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Thursday, March 21, 2013

March 18 – 19th, 2013 - Siem Reap Cambodia…Angkor What?

If you decide to make a trip to Siem Reap Cambodia, don’t bother going online for entry visa advice because we did and after spending a ridiculous amount of time researching the how’s, what’s, and where’s, downloading, printing and completing forms, we arrived to find that it was all for naught. The process has now been made so simple.  Also, in all of that research, we missed that Cambodia trades in USD, in fact the ATM machine spits out beautifully crisp American currency. OK, so here’s the drill:  grab a form at the desk/table marked VOA, complete it and then get into the queue for VOA (visa on arrival), present your Passport and a $20 bill and then step aside. Your passport goes down a production line of at least 5 officials who process your documents and then call out your name to pick up your passport. Easy as…

After we grabbed our bags we were met with a beautifully dressed young Cambodian man who introduced himself to us saying; “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Gradney (our new Asian name), my name is Dawind. I am your 24-hour personal assistant during your stay at The Privilege Floor (our hotel), and this is Mr. Rong your personal 24-hour driver.  Here is your personal mobile phone to use while you are here. Anything you need or want during your stay is my pleasure to provide”. Nice way to begin our 6-week trip through SE Asia. We chose this hotel because it’s a 5-star property for the price of a Marriott back home, and it really does provide not only those services, yet many more which we fully enjoyed over the next 5 days.

We were warned not to go off on our own or to embark on any unguided walks or hikes outside the clearly marked safe areas because to this day, live mines are still being regularly discovered; remnants of a violent and tragic era in this country’s history and ours.

Our first outing the next morning was to Angkor Wat. It really does look just like all of the postcards and pictures, so well preserved in all of its vast grandeur. Because there is so much history readily available I won’t go into much other than it was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire. Its name translates to “The City which is a temple”, and is dedicated to the god Vishnu, covered in carvings and bas-reliefs it tells stories and reveals history on every square inch. The five towers replicate lotus buds and are said to face west toward the setting sun, in a symbol of death. The outer walls represent the edge of the word, and the surrounding moat: the cosmic ocean. There is just so much history, culture and mystique about this amazing place we could have spent days just here. It is the most famous and well preserved of any other Wat (temple). Because it is so enormous we enjoyed a near private tour in spite of the 1000 or so tourists flooding in. In fact it is so vast that Frank and I got separated trying to find the exit where we were to meet our driver. Wandering around the periphery I ran smack dab into some cruiser friends, Han and Karla from the yacht, Esperanza. Well waddaya know?! Imagine the irony.  We visited for a few minutes before we noticed our driver beckoning to us. He met us with damp, ice-cold lemongrass-scented cotton cloths and bottles of cold water. Heavenly! It was already so hot we felt we were melting.

Dancers inside Angkor Wat
One of the battles depicted on the massive walls

Steps leading up to a spire - very steep and narrow

the back side of Angkor Wat, after tour 
Angkor Wat from the street view

Rong drove us next to Ta Prohm, which was built as a Buddhist Monastery, and which had nearly been completely reclaimed by the jungle. It’s name apparently translates to “Ancestor (of) Brahma” and is known for being one of the most photographed ruins primarily due to the many massive trees that have literally grown among and into the remains of the complex. The inhabiting monks owned the surrounding 3000 villages maintained by 18 high priests, 600 temple dancers, and 80,000 attendants. It is rumored to have been decorated in millions of diamonds and pearls, which of course have all been stripped out and the place practically gutted by “tomb-raiders” and thieves over time – as have all of the temples and relics. Even today you can see that it must have been magnificent in its glory days. It was one of the sites used in the movie, “Laura Croft – Tomb Raider”. The trees seem to be guarding the place as if to say: “This is mine now, back off”. 
entrance to Ta Prohm

Leaving Ta Prohm, Rong once again met us with refreshing cold drinks and towels. He returned us to the hotel where a lovely basket of beautiful local fruits was waiting for us in our room, along with a bottle of Champagne.

We attended the free happy hour for some refreshments and snacks before our driver took us into town where we asked him to just leave us for a while to stroll the streets and enjoy finding a nice place for dinner.

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