April 09, 2012

Ancient Temples, Homemade Sugar, Khmer Spices, and Crocodile Farms: Cambodia Part 1

So for the first time in almost 2 years, Lady Hiva and I took more than a weekend off and went on a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam with a group of friends. It was a blast! We took thousands of photos (that will be displayed in this post and several following posts as I have time to put them up), ate good food, laughed, walked (a lot), sweated in the heat (even more), and shopped!

We first landed in Vietnam for a layover and then we were off to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The flight from Ho Chi Minh was short and when we landed we were greeted at an open air airport. Gardens and pools surround the buildings. What we noticed the most was the smell: NATURE! Being small and still developing, the area has plenty of wild nature around and the whole area smells of trees and dirt—like the outdoors. Something we miss in Manila.

We collected our bags, exchanged money and met our tour guide “T”. We later were surprised because EVERYTHING is priced in U.S. Dollar! The locals prefer USD over their Cambodian Riel which is about 4,000 Riel to 1 US dollar. It was nice to not have to do conversions in my head all day, but I was a bit bummed that I lost out on the exchange rate at the airport. (Lady Hiva told me to stop worrying about it, “It is done, get over it!”)

As we drove and walked around it was also amazing to see that even though Cambodia is developing (evidenced by the dirt roads with back jarring pot holes) there is not the amount of litter we see in Manila either. Our hotel, Prince D’Angkor, was beautiful. It was near the Night Markets and restaurants on Pub Street. Lady Hiva and I lucked out to have one of the rooms that had a balcony view of the pool area—decorated with twinkle lights and vegetation, we spent our evenings and afternoon breaks out there talking and reading.
All of us getting on the bus!

Our tour guide Thi (tea)

After check in we were taken on a tour of a crocodile farm, which none of us cared for. It was interesting to see the animals, but it was also a bit sad to see how many were in the enclosure and to know they are being raised to be someone’s shoes or purse. Later we all talked about how that was the part of the trip we could have done without.

We also went to an Artisans school for a tour. We were able to see how the students carve the stone statues, spin silk, paint murals, and make silver decorative ware.  Each student chooses one vocation and they stick with it until they are experts. All the processes were tedious and require hours and hours of patience. It sure made us appreciate what goes into all the things we buy. I guess this school teaches artisans how to create things and they can then ‘graduate’ and open their own shops. The schooling is free; they pay for it by allowing the school to sell what they make.

Silk of all colors
The ancient temples were beautiful! The landscape of Siem Reap is full of temples. As we drove from one temple to another we would pass at least 10 other temples that we were NOT stopping to see. I could not believe the vastness of the building projects, especially when they were built thousands of years ago. Now there are several countries involved in rebuilding the temples and the infrastructure around them—like roads, water wells etc.  It was cool to see signs displayed that showed who donated the money for the project and how it was progressing. The temple ruins were so intricate in design. Décor and story murals were literally cut out of the stone walls. It is breathtaking—even for just the sheer size.  I can only wonder what it must have been like when the kingdoms were thriving. At one point we stopped in one of the small villages and purchased homemade palm sugar and watched them make it on the side of the road.  They drain the juice from palm trees, drop by drop like sap from a maple tree, and boil it in a big wok over an open flame until it thickens and crystalizes into sugar. We had a good time taste testing all of the things they were selling—tamarind, cashews, sugar…etc. Some we liked and others….well, we can leave it for the locals to enjoy. HAHA

Banteay Srei Temple


Our passes to enter the temple grounds

Making  Palm sugar

Buying Sugar
Shops in the villages by the road

Cashew fruit and nut (the bottom part)

Eating Tamarind

We ate at a few delicious local places on the side of the road...they were so great! 

Listening to the tour guide....well they were. I was most likely day dreaming

At night we would head down to Pub Street for dinner. As Cambodia used to be a French colony, we could still see the French influence in the architecture and the way the narrow streets had open air cafés with French names.. It was bustling with people and loud music and colors and plenty of things to stop and see. The only annoying part was that every two minutes one of the thousands (maybe a bit of an exaggeration on the number, but it was WAY TOO MANY) of tuktuk drivers would approach and follow us, asking if we wanted to ride with him. AND he would not ask just ONCE! We had to say “NO” at least three times…yikes! After we would eat some delicious local food (Amok made with Coconut…yum!), made with Khmer spices and usually with coconut, we would hit the night markets.  These markets open up some time after sunset and remain open until midnight. There were rows and rows of small shops to choose merchandise—anything from clothes to temple art and household items. Bartering was a riot! Lady Hiva usually does not like to barter because she feels they need the money more than we do—however, they ALWAYS jack the price up sky high expecting you to bargain (I pity the people that come and pay the initial price). My goal was to not buy anything unless it was HALF of the price they originally named. It became a game—name a price, stay firm, pretend you are walking away so they panic and chase you down with a better offer…etc. But I always walked away thinking I could have gotten if for less. We would then exchange prices with others in our group so we knew how much we could bargain for the next time we hit the markets.
Pub Street During the Day

Buying Silk at the Night Market

Bargaining at the night market

A glimpse into village life

We are really liking this city.
Death Gate Angkor Thom

Bayon Temple

Each tower has four faces, one facing each of the four directions. They stand for the four aspects of life: Charity, Serenity, Compassion and Equinamity (or a balanced life)

We stopped to take photos and these monkeys were REALLY wanting to be photographed with us.

Us at Victory Gate Angkor Thom

A band playing outisde the temples (they were all over) each of them had a unique instrument, the lead guy was playing a leaf right off the tree

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