We flew from Luang Prabang, Laos, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, on December 11 and stayed there until December 18. The first night we arrived, after checking in to our lovely boutique hotel (which I snagged for $19 per night, yay!), we took the free hotel tuk tuk to the Night Market, where we had dinner. Afterward we walked along Pub Street, the bar destination for the young backpackers and party-animals. We were not enticed into the bars no matter how many drink specials were offered.
After that first night, though, we took it pretty easy in Siem Reap. This was the first time in a long time where we spent one full week in just one city, so it felt almost like a traveling break, which I have to admit was very welcome. We’d been moving quickly for a while and wanted to get in a bit of a rest as we geared up for lots of activity the following week, when Aidan (Scott’s daughter, my stepdaughter) would join us in Vietnam on the 18th.
Scott also needed to work a lot during this time to prepare for the two weeks he was taking off while Aidan was to be with us, so I planned on being alone most of the time. Luckily, though, I soon made a new friend at our hotel and ended up not being alone at all! On our second day there, as I lounged by the pool, I met a lovely woman from England named Karen*, and we ended up chatting most of the day. She was just ending a five-week holiday in Southeast Asia, so she too needed a bit of a rest. We had a great day enjoying the beautiful hotel pool surrounded by tropical plants, providing a nice cover from the blazing Cambodian sun.
*Hi, Karen. I’m so glad we met! I had fun hanging out and getting to know you. I hope you love all the stuff you bought for your home. If you ever make it to Nashville, Tennessee, let me know and I’ll meet you there!
That evening I treated myself to a full-on spa experience, and I went all in, getting a body scrub, Swedish massage, facial, head massage, and pedicure. I felt like a new woman! Super-clean, and sparkling fresh from head to toe!
The next morning, I went to a ceramics class and had a Ghost moment (minus Patrick Swayze) while making five different bowls and vases. I met two other women there named Iris and Constance/Connie (just like me, how rare and wonderful!). This Constance was even younger than me; most people I’ve met who share my name are grandmas. The three of us had lunch together and shopped a bit at the outdoor markets. Sometimes it is really easy making friends, especially when I’m alone. (Scott tends to scare people off. If you know him, you know it’s because he’s so unfriendly.) 🙂
Friday, I lounged at the pool again with Karen, and again, we had a great time. The pool was perfect, and the conversation was wonderful.
Saturday, Scott and I hired a tuk tuk for the day for what amounted to USD $15. We toured the Ankor area and the surrounding temples, including Ta Prohm, the one that in which the Angelina Jolie version of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed. Ankor as a whole was really amazing… and HUGE! There’s over 400 hectares of land covered with various temples; we hit the big ones, but you could spend days there, honestly.
Ankor Wat itself was beautiful; the temple is a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag. It was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu under the Khmer Empire but was gradually converted into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century (yes, its super old).
As we approached, we met a guide (in an official guide uniform, not some random stranger) whom we hired to show us around; it was totally worth the $12 we paid for an hour. We learned that Ankor Thom (wat = temple, thom = city) was a huge center of learning and trade for centuries. In the 13th century, it rivaled Nanjing, China, as the (second?) biggest city in the world, with nearly a million inhabitants, at a time when London, England, had at most a little over 100,000 people. Today, Ankor Wat is still one of the largest religious sites in the world, measuring 162.2 hectares.
You can still see many of the ancient carvings, and it felt as though everything about the place had some special significance. And it does! For example, the temple’s orientation is east-west, and lines of sight from terraces within the temple show specific towers at the location of the sunrise on each solstice. Remarkable. This orientation also signifies that the place served as a funerary temple, symbolically orientated to the west, i.e., toward the setting sun. The place and its history are so interesting.
That night Scott, Karen, and I went to see Phare, the Cambodian Circus. This entire performance was highly entertaining and also served a good purpose. The performers use theater, music, dance, and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories. The story we saw was one of tourists and their experiences at a seedy bar in Cambodia. But it was so much more than that! The performances were excellent, and the whole thing was seamlessly choreographed and tightly performed, not to mention joyful and amusing.
Phare’s artists are both current students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s vocational training center in Battambang, Cambodia, which was started in 1994 by nine young men who had just come home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime. These men founded an art school, public school, music school, theatre school, and circus school — all of which are free to attend. Today, Phare, the Cambodian Circus, offers a place to hone skills and improve lives. The money the circus earns helps the students, many of whom are very poor, some of them orphans, to climb up out of poverty, giving them self-respect and freedom.
My next two days were spent shopping with Karen and, for a brief time, with Scott (I suckered him into it, heheh). I happily helped Karen buy a quilt handmade by a Hmong woman, from the same hill tribe we had met while in Laos. As you can see, the quilt, shown here, is gorgeous. (I was very jealous!)
I bought a new linen dress that the shop owner helped me pick out, a hand-painted t-shirt depicting a monk and one of the carved faces from Ankor Wat, two new (and admittedly overpriced) shirts to replace a couple worn old ones, and two bracelets, one made of bullet fragments from Cambodia’s civil war, and the other made of agate. (The material attracted me, as it was the same as that of the amazing bowl we’d seen weeks earlier at the Habsburg Treasury in Vienna, the one that had supposedly held the blood of Christ.)
I love both of my Cambodian bracelets, and they go with the Polish amber ring I bought in Hungary. I’ve found that jewelry is about the only thing I can buy that won’t weigh down my backpack, so I’ve gotten a few pieces here and there as souvenirs. To justify the clothes, I followed my rule: one in, one out, so I got rid of clothes that had worn out… and I’m always amazed at how quickly you go through things when you wear them multiple times per week.
Up next: Vietnam, with Miss Aidan-stein!
—Connie and Scott