Posts Tagged With: Siem Reap

The Iceberg of Siem Reap

Siem Reap has more hidden surprises than just her temples. She is a region of quirks—and I don’t mean the sunburnt expats with a pretty lady on their shoulder. At first glance, it seems possible to “do” Angkor Wat in a day, and then be done with Siem Reap. Which is precisely the itinerary that shapes the majority of visitors.

Upon closer inspection, if Siem Reap were an iceberg, the main temple of Angkor Wat would be the tip.

Do I sound pretentious? Probably. But a blog is less interesting without superlatives.

First off, there’s the hidden ruins of Kbal Spean.

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About an hour’s drive out of Siem Reap, you enter the region of Phnom Kulen. You park your car in a forested area, as food vendors compete for your attention. As you walk through the jungle, ropes dangle in your pathway, begging to be climbed.

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It’s a forty-five minute hike up to Kbal Spean, the “river of a thousand lingas”.

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When you arrive, you find a woman sunning herself on a rock. She’s a bit old, but has a great complexion.

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Then you begin to see the lingas. (In case you forgot, a linga is a phallic Hindu symbol for the god Shiva. As these were submerged in a river since the 11th century, you’ll have to use your imagination to get the full linga effect.)

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The river was seen as holy since it flowed into the Tonle Sap lake, passing through the temples of Angkor on its way.  (Note the more clear lingas on the vertical rock nearest the photo.)

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They were carved by hermits who lived in the area. Have you ever read a cooler sentence? They were carved by hermits who lived in the area.

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For the careful—and patient—eye, Siem Reap has much to offer.

IMG_9271While the carvings are the main facet of Kbal Spean, we were drawn to the waterfall.

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And then I went swimming, as one normally does on a warm winter day in December.

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And it felt good. (Photo courtesy of Abby Franks.)

After Kbal Spean, we visited Banteay Srei. 16 miles outside of the main temple complex, it is often overlooked in the main loop.

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They are carved out of red sandstone, which gives them a beautiful color, unique to Banteay Srei.

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Banteay Srei is Khmer for “Citadel of Women”, because it is thought that women did the carvings. People speculate that they are too delicate to have been the hand of a man.
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This was one of Sean’s favorite temples—if not his favorite. What can I say? He is interested in exquisite beauty.

What else did we do in Siem Reap, you ask? What comprises the rest of the iceberg?

1. Fish foot massages.


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Kyle is thinking of installing one in his house back in Kuwait.

IMG_9479Abby isn’t so sure.

2. Pub Street

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3. Real elephants.

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4. Pseudo elephants.

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5. Headless statues.

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6. Eating crickets.

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7. Hidden places of serenity.

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8. Counting Apsara dancers.

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9. Meeting Apsara dancers.

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10. Warrior stances.

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11. Angkor beer at Angkor Wat.

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12. Road trips and street food.

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As I am a keeper of promises, this concludes our trip to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

Will I go back? Absolutely. Will  it be the same? Never.

That’s why I have to build a school on the banks of Kbal Spean and promote Abby and Kyle to executive directors.

UP NEXT: Ten103 Treehouse on Koh Ta Kiev….

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The Best Of Angkor Wat

IMG_9647A very belated Christmas and a Happy Chinese New Year! Friday, January 31 marks the transition from the year of the Snake to the year of the Horse within the Chinese tradition. The city of Phnom Penh is deserted; everyone is out in the provinces celebrating with their families.

As a consequence, we don’t have school today. In case you were wondering, this is what a day off in Phnom Penh looks like:

8:00-11:00, Drink coffee, blog, plan upcoming trips
11:30, Early lunch at the Russian Market
12:00, Get a massage
2:00, Head back to the Russian Market to get ingredients for dinner
4:00, Go for a swim in our pool
6:00, Dinner at home
8:00, Watch a movie of some sort

This weekend we are also renting bicycles and attempting to visit Silk Island—the real one this time. We also met up with friends for a drink last night; we went to the Irish Pub on the riverside for the first time. I had my first Kilkenny in over a year. Yum!

Anyways, this post is about the best of Angkor Wat. I’m not going to do a “Top Ten”, but I want to tell you what makes Angkor Wat simply spectacular. What makes it the stuff of legends. The reason I am dying to go back.

The trees.

Honestly. The trees in Angkor Wat are the pulse of the ancient temples. They are trees like I have never seen.

Let’s begin.

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They completely envelop the ruins, stretching so high into the sky you have to crane your neck. I cannot believe they can support their height simply on a jumble of old stone.

The most famous temple with astounding trees is Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider Temple. Rember:

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Not going to lie, I might have pretended I was Angelina Jolie a few times. All I was missing was the black spandex and acting skills… right?

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More of Ta Prohm. The trees command the attention of your eyes. I can’t even fathom how they take root.

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Sean pretending he is the one and only Jolie himself.

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And it’s not like there is one famous tree. When you get there, you think to youself, “Oh, that must be THE tree.” Then you walk five feet and see another one. Then you pass through a crumbling archway and see one even greater than the last.
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One reason why I love them so much is that they completely humble the human existence. We are dwarfed in the massive, timeless presence. They have existed since before I was born, and will last long after I am gone. They bring life to dead civilizations. They own the place.
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Some of these photos aren’t even from Ta Prohm. Other temples had trees just as grand. We lost ourselves in wonder countless times.

