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. 

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