Saturday, October 18, 2014

Monday at Angkor Wat

Monday afternoon we left for Cambodia.  We had an afternoon flight to Cambodia.  The airport in Siem Reap was built specifically for the tourist industry to bring people in to the Angkor Temples. After the Vietnamese left Cambodia, American Express came in and trained locals in how to be tour guides and how to run hotels and tourist industry places so that they would attract world tourists, and they've been very successful at that, with over 2 million tourists coming to the Angkor complex last year alone.
We stayed at the Grand Raffles Hotel d'Angkor, which is really, really nice. The Raffles brand started in Singapore, so it felt right that we should be staying there. Our driver (we had the same driver the whole time we were there) picked us up at the airport, and took us to the hotel, where we were met by the concierge (Chesda), who helped us get set up for our stay there, including our tour time. He also told Heather that in order to enter the temples at Angkor, she would need to be sure to have clothing that covered her shoulders and legs at least to the knees. Marcus also needed to be covered, to show respect, but he had the clothes he needed already.
 By the time we got to Raffles and got settled in we were in need of dinner.  The concierge recommended a restaurant called Chanrey Tree to us, and we took his advice. It's Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine with a modern twist, I think. It was a really pretty place -- we had planned to eat inside in the air con, but decided that the outside garden was so nice that we would eat outside. It's interesting to see the differences between the countries on things like service and prices. A beer in Cambodia is about US$2, while in Singapore, it is about US$8-12. The service in Cambodia was also really over the top -- we joked that you had to learn not to even look at the wait staff, because if you did, they'd come over to see "how may I be of assistance to you, madame?" The food was excellent, and local Cambodian style, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Heather had a Khmer chicken dish with lemongrass, and it was delicious.
The next morning we were up for an event of a lifetime -- touring Angkor Wat, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Our driver was there to get us around and our tour guide was really knowledgeable -- he said he'd been giving Angkor tours for 10 years. He told us about King Suryavarman II, the early Hindu kings who created Angkor Wat in the early 12th century.Here you can see our first view from a distance -- we were in awe as we approached it, and could only imagine what it was like for the people who first rediscovered these temples after they had been abandoned in the jungles for so long.
Angkor Wat is a single, massive temple complex, and it was initially a Hindu worship site. Over time, as Buddhism began to take hold, Buddhist influences could be seen, and then the community became Buddhist. Later on, they became Hindu again, and then reverted to Buddhism, which remains the dominant religion (by far) in the country today. However, as is fairly common, many Buddhists also pray to the Hindu gods, at least on occasion. It's particularly known for the elaborate towers (some of which you can see in the photos above), and for the carvings of scenes from Hindu mythology. The carvings are truly impressive, as you can see, and the building itself is amazing, especially when you realize that they used no mortar -- the stones were quarried about 50km away, and then assembled on site, and they fit together smoothly at each point. It's almost impossible to imagine the effort that went into this construction process.
We took literally hundreds of pictures, and we look forward to sharing every single one of them with you all, but for now, here are a very few highlights.
We also spent time on Monday at Angkor Tom, which was the large capital city complex and which contained several temples of its own. But that will wait for another entry.

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