Nearly all templed out
09.05.2010 - 09.05.2010 36 °C
Chia cracked the whip and had us up 5am for Ankor Wat sunrise.
Before Chia could get too excited , we told him we were a bit templed out and it was really hot, and maybe he could cut back a bit today and just take us to two temples. He said we can do four, and off we went.
Ankor Wat is the Wow temple. Wow. 5km x 5 km moat and outer wall, with several squared sections inside, culminating in the centre with a section that is about 4 levels high (not your normal house level).
The sunset crowd from last night were back again but Ankor is so vast, it didn't matter this time. We opted for the view over the lily pond with the temple reflected in the water. And it means Mark can look at fish when he gets bored. There's so much to see here and we only saw a little. We wanted breakfast!
The centre of the temple wasn't open to tourists until 8am, so we waited, only to be told that I wasn't sufficiently dressed. Mark called me an "Immodest Western Whore" and went by himself. It's probably just as well. The insanely steep steps had a tourist friendly wooden staircase over top, but I think it may have meant the end of my Nanna knees so it's just as well I stayed at the bottom with the uncovered ladies. Yes Ankor Wat is every inch as impressive as they say it is. I do wish we had organised a tour guide though as it would be great to hear some of the stories behind the bas relief galleries that stretch for hundreds of metres.
After breaky, we headed further out of town, a 40 min tuk tuk ride to a Temple known to be the most ornate in the area, Banta Srei.
The ride was great fun. So much to see. It's fairly flat and large sections of the area is rice paddy, but being the dry season, they were almost as dry as the paddocks back home in summer. Much of the fields are broken up with patches of rainforest and fruit and vege gardens, so we're not talking the vast paddy fields you see in other parts of Asia. There were small villages the whole way along and people selling everything that can be made or grown. Durians are in season, there were big piles of them on sale. Being the hottest part of the day, many people were sleeping in hammocks or lying across the table of their stall, stretched out among the wares. Cows were often on the road free to do their own thing.
Most people had huts with walls made of woven Bamboo, some elevated on stilts. You can make pretty much anything out of bamboo. Some people had more substantial houses of timber. I noted a few people bathing or taking water from water pumps from the ground. I'm not sure what the quality of the water is here, but there has been a lot of work by international charity organisations, I expect the ground water is cleaner than the water from the streams in the area.
It seemed to me as a drive by observer, that these villages were not tourist savvy, but I was proven wrong when we stopped to fix a problem with the tuk-tuk. Mark & I thought we would take a little walk through the village and within seconds we were mobbed by children selling pretty little painted dragonflies made from bamboo. Again the problem is, they're all selling the same thing so you have to pick one. Awkward. Not sure if customs will let me take my dragonflies home.
As we approached at the site, we noted big signs saying that the area had been cleared of land mines. I was wondering if the same was true of the other areas we driven through. Or maybe they didn't need clearing? Or maybe the signs are just there for the benefit of tourists?
It was so so hot at the temple. This one is the most recently restored, so unlike all the other temples we visited it had a big information area which was great, particularly given that there is so much detail on the walls and it's good to know what it's all about. This temple was dedicated to Shiva. It was interesting to read about the French history from when the "discovered" the temple in 1914 (we suspect a few of the locals might have noticed it here). Many pieces from these temples ended up in European museums and private collections. They cracked down on this in later years. A guy was jailed because of plans to head out to this temple and saw off pieces to sell. He later became an advisor to Charles De Gaulle.
The temple was really very small and the middle section was fenced off to prevent damage by people walking around (not the case at any other site) so there wasn't a huge amount to see. The experience was made quite an uncomfortable one by a group of about 10 children following us around saying "dollar?" "dollar?". None of them were selling, just begging. There were a few families living around the perimeter of the site so I think maybe they belonged to them. Generally the sellers don't follow you into the temples themselves, they meet you at the gate and follow you around the grounds but they seem to respect the inside of the temple. Or more likely, they have been told not to sell there. All sellers at this site were in well organised stalls at the gate, but were still just as pushy. The temple was certainly a very beautiful one, I think we could have appreciated it far more if it were 10 degrees cooler. It was quite different to the other temples we saw the day before and the rocks used were red, rather than black
Something I forgot to mention in my last blog about the temples. It's quite amazing that with all the horrible conflicts Cambodia has suffered over the years, these temples are still here. Though fair to say the reconstruction may have fixed much of the destruction. One thing we did see many times, was beheaded deities. Many bhudda sculptures had been beheaded, we were told it was by hindus. Various gods and kings had been beheaded by the Khmer rouge. Often we saw monks praying to a headless figure.
