Angkor National Park – Cambodia’s Treasure (Part 1)

Around 7 years ago now, I decided to sit down and come up with a bucket list.  I decided that there would be 100 items on that list and I knew, even before I began, that a lot of those items would involve traveling.  In the last year I’ve been fortunate enough to cross 10 items off of that list, and I plan to be crossing off several more before 2015 ends.  One of the things I’ve accomplished this year was our trip to Angkor National Park, which was the main reason we traveled to Cambodia for China’s May Holiday.   Although I planned on finishing what I had to say (and show) about Angkor in 1 post, once I went through my pictures again, I realized that that would be impossible.  There’s just too much to see and too much to tell to do it all in one post.  So this will be part 1 of 2 on our stay in northern Cambodia, where we toured temples, met locals and visited a floating village.

We started our trip in Phnom Penh and then traveled to Siam Reap by overnight bus.
We started our trip in Phnom Penh and then traveled to Siam Reap by overnight bus.
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This is a night bus. It’s not the most comfortable way to travel, but it was better than the one I took in China. Also, it gave us the benefit of traveling while we slept…we only had 7 days to see 3 cities so time was of the essence
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Angkor Wat is so representative of Cambodia, that it is even on their flag

The Cambodian Empire

Angkor National Park is all that remains of the Kampuchea empire, which reigned for over South-East Asia for over 600 years.  Covering parts of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and even Burma, the Cambodian Empire was fierce and wealthy, and as such, its kings erected massive temples both in Cambodia and in its conquered lands.  The most impressive group of those temples is near Siem Reap (named after a defeat against Thailand at that location), which is where we visited during our stay in Cambodia.  Interestingly, during Kampuchea’s hay day, there was both Hindu and Buddhist influence in the area, so these temples vary quite a bit from one to the next, making Angkor National Park a fascinating visit.

The Cambodian Empire from the 9th-15th centuries...
The Cambodian Empire from the 9th-15th centuries…
Cambodia now...
Cambodia now…
A Buddha we encountered in Angkor Wat
We saw this Buddha as we entered one of the main buildings of Angkor Wat….
But saw these carvings depicting stories from the Hindu Vedas a few minutes later
But saw these carvings depicting stories from the Hindu Vedas a few minutes later

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Angkor National Park spans an area of over 400kms square and contains over 100 individual temples, ranging from Angkor Wat (an enormous temple with many buildings within its walls) to small ruins that are merely a wall left over from a previous sight that was destroyed.

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This is Krol Romeas, one of the smallest ruins left in Angkor National Park
Angkor Wat before sunset, Cambodia.
Angkor Wat Temple before sunset, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Written records weren’t kept at this point in history, and much of what we know about the 9th-15th centuries has come from Angkor Wat and it’s surrounding temples.  Carvings in the stone, as well as refinements of past culture still remain in these spots and they’ve told archeologists a great deal about South East Asian history.  As someone who studied classical Roman and Greek history in University, I found that aspect of the park to be enthralling.  Because of its cultural relevance, Angkor National Park was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is preserved and has been repaired as a result.  People flock from all over the world to see these sights, which are some of the most famous and awe inspiring temples in the world.

Apsara are relevant to both Buddhism and Hinduism. We got to see a traditional Apsara dance while in Phnom Penh.
Apsara are relevant to both Buddhism and Hinduism. We got to see a traditional Apsara dance while in Phnom Penh.  This carvings tell a story of the culture in ancient Angkor
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The entire interior of Angkor Wat is gorgeous…so many stone carvings
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In this carving, a king is shown being waited on by his servants.  It took 30 years to build Angkor Wat, and over 350,000 workers.  With the amount of detailed carvings there are in the temple, it does not shock me that there were that many people involved in its creation.
Some carvings tell stories about battles that were won (or lost) by the Khmer Empire
Some carvings tell stories about battles that were won (or lost) by the Cambodian Empire

Angkor Wat

Our first stop in Siem Reap was Angkor Wat, the temple after which the national park was named.  It spans 1km square and is the home to several libraries, halls and pools.  It’s fared well against the test of time and has been restored through the years, where needed.  We were lucky enough to visit Angkor Wat twice…I’ll be writing about our sunrise visit in my next post.  Our first stop was a very hot one (the temperatures in Cambodia during the dry season go up to 40 degrees celcius…and stay there…all…day….long…), but well worth the trip.  Our guide was  a decent photographer too, so we even got pictures of the two of us in  Angkor National Park, which was nice 🙂

