Thursday, August 30, 2012

Siem Reap, Cambodia

15 – 17 August 2012.


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Siem Reap has been described as “the life-support system for the temples of Angkor Wat” which are only a few kilometres away.  I’d guess that 98% of the tourists who go to Siem Reap are only there because they are going to Angkor Wat.

Consequently, we found Siem Reap much different from Phnom Penh, its most notable feature at first being rows and rows of various levels of tourist accommodation.  Our hotel (above) is quite towards the top end.

Notice the temple lions at the front door.  I have learnt that when you see lions in Cambodia, the seven headed snake (naga) won’t be far away.


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And here it is!  Notice the tuk tuk in the background, hoping to take someone on an Angkor Wat tour.

Incidentally, Siem Reap means “Siam defeated”, a reminder of the constant rivalry which has existed over the centuries between these neighbouring countries.


Our hotel featured some rather lovely orchids:





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We were treated to traditional music in the hotel lobby.

Cambodia – Viet Nam: Our Tour Group

14th – 26th August 2012.

Pat and I arrived in Phnom Penh a few days before the tour began, and were very lucky to have the time to recover from the flight and explore the city.  Then, there were 14 of us who began the tour in Phnom Penh, travelling all day by bus to Siem Reap.

In Siem Reap, we were joined by  another 14 people who had begun the tour in Thailand.  The 28 of us then stayed together for the next 12 or so days, through Cambodia then on in to Viet Nam.

In our group, there was one lady from South Africa, another couple from Australia (who were also called Smith) and the remainder were from USA.  However, many of the Americans had been born in other countries – e.g. Hong Kong, Iran, Jamaica, Poland, the Ukraine – there may have been more.  Some had moving or terrifying stories about leaving their countries of birth, and adapting to a new life, often with little support.

The main feature that the people in this diverse group had in common was the desire to see these countries (and the money to pay to do it this way.)  It was interesting to see how the group dynamics developed over the course of the tour, and how different people reacted to different experiences in different ways.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cambodia: Ancient Bridge “Spean Kompong Kdey”

Wednesday 15th August 2012.


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At the village of Kompong Kdey on National Road No 6 between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, we stopped to admire this ancient bridge over the Chikreng River.



The bridge is thought to have been built in the 12th century during the reign of King Jayavarman VII (CE 1181 –1220).


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In the 1930s, 22 of these ancient bridges could be seen in this section of the road, but today only 11 remain, as these heritage structures were not cared for so well in that era.

This is the most important of the remaining bridges, consisting of 21 narrow arches spanning a distance of 86 metres.  The bridge is 16 metres wide, and 10 metres above the level  of the river bed.


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The bridge is built of laterite and these beautifully-preserved nagas (seven-headed serpents) of sandstone.


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Only until a short while ago, the main traffic in the area was still crossing this bridge, but nowadays, thanks to the cultural preservation efforts of the Cambodian government, the bridge is being by-passed through the new main road built about 100 metres away, so that only pedestrian and light traffic can cross the bridge.

So while we could walk across the bridge, our bus had to drive over the other bridge, and meet us on the other side.


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When we reached the other side, this man was offering rides in his horse-drawn cart.  However, after we had walked across the bridge and listened to its story in the sweltering heat, all that most people wanted to do was to get back onto the air conditioned bus…..



….. so he turned around and went away again.

Behind him, you can see a farmer’s “cow machine.”  You can also see the condition of National Road No 6.  Being in a town, this is one of the better bits.

Cambodia: Stone-carving village

Wednesday 15th August 2012.


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Our next stop along the way between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap was at a stone-carving village where we watched a skilled workman carving a statue of a nāga (seven-headed serpent) protecting Buddha.

Among the notable nāgas of Buddhist tradition is Mucalinda,  protector of the Buddha. In the Vinaya Sutra (I, 3) the Buddha shortly after his enlightenment is meditating in a forest when a great storm arises, but graciously Naga King Mucalinda gives shelter to the Buddha from the storm by covering the Buddha's head with his seven snake heads.  Then the king takes the form of a young Brahmin and renders the Buddha homage.

It was hideously hot, so I’m afraid we didn’t watch the carver for very long.



Complete and incomplete Buddha statues.


Other carvings at the site:








Over the years, many explanations have arisen to explain the significance of Buddha’s long ears.  Here are some:

  • The Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha in modern-day Nepal, where the cultural norm was for men to display their wealth on their ears. This was done through the adornment of large and heavy ear ornaments made of precious metals and stones, which resulted in the men having stretched ears.  Although the prince would have stopped wearing ear ornaments when he left the palace and became a monk, his ear lobes remained stretched. These are indicative of Buddha’s renunciation of the material world.
  • Eastern cultures have always regarded large ears as an auspicious sign and an indication of wisdom and compassion, as one who listens and attends to all.
  • This serves as a reminder for Buddhists to be always compassionate.



Very neat house opposite where the stone carver was working.  I hope it belonged to the stone carver, so he could pop back and have a rest after our bus had left, as it was far to hot for anyone to be working at that time of day.



