Temple Run in Siem Reap

Temples. Where else to find THE crowning glory of all than in Siem Reap?

It was an overcast morning the day we visited the small circuit so it was a good decision that we skipped the Angkor sunrise. :-)

We thought 7am was still early but we arrived in the ticketing booths with bus loads of tourists already lining up for passes!  

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First time so I didn’t know photos were taken. They just mumbled in Khmer to stand there and look at the cam which I thought was an eye scanner (what? duh) so this is the result. Fyi, to get ready for the morning snap.

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Then off we went to our first temple – the grand Angkor Wat. And it was GRAND indeed.

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By the time we arrived on the temple grounds, there were already thousands of tourists so most of my photos had people in them. Too late to dodge the crowd.

Koreans - the most colorful bunch
Koreans – the most colorful bunch (partly blocked by the man in the orange suit)

A great lake comes into view the moment you arrive in the parking lot. You walk on slabs of huge rocks that serve as walkway towards the entrance but then you stop for a moment as you get caught by the site of a stage facing the lake where cemented arena-like seats were built. I assumed this may have been a place for programs or announcements from rulers during the active empire.

2014-12-21 17.23.182014-12-21 17.51.33Then you move towards the most photographed attraction where everything is just extraordinary. I clicked away!

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Every corner and edge was crafted in artistic fashion.

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Large under and upper ground walkways meet at intersections.

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Bas reliefs of warriors and animals display pictograph stories while apsara dancers and gods decorate the huge walls.

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As we trudged higher, we became all the more amazed by the beauty of the surroundings. We were afforded a different point of view which is way, way better up top.

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You just need to brave the steep staircase with only a thin metal rail for support.

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It’s incomprehensible how men and beasts worked to build such masterpiece for the glory of their gods and king.

20141217_092410After almost three hours in Angkor Wat, we proceeded to Angkor Thom but not after witnessing a pre-nup photo shoot. Sweet! Weddings happen everyday in Cambodia based on our experience. :-)

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If Angkor Wat is devoted for the Hindu and Buddhist gods, Angkor Thom is primarily devoted to Jayavarman VII who defeated the Chams and re-built the Khmer Empire.

Unlike Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is a gated complex, having the largest area covered with various landmarks inside.

Angkor Thom Entrance
Angkor Thom Entrance

Bayon was my fave temple located inside Angkor Thom. It is smaller than Angkor Wat but has more complex designs.

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Imagine face sculptures all over – sculpted even high up rock towers!

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You walk into narrow underground paths, sometimes with dead ends then go to a higher ground where carved busts in rocks face all directions.

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Some say it was built to venerate Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara while others observed that all sculpted faces resembled King Jayavarman VII.

2014-12-21 22.13.15It was perfection displayed for the world to see.

2014-12-21 22.09.06There were frames and angles that made for picture perfect shots.

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Before leaving the Bayon grounds, I braved the steep steps of a nearby temple to take more shots. It was scary since there were no hand rails but when to do it than now, right?

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When you’re already there, you’ll eventually know how to navigate the walls and rocks.

Capped it off with a yoga pose before moving on to the royal palace.

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Bayon love

The royal palace ruins is a short walk away from Bayon. Once you reach the footpath, you get the feeling of royalty looking back at you as you gracefully stride its long catwalk-y entrance.

2014-12-21 22.40.202014-12-21 22.40.48So this is where King Jayavarman lived.

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It was humongous!

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Imagine living in this imposing structure.

she fit right in
she fit right in

If you led building the great Angkor, you would not sell yourself short on your palace of course.

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see the reclining buddha?

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Good thing we decided to use rubber shoes. There were lots of walking up and down the massive structures. It was a bit of a challenge but it was fun. If it were not for my sprained foot, I could have walked longer but midway, we needed to rest.

tree nymph
tree nymph

We knew there were more places to see and it was already noon time but not yet hungry, we continued, walking to the forested area into the clearing that was the location of the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants.

Terrace of the Leper King
Terrace of the Leper King
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details on the side of the stage

I hated myself for not having a handy charger nor battery replacement since my phone battery drowned early so I wasn’t able to take photos of the rest. Here’s the last snap taken of the grounds from the Terrace of the Leper King.