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Dave and I outside one of the front pools. During the dry season (we caught the end of it), there shouldn’t be any water left in these pools, but apparently tourists were complaining on Trip Advisor that they couldn’t get reflective photos, so the Cambodian Government decided to fill the pools with hoses. Tourists complain too much, I think…
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These are just 2 of the many libraries at Angkor Wat. Although they are fairly empty inside now, I loved being in them. It’s some of the only refuge we got from the blistering hot sun.
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I dislike that our guide chopped off the top of this library. Otherwise it would have been an awesome picture. I still like it though…we both look so purposeful. For me, my purpose was mostly just to get out of the sun 😛
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Restoration was being done in some of the buildings.
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These were both taken at the exact center of Angkor Wat. Our guide decided to pop his foot into the picture too haha
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The ceiling here was beautiful.

 

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More intricately carved buildings.
The view from the top tower, which in its time, was reserved for the Royal Family alone.  Sadly, I was feeling pretty heat stroked at this point so I wasn't able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked.
The view from the top tower, which in its time, was reserved for the Royal Family alone. Sadly, I was feeling pretty heat stroked at this point so I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked.

The heat definitely played a factor in our enjoyment of Angkor Wat (along with our guide’s underestimation of the amount of water we’d need…we ran out early…),  but Dave was brilliant enough to make a video before we got too exhausted:

Ta Prohm

We left Angkor Wat and hopped into a nicely air conditioned van, where we enjoyed the rest of our iced coffees to cool down.  Iced coffee is AMAZING in Cambodia!!!  Instead of sugar, they use sweetened condensed milk, which gave it a nice flavor.  Plus, they get their coffee from Vietnam, which has some of the world’s best :).  My favorite part though…it’s served in a bag…

Yes...that bag is full of a bag of coffee haha!  (They put it in a plastic bag, put that bag into a paper bag and then put that one into another plastic bag....)
Yes…that bag is full of a bag of coffee haha! (They put it in a plastic bag, put that bag into a paper bag and then put that one into another plastic bag….)

Ta Prohm is, without a doubt, one of the coolest looking places I’ve ever seen in my life.   It was built in the late 12th – early 13th centuries and unlike Angkor Wat, which was built under a Hindu King, Ta Prohm was built primarily as a Buddhist school.  What makes Ta Prohm so interesting though isn’t it’s Buddhist ties.   The fact that the temple has been kept as it was found, wild and grown over by trees, makes it the perfect spot for photos.

The way the trees have grown over and through the temple is why Ta Prohm is so famous today
The way the trees have grown over and through the temple is why Ta Prohm is so famous today
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One unfortunate thing about Ta Prohm is that it is incredibly tourist. We had to wait almost 5 minutes just to get this photo because Chinese tourists kept cutting in front of us and hogging the area of selfie after selfie…our tour guide eventually told them off so we could get our 1 picture in haha!!

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Huge trees!
Huge trees!
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The outer walls are something to see. Most of the stone used to create the temples in this time period is either Lava Stone or Sand Stone. This is Lava Stone.

 

 

It's possible you recognize Ta Prohm from Lara Croft Tomb Raider.  This is where it was filmed :)
It’s possible you recognize Ta Prohm from Lara Croft Tomb Raider. This is where it was filmed 🙂

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Ta Nei

Ta Nei is one of my favorite spots we visited.  It was a long way away from all the other temples, (our driver had to go down some roads that looked like they were just walking paths in the middle of the jungle in order to get us there),  but once we arrived, we saw why it was worth the trip.

Not only were there no other tourists there, but the sight is gorgeous!  It’s definitely seen better days, and it hasn’t been restored the way Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm have been, but there is such a rawness to this old temple…I got some of my favorite pictures of the whole trip during this visit.

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A lot of what’s left of Ta Nei is rubble.

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And, like Ta Prohm, there are beautiful trees here
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Beautiful and enormous

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We loved this sight so much, we even remembered to take a video for it!  I love how beautifully quiet it was there 🙂

Bayun (or Bayan) Temple

Our last stop on day one of our Siem Reap Tour was in Angkor Thom, the last (and longest enduring) city of the Cambodian Empire.  Although there are several sights to see within Angkor Thom, Dave and I were suffering from pretty terrible heat exhaustion, so we only saw some of them from within the air conditioned vehicle.  Our tour guide wanted to save our energy for Angkor Thom’s greatest masterpiece:  Bayon Temple (I’ve also seen it spelled ‘Bayun’ Temple).

Bayon Temple from afar
Bayon Temple from afar

Built in the late 12th century, 100 years after the building of Angkor Wat (our first stop of the day), this is clearly a Buddhist temple.    From afar, it is a beautiful sight to see, but when you see it up-close, you realize how fascinating this temple truly is.

