Sunday, January 22, 2012

Angkor Wat Under Wraps


My first impression of Angkor Wat was one of total disappointment. I happened to visit the site when it was undergoing restoration work on the front terrace. I could have cried. But there wasn't much I could do about it. So I concentrated on the other features of the temple and there was much to see and learn.


This is one of the long galleries that wrap around the temple. It faces west with a view of the library and causeway. Behind these columns is a wall decorated with bas reliefs. There are some beautifully carved vignettes like the mother playing with her child. It's best to spend a little more time here with a guide who can point out some of the most interesting bas reliefs and give you background information about them to better appreciate this incredible visual library.


We wound up at the back of the temple where we had a full view of the two rear towers. Ankor Wat, like all other temples in Cambodia, were built up (on a height) to emulate Mount Meru, the legendary home of Hindu deities. Wooden stairs have been added for visitors to climb up to the temple as some of the original ones are partially eroded.


I saved the best for last. I did get a decent photo of Angkor Wat from the front. From this angle, the wraps are nowhere to be seen.


It's best to contact the official tourism office of Cambodia when planning your trip to Siem Reap to check if any of the temples or landmarks you wish to see are open to the public and/or are undergoing restoration.  http://tourismcambodia.org/.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cambodia Land Mine Museum


There are an estimated 6 million landmines in Cambodia. These are for the most part concentrated in the Thai-Cambodian border. Aki Ra, a former child soldier in the Khmer Rouge and later on in the Vietnamese army (which captured and conscripted him), founded this museum to instill awareness of the danger and dire consequences brought about by these landmines and to help street children, some of whom are victims of landmines. These children are now housed in the museum complex.


As a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge, Aki Ra planted landmines. In this little glass pavilion are hand grenades, grenade launchers, rifles, which are just a handful of weaponry gathered by Aki Ra since he started his self help demining mission. All told, he's cleared around 50,000 landmines.


In the image above, bombs line the walkway leading to the museum. The Landmine Museum is located in the Angkor Wat National Park, about 30 minutes from the center of Siem Reap. If you're visiting Banteay Srei, take a few minutes to stop by the museum. It was an interesting revelation to me that landmines are made to maim, not kill its victims.

For more information about the museum, visit http://cambodialandminemuseum.org/.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Siem Reap Essentials

Where to stay:  Prince d'Angkor Hotel and Spa
Sivatha Blv, Mondul II, Sangkat Svay
Dangkom, Siem Reap 93136
Tel: +855 63 763 888
Fax: +855 63 963 334
http://princedangkor.com/
Buffet breakfast and wifi in room included


Convenient location in center of town. I had a spacious room and it was quiet although the hotel is on the bustling Sivatha Boulevard. I also appreciated the fact that my room was very clean. The hotel is a minute's walk to the supermarket at Lucky Mall where I could buy beverage and snacks for my sightseeing trips (It's important to take water and/or beverage of your preference wherever you go because it's so hot, you'll need to hydrate). The buffet breakfast was generous. There was something different for me to eat everyday and the staff were attentive to my needs. The hotel also employs tuk tuk drivers so I could easily and safely go around town.

Where to eat:  Lucky Shabu House
Lucky Mall, 2nd Floor
Sivatha Street
Lunch: 11:00 a.m. to 14:00 p.m.
Dinner: 17:00 p.m. to 22:00 p.m.
$6.50 for dinner, $5.00 for lunch


This restaurant recently opened to the public in the new Lucky Mall. Once seated in front of a conveyor, the hostess turned on my hot pot, added water and showed me how to cook my dinner, picking ingredients from the conveyor like vegetables, fish cakes, shrimps, and noodles and dropping these into the pot. While waiting for the soup to simmer, I took platefuls of sushi and other dishes from the same conveyor and started eating. At the back of the room is a table with fried rice and other Asian dishes (I nearly missed these, busy as I was with my soup), desserts including ice cream and beverage. All these for the price of $6.50 for dinner. What a steal! I loved this place.

Classical Dance Performance: Koulen II Restaurant
No. 50 Sivatha Street, Mondul II, Siem Reap
Phone: 855 92 630 090, 855 12 538 059
$12.00 with buffet


There are many theaters showing classical Khmer dance but Koulen 2 Restaurant charges $12.00 for both a buffet dinner and the show compared to other theater companies in town that charge from $25.00 to $40.00. The restaurant is huge and tourists arrive by the busload. The good news is there's enough food for everyone and every taste. There's salad, pasta, Asian favorites including the popular vegetable rolls which are freshly cooked, desserts and fruit. I couldn't have enough of the little rice cake steamed in banana leaf. It was delicious! No beverage is included so you have to pay extra for that.

The dancers performed some lackluster folk dances. The show clearly came alive when they danced the classical apsara  in beautiful silk costumes with headresses.  Photo ops were given at the end of the show.

Where to shop:  Artisans d'Angkor
Stung Thmey Street, Siem Reap
Open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.


For quality workmanship, this is the best place to pick up upscale souvenirs or fine copies of Khmer objets d'art. Artisans d' Angkor has workshops for young people from rural villages where they can learn a trade in handicrafts. There's an interesting guided tour through the workshops which shows visitors the painstaking processes by which these fine pieces are produced.  I especially enjoyed the tour through the lacquer and carving workshops. All the beautiful work is sold in the shop onsite. The goods are pricey but worth it. They also have a store at the airport.

Souvenir shopping:  Phsar Kandal (Center Market)
across from Hotel de la Paix


I found silk scarves, a bed runner in traditional Khmer fabric, and magnets (an order by a friend) at this market. I was especially attracted to the beautiful fabrics but decided to stir clear from buying what I didn't really need. It was an experience bargaining but the vendor was eager to make a sale especially since I did buy quite a few gifts to take home. After several days of listening to touts selling all kinds of souvenir items at the temples, I had a good education on how much the items I wanted actually cost. So I left satisfied.  And the vendor?

Guidebook: Lonely Planet's Angkor Wat and Siem Reap Encounter by Nick Ray
Ray keeps brief but detailed descriptions of temples and he has organized the contents under five categories - Highlights, Itineraries, Excursions, Snapshots and Background for an easy read. The book is light and small and fits neatly into a small purse. The snapshots are fabulous.

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Images by Charie