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lovely sight

After lunch, we headed to Ta Prohm which was a gift by King Jayavarman VII to his family where the main image was dedicated to his mother. It was a sweet gesture which just proves that no matter what age, status or disposition, men will always revere their mothers. :-)

One thing that identifies Ta Prohm is its state of ruin left to Mother Nature.

photo grab from the web
photo grab from the web

Big roots hug the temple all around that made the fusion of temple and nature the charm of Ta Prohm. This was made more popular by the Tomb Raider movie, starring Angelina Jolie, where some of the scenes were shot.

The Angkor Wat Heritage Site is a huge complex covering acres of land.

One day is not enough to see all temples and structures. But a day’s visit is good enough to  visit the main sites of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. You can wake up early to view the sunrise or stay late for sunset viewing in Phnom Bakheng.

The small circuit tour covers other temples and places that are also worth visiting like Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei and Sra Srang. But once you get to see the larger structures, these now pale in comparison. So the next time I come visit the complex (which I def will in the future, maybe with some other friends), I’d probably take the 3-day pass and do the reverse trip; that is, to visit the smaller structures first and save the best for last to build up the excitement – a suggestion I’m putting here for consideration for first timers who want to visit the complex soon.

Don’t ever miss visiting the Angkor Heritage Site when in Siem Reap!

Overall, it was a very satisfying day. Exhausted but satisfied and we even did some exercise! :-)

Notes:

  • Guidelines for the passes and other details can be found here.
  • Hiring a tuk-tuk for the entire day costs around $10-$15. Almost everyone offers $15 but you can get it at a lower price based on your bargaining skills. It’s better if you’re in a group of three or more to share on the fare. Also, hire an English-speaking driver for easier communication.
  • Bring liters of water, lunch and snacks if you want to save. Food prices within the complex cost $5 up.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and footwear.
  • Ignore anyone who sells books or materials. More so, those handing you incense to offer to the buddhas. Everything comes with a price even if at first it seems like it’s a gesture of respect. Lesson learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bangkok Birthday!

Yup, celebrated my birthday in Bangkok yesterday. :-)

It was just like any other normal Saturday but we received small treats along the way so it was great overall.

Khao San Road, Bangkok
Khao San Road, Bangkok

There are lots of things to be thankful for.

  • the opportunity to travel and be creative for a year. best gift ever!
  • new friends and acquaintances we met along the way. being open allows you to meet various people travelling just like you.
  • particularly yesterday, the smooth pass from the Cambodian to Thailand border on a taxi (special and sweet) c/o the bus operator since the bus was already loaded. we car-pooled with Lucille, a beautiful, soft-spoken Belgian lady and Eli, a friendly New Zealand guy with bunch of stories. We were the first ones to arrive at the border and the first ones to leave to Bangkok! Our companions from Siem Reap who boarded the bus came in later. We were even dropped off in Khao San!
  • dinner in a Khao San resto with  the brother (lame! haha). Additional other treat from the live solo performer who entertained everyone alongside TV screens showing the Malaysia-Thailand football game.

It is a wonderful 2014 so far and the coming new year will definitely bring lots of adventures so I’ll just welcome everything with open arms and say “yes” to more invites.

And I haven’t told you about our Siem Reap adventures yet. Flashbacks in a few hours :-)… Off we stroll for now around Bangkok!

An Extended Battambang Stay

Travelers say that those with more time in their hands visit Battambang when in Cambodia.

A two-night stay is enough to tour the city and the nearby province attractions. We visited almost all the major spots in a day as mentioned in my previous post.

Tourists come to see the sights just like any other city or town. And usually, this is just a layover before travelling to Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville or any other more popular place.

With its laid-back atmosphere, Battambang City welcomes visitors with a soft wave of hello and then curls back to its own comfortable hammock, leaving the discovery of the city to its guests. This unique vibe eventually charms guests, making them stay longer than planned.

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The moment we picked our bags from the drop-off area and rode via tuk-tuk to our guesthouse, Battambang greeted us with clean, wide roads, charming French-style houses and business establishments organized along the wide road and streets. This is the second largest city in Cambodia but it felt like a progressive provincial town.

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The silence and peaceful atmosphere made us all the more curious of what this city has to offer so we left our bags at the guesthouse and walked to the central market and nearby park to see what were in store.

The walk made us feel like we were in a place straight out of an exodus movie. We felt like we were the only ones there with only a few hundred people hiding or walking in another street somewhere.