Every tower at Bayon Temple has a beautiful Buddha face carved into it.
Every tower at Bayon Temple has a beautiful Buddha face carved into it.

Each of Bayon’s 54 towers has a large face carved into each of its 4 sides.  That means that this magnificent temple has a total of over 200 faces.  It made for some incredible photos!!

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A photo taken from within one of the many halls. One of my favorites of the trip

I should add that these faces are enormous…here is Dave and I standing directly in front of what is considered Bayon’s most beautiful Buddha.

IMG_5714I was very happy to have a guide at this point, as he was able to point out some of the best shots.  There were so many faces everywhere that I could have easily missed shots like these ones:

IMG_5671 IMG_5721 He also got some great pictures of the two of us.  By the end of this part of the tour, we were both feeling like we did on our wedding day…tired of smiling!  But it was all worth it in the end!  I would have been devastated had I not gotten some of these pictures!!

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In of the Bayon’s beautiful windows
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Bayon in the background
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This Buddha was far behind us
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I like this one of Dave 🙂
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At the most famous entrance of Angkor Thom

So that was day 1 of our Siem Reap stop.  I’ll be back next week with Day 2, where we experienced Angkor Wat at sunrise, a floating fishing village and Cambodia’s beautiful ‘Lady’s Temple’.

Thanks for reading!!

 

Ayutthaya: The Ancient Capital of Thailand

Well, my second semester at Interlingua is now in full swing and I have to admit it is off to a much better start than the first semester!  It’s always difficult taking over another teacher’s classes, but when that teacher is loved by students, management and colleagues alike, it’s a little hard to match up.  Somehow I persevered and have proven my abilities.

This is Amanda.  She's very bright and loves learning English (she especially loves hangman!!).  At the end of last semester she got really worried that I wasn't going to come back after my trip to Thailand.  I promised her I'd be coming back and she grabbed me in a huge hug thanking me.  I love my students!!
This is Amanda. She’s very bright and loves learning English (she especially loves hangman!!). At the end of last semester she got really worried that I wasn’t going to come back after my trip to Thailand. I promised her I’d be coming back and she grabbed me in a huge hug thanking me. I love my students!!

Since our return from Thailand, I’ve had several parents come to the school specifically asking for me to teach their children.  Mostly these parents are referrals from parents whose children I already teach.  I’ve also had great feedback from management at the school, who appreciate my organizational skills and diligent lesson planning.  I’ve been asked to extend my contract here and even the other teachers have begun to ask for my help when they are having difficulty with particularly shy students.  I feel like super-teacher again!!  I can’t even explain how great that feels!!!

These are 3 of my students:  Coco, Kyle and Lily (left to right).  I introduced them to Dave while he was at the school one day, and when I came back from recess, I found this lovely mural on my chalk board!  They'd spent their break making it for me :)
These are 3 of my students: Coco, Kyle and Lily (left to right). I introduced them to Dave while he was at the school one day, and when I came back from recess, I found this lovely mural on my chalk board! They’d spent their break making it for me 🙂
One of my higher level students, Zoe, made me this bracelet :)  When she gave it to me she said "I made it for you by myself (we'd learned that phrase last semester)"  and added excitedly "I hope you like it!!".  Clearly, I do :)
One of my higher level students, Zoe, made me this bracelet 🙂 When she gave it to me she said “I made it for you by myself (we’d learned that phrase last semester)” and added excitedly “I hope you like it!!”. Clearly, I do 🙂

But none of that can top how valued my students make me feel.  My kindergarten students in particular are sweet, affectionate and love coming to my classes.  This week I’ve been teaching them family member vocabulary (Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother, Grandma, Grandpa…) and then also teaching them phrases that they can use this vocabulary with (Mommy is happy, I have 2 sisters).  On Sunday I taught them a new phrase:  “I love my ______”.  I play a game with them where they have to throw my fuzzy dice at the black board and whichever drawing they hit, they have to make a sentence with it.  So if they throw the die and it hits my drawing of ‘mommy’ they have to say ‘I love my mommy’.  Of course, I always draw myself on the blackboard as well, so they have a reference as to how these bubble drawings are related to me, and before I knew it, they made it a game of throwing the die at MY picture, so that they could say ‘I love my Marie!!!!’.  It was so sweet I could have scooped them all up and hugged ’em forever!!!