An enormous number of people hopped out of these two trucks while we were there.  I hope they were workers coming in for their midday break.



While we were there, a farmer drove past in his “cow machine” (i.e. a machine which did the same ploughing and hauling work as a cow or water buffalo) with a load of logs.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cambodia: Fried spider and other insects

Wednesday 15th August 2012.
Fried spider is a regional delicacy in the town of Skuon 75km along the main road north west of Phnom Penh.  The spiders are bred in holes in the ground, or foraged for in nearby forestland, and fried in oil. It is not clear how this practice started, but some have suggested that the population might have started eating spiders out of desperation during the years of Khmer Rouge rule, when food was in short supply.

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Just in case you have been dozing as you come into Skuon, you are given a not-so-subtle reminder that this is the home of the fried spider.

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The spiders are a species of tarantula Haplopelma albostriatum,   also known as the Thai zebra tarantula. The spider’s common name has been the "edible spider" for more than a hundred years, but the popularity of the dish is a recent phenomenon, starting perhaps as late as the 1990s. 
The taste has been described as bland, "rather like a cross between chicken and cod, with a contrast in texture from a crispy exterior to a soft centre. The legs contain little flesh, while the head and body have "a delicate white meat inside". There are certainly those who might not enjoy the abdomen, however, as it contains a brown paste consisting of organs, possibly eggs, and excrement. Some call it a delicacy while others recommend not eating it.  (Above information from my friend Wikipedia.) 

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This little girl, who told me she was 13, was very keen for me to try some spider.

I am normally quite adventurous about new foods, and while they were made to look as appetising as it’s possible to make a spider look, I surprised myself by finding that I was not the least bit hungry.

There was even a variety of other insects, which may or may not have included grasshoppers, worms and scorpions.

These looked very much like cockroaches.

However, the little girl was quite delightful (and a good little spruiker)……

….. so I bought some bananas from her.

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Our guide said he was eating a beetle, but it looked like a giant cockroach to me.

This is a very blurry picture, taken from the bus window, as many of my pictures are, but it's the best one I have to show how some of these insects are caught.
A pit is dug in the ground, and filled with water, and a large piece of plastic is suspended over the pit.  At night, a light is placed near the plastic.  The insects are attracted to the light, crash into the plastic and fall into the water, from where, apparently, they can't get out.
Then, in the morning, it's someone's job to go and gather the insects out of the water.
All I can say is, I'm glad my parents weren't insect farmers.

Cambodia: Phnom Penh to Siem Reap

Wednesday 15th August 2012.

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Map from


After our few days on our own in Phnom Penh, our tour now officially started.  To begin with, there were 14 of us, mainly from USA, although there was one other Australian couple, also called Smith.

Siem Reap is about 300km north west of Phnom Penh, a bit over four hours’ driving time.  However, because we made some interesting stops, (and also because of the condition of the road) it took us most of the day.

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I’m not sure which river this is, possibly the Tonle Sap.

As a precaution against flooding, some of the houses are on stilts, and some of them just float on the water.


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Flood insurance.



Cambodian farmers use cattle and buffalo in the rice field to plough, carry rice and perform other tasks.  Most families would own only one animal, and in spite of the abundance of lush green grass, these cattle seemed to us to be painfully thin. 

Instead of a cow, some wealthier farmers owned what they called a “cow machine” – a three wheeled motorised cart which performed the same duties as a cow.



No seatbelt – no worries!



Roadside stall – literally.


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More contrasts – our guide told us that sometimes wealthy families would donate money to temples in the hope of a better life the next time around.



Brick works.  Local clay is used to manufacture bricks.



Many of the village houses had what looked like one or two haystacks beside them.



No kerbing and channelling here.



Occasionally there might be a much smarter house in amongst the simpler ones, which might belong to a brick works owner or manager.  However, the immediate surroundings of these hoses never seemed to be in keeping with the house itself.



Back to the simpler houses again, complete with woodpile and hard working cow.


More village houses:








Rice fields.

Phnom Penh: Final Impressions

14-15 August 2012.

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The Independence Monument (Vimean Ekareach) was inaugurated in 1962 to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from the French in 1953.  It also serves as a cenotaph to Cambodia’s war dead.

The 20 metre high monument was designed by Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, and is shaped in the form of a lotus.  This shape can be seen in structures at Angkor and other Khmer historical sites.

I took this picture from a tuk tuk as we passed.  Any shaking would be more from the trembling of my hand as the tuk tuk negotiated the busy traffic around the monument, than from the movement of the tuk tuk itself.

Currently, the monument is having a bit of a clean up.


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In the markets you can buy anything including the kitchen sink – although many people wash their dishes in bowls beside the roads.



They certainly cook eggs (and other things) on the footpaths.


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Coconut seller.


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Three on a bike.


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Four on a bike.  (Later, in Hanoi, we saw a family of six on a bike.)

We felt really lucky to have been able to spend a few days in this fascinating city.