When we traveled to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, Skye and Claire were 3 and 1.5 and I was pregnant with Flynn. We only had a short time in Siem Reap before heading back to Bangkok, so we wanted to make the most of it! When we arrived from the tiny airport after a relatively easy visa process and checked into our room, we were very pleased that the little lodge we had chosen was right in the heart of Siem Reap and farther from the big tourist hotels. We could walk outside the gate and straight into the bustling local markets with a quick walk to the river where many of the townspeople’s precarious residences were perched.
The next morning we woke up to what would become one of the best and most memorable days of my life. We had arranged for a guide to take us around to the temples all day, and he picked us up at 4 in the morning to get us to the prime spot by the lake in front of the main temple at Angkor Wat to witness the sunrise. I couldn’t believe how many people were there in the darkness…crowds of visitors jostling for space, local children selling trinkets, even tour groups. Still the sunrise was a beautiful, if not peaceful experience. I had been dreaming of visiting this site for years and seeing the orange sun peeking over the distinctive 12th century towers was breathtaking.
We spent the next 10 hours or so with our guide visiting 4 of the temple sites. Each of them was very different. First stop was Bayon Temple or the “Smiley Face Temple” The walls around the entryway were covered with intricate battle scenes in bas relief. Our guide described the history of the temple and pointed out facts about some of the fascinating beautifully carved images. Once inside, the giant smiling heads are visible, and there are lots of places to climb and explore. Claire was so young, we brought her carseat with a GoBabyz attachment that allowed us to wheel her around for much of the day and then carry her up steep stairways. She was quite happy in her cozy seat, and thus was able to tolerate a 10+ hour day of exploring.
Next came Ta Prohm, the “Jungle Temple”. Many of the other sites have undergone restoration in the last hundred years, but Ta Prohm was left more or less as they found it, and sits as a remarkable example of the way nature takes everything back over time. You can wander through the doorways past headless Buddha statues and find yourself in front of crumbling walls choked back by massive silk cotton trees and strangler figs. This was my favorite stop of the day.
Next we briefly visited another site, and as the guide was sharing some history with us in front of the temple, I came upon a patch of clovers that were nearly all the four leaf variety! Just a tiny patch of pure four leaf clovers in a huge field, it felt very special.
Local children were everywhere. Some were running around playing and having fun, but many were working. At the entrance to some of the temples, we were approached by kids of varying ages trying to sell us snacks and handicrafts. These little ones were lined up singing songs in the heat with a basket set out to collect coins. During our brief visit, the poverty of Siem Reap was apparent, but we also felt a strong general sense of happiness and warmth among the local people.
Finally we made it back to the main temple and gawked at the hundreds of aspara dancers carved into the walls, each one slightly different. Orange clad monks wandered along the walls, offering a lovely visual contrast to the stark crumbling stones.
Back at the lodge, we had dinner and met a young Australian woman who asked if we would like to join her English class that evening and help out. She ran a class that taught the local monks and young people of Siem Reap to speak English, so they could get more lucrative jobs (mainly in the tourist industry) than what might normally be available to them. After dinner, we followed her down to the dark little room where the class was set up. Upon entering, we were introduced to the three monks who were helping out, and I held my hand out for a moment to shake their hands, before awkwardly remembering they are not permitted to touch women. Slightly embarrassing! We had a great time at the class. Jason and I each got a turn standing up in front of the class and talked to them in English, making sure to enunciate clearly and keep the phrases relatively simple. We shared pleasantries with some of the students and talked about our jobs. Jason was a natural, and there were tons of questions for him about his job as a pilot!
Back at the lodge, we finished off the evening by getting massages from a blind masseuse, a son of one of the lodge employees. Best Day Ever!