This was one of the family pictures I drew.  As you can see, I'm quite the artist!!  (also...my mom isn't always sad...I was just getting them to talk about emotions!!  "Mommy is sad" and then "Your mommy is sad".  My brilliant little monkeys :)
This was one of the family pictures I drew. As you can see, I’m quite the artist!! (also…my mom isn’t always sad…I was just getting them to talk about emotions!! “Mommy is sad” and then “Your mommy is sad”. My brilliant little monkeys caught on so quickly 🙂

But I suppose I’ve gushed enough now.  (If you hadn’t caught on yet…I love my job)

BACK TO THAILAND!!!

Ayutthaya is located roughly 2 hours away by train.  A lovely ride :)
Ayutthaya is located roughly 2 hours away from Bangkok by train. A lovely day trip 🙂

Ayutthaya was founded in 1350AD by a King trying to escape a small pox epidemic.  It became the capital of Thailand or Siam, as it was known at the time.  Fast forward to 1767, when the Burmese army invaded and burnt the city to the ground.  What’s left today are the stone structures that survived the sack of Ayutthaya…

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The city Burma left in ruins is now a UNESCO World Heritage Sight

We took the train down to the old city, which was apparently the cheapest way to get there but provided the best views.  It cost us a total of 40 Bhat to get there and only 30 Bhat to return ($1.54 and $1.16 respectively), so we definitely didn’t break the bank on the trip.  Also, it’s a fairly popular destination, so it was no problem to get help at the train station, even though many of the staff didn’t speak much English.

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Waiting for the train
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A Thai train ticket. I love their writing 🙂

I had done a bit of reading ahead of time, so when we arrived in the ancient city, we knew our best option for getting around was by scooter.  I would have never been brave enough to drive myself (in Thailand, they drive on the opposite side of the road), but Dave is brave that way, and before long we were cruising around the city, in search of some lunch.

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Clearly, I was pretty excited 🙂
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Our scooter for the day. It was smaller than our scooter in Guiyang, but it runs on gas (ours is electric) so it had WAY more power!
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I got this shot while we were moving. I love it because it shows so much…a tangle of power lines…a line up of public phones (do those even exist in Canada anymore??) and a 7-11….Thailand is a neat place!

We found a tiny little restaurant (we weren’t even sure if it was a restaurant at first!) before too long, and the woman who greeted us quickly set off to cook us something we hadn’t yet ordered.  This was probably for the best, as we know basically none of the Thai language and wouldn’t have known what to ask for anyway.  What she brought us was delicious 🙂

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Pickled peppers and spices on the table
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Dave, chillaxing at our table
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Lunch 🙂 Seafood fried rice 🙂 You can’t go wrong with that!!

Next we set off to find us some ruins…

We found 3 different sites, and each was unique in its own way.  Three happens to be the perfect number of items to have on a list such as this, so I shall continue this post in list form.  Also, I can’t remember the actual name for each site, so I’ve dubbed them by their defining features instead.

Sight #1:  Wat Maheyong

I saw the very first elephant I’ve seen in my life as we drove up to this site.  It was being ridden, which wasn’t ideal, but it was still there…He was an enormous male, with long tusks.  He had 2 people in the chair and a mahout riding his neck.  Before long we saw many more elephants, all being ridden around a beautiful scene of burnt stone and open fields.

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His mahout stopped for a moment so that I could take a picture…I think he was hoping I’d go pay for a ride if he did. The elephant’s eyes looked sad to me…or at the very least, he looked distant…not present at all, like the elephants we saw at ENP.
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A neat scene

We didn’t know it at the time, but these were actually the most plain ruins that we saw the whole day…we were still impressed!!

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Before long, we decided to see what else Ayutthaya had to offer, so we began to head back to the scooter.  That’s when the rain started…

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You know what they say though…February shows, allow Marie to make new friends???  We ran inside where there was shelter.  Nobody likes scooting in the rain!!!   That’s where I met this lovely lady.

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This is the first elephant I ever really ‘connected’ with. She seemed much happier than the one we’d met on the trail…probably because she didn’t have hundreds of pounds of weight on her back. One of the staff told us that she is 90 years old, and that that’s why she wasn’t being ridden anymore. From what I learned about elephants at Elephant Nature Park though, I can tell that she’s quite young. She’s also quite small, as elephants go, so I think that THAT’S why she wasn’t being ridden…not because she’s too old.

I didn’t want to ride the elephants, but I had no problem feeding her so that’s where we spent our Bhat instead.  Elephants are SUCH cool eaters!!!  Their trunks are absolutely amazing!!!

When we ran out of bananas, we bid the sweet girl farewell and wandered over through the market for a while.  There wasn’t much to see, but we did run into some tigers that were quite obviously drugged for picture taking purposes. I won’t go into too much detail here (I’m planning a whole post on how to be an Eco-conscious tourist in the near future), but neither of us  were disappointed when we couldn’t get pictures of the sleepy animal.  Instead, we went and visited some more elephants, who weren’t drugged.  They were mostly just curious of us (and hoping we had bananas for them!!)