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This one was in Ta Prohm for sure. The roots have grown so incredibly large that they need contemporary scaffolding.

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The best part is that all of the temples are in protected areas; it feels like you are driving through a national park in the states. The trees dwarf the car everywhere we went, leaving us under a gorgeous canopy.
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Abby and I climbed a hill that was built onto the side of a temple, and got a bird’s eye view of the road—and our car. There were a lot of swampy areas with trees coming straight out of the water.
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Then we found yet another spectacular tree. This one wasn’t even at Ta Prohm, it was at another temple complex.

IMG_9650The trees are not only decorative, but they are functional.

I have one more post devoted to Siem Reap to share with you. Then we head to Cambodia’s coast!

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Christmas At Angkor Wat

Normally people dream of escaping to exotic, distant locations for their winter holidays. Palm trees swaying overhead, an iced drink in their hand, and pathways of foreign land to explore.

We dreamt it. And we didn’t have to board a plane to do it. We played host this year to friends and family who came to visit. We saved Angkor Wat until we had company—it’d be awesome to visit twice, but it’s one of those non-negotiables when you have family passing through, so we figured we’ll be up there more than once.

Our friends Kyle and Abby flew out from Kuwait, where we worked with them last year. Abby taught middle school with me last year, and Kyle teaches in the high school. My dad and sister flew out after the new year, and stayed for January. But that’s too many stories for one blog.

When Abby and Kyle arrived we headed straight up to Siem Reap. I promised Sean three days of temple-touring, and I promised Abby and Kyle an exotic vacation with ample beer, tank tops, and swimming pools. It wasn’t hard to satisfy everyone.

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Our first stop in Siem Reap was Phare, the Cambodian circus. It was amazing! Based out of Battambang, Phare helps kids from poor homes enroll in a fine arts school that teaches them art, dance, music, and the like. If they decide they want to be professional, then they join Phare in Siem Reap, and could even travel to other parts of Cambodia after that. It was like Cirque Du Soleil combined with a great music and storytelling.

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The next morning we headed straight for the temples. It was overcast the three days we were there, but we finally managed a hint of blue sky for a photo in front of Angkor Wat.

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The storytelling walls surrounding the main temple complex. A jumble of arms, legs, and spears. IMG_8961

A baby monkey asks permission to play with his friends. His mother’s stern reply disheartens his eager plans.

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Baby monkey receives consolation from aunt and uncle monkey. He can play with his friends when he gets a little bit older. For now, just entertain the tourists, little guy.

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We climbed all over these temples! This is still in Angkor Wat, the main temple complex.

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Sean imagines he is the great Angkorian king, looking out over his kingdom.

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Kyle doesn’t have to work hard to imagine he is king, he receives worship from the Angkorian goddesses, Abby and Kim. Sean is reduced from Angkorian king to photographer.


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After our game of make-believe, we took a break for lunch. Abby claims these were the best fried noodles she had in Cambodia, and she ate a lot of fried noodles! In the parking lot of Angkor Wat. It was tough to decide which vendor to pick, but we went with the one who said, “I give you half-off on anything on the menu.” You can’t go wrong with a competitive salesperson.

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After Angkor Wat, we drove out to Angkor Thom, which is pretty much the headquarters of the ancient empire. It is a huge complex that stretches nine square kilometers. You can drive your car between towering trees, stop anywhere you like, and climb around ruins.

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Bayon was a temple full of mystique—how many smiling faces can you spot? (Hint: There’s more than you think!)

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After Bayon, we played hopscotch around some temples scattered in a field. Abby’s hopscotch techniques had great form. Maybe I should start ‘temple hopscotch’ as an after-school activity… We’d get to take lots of field trips.

IMG_9123As the sun sunk lower in the sky, the views got more and more beautiful. (Note to self: Always travel with photogenic friends.)

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We are ready to make our next album. We’ve got the picture for the cover right here.

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Angkor Wat is yet another place outside of America that you can literally climb over all of the ruins pretty much undisturbed.

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Sean and Kyle were feeling a bit like our tour guides at this point. Now if only I could get them to talk in cool accents.

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We find a modern-day shrine, and Abby sits pretty. (Did you know it’s sacrilegious to be photographed with your back facing the Buddha? I tried to tell her, but she is a natural-born rebel… Can’t you see it in her eyes?)

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And then we found elephants. And pensive mahouts.

At this point, the sun was setting on our first day, so we headed back into town for dinner and a night out. The next day we got up early and began out next adventure…

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Early morning at East Mebon temple.

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Abby and I playing inside East Mebon. I wonder who used to pass through that doorway…

These pictures all speak for themselves, don’t they? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these have to be multiplied by the thousands of years and stories they contain.

I’ve got one more post about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat for you, and then we headed down to the Cambodian coast. I think I could start a business, “Tours By Kim”. I need a catchier name, though. I think I’ll just stick to friends, family, and my husband. They keep my hands pretty full as it is.

Check back soon for more on Angkor Wat!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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