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Seriously, that first afternoon was so quiet. There were only a handful of passersby and cars slowly crossing the wide roads. I haven’t seen any street or traffic lights on the roads! They generally drive slowly that makes you confident to cross the streets without losing a limb or breaking a leg.

The vibe was good. It made us extend one more night from the planned two.

The Central Market (Psar Nath) offers various wet and dry goods with an area selling cheap food.

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Nearby stall owners start opening their stores at around 4pm for the mini night market (psar reatrey).

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food stores
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trying their version of balut or steamed duck egg

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The park near the Sangkae River becomes the gathering place of locals and tourists in the afternoons.

2014-12-18 19.35.45A colorful play and exercise area attracts both young and old.

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It’s a small city that allows exploring its streets and roads by foot although there are bicycles, tuk-tuks and other transports available for those who want to visit other places across the Sangkae Bridge.

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Walking on its narrow streets, one can admire street art and more French-styled structures, some new, some old.

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And there were the weddings! We came across several weddings almost everyday from Kep to Battambang in Cambodia, all festive and grand!

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You watch life passing by as you stand or sit in one corner and just observe.

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Walking lets you admire the beauty of simple living in an average small, mid-range community. That really, lasting happiness comes from appreciating the simple things in life.

Siem Reap adventure coming up!

Around Battambang Province in a Day

When we talk of Cambodia, we almost always think of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. But there is one more place between these two cities that is not as famous (yet) but worth visiting.

Battambang City is the second largest city of Cambodia but it’s not really obvious as you enter city grounds from the bus drop off area because of its relaxed atmosphere.

I read about Battambang from one of the travel blogs I’ve been following since I started planning for this trip. Check it out here. It seemed like a good place to stop over so we did.

For one full day, we hired a tuk-tuk driver to bring us around and out of the city. It’s quite a stretch on the budget because it was just me and my brother but you make some sacrifices to see the beauty and sights of a place, right?

Battambang City and outskirts, Battambang Province

1. Old Train Station

First on the list was the old train station.

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time stopped here at 8:02

It stopped operating ten years ago without any plans by the government to reconstruct it.

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During its active years, there are daily trips to nearby provinces and to the city capital of Phnom Penh.

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 2. Wat Sangkae

This was not part of the itinerary by our tuk-tuk guide but we made a detour to check out this temple.

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Wat Sangkae is a temple located within Battambang City, just a few meters from the Department of Economy and Finance and the Court of First Instance.

The striking gold, blue and red colors on the main temple catches your attention from the highway. And again, the details are intricate and masterfully done.

the main temple gate
the main temple gate
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trying to be chief warrior
warriors holding a long naga
warriors holding a naga, watching over the main gate

3. Ta Dambang Kror Nhoung

This statue kneels at the city’s small rotunda and is the symbol of Battambang.

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According to our tuk-tuk driver, it is called Pagoda Bless in English. Locals offer prayers and lay offerings here especially during Sila Day.

4. Bamboo Train (Fee: $5)

The bamboo train or norry is the old way of transport by the locals.

Government police guard the area who ensure you pay to a central collector for the ride instead of just paying the driver.

It was a good experience. You sit on a cushioned seat, the driver cranks the engine with only a rubber and off you go in full speed. And if I say full speed, it really is with so much engine noise as the norry runs on motor.

2014-12-15 10.23.53 But you get to experience the rush in open, fresh air along provincial landscapes.

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Be ready for stops and temporary removal of your car from the rails to pave way for other norries passing from the opposite direction.

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someone’s gotta give. just one straight railway

The ride takes about 20 minutes one way and stops at a village in the end. There is not much to see here though and the villagers, including kids, have become relentless entrepreneurs. They will persistently sell their products to you. Just politely say no, if you’re not interested in buying, and walk away.

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The thrill ride is worth it.

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5. Fishing Village and Golden Gate Bridge

The Sangkae River is the longest river in Battambang and is the life source of the fishermen here.

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At the end, this river drains to the Tonle Sap that then connects to the Mekong River.

Muslim fishermen on the left and Khmer farmers on the right
Muslim fishermen on the left and Khmer farmers on the right

Riding along the riverside, we stopped at a bridge that is quite ordinary as the rest. But then we learned, this is called the Golden Gate Bridge. Ah, so that’s why we stopped.

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I started asking why it was so called. Was there ever a semblance or a connection to SF? And then I realized, ah I see now. It looks like a mini-SF bridge. Okay.