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Perfectly timed photo! He thought my scooter helmet was a basket of fruit, I think!
This funny boy kept throwing grass on top of his head.  Elephants do this with dirt (it's a natural sun screen for them), so maybe that's why he was doing it?  Elephants also tend to get a little nutty at trekking camps, which could have had something to do with it.  One of the mahouts came over and took the grass off his head and the elephant immediately (and kinda definatly) threw more back on top of his head.  He was a funny guy...
This funny boy kept throwing grass on top of his head. Elephants do this with dirt (it’s a natural sun screen for them), so maybe that’s why he was doing it? Elephants also tend to get a little nutty at trekking camps, which could have had something to do with it. One of the mahouts came over and took the grass off his head and the elephant immediately (and kinda defiantly) threw more back on top of his head. He was a funny guy…

After a run in with some sales people claiming to sell ivory jewellery (see my post: Thailand an Overview Part 1 for more details on that little adventure…), the rain cleared and we left in search of some more ruins.  What we found…was more elephants!! (and some INCREDIBLE ruins!!)

Sight #2 – Wat Phra Kam

It wasn’t long after we left Wat Maheyong that we started spotting more elephants.  We figured there were probably ruins nearby, so we turned in and found a place to park the scooter.

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We watched this poor elephant sit down for a photo op. I thought she was going to fall over during the transition from standing to sitting.
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We walked through a lovely park on our way to the ruins

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There was an entrance fee to this set of ruins, but it was well worth the 50bhat ($1.91) we paid to get in.  I’ll let the photos do the explaining…

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The entrance into the ruins. I had no idea it would get so much better from here!
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There are burn marks on a lot of the stone but so much of the structures are still intact. I went so camera happy that I managed to kill our battery before making it out of this park! We had to charge the camera at a little shop so that we could take pictures of the 3rd set of ruins!
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One of my favorite pictures of this sight. It was such a beautiful day, and the green trees and the red stones were just beautiful together!
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The blue sky made an excellent backdrop!
I am the coolest :)
I am the coolest 🙂

 

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Looking at ruins through the ruins 🙂
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If this is all that’s left of this place, I would have LOVED to see it in all its glory.
This is the main building amongst many smaller ones.  It was huge!
This is the main building among many smaller ones. It was huge!
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A couple offered to take a picture for us up near the top of the structure. We had to climb many stairs but it was worth the photo!!

 

The remains of a religious artifact
The remains of a religious artifact

When the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya, they didn’t just burn the city to the ground.  The plan was to annihilate the population; nothing was safe.  Their buildings were burnt and their culture was destroyed.  Not even their sacred places were spared.  When I was in Inner Mongolia, years ago, I witnessed the same sort of defilement.   When the Japanese army had invaded China during WW2, they destroyed many temples.  One particular temple stood out to me…the temple itself is still in Baotou, but every single Buddha that had been carved into the stone (there were hundreds!) had had its nose chipped off.  Desecration of religious space is common in times of war.

Sight #3: Wat Barom Buddha Ram

There are so many sights to see in Ayutthaya.  Although I’d read online that it was a cool place to visit, I hadn’t realized just HOW cool, so we’d only scheduled a half day to see it all.  As a result, we missed out on many of the neat things there were to see.  With our tight schedule, we had to pick and choose where we would stop, so after visiting Wat Phra Ram, we quickly zipped over to the most famous sight in Ayutthaya:  Wat Barom Buddha Ram.  You’ll see why it’s famous in the pictures below.

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The setting sun also made for gorgeous pictures!  Dave kept trying to move me along, but this Buddha was too gorgeous to leave!!

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Dave is the 2nd coolest :p
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There were dozens of headless and broken Buddhas here.
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His lips are still gold!
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My camera isn’t tilted on this one…the building is!
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Some of the plaster is still visible on this one. We think they might be restoring it

 

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This is why Wat Barom Buddha Ram is so famous. This fallen Buddha head had a tree grow around it 🙂

So that was Ayutthaya!  If you’re ever out near Bangkok, I HIGHLY recommend taking the day trip!  Especially if you’re a history nut, like me!  It’s a neat city and we didn’t even see half of what there was to see!  I guess that just means we’ll have to go back…

I’ll be away until next week (I won’t be popular this weekend…it’s test time!!!), but when I return, I’ll be blogging about The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand!

Hope to see you back soon!