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Monday, March 25, 2013

March 21 – 23, 2013 Phnom Bakheng, and a Drive in the Country

Wednesday evening, after our R&R at the spa, Rong picked us up for the sunset experience at Phnom Bakheng. This temple sits at the top of a mount, and although once massive and glorious, is one of the most severely damaged from neglect and jungle overgrowth. It was built to honor the Hindu god, Shiva, and is still regularly visited by the monks. 
Monks at the top of Phnom Bakheng
A restoration project is underway, but it appears they have a very long way to go.  You can either make the rigorous climb to the top or pay $20 to ride an elephant. We opted for the novelty of the elephant ride and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Once at the top, hundreds of tourists gathered to watch the sunset over Angkor Wat. 
It is said that the setting sun illuminates the 5 spires with an ethereal glow. It is spectacular. We tried our best to take pictures that would do this phenomenon justice but just couldn't capture the beauty with my crummy little camera. 

After hiking down, while waiting for Rong to pick us up it was still so hot that Frank bought a beer from a vendor with a cart. A man gets thirsty on a dusty trek down a temple mount.

Thursday we readied ourselves for the tour of Banteay Srei, "Citadel of Women", but Frank had misplaced his multi-day park pass. We tore the hotel room apart and asked Rong to search his car. It was nowhere to be found. We think when he must've dropped it when he pulled out his money to pay for that beer at Phnom Bakheng. What a pricey beer! (The multi-day pass is expensive.) We cancelled our tour for the day and spent it hanging out at the pool, eating and getting 2-½ hour 4-hand massages instead.

On Friday because we still hadn't found Frank's park pass, Rong decided to take us for a scenic drive to the floating villages at
Tonlé Sap Lake. The drive alone was interesting, taking us beyond the jungled areas near Angkor and into the flatlands of the farming and river lands. Because it's now the dry season there wasn't much to the rivers and streams, yet the lotus flower farms were going strong.
Stilt houses with lotus gardens below
We stopped at a place where the last living hand-cast bronze statue-maker ran his shop. It was fascinating to watch the artist at work as he made the master carving that would serve as the mold for all other pieces. These ranged from small souvenirs to massive, important statues commissioned by temples and by the government. We enjoyed this stop very much, although they would not let us take photos.
Along the drive were "Hammock Bars" where apparently during the wet season, people came to laze around in the hammocks eating and drinking.
All of the bars, homes and shops were built on stilts high up above the raging waterline when the summer floods come. Most of them looked like death traps to me!

At the end of the line was the launching base to take a boat out to the floating villages. We took one look at the dry hole down there, and overheard some comments about having to "pole" to get through some areas and decided to save our money for something better.
Rong and Frank at the basin to the floating village
Our next stop was The Killing Fields museum. After spying the massive square glass enclosure that housed 100's of skulls, we decided this is as far as we would go. We did stand outside to read the stories on the large billboards in front, but after having seen the movie and then this, we wanted no more visual reminders of the tragedies that nearly wiped out these beautiful people in that short four year period of genocide under Pol Pot's regime. No pictures were taken here. Time to move on…

Nearly back in town, Rong took us to a very large building that housed many of what we thought were "made in Cambodia" goods that ranged the likes of statues, fabrics, wood carvings, and real remnants of Khmer Rouge soldiers, such as opium pots, eating utensils, and so on. We found the prices surprisingly high, so we settled for three small pieces. Later on in our travels throughout SE Asia, we found that this is nothing more than a scam, and that every city holds such a store of mass-produced "hand-made" artifacts. Gee did we have "sucker" written on our foreheads again?

It was getting late and HOT, so we returned to the sanctuary of our hotel and another appointment at the spa!

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