Wednesday, October 15, 2014

We are back in Singapore after our trip to Cambodia and Angkor Wat. What a wonderful, awesome, exhausting trip! I can see why Heather hasn't yet posted anything about it, though I know she will soon.
We flew from Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia, on SilkAir, which is the regional airline for Singapore Air. Here's something you should all remember -- there are no places to get ID photos once you are past immigration and security at Singapore's Changi Airport. Why does this matter? Because you need a passport photo for your visa application to enter Cambodia, AND you are not allowed to leave through immigration and return in the same day, AND I forgot to get passport photos before we left. Fortunately, the Singapore Immigration Agent took pity on us, and had an Immigration Officer escort us back through security to a photo booth on the outside, and then back through security. He then mentioned "Since you have a little time, perhaps you would take a moment to fill out one of our comment cards to evaluate the service you have received today?" I was happy to do so. We had wondered whether we could just get the photo in Cambodia, but once we were there, there was absolutely no place we could see to get a photo done, so we were glad we had asked in Singapore!
The currency used in Cambodia is... the US dollar. Except that it is only as low as a $1 bill, and then for change, they give you Cambodian currency, which is the riel, and which is about 4000 riel to the US dollar. In other words, if your change is 50 cents, you'll get two 1000 riel bills. I have a few thousand in my wallet now, and Heather says she is going to scrapbook them.
We stayed at Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap. This was a big splurge for us, but we had decided to make this a special part of our trip. We were met at the airport by a driver in uniform (gloves and hat, too), and when we entered the car, we were given ice cold bottles of water and cold scented wash cloths. That proved to be a great part of the trip later, when the same driver drove for us on our touring -- getting back into that car and getting to cool off with water and a cold washcloth was pretty wonderful.
The concierge, Chesda, took great care of us, recommending a wonderful restaurant our first night in Siem Reap (Monday night). We took the tuktuk (a motorcycle pulling a passenger cart -- think of a rickshaw, but with a motorcycle up front) over to the restaurant, and had a wonderful Cambodian meal in a beautiful outdoor setting.
Tuesday we were went to Angkor Wat. I am only going to post a couple of pictures, because I know Heather will have a lot more to say, but I do have to say that it was awesome. Heather said that she had imagined it being totally in the jungle and overgrown, but then realized that, as a World Heritage Site, over 2 million people a year visit, so it isn't really hidden in the overgrowth anymore (though we did sort of see that later).
Angkor Wat is the main temple complex, and it is almost 1000 years old. It was originally Hindu. Then a later king decided that they were Buddhist now, and so it changed. Then it went back to Hindu, and back to Buddhist. (You can see places where carvings of Hindu figures were changed to be Buddhist, and back again over the centuries.) It is also the largest religious monument in the world.
Angkor Thom is a larger complex that contains temples within, but is also where the king lived. We went to Bayon temple and  Baphoun, as well as Ta Prohm and the Elephant Terrace. It was very hot, and there were LOTS of stairs, and when we would finish with a section and find a waiting car with "air con" running, and with a cold towel and cold water, I think Heather was glad that it wasn't quite as remote as we had imagined it to be.
This morning, we got up VERY early so that our driver and tour guide could take us to a temple 37km away, called Banteay Srey. It was much smaller, but also amazing -- done in pink sandstone, with truly amazing carving. I have to admit --we participated in the local corruption. The very center of Banteay Srey temple is now off limits to visitors, because too many come to the small temple, and that very important area would be damaged. But since we were there by 6:50am and no one else was there, for $5 the police officers guarding that area lowered the ropes and let us in, and even showed us around. We were the only people allowed in like that -- by even 25 minutes later, there were more people coming in, and the officers were very official then, and no one got past. But we did (and I bought one of the officers' official Police caps right off his head, too -- I know they don't make a lot, and this is part of how they get by, though it was a little odd).
The last place we went was a 10th century temple called Pre Rup -- again with stairs! But really a wonderful way to end our time at the Angkor temples.
I will let Heather say more -- and be sure to ask her about the monkeys! Oh -- and the dogs!

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