2014-12-15 10.27.12The view of the river and the farms from the bridge is relaxing.

Banan District, Battambang Province

6. The Banan Winery

We learned that this is the first Cambodian winery established.

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Run by a Khmer family, this winery consists of three large farms within Banan. Samplers were available for wine-tasting but I wasn’t feeling it due to the warm mid-day so we moved on.

7. Fruit Bats

Another quick stop were two special trees – just two trees – near the mini-market and repair shops in one of the villages in Banan.

It’s where fruit bats rest during the day before flying to the fruit farms at night to eat.

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It was nearly noon when we reached the place and we can see them, yellow-bellied and black-coated, fanning themselves with their wings.

not fruits but fruit bats
not fruits but fruit bats

So cute just watching them hanging there and talking bat. Fruit farmers are always on guard for sure.

8. Banan Temple (Fee: $3)

Khett Batdambang District, Battambang Province

Wat Banan is one of the best preserved temple ruins in Battambang Province.

It stands in a hill reachable by a challenging 358-step steeeeep stairway. There is no other choice than walking uphill, unless someone is willing to carry you on their back but I doubt.

okay, here we go
okay, here we go

Water is essential but also bring sweet candies and something to cool you down for first aid, just in case. Khmer children will also approach you, offering to fan you for a tip, as you ascend the great staircase. Your choice.

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almost halfway? I stopped counting after maybe 10 when one of the Khmer kids told me the magic number

I wanted to walk nonstop uphill but my legs were trembling midway so I had to stop. Good thing the naga’s body served as railing for support. Need cardio exercise!

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steep climb

Once you land at the top of the hill, you find yourself awe-struck at the brick temples and ruins. It’s like a lost world up there.

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SIMPLY.AMAZING!

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It’s beyond comprehension how the builders were able to bring up the big stones and layer them one after another to create these masterpieces.

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You can also soak up the beauty of the surrounding landscape during your temple visits.

We had lunch here before we headed to our final destination for the day. Saven, the manager/cook of the nipa resto, is very accommodating. Most tuk-tuk drivers recommend her place against the rest and we recommend it too. We even shared a table with a very engaging Samoan woman and reserved Russian lady. Yummy food. Good company.

9. wat near the foot of Phnom Sampeau

The dirt road leading to Phnom Sampeau is a rugged one with humps all along the way but the view of the surrounding farmlands with growing rice and nibbling cows somehow reduces your discomfort.

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From afar, we can already see Phnom Sampeau but before we continued, we asked Tyty, our tuk-tuk guide, to make another detour to this stunning wat.

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This well-maintained wat also appeals from the highway. If you’re a foreigner, you can get drawn by such wats even if it’s not mentioned in any guidebook.

If this is the outside, what more the inside? Unfortunately, the wat is closed when we passed.

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10. Phnom Sampeau (Fee: see note below; Moto to the top of the hill: $5)

Phnom is a Khmer word that translates to “hill” in English while Sampeau means “sail boat” so Phnom Sampeau literally means sail boat hill or rather, mountain.

looks like a boat from afar
looks like a boat from afar. the hill wats are visible on the ground.

We learned this from Nann, our moto driver who took us uphill. You can actually hike up the mountain but since we’re already quite tired and to reduce pressure on my sprained foot, we hired a moto to take us to the sites in the mountain. He agreed for me and my brother to both ride in his bike for $5 instead so it was good.

There are two roads leading to two specific sites in the mountain.

* Wat Kirirum and the Killing Cave

Wat Kirirum is a small wat within a community of monks and old men living in and guarding the area.

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This is now an active prayer temple but it once had a dark past.

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Like schools, government offices and temples, Pol Pot turned Wat Kirirum into a prison during his rule.

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Rehabilitation is being done slowly through donations from supportive individuals and groups.

A few feet away from the wat is the killing cave where around ten thousand innocent Khmer civilian lives were sacrificed for a fruitless goal.

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A stairway is created on the big cave going down to the prayer area where a memorial glass is built to house the bones and skulls of some of the victims. A reclining gold buddha, also in the prayer area, is another attraction in the cave.

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* the other side of Phnom Sampeau

Trudging further uphill in the opposite direction, we reached the modern wats visible from the foot of the mountain and surrounding district.

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It was stunning beyond words.

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Monks, nuns and villagers live nearby, serving as guardians for the temples.

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But there’s more to see other than the glittery wats like this view of the tree-covered ravine and cliff from the other side.

