Wednesday, November 22, 2006 Home

Thailand and Cambodia

We are in LA now, after about 24 hours in transit from Cambodia yesterday. Whew! But what an awesome trip.

I will provide links here as I finish my posts.

UPDATE:
Until my pictures are posted, you can start checking out my fabulous trip by looking at all the great pictures taken by our friends David and Joe on their Travel pages. (There are even a few pictures of Lane and I posted there :-)


Thailand
November 5 - We Are Off!

November 7
November 8

November 9

November 10

November 11

November 12

November 13


November 14




Cambodia
November 18

November 19 -

November 20 -

November 21 - Taking Leave

The Details


Index to Who's Who

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Trip Details

Thailand




Cambodia
American citizens need a visa to enter Cambodia. Visas are available at the airport on arrival in Siem Reap. If you are arriving from Thailand, you can pick up an application when you check in for your flight and fill it out on the flight. You'll also need a passport sized photo.

In Cambodia our tour guide is Soun Choeun with Exotissimo Travel in Cambodia. Choeun is a former school teacher who speaks beautiful English, is flexible and willing to alter the itinerary to provide us with a better experience, and seems very knowledgeable.

Siem Reap, with a population over 85,000, is the rapidly developing gateway to the temples of Angkor. Luxury hotels appeared to be going up everywhere - it is a town that is clearly undergoing rapid change. This rapid transformation has created quite a mishmash of development around and within the city's historic core.

The temple of Angkor are spread out over a large area.

(Map from Canby Publications)

A pass is required for foreigners to visit the temples in the Angkor Archeological Park - our three day pass cost $40 (included in our tour package). Passes are available for one, three, or seven days - a passport-size photo is required for the multi-day passes, so bring an extra.

Lodging
As noted above, there are new hotels springing up every day, so there are a wide variety of lodging options available.

We stayed at the Borei Angkor, which doesn't seem to have an independent web site, but is pretty accurately described on Friendly Planet's site, Asia Travel, or of course, Trip Advisor.

It was far lovelier than I was expecting - it was both beautiful and comfortable. The grand teak staircase and carved-on-location seating was lovely and helped fill the grand spaces with warmth and character. The staff was attentive and helpful. In no time at all everyone on the staff seemed to know who we all were. I don't think I ever had to give them my room number after the first day and the restaurant staff always ensured that there would be a large enough table available for our group to sit together.

The restaurant was also good. The same menu was served for lunch and dinner, with a decent mix of traditional and Western dishes. The buffet breakfasts were pretty much the same as in Thailand, although leaning more toward Western than Thai favorites.

On the down side, the hotel was in the process of expanding, so there was construction noise from early in the day until dinner. Power outages (usually brief) occasionally occurred. Almost overpowering varnish fumes in the halls (but not in the rooms) were an additional hazard toward the end of our stay.

We were the first to stay in our room, so everything was brand new. However, there was also a lot of leftover construction dust (which was cleaned up as soon as I mentioned it) and a few design flaws (showers that flooded the stone bathroom floors) to deal with. Still, it's hard to complain, as our room was lovely, airy, large, and comfortable with a functional deck overlooking the lovely pool area.

Dining
Honestly, we often ate in the hotel restaurant, since it was convenient, pretty good, and reasonably priced. Some of the traditional Cambodian seafood dishes were particularly nice.

Meric Restaurant in the Hotel de la Paix is, as noted in my post, a lovely and reasonably priced spot for fine dining - but do try the Khmer tasting menu. It's also worth noting that the prices for wine were very reasonable, making this a great spot to stop in for an appetizer and a drink.

We had dinner our final night in the fine dining restaurant at one of the luxury hotels. (I think it was the Sofitel, but I'm not positive about that, as I was just sort of following along with the group and not really paying a lot of attention.) We were the only ones there, which seemed like a bad sign. The food was fine, but for the price it should have been exceptional. (The hotel's poolside bar looked pretty inviting though.)

Choeun took us to a wonderful Khmer spot for lunch one day, but, unfortunately, I didn't get the name. (I'll keep trying though.) It was a big, busy place with wonderful, inexpensive local foods.

Shopping
We didn't do a lot of shopping, having done lots of it in Thailand and the markets we passed didn't look particularly enticing.

Having said that, if you are looking for high quality traditional crafts, the Artisans of Angkor has many lovely items that are copies of originals that now reside in museum collections. All items are made in Cambodia. Along with the craft items, these shops also sell tea, coffee, and some other specialty food items. As I relate in my posting, the silk is absolutely gorgeous. The main shop is located in Siem Reap, with a smaller shop at the airport. The two shops do not carry identical merchandise, so if you like what they have, check both places. (The prices in each are similar.)

Local touts (mostly children of varying ages) are stationed at the entrance of all the main temples selling the same books, postcards, and cheap textiles and souvenirs. These unfortunate children are loud, insistent, and more obnoxious than those we met in Peru and Ecuador, all of which makes for a rather unpleasant shopping experience. Fortunately you will be free of them once you actually enter the temple complex itself.

In rural areas, the roadside sports a selection of local crafts - mostly purses and bags, simple carved wood items, and baskets.

Resources
Because we only had a few days in Cambodia, I didn't spend a lot of time looking for guidebooks. I brought a copy of Lonely Planet's Cambodia that I borrowed from a friend.

