Saturday, March 3, 2012

Final Day in Siem Reap

Our final day in Siem Reap was spent sleeping a bit later than usual, packing our bags trying to make all of our recent purchases fit into our over stuffed luggage, doing some last minute shopping and going to a cooking class at Le Tigre au Papier - a Khmer food training restaurant near the old market.  For over three hours, our group prepared a variety of traditional Khmer dishes under the watchful and expert eye of our instructor.  We made fresh and deep fried spring rolls, traditional Khmer curry, fried noodles and beef lok lak.  Dessert was sweet sticky rice with mango - so much food and so delicious!!  The best part is we have all the recipes and can't wait to cook when we return home!

After lunch we had the opportunity to visit the old market one more time for kampot pepper and palm sugar and we visited Artisan's d' Angkor, an NGO devoted to keeping traditional handicrafts alive in Cambodia.

We depart this evening for the long flight(s) back to Boston to our friends and family, to whom we give thanks for their love and support.

"One thing is clear, this young generation is dragging Cambodia kicking and screaming into the 21st century."  This powerful quote came from Bill Morse, a volunteer at the landmine museum we visited yesterday and it truly captures the changes occurring in Cambodia right now.  Cambodia is at a crossroads, change is happening fast.  There is heartache and struggle, but hidden just behind the roughness there is also hope and possibility for a bright future.  We can't wait to come back!

Kate B.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Days 9 and 10

Day 9 started at 5:30 in the morning with a drive to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise above the majestic ruins of Cambodia's best known temple.  Despite our early visit to the temple, it became evident that other tourists also had the same idea--hundreds of eager visitors with cameras in hand flooded the grounds in front on the temple as the sun slowly appeared over the horizon.  The sun created a beautiful pink color in the sky and we stared at it for several minutes, in awe of the combined beauty of nature and one of the world's most impressive architectural wonders. 

Afterwards, we walked up to the temple and were visited by a group of monkeys who seemed interested in our water bottles, and particularly fond of Kate--one of them climbed onto her leg to say hello!  We decided to move on into the temple to escape the monkey hoards and to examine the beautifully adorned walls of the first floor.  Our guide expertly shared the story of how the temple was built and its connection to various stories within the Buddhist and Hindu faiths.  We toured the complex for two more hours and appreciated the sophisticated techniques employed by the temple's ancient artisans. 

Following the temple visit, we enjoyed some free time back at our hotel--some of us went swimming in the pool while others took much needed naps.  We took Tuk Tuks into the heart of Siem Reap and decided unanimously that it was time for us to have our first non-Cambodian meal.  We walked by a Mexican restaurant and decided to give it a try--it was no Anna's Taqueria, but a good time was had by all.  We finished the day by visiting Siem Reap's well-known Night Market, known for its bustling shops and "fish foot massages" (feet are put into a large fish tank containing hundreds of small fish who eat dead skin off of feet--we were intrigued but decided to pass up this opportunity). 

Day 10 began with a bus ride to the “Jewel of Cambodia”, a temple known as Banteay Srei.  Unlike Angkor Wat and the Bayon, Banteay Srei is quite small.  What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its detail and exquisite beauty.  We were quite impressed with the ornate frescos that covered several of the buildings.  Next, we travelled further north to Kbal Spean, a beautiful mountain top site that contains several underwater statues (of Vishnu) and sculptures—known as lingas.  After hiking up and down the mountain and taking a refreshing shower in the waterfall, we made a stop at a nearby landmine museum to learn about the lasting effects of Cambodia’s modern warfare—the experience was all at once saddening and informative. 

We finished the evening with a truly global experience.  After reading in the New York Times about a North Korean Restaurant in Siem Reap, we decided to pay it a visit.  Restaurant Pyongyang has received some recent press for being one of the only places in the world where North and South Korean people can interact with one another in peace—it is fascinating, and a testament to the effects of globalization—that this is happening in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  The restaurant is owned by the government of North Korea and is apparently a strategy for raising money for the ruling family.  Rumor has it that staff members are carefully vetted by the North Korean government, and carefully observed by plain clothed “managers” as they interact with outsiders.  When we entered the restaurant, we observed over 300 hundred South Korean tourists dining on traditional Korean delicacies, socializing with the North Korean waitresses, and watching a singing/dancing performance on the stage, which truly was indescribable—it involved several spinning dancers, an electric guitar and bass, and much singing.  The waitresses seemed a bit nervous but posed with us for a photo at the end of the evening.  This experience was both interesting and bizarre—upon reflection, many of us expressed hope that North Korea will become part of the world community soon. 

Day 8 and 9 (Angkor Wat, Banteay Srey, Kabal Spean, Pyong Yang North Korean restaurant)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 8 Reflection

We began our second day in Siem Reap with an early morning departure for Ta Phrom, one of the many temples that make up the extensive city of Angkor. Beating the crowd, our amiable and informative guide, Borin, gave us a private tour of the late 12th century ruins. Characteristic of the country of Cambodia, Ta Phrom revealed the power of mother nature. The massive winding roots of the soft wood trees kept the ancient structures intact while threatening to destroy other parts of the temple. While strolling through the complex, Borin explained the long and turbulent history of the Khmer people. Virtually all the sculptures and carvings of the Buddha were destroyed when a Hindu king came to power. A closer look at the artwork proved this claim.

Once we arrived at the Bayon, the tourists arrived in flocks. I felt as if I was being watched by the four smiling faces of the towers of Bayon. As well preserved as the temples were, it was still impossible to imagine the city of Angkor in action in the hundreds of years ago.  After touring the temple several adventurous members of our group mountain biked on the 10 foot tall wall of Angkor Thom and back through Siem Reap to our hotel.  Amazing to see the ruins and the city from this view!
In the afternoon, we were exposed to a totally new landscape--one of towering stilts and water. We visited Kompong Phluk, a floating village occupied by ethnic Vietnamese and Cham people. The livelihood of the villagers depended on rice paddies in the dry season and fishing during the monsoons. A murky brown canal brought us through the community and into the vast Tonle Sap Lake. We walked through the village and arrived at a primary school where Khmer and art were being taught in two different classrooms. We were invited in to the art class where Hannah taught the children how to fold a origami crane.
The day ended with another delicious meal. The group met up with Raksmey, a former intern at BHS, and her friend Dani. Both teach at a private school called Jay Pritzer Academy.

Until next time,


Day 8 (Ta Phrom, Bayon, Angkor Thom, Kampong Phluk)