Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia
The temples at Angkor, in Cambodia represent one of the world's most amazing and enduring architectural achievements. Stretching over an area the size of Manhattan Island, Angkor contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Built from 879-1191 AD at the zenith of the Khmer civilization, the Angkor area had a population of over one million, and was the spiritual center for the Khmers until it was abandoned after being sacked by the Thais in 1431. The ruling Khmer God-kings controlled a vast territory in the twelfth century, extending south, to the Mekong delta in present-day Vietnam, north into Laos, and west over large tracts of what is now Thailand.
The surviving structures today are but a fraction of the whole stunning picture, which included a huge city whose wooden buildings—houses, markets, shops, palaces, and public buildings—have long since been destroyed by war and time. The best preserved stone temples, and most visited, are Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm. UNESCO has designated Angkor as a World Heritage Site and set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
Mark first visited Cambodia and the famous Angkor Archaeological Park, a World Heritage Site, in 1997 as part of a round-the-world trip that involved both work and pleasure travel. See photos from his trip at: http://www.mrhalliday.com/1997/AngkorWat/AngkorWat97.htm
Mark enjoyed Angkor so much that he enticed Austin friends to go with him the next year for the "Festival of the Reversing Current" in Phnom Penh in October, 1998. They went on to Angkor Wat for an extensive tour of the Archeological Park. See photos from this trip at: http://www.mrhalliday.com/1998/Cambodia98/Cambodia98.htm
In 1997 Cambodia was "mostly" safe for tourists, although on Mark's first trip it still was too risky to travel overland from the capital city, Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the small town that borders the Angkor Archaeological Park . The Khmer Rouge were not quite vanquished at that time so tourists usually chose to fly in.
Mark said that on first viewing Angkor Wat and the other temples, he said to himself "I've got to get Dad and Mom here someday!" He had accompanied us on trips to Mayan ruins in Mexico's Yucatan, and he knew we had an interest in archeology. One of the reasons that it took him twelve years to convince us that we should go to Angkor was that all we knew about Cambodia was the horrifying genocide that had occurred there in the 1970's by the radical Communist group, the "Khmer Rouge." Viewing the "killing fields" and risking stepping on one of the million landmines buried all over Cambodia was no inducement to fly halfway around the world!
By December 2007, Mark could assure us that the Khmer Rouge were long gone and in the popular tourist areas the landmines had been successfully removed. All we needed to be concerned about were the malaria-carrying mosquitoes who still survive in the water-filled moats around many of the temples. Well, yes, there are venomous snakes in Cambodia but since a million people a year now tramp through the Angkor temples the odds were favorable that we could avoid a snake bite if we stayed on the well-worn tourist paths.
Mark sweetened the offer by using his frequent flyer miles to upgrade our airline tickets to "Business Class" which meant that we would have roomy seats on the planes and our business class tickets would give us entrée to the luxurious airport lounges between flights. With these inducements and Mark's promise to provide careful guide service we said, "Well…….O.K."
It was agreed that we would not try to make this a "whiplash" tour of Southeast Asia, but would just focus on the Angkor temples. Our itinerary took us from Portland to Seattle, then across the Pacific Ocean to Japan (a 10 ½ hour flight), and down to Singapore (a 7 ½ hour flight). We spent a day and two nights in Singapore to adjust to the 16-hour difference in time zones and sleep off any jet lag. Then the final leg of the trip was the two-hour flight to Siem Reap in northern Cambodia.
In 1997 when Mark stayed at an inexpensive "guest house" in Siem Reap he saw only one hotel that he thought we "might" find acceptable—and we aren't all that picky either. But in 2008 there were at least six five-star and fifteen four-star hotels to choose from. Siem Reap has been busy preparing for those million-a-year tourists! We used the Internet to make reservations at the LeMeridien Angkor Hotel which was very close to the entrance gate of the Angkor Archeological Park.
Besides the usual preparation for any trip the only additional tasks this time were to get a prescription for anti-malaria tablets and obtain a Cambodia visa. Mark found a Cambodian website which promised to provide the $25 visa via the Internet. This was when our preconceived notions about Cambodia started to be proved wrong. The visa application website was undoubtedly the most professional and easiest website to use that we've ever encountered. They even used "Pay Pal" for all transactions—you can't get much more up to date than that in 2008! Within about ten minutes, we received an e-mail containing our Cambodian visa, complete with our photo. Ah, if applying for US passports or visas for other countries could be so easy! We were impressed immediately with the Cambodians' grasp of Internet technology.