There was a lovely big pond at the site, full of stunning lotus flowers which make for great photos. The fruit or nut or whatever it is inside the lotus flower is very commonly found in the dishes eaten here and much of Asia. I was impressed to see that this part of the flower is a brilliant gold colour, while the petals around it are pink
There was of course a chance here for Mark to get excited about fish again. The pond was full of Telapia, an introduced species from Africa that is good to eat. Mark has studied these in rivers in WA (The Gascoyne and Chapman) but no one seems to eat them at home. They're not permitted to be sold (bad idea to give a pest species value) so it's probably a case of people being unfamiliar with them. They've been introduced into pretty much every part of the world and aside from the damage they do to native species and waterways, they feed a lot of people. Mark has also been getting excited about fish in little ponds and pots all over town, lots more live bearers, mostly swordtails and guppies.
Shiny white Mark had really had enough of the heat and sun by this time and really had no enthusiasm for more Templing. On the way back we spotted two much shadier attractions to stop and see.
First one, was the Cambodian Land Mine Museum. The museum is not anything huge, but the stories we read and the video we saw were really interesting. The museum was set up by a man who was a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. As a Khmer Rouge soldier he would have done some horrible horrible things. At age 14, he defected to the Vietnamese army. Often he would be trying to kill his playmates. In the jungle at night, he would be sent out to hunt for food with his rifle and would sometimes come across his friends. They would play together for a bit, then go back to their camps to try to kill each other. After the wars, he decided to devote his live to getting rid of land mines. We watched a video, showing how he finds and defuses landmines using nothing but bare hands and a stick. He can get rid of over a hundred in a day and has trained teams from several international armies in mine removal. The solo video producer who filmed him at work was absolutely shitting himself at times following him through pitch black jungle, keeping an eye out for trip wires etc. The guy has lives a very modest existence at the location of the museum and has also set up an orphanage for land mine victims who are at risk. He has about 50 children staying at the site. We were happy to pay full price for souvenirs here. I heard a few different figure quoted, but here's the one I remember from the video; it can cost as little as $1 to make a land mine, but can cost $500 to remove just one. That's such a huge amount of money to people here. More than a whole village can afford. Someone told me that officially, the U.S still denies ever having been in Laos, not sure if the same is true of Cambodia. The U.S still refuses to sign the international No Land Mines treaty, the official line is that they won't sign unless there is an exclusion clause allowing use of Land mines against North Korea.
This ranting about land mines and war in general has reminded me something I forgot to mention about the temples. At the entrance to each of the most popular temples, traditional cambodian music is played by a band of amputee, blind and other disabled musicians. There are a number of these all the same arrangement and all selling cds so it looks to be have been implemented by a charity organisation. I like the music, it's very percussion based and makes a really great background while you're wandering around temples.
We stopped soon after at a butterfly park. Not as pretty as the Queensland butterflies but still great and fantastic flowers all through the greenhouse. This is an environmental initiative set up with foreign money (I think it was Israel?) to help reintroduce butterflies which the farmers need for pollination. Overuse of pesticides has caused a decline in the population. Another city in Cambodia has a similar programme for bees. Staff know butterflies inside out having been trained by a professor from Scotland who lived here for some time. Farmers can potentially make good money collecting cocoons and feeding caterpillers for the butterfly farm and it's easy work compared to much of what they do for less money. Organic pesticide free farming is part of the push. They have 12 farmers on board but it's the same old story of old farmers been difficult to get on board with new ideas. They showed us some really colourful grubs and a cupboard full of cocoons, so pretty some of them looked like green or pink pearls with a stripe of gold.
That evening we headed into town for dinner. A very touristy strip with "tuk-tuk!" "tuk-tuk!" the constant call from the street. Lots of great food to choose from, so much variety here in Cambodia - I love this food! There is also the French influence - snail, frog (or froge) - or maybe they were eating those long before the French came along.
There's a particular tourist attraction in the street which we must introduce back home, the flyer reads: "MR FISH MAKES YOU HAPPY AND FANNY! $3 FOR 30min!" Any guesses?
It's a tank full of baby Telapia (The fish I mentioned before). You dangle your feet in the tank and the fish swarm your feet, pecking off the dead skin. It's a bit public for people sitting up there on a tank in the main tourist strip. I was keen to have a go but, after a nice big meal we were way too tired for a thirty minute session, even if it does make you happy AND fanny.