While on tour I purchased a copy of Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques' Ancient Angkor. While having a guide like Choeun is wonderful, Ancient Angkor includes recommendations for touring along with fairly detailed descriptions and lovely photos of each site. In most cases where the book says "most tourists enter here, you should instead. . ." Choeun had taken us in via the recommended alternate route. I am thinking that says good things about both Choeun and this book!

Guidebooks (including Lonely Planet), history books, and other Cambodian-themed materials are available for about $5 (after some bargaining) from the touts outside the main temples. But be aware that - despite quite high-quality printing - these are undoubtedly being sold in violation of copyright laws.

A myriad of web resources exist, including:
  • 360 degree images of World Heritage sites, including a number of the temples of Angkor are available at World Heritage Tour.
  • First published in 1944, Maurice Glaize's "The Monuments of the Angkor Group" includes photos and illustrations (including the site maps reproduced in some of my entries), all of which can be found on the web at the Angkor Guide.
  • Lots of links, photos, news, and odd stuff on Cambodia in general and Angkor in particular can be found at Angkor.com, including the Virtual Ta Phrom tour.
  • Tourist bureau type information and links are is available at Cambodia Travel Guides, including a very useful page on visiting the Angkor Archeological Park that includes the map reproduced above.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006 Home

Taking Leave

Previous Post: Winding Down

My plan for the morning is to sleep in a bit, join the others for breakfast, and then hang out in the pool.

In the end, only Joe actually gets in the pool, and even he doesn't stay there long. Instead we convince David to join Joe, Lane, and me in a game of cribbage. David cooperates grudgingly, (although later, on the plane, he sounds like he maybe enjoyed it - or maybe it just doesn't seem so bad when compared to the interminable flight). We play cards until we can't avoid the reality of the situation anymore: The time to gather our bags and leave has come.

I wish we could spend a few more days relaxing here by the pool. I bet we would even be ready to explore a few more temples after resting up!

Alas, that is not to be and soon Choeun delivers us to Siem Reap's cute little international airport. It is the start of a very long day that will end many hours later back at LAX.

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Monday, November 20, 2006 Home

Winding Down

Previous Post: Neak Pean

Lane and I would like to do some shopping. (I found the shopping in Thailand disappointing and am still hoping to finish off my Christmas list.) Choeun offers to take us to a crafts center and the others are willing to go along. . . But first, of course, we must first tour the workshops.

I'm prepared to be bored, but the tour is interesting. Artisans of Angkor is a program established to keep traditional Cambodian crafts alive while providing work to the disadvantaged. It seems like a well-run program and produces lovely items. On the tour we see people doing silk painting, lacquer work, and carving in wood and sandstone. All of it is interesting, but I particularly like the carved wooden statues dressed in their paper patterns as they await the final carving.

The silk workshop is in another town, but in the shop I find lovely nubby silks in rich jewel tones - none of which are for sale by the meter. Dang! The silk is so beautiful here. It is not as light and fine as the silk in Thailand, but it is far more lively and interesting.


Back at the hotel, the pool awaits.

But first, a call to the front desk - our air conditioning has gone out. Someone arrives almost immediately and checks the power (which has already gone out on several previous occasions, due, I suspect, to the ongoing construction in our wing). My guess is a blown fuse, but soon we have a worker crawling around in the ceiling.

Not thinking this was a problem that would take long to address, I hadn't first changed into my swimsuit. Now, I pace the floor, impatiently watching the sparkling blue water beyond my window.

I want to be out there!

I finally decide I am not going to spend my last precious afternoon pacing in my hotel room. I'm sure the hotel workers are mortified, but I grab my swim suit and a change of clothes and duck into the bathroom. When I emerge again, one workman has completely disappeared into the ceiling while the other has gone to fetch something. They don't appear to be making a lot of progress. . .

Soon I'm in the pool. The water is perfect, refreshing and wonderful.
Next Post: Taking Leave

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Neak Pean

Previous Post: East Mebon
Choeun says there is one more temple we should see - he even promises it will be very different from all those we have seen before. While it seems hard to believe there could be still another distinct permutation of ancient Khmer design, we of course agree to visit this one last temple.

And how right Choeun is!

Neak Pean is a small 12th century monument set in the midst of a set of neatly framed square ponds.

The highest level consists of a single large square pond with a tower and other sculpture floating in its center.

Four more ponds are set at a lower level on each side of the large upper pond. Four small grottos with dramatic fountains connect these smaller ponds to the larger upper basin. It is cool and dark inside.


Next Post: Winding Down

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East Mebon

Previous Post: Banteay Samre'

The temple at East Mebon sits in the midst of what was once a large reservoir built to provide water to a new city. At that time, it would have seemed to float above the surface of the water. Today this 10th century this temple may be best known for it's eight carvings of elephants, each huge beast carved from a single stone.

The outermost terraces are collapsing and slightly overgrown.

Inside the complex, however, there are the usual shrines, blind doors, carvings, and elaborate towers.

But there are also ghostly figures carved directly into the brick walls.

Knowing that these carvings served as the base for highly detailed plasterwork makes them no less intriguing.

Next Post: Neak Pean

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Banteay Samre'

Previous Post: Village Visit

Our next temple is Banteay Samre'. This 12th century temple is not on the regular tourist trail and, for the most part, we have it to ourselves.

The outside wall consists of tightly laid laterite blocks. Usually we have seen this used only as a base material that was once well-hidden beneath brick and stucco. Here, the rough stone provides a stark contrast to the deeply carved structures it surrounds.

Like so many of the lovely temples we have seen, this one has a complex layout and richly carved details.


Next Post: East Mebon

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