We drive away early from the hotel for our much anticipated two days of spectacular Cambodian Wats. We transfer to a small bus/van to better fit in the small parking areas. It’s a short drive through the town of Siem Reap that is now burgeoning with new hotels. From two about 20 years ago to well over 100 now. We actually pass some of the Khmer Rouge “Killing Fields” and areas where there were about 1 million land mines placed. Gladly past we reach our first and key stop, Angkor Wat.
FYI, this is no cake walk day. The temperature is already over 100 degrees with little shade. Even the guards and guides and locals are dripping with sweat, copious amounts of water being consumed. Some of our group drops off when the climb to the center begins.
A lot of very steep steps (you could only imagine what the original worshippers did when the wooden stairs were not available. We waited close to 45 minutes to get to the foot of the stairs in a long queue.
On our way to lunch and the next temple of Angkor we stopped at a place built specifically to train Cambodian youth, especially those with physical challenges to become specialized crafts persons.
Soapstone and wood carving, laquer work, weaving, porcelain decorating, and may more crafts all have workshops going on. The enormous shop is filled with really beautiful pieces of the real thing (rather than what you find in most of the tourist areas).
Then a stop for a delicious five-course lunch at a gorgeous Cambodian restaurant.
Part of the restaurant’s decor and allure.
The next stop is Banteay Srei that some call the City of Women, but the original name of this Shivaite temple is the City of Shiva.
It’s brutally hot now with a lot of dehydration going on in our group (how much can one drink). But, how can one not push on to explore the incredible, sacred beauty of these temples.
Then a quick stop along the road-side where some local villagers show their beautiful work. We can’t resist buying some baskets and soapstone carvings. They ask so little for their work you almost want to give them more.
Helping mom break up palm nuts to make palm sugar for sale.
Now a short drive to the Bayon temple, the last great Angkor architectural style. It does show a little less of the spectacular materials and workmanship, but still of immense beauty.
And, it’s the place to go to climb up for spectacular sunsets.
We hang around for almost an hour after climbing to the top with dozens of foreign tourists; lots of Japanese, Korean, Chinese – and we meet a young girl from Brooklyn traveling the area alone, and a couple from Turkey who have been everywhere.
What a beautiful place to unwind and cool down as the packed day ends. The sunset wasn’t so spectacular, but everyone is satiated, sweaty and fulfilled. Back an hour and a half through Siem Reap and all its contrasts. Eating light tonight and going to bed early as tomorrow will be as filled with goodies as today.