Here this woman just received a bicycle and her niece a school bag full of supplies, including a uniform.

Here is an example of an old well and here is a new well that has safe water. We gave this family a bike and they were so thankful. The above children were so amazed by us and especially my camera. I would take pictures of them and then show them. They I let them take pictures of each other.

This family just got a new house. They are a newly married couple but they took in two nieces. The house is just 6 meters by six meters, but it has a concrete floor and a toilet out back. It was built by the group from the hotel for 1500 US dollars. They have an amazing garden out back. And the other picture is of their stove where they do most cooking.

We heard story after story about families taking in other children whether they were family on not. They have so little, but they continue to give. The children made my heart hurt. And I can not wait to go back.

We ended the afternoon by doing what girls do best, we went shopping. After shopping we had some dinner and ended the day with reflexology.

They next day we headed home. Cambodia is a beautiful country with beautiful people. I can not wait to go back.

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