Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cambodia Trip - Part 1

Although our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia was only a mere two-hour flight from Singapore, it might as well have been in another galaxy! Coming from one of the wealthiest countries in Asia to one of the poorest was quite a culture-shock. As with most third world countries, the luxurious parts of our trip were mainly confined to our resort. We stayed all five nights at the Lotus Resort and Spa, which was absolutely gorgeous and tranquil - we were treated like kings from the moment we arrived and were offered drinks of Sugar Cane juice. The hotel grounds were also incredible, and I couldn't help but take photos of everything! Beside the pool, the best part of our hotel experience in Cambodia was our room. It was the exact opposite of our tiny Singapore room - large and spacious, the room had beautiful wood floors, an enormous bathroom, and tall french doors that opened up right into the garden and pool area of the resort. After arriving, we got a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant (the deep-fried won tons with peanut sauce were amazing!!), had some drinks by the pool, and ended up taking a loooong nap!

Walking from our plane to the beautiful Siem Reap airport

In our hotel lobby

The view right outside our room

Pool and garden

In our room

Drinks by the pool the first day

I loved the hammocks

Many people have asked us why we chose to visit Cambodia, and I guess the decision really stemmed from our goal to visit as many countries in Asia as possible while we're living in Okinawa. In fact, there are only a few countries that really are not on my list to see! Anyway, the major tourist attraction in Cambodia is called Angkor - an enormous complex of temples within an ancient city that dates back as early as the 9th century (the entire complex is approximately the size of modern-day Los Angeles). The city of Angkor was ruled by the Khmer Empire, who created some of the world's most incredible architecture within its' walls. The temples are each in varying degrees of ruins, however, most of them still stand today and are easily accessed by a walking tour throughout the complex. Some of these tours can last days! We had a few other things that we wanted to see while in Cambodia, so we opted for the full-day tour of Angkor Wat, which I'm glad we did - the tour began at 7:00 in the morning and lasted until around 8:00 pm - well after sunset!

Us at the entrance to Angkor Thom

Statues along the causeway that lead into Angkor Thom - many of these were beheaded or partially destroyed during the Khmer Rouge, and it is very obvious which statues have been restored (ex: the heads that have been replaced are lighter in color, etc.)

Inside Angkor Thom - the temple of Bayon is most famous for its giant and majestic stone faces carved into the many large towers. As with all of the Angkor temples, the religion has changed between Hindu and Buddhist based on the current king. Because of these changes, the temples were modified based on the religious preferences of the time. For instance, we saw many statues of Buddha that had missing limbs or noses, and many were beheaded all together by the Hindus. I think the Faces of Bayon was one of my favorite sites - they were incredible!

Our amazing tour guide for the day - Bun (short for Bunleat) - explaining the story of the Leper King that was depicted in these relief carvings to us. He customized our day-long tour to fit in everything I had wanted to see, and he was so full of knowledge! We would have been lost (literally!) inside Angkor if it wasn't for him - I felt like I learned so much!

The king's palace inside Angkor Thom - this was his swimming pool! Looks more like an enormous lily pond now, but was still incredible!

Pillars underneath a bridge that led to a temple that was actively being restored

The Terrace of the Leper King - part of the Royal Square of Angkor Thom. There were thousands and thousands of relief carvings all over the maze of walls here, and they were meant to represent the underworld.

So realistic and detailed - just incredible to think how long this must have taken them to make!

Another part of the Royal Square - the Terrace of the Elephants, where they used to have actual elephant fights for entertainment. This is us standing with the three-headed elephant statues.

Buddhist monk in the window of one of the "libraries" at Ta Keo Temple

Matt climbing up Ta Keo

More interesting stories from our tour guide Bun

Just amazing

Bun imitating the Apsara Dancers that are carved all over the walls of the temples

One of my favorite places in Angkor - the temple of Ta Prohm - has been abandoned for centuries and overgrown with gigantic tree roots that consume the structure. It is also one of the more popular sites featured in the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie - this may seem like a random fact, but trust me when I tell you - no one leaves Siem Reap without knowing this!

Check out this video clip of us at Ta Prohm - Bun is showing us how in one tower, you are not able to make an echo unless you hit your chest with a closed fist. Hard to believe - but it was true!

That was a heavy one!

One of the many headless statues of Buddha

Just incredible - its hard to believe we were actually there!

Yes, the Khmer people carved a STEGOSAURUS on the wall inside the temple of Ta Prohm.... Matt thinks this is proof that dinosaurs and humans may have coexisted...

Finally, we make it to the main attraction: the temple of Angkor Wat - the best preserved temple in the ancient city as well as the largest religious building in the world! This is a view of the outer enclosure and giant moat that surround Angkor Wat.

Reflection in the famous lily pond in front of the main building - also in the Tomb Raider movie!

View from higher up inside the main complex inside Angkor Wat - the view of the structure is amazing!

Climbing back down

These carvings were everywhere - in every temple we saw that day! Bun explained to us that you could tell how old a temple was based on the direction of the feet in these carvings. He said that some of the feet were facing forward, some on angles, and others sideways (like these) - the reason being that each century wanted to put their own "spin" on the carvings.

We got to sit up at one of the libraries inside Angkor Wat and watch the sun set

Saying goodbye to Bun at our hotel - we had such an amazing, yet exhausting day!

More adventures from Cambodia soon to come!



  1. Again, looks like an amazing trip! Interesting info about the beheading of the statues. Love the pictures! Now, on to read Part 2!

  2. Whew...exhausting-jam packed day! Thanks again for sharing your tour. GREAT PHOTOGRAPHY! (Even clicking your heels!) And you left me wondering who snapped that last shot!

  3. Who was the Leper King, and by Underworld, do you mean Hell? During your visit to Ta Prohm, when Bun was explaining the echoes, what sounds were in the background...sounds like large birds(?)or pterodactyls? I don't remember Tomb Raider...I'll have to watch it again. I want to know who was in charge of updating the feet in the carvings every century? Love your writing. Love U. (Finally figured out how to leave comments!'ll be sorry!)

  4. Hahaha! Its okay, I don't mind answering questions:) The Leper King story was about a king who didn't actually have Leprosy, but a statue of him became covered in mossy black spots and (from a storm or something) was missing one of his arms, so the people started calling him the "Leper King", because it looked like his statue had gotten Leprosy. I'm still not exactly sure what the difference between "Underworld" and "Hell" is in the Buddhist religion, but Bun told us that they weren't the same thing... maybe the Underworld is like Purgatory or something? I never saw any crazy large birds or anything, but I did hear their sounds - in the video, you can hear them - they were really loud and did sound like Pterodactyls! I never saw Tomb Raider actually, so after the trip, Matt and I watched it at home, and it was REALLY neat to see all the places that we had been! And about the feet in the carvings - they didn't "update" them each century, they just left old ones the same and changed the feet in the new ones they were carving at the time, so when you walk around Angkor Wat, you'll see carvings with all different type of feet.

    And Leanne - the last picture of all 3 of us was taken by our driver that we had for the day (part of the tour package) - Can you believe the whole day private tour for just Matt and I was only $65 - not each, just $65 total!