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or these kids studying their notes

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while another kid receives a prayer and red bracelet from a nun after giving some offerings.2014-12-15 09.48.27

You can also enjoy a view of the major drop off point

scary but my brother enjoyed the extremes
scary but my brother enjoyed the extremes

or play coy with one of the monkeys

I'm jealous. She looks like she has make up on. Very defined eyes and lips.
I’m jealous. She looks like she has make up on. Very defined eyes and lips.

or maybe try walking on coral-like stones

bad decision to leave shoes on the temple grounds... with Taiga, another newfound friend whom we met in this mountain
bad decision to leave shoes on the temple grounds to follow the brother to the drop off point… with Taiga, another newfound friend whom we met in this mountain

and then say your goodbyes to the naga and garuda before leaving the temple grounds,

together, powerful and creates peace and unity. apart, (im)mortal enemies
Together, powerful allies. Apart, (im)mortal enemies

and then finally, finally, bask in this breath-taking view of the Phnom Sampeau district.

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We were supposed to visit the bat cave as well but they said that the bats fly out around 6pm so we didn’t wait for it anymore as the travel back to the city takes around an hour and we had to check on day trips to Siem Reap in the bus stations before they closed.

Well.worth.the.entire.day!

Note:

  • The fee of $3 is a package fee for Wat Banan, Phnom Sampeau and Wat Ek Phnom. The ticket is payable in any of the three places and applicable for all. Just present your ticket to the guards.
  • Although there are several tuk-tuk drivers/guides, I would recommend Han Houn for the tuk-tuk guided tour as he is well-versed with the places to visit in and around Battambang. You may get in touch with him via his email hanhoun58@yahoo.com or mobile number +85512404241. Unfortunately, he wasn’t available during our visit due to some family concerns but he walked us through the sites with a map and introduced us to his son, Tyty, whom he trained for four years, who toured us in his behalf. Try though to confirm that Houn will be your personal guide as he’s more conversant in English and given his experience, could explain better about the sites and answer further questions. Tyty is also a good guide given his training from his father. Although he’s still practicing his English, he tried very well to share more information about the sites. Also, the bigger the group, the cheaper the fare.
  • For the Phnom Sampeau moto ride, you can look for Nann around the foot of the hill. He speaks English well and can confidently answer questions about Phnom Sampeau and Khmer Rouge connections to the mountain. He learned English from talking to foreigners while Khmer Rouge history was part of their school curriculum and about the Phnom Sampeau landmarks from asking the monks living there.
  • Shanghai Guesthouse is a nice place to stay in Battambang City. We had a clean double room with fan for $7 a night that includes a cable TV, bathroom and other complimentary items. Although the receptionists don’t understand English much, the owner is very accommodating and assists with questions from guests. It was also the first time we received a detailed city map from the guesthouse for our reference navigating around. The guesthouse is conveniently located to nearby bus booking offices, and the market place and park is a 15-20 minute walk away.
  • Notes provided here for accommodation and guides are all personal recommendations based on my experience during my Battambang stay.

Phnom Penh: Meeting the Khmer Rouge Victims and Earthing in Tonle Sap

Warning: another long post but if you are interested in history and earthing (new word), read on.

Knowing the history of a place is an essential part of travelling. This way, you get to understand and appreciate what built, destroyed and/or reformed it and its people.

For one day, we hired a tuk-tuk driver to bring us to the two popular sites where the Khmer Rouge performed inhuman acts against their own countrymen.

Note: No victim photos were taken due to their sensitive nature. Some tolerable photos are included to add color to the text.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Uk

Entrance Fee: $6 which includes an audio in your preferred language

Travel time: 45 mins to an hour from the city center

Years ago, I watched the movie The Killing Fields which portrayed the violent situation in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. The emotional impact was immense, made more emotional by John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

I never imagined that fast forward to the present, I would be one of several travelers visiting the actual largest killing field in Cambodia.

The first thing that strikes you as you walk to the gate is the high structure stupa which serves as a memorial and grave site of some of the many people who died there. You pay the entrance fee and the staff hands the audio and provides instructions on how to use it to navigate around. And then your journey begins.

