We took a detour from Phnom Penh and spent several days in the city of Siem Reap, the jumping off point for touring the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat, the previous center of the Khmer Kingdom. Angkor Wat is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Below are Braxton’s impressions:
Angkor Wat is a series of beautiful temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia. They were built by the Khmer people as early as the 9th century. The buildings are crumbling and in some places the jungle is breaking up the rock. It was amazing how much art they had in there. A lot of the art was a style known as bas relief. Bas relief is a carving in stone that often tells a story. They had it on almost all of the walls and sometimes it went all the way around the perimeter of the temple. Lots of the temples were bringing Hindu beliefs and Buddhist beliefs together. They often had stories of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer) in the bas reliefs. All three are Hindu gods. Vishnu is often found holding a mace, a sphere, a conch shell, and a disc (he has four arms). Vishnu is also usually found riding on a Garuda. A Garuda is a mythical part bird, part snake, and part human creature.
Angkor Wat is one of the most beautiful places ever. It is also considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. It is most beautiful when you see it at sunrise like we did. I hope you will be fortunate enough to go there some day.
We had a great time in Phnom Penh. It is a vibrant, bustling city demonstrating the extremes of both poverty and excess. You see it all…from a picturesque promenade along the riverfront, the magnificent Royal Palace, exciting street food (including fried bugs, frogs, birds, snakes and tarantulas – and we did watch a British woman eat a tarantula)…. to small child vendors wandering the streets alone at night, seedy tourists plying the sex trade, and widespread begging. We learned a great deal in this city. We were introduced to the glories of the ancient Khmer civilization at the National Museum and Royal Palace, as well as to the horrors perpetrated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.
From Braxton’s journal entry on the National Museum and Palace:
Vishnu is the Preserver of the Earth. Shiva is the Destroyer. Brahma is the Creator. They are all Hindu deities. Vishnu has four arms that are usually holding a conch shell, a ball, a mace, and a wheel. Shiva is usually holding a trident. Brahma has four faces looking in the cardinal directions. We quizzed our dad on what Vishnu is usually holding. He got three wrong, two right, and we had to tell him the last two.
At the Palace we went into a room that had what the royal people wore. They had a different outfit each day. The other room that we went to had an emerald Buddha. In the emerald Buddha room the floor was made of real silver tiles but they were covered with rugs. There was a life sized gold Buddha encrusted with diamonds (almost 10,000) but I couldn’t see the diamonds.
We love crossing borders, especially the international boundary experts among us. Here we are about to cross the Mekong River from Laos to Thailand. Mostly we have flown across borders (as in the airport photo below) with the exception of the crossing from Nanning, China to Hanoi, Vietnam by night train when we were awakened twice in two hours to exit the train with all of our luggage and deal with customs and immigration on both sides of the border. Needless to say, the daytime crossing of the Mekong by boat was much easier.
OK, OK, since so many people want to know… we did not actually eat the rats. They were not offered to us and were instead eaten by the guides and village women who were cooking. Unfortunately, they are probably used to westerners squealing and then photographing their dinner, one of their only sources of protein. Honestly, it just did not seem that gross in the middle of the jungle. Several claim that they were fully prepared to eat them…