The temples of Angkor are located in northern Cambodia. This little kingdom is about the size of Missouri and is nestled between Thailand to the west, Laos to the north and Viet Nam to the east. Wikipedia can fill you in on the details.
Our first stop was Singapore, a small island-state attached by causeways to the mainland of Malaysia.
We flew directly from Singapore to the small town of Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. (Just north of that fish-shaped big lake, called "Tonle Sap.") The entrance to Angkor Archeological Park is about four miles north of Siem Reap.
Wikipedia has a good background article on this colorful little Cambodian town, which was just a short tuk-tuk ride from our hotel. Many new hotels adjoin the "Old Town" with its colorful buildings, left over from the era when all of Cambodia was part of French Indochina. We found "Pub Street" a fun place for a cheap dinner, and the "Old Market" stalls sold everything from meat, hair cuts, jewelry and clothing to accurate knock-offs of US travel guidebooks, CD's, sunglasses--you name it!
Our first few days in Siem Reap fell into a pleasant pattern: we would spend half a day visiting a particular part of the Archeological Park. After four or five hours in 93-degree heat and 85% humidity, climbing up and over and around stunning Khmer temple ruins, the idea of a dip in the beautiful pool at our hotel became irresistable. When we used up our three-day pass to the Park we decided to venture beyond the temples and see some other aspects of this little slice of Cambodia.
Hiring a car (always a 4-door air-conditioned Toyota Camry) and driver was simple (ask the hotel concierge to arrange it) and very inexpensive. On our last full day in Siem Reap we spent the morning walking through the "Old Market" and then drove out to the edge of Lake Tonle Sap. Each year, this lake swells to more than five times its normal size, becoming Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake. The monsoon rains pour so much water into the Mekong River that it briefly forces the Tonle Sap River to flow backwards, swelling Tonle Sap Lake and sweeping tons of fish up into the lake as well. You can make a good living from the lake--if you can figure out how to adapt your home to the 30-foot rise and fall in the lake's depth. At " Chong Khneas" village we learned how the locals handle this problem. January is part of the dry season, and little houses sitting on 20-foot high stilts looked very odd. Apparently they will be on waterfront property later in the year!
Before returning to our hotel, we drove to the National Silk Center, about 10 miles northwest of Siem Reap. The Silk Center is one of several programs operated by the "Artisans d'Angkor" to train rural Cambodian youth in skills that will allow them to make a living from handicraft production. Originally supported by the European Union, Artisans is now self-sustaining and employs more than 1,000 people. At the Silk Farm our tour started with the mulberry bushes the silkworms like to munch on, and ended up in a showroom full of exquisite woven silk articles.
Everywhere around Siem Reap we saw evidence of the aid that has poured into this poor country since the Khmer Rouge were put down. It was very heartening to see that organizations like the "Artisans d'Angkor" have built on that aid and are now independent and thriving.
Three people, armed with digital cameras, can take an amazing number of photos. And here they are--in photo albums by topic. Just click on the album titles to see more.
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Outbound Flight & Singapore
Angkor Archeological Park -- Ta Prohm, Pre Rup, East Mebon and Ta Som temples
Angkor Wat Temple
Sound and Light Show at Angkor Wat
Angkor Thom Tour-- Bayon, The Terraces and Baphuon
Siem Reap--the town
Tonle Sap Lake
And, yes, there is a detailed trip log as well.
Trip Log -
Jan. 19 "Great Loop" tour of Angkor Archeological Park
Jan. 20 Angkor Wat Temple and Sound & Light Show
Jan. 21 Angkor Thom Tour--Bayon, Terraces and Baphuon
Jan. 22 Old Town Market, Tonle Sap Lake, Silk Farm
Jan. 23 Leaving Cambodia, Flight from Singapore to USA
If you'd like to learn more about Cambodia go to the Background Page
March 10, 2008
Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn, Barbara and Mark Halliday, © 2008