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April 17, 1975 was the “day of anger” for majority of Cambodians. It was on this day that the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot’s rule, marched to Phnom Penh and took over the government announcing the creation of a pure society – a rural, classless, independent, agricultural society. Professionals were forced to farming, which they were not accustomed to. Pol Pot, indoctrinated of Communism while in France, despised the rich city people of what he says were their “liberated thinking and materialistic attitude”. He turned to young men and boys in the provinces, brainwashing them about his ideals and making them soldiers of the Khmer Rouge.

The audio guides you around the 18 stops in the vast field while sharing information and stories about Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, victims and their families and the gruesome activities that happened in the place.

bracelets left by visitors in respect of the genocide victims
bracelets left by visitors in respect of the genocide victims whose bones and skulls were found in this shaded dug out pit

The Choeung Uk Memorial Place is actually not that scary nor gloomy. Trees grow around the field while grass carpet the soil and flowers bloom in plots. You can mistake it as a botanical garden until you listen to the audio and visualize what happened in each stop.

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The main reason this place was chosen to be the dumping ground of most victims was its remote location away from Phnom Penh so that no one would suspect any suspicious activities. True enough, I felt this while we were travelling by tuk-tuk as we passed along dirt roads and saw polluted landscapes where families live.

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Men suffered the most as they took the blow of the Ankar‘s rage but women and children weren’t spared. With Pol Pot’s growing paranoia, he included even the innocent and defenseless.

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look at those marks
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more bracelets

The shallow impressions scattered along the grounds were the dug out pits (100+ of these around) where the dead victims were buried. The red soldiers made them kneel by the pits, already beaten mercilessly, blindfolded and bound, and kill them using agricultural tools and other objects before throwing them there. Bullets were expensive so alternatives were used for execution that resulted to a slow, painful death process for the victims.

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There was only one place that felt comfortably peaceful and that was in the lakeside. The tree-lined dirt path is well- maintained. Listening to victims’ stories through my audio was difficult. Fighting back tears was a challenge but the mellow orchestra music of “A Memory of Darkness” by Him Sophy and the windy morning calmed me down. It must have been true too to the others sitting on the benches or walking on the lane.

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the former rice plantation area
the former rice plantation area

The last stop was the stupa, standing tall and guarded by nagas and garudas. This is now the blessed home of the excavated skulls and bones of the genocide victims.

brave gal so far
brave gal so far

The mini museum near the ticket booth makes for a good final stop to know more details. There are also food stalls if you’re feeling thirsty or hungry.

Tuol Sleng Museum/ S-21

Entrance Fee: $3

Travel Time: 10-15mins from city center

We travelled back to the city and lunched in a sidewalk resto before heading to the Tuol Sleng Museum or Station Office 21 (S-21).

The museum is located in a residential-business community. This is, after all, a school-turned-prison by the Khmer Rouge.

Unlike the killing fields, there are no audio guides nor handy brochures given for the tour. There is only a map painted in a board to serve as your guide from Buildings A to D and the other sites within the compound.

In the killing fields, you imagine history and then you reflect. In Tuol Sleng, you feel it as you walk from floor to floor, building to building. Feeling really creates a more lasting impression than imagining.

it's otherwise saying, if you complain, you suffer more
prison rules: it’s otherwise saying, if you complain, you suffer more

All buildings have three floors, each with a unique assignment. Building A was the detention, interrogation and inhuman torture building. Some of the victims were their own cadres who were caught going against Ankar. Most were innocent civilians who were forced to confess acts they didn’t do.

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Buildings B and C are more eerie than the first. The Khmer Rouge, like the Russians, were very detailed in their note-taking of all their activities. They gave numbers and took pictures and details of each. The results were black and white photos of victims staring back at you in blackboards-turned-big photo frames in Building B along with exhibits of the Japanese Peace Museum and some individual files.

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Building B taken from Building A
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prisoner chains

Building C contains the prison cells in their original state. Rooms were pierced and individual prisons were built in a rush to house prisoners. The first floor housed the brick prisons while the second floor was for  the dark, wooden prisons for those who get crazy due to the tortures. The third floor was a mass detention room where, like in Building B, victims’ feet were chained to the floor.

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barbed wires used to prevent escape
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chipped classroom walls with individual rushed, uneven brick cells built
a brick cell
a brick cell
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second floor wooden prison cells
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a private wooden cell

The last building is a dedication to the seven S-21 survivors who used their skills  to live. We met two survivors on our way back to the main entrance. Unfortunately, they can’t speak English and I can’t speak Khmer. It would have been great to have had the chance to talk to them.

Chum Mey was a mechanic and used this to his advantage
Chum Mey was a mechanic and used this to his advantage
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Bou Meng used his artistic talent to survive

It was worth the field trips as you realize how blessed you are to be alive and free. It’s kind of a pilgrimage for me, weird as it sounds. While most pilgrimage to India to visit ashrams, I feel that it’s Cambodia for me – with its museums, wats, places and people.

I left the places with prayers for all the victims and pray that genocides like these of the Khmers, Tutsis of Rwanda and Jews don’t happen again in the future.

TONLE SAP

Earthing is a new word I heard  from one of my lady titas working here in Phnom Penh. You can find a brief explanation here. I thought, that’s a great idea! I haven’t walked barefoot since I was a kid, and what better place than along the Tonle Sap.

hot midday under the sun
hot midday under the sun

After the heavy historical excursion, we needed to lighten up so we decided to walk along the great lake.

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Hotels offer great views of the river that connects to the Mekong while mid-range restaurants offer an array of dishes for the weary traveler.

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This has become the gathering place of locals and foreigners alike. People come here mostly in the afternoon to refresh after a warm day. I love the international flags swaying with the wind!

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I like this picture of my brother with the statue

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Philippines!
Philippines!

While the afternoon offers a respite from the heat, the evening showcases lights mirrored in the river.

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Very accessible location to other nearby attractions like the Royal Palace and the National Museum.

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National Museum
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Royal Palace outer court
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King Norodom Sihamoni
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that’s just one of the huge structures
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doves!

We didn’t enter the palace grounds anymore nor the National Museum but the grounds near Tonle Sap is lovely with all the doves populating the area.

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We had a good time in Phnom Penh.

Next stop – Battambang!

 

 

 

Phnom Penh’s Temples and Markets

After spending a relaxing few days in Kep, we were ready for some city jungle adventure so we headed to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

I would love to share my first impressions and observations of the cities and towns that we’ve been to so far but I decided against my excitement to explore each country first before doing the reviews so for now, let me share our Phnom Penh experience.

The first thing I and my brother agreed upon when visiting a new place is to roam around and get familiar with the nearby blocks of the guesthouse or hostel we’re staying in. This way, we’ll know if the tourist spots are reachable by foot or if it’s necessary to ride a transport which, by the way, tuk-tuk or moto drivers overcharge when they know you’re a traveler. But let’s keep that for another writing. And check out restos or street food stalls selling authentic local food at reasonable prices. I knew this will eat a significant chunk of our budget besides transpo especially since I’m with my bro who eats three big plates of food in one meal but never gains weight. Peace! :-)… But again, let’s leave that for another post. :-)

If in Phnom Penh, go visit the temples and then shop and eat at the markets.

Wat Phnom/ Hill Temple

Entrance Fee: $1

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Wat Phnom lies in the only hill on Phnom Penh’s city center. A large public park surrounds the hill temple where locals laze under big trees to keep cool from the warm sun.

I’ve written how amazed I am at the intricate details of wats and buildings around Vietnam and Cambodia so far and Wat Phnom doesn’t disappoint.

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Finally landing on the hill, the scent of incense burning in the active temple welcomes you while bells chime with the wind.

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Once inside, a huge altar greets you with buddhas of all sizes, colors, material and poses peacefully meditating while locals offer their prayers to them. But the interiors alone can make your jaws drop.

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I haven’t seen any monk when we visited. Instead, old men in white shirts maintain the wat, keeping watch while visitors come and go.

Behind the wat is a stunning white stupa guarded by Buddhist lions and soldiers. Locals also offer prayers on the side temple where more incense continue burning.

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Wat Ounalum

Entrance Fee: none

While walking towards the riverside, we chanced upon a gated compound with a wall guarded by nagas. I knew then that it was another temple but only when we strode along and entered that we found out it is Wat Ounalum, the other known temple in Phnom Penh but not much-advertised by drivers and enterprising locals unless you buy their city tour offer and maybe because entrance is free .

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Wat Ounalum is unique from Wat Phnom in that it is a Buddhist Monastery, located near the riverside, which makes it more accessible from most guesthouses and hotels and is open to the public free of charge. These make it more convenient for tourists to see the place though ironically, Wat Phnom is more visited and popular.

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The temple surroundings are very well-maintained. Each building has its own unique character displaying various Buddhist characters and designs.

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Monks live peacefully in a well-kept compound of wats and stupas while the streets outside run busily through the day and night.

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a monk rests for a few minutes from his studies. glad he allowed me to take his photo
a monk rests for a few minutes from his studies. glad he allowed me to take his photo.

Personally, I like Wat Ounalum more than Wat Phnom. There’s a bigger sense of peace here than Phnom.

Psar Thmei/ Central Market

If you like to shop for souvenirs, clothes and trinkets, the central market or Psar Thmei can cater to your needs. The building is very much visible from afar in central Phnom Penh due to its attractive ziggurat-like structure.

2014-12-11 23.55.34Cambodian flags swaying with the wind and various shops selling crafts, clothes and other souvenirs decorate the building’s main entrance while flower stalls line the building’s outer walls.

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It’s like a smaller version of Divisoria in old Manila, Philippines. You enter the dome welcomed by jewels shining under lit glass displays.

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The alleys are organized by products being sold. It’s easy to go around to choose your pick.

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As with all open markets, you need to have good bargaining skills especially if you’re a tourist, to be able to buy more for less. Don’t give in immediately to final prices offered by vendors.

Psar Reatrey/ Night Market

Psar Reatrey or the night market is a crowd magnet for locals and tourists alike.

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Like Wat Ounalum, it is conveniently located near the riverside sleeping area. Like Psar Thmei, it also sells various products like clothes, jewelries and knick-knacks.

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What makes the night market unique is its inviting dining area. Although the usual tables and chairs are still available, vendors place mats on the ground for those who prefer a more Asian experience.

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delish Indian food!
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the mat dining experience
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basket your food!
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look, angry birds :-)

Dining, shopping and strolling while listening to songs being sung live by local performers is a great Phnom Penh experience.

take it easy guys
take it easy guys
this guy must have been really annoyed of the Khmer-looking lady posing for a souvenir shot. sorry, man :-)
this guy must have been really annoyed of the Khmer-looking lady posing for a souvenir shot. sorry, man :-)

There was even a translated version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” that got me recording. Too bad I can’t share a cut here due to file compatibility error. Give me time to figure how to make future uploads efficient. *wink*wink*

Prices are lower and more reasonable than Psar Thmei but vendors seldom give in to lowering the prices more.

The market closes two days a week and opens from 4pm to 12mn Wednesdays to Sundays.

Cambodia’s unforgettable history and the Tonle Sap coming up…

The Story of the Waiting Lady

As mentioned in my previous post about Kep, there are various statues built everywhere around town that you wonder why it was built there and what is the story behind it.

One of the statues that strike most visitors is the waiting lady sitting alone on one side of Kep Beach. Foreigners know it as the mermaid though she has feet instead of a fish tail while locals call it the white lady because of her paint.

imitating her :-)
imitating her :-)

Curious as I was, I asked my cousin and Chandara who gave two versions of the story. I tried searching the internet about it but there isn’t anything written about the lady so in an effort to share the story, here are the two versions.

Version I: the fairytale – the reason they call her the mermaid

Once upon a time, a beautiful mermaid fell in love with a local. But the parents of the man didn’t like her for their son because they belong to two different worlds.

The mermaid, who loves the guy so much, asked the master of the sea to give her human feet which he granted. The mermaid then went to the man. Finally, they can be together.

One day, the man told the mermaid that she’s leaving for some place but he promised that he will return. Once he comes back, they will get married. The lady clung to that promise and waited for her man but he never came back. 

She continues to wait to this day, hoping that one day, her man will eventually return.

Version II: the realistic

There was once a couple living in Kep. The man was a fisherman while the woman was a housewife. Everyday, the husband sets sail to fish in the sea and comes back home with his catch.

One day, big waves threatened his small fishing boat until it capsized near Vietnam. His hometown of Kep was very far, making it impossible to swim from where he was so he decided to swim to Vietnam. A Vietnam lady, who found him unconscious on the shore, nursed him back to health.

Slowly, the man regained his strength. Eventually, he fell in love with the tender, loving care he was receiving from the Vietnamese lady that he forgot about his Cambodian wife. He asked her for marriage and they lived together as husband and wife.

The Cambodian wife, unaware of what happened to his husband at sea, continues to wait for him to this day.

Sad stories. This is where you sometimes wonder if waiting is worth it but I like her attitude. :-)

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The purpose of the statue? Maybe to remind the locals of one of their folklores.

 

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