Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cambodia Part VI - In the footsteps of Lara Croft...

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull is in the midst of his 4th straight AFD and 8th in 9 days.  Wow - I hope that this isn't a trend other trends, I had my 7th straight day of cardio, logging an hour on the bike (and covering 31.5 KM).  My legs were a bit tired from yesterday's 5K, but I know that, after another run tomorrow, Friday's definitely a day off (and the promise of Korean cuisine looms on the horizon for the first time ever).

My fun story of the day - I'm walking to the gym, and I notice a taxi with the greatest ad EVER plastered across the side.  There's a picture of this curvy little Singapore gal looking afraid as she walks down a dark alley (no doubt one of the many ferocious, untamed, seedy ghettos so rampant in Singapore), and behind her there is this dude who is the SPITTING IMAGE of Kim Jong Il standing behind her with an oversized hand about to slap her ass.  Underneath this rather bizarre (and somewhat disturbing) image, it reads:  "Protect Yourself." My question is:  "From what?"  Dark alley ways?  Guys with fetishes?  North Korea?  Fake Louis Vutton purses?  Come on, throw me a friggin' bone here, Mr. Bigglesworth...anyhoo, let's get back to Cambodia for my favorite day of the trip and a DEFINITE highlight of our time in Asia - the Jungle Temple of Ta Prom.

This monument was carved by the local
Angkor Artisans school.  Remember this,
as we'll talk about this school tomorrow.
We were out the door at 8 this day, with Daling and Brom waiting for us and greeting us with the traditional Khmer salutation - hands together under the chin, no bow, no step back.  I still want to say Namaste and bow every time I see it, which is clearly a) the wrong culture and b) the wrong message.  Details.

We hit 5 temples on this day, and again each one was very unique and absolutely worth a visit.  Our first stop was a temple that I couldn't pronounce built by an emperor who's name made the Icelandic language look easy (you will see a theme emerging here).  For now, I'll call him Joe.  The outside of this temple wasn't that impressive, but the interior featured some amazingly well preserved images of Vishnu (he was the most popular of the 3 Hindi gods, apparently).  It was interesting, some of the temples were Buddhist, others Hindi, and many had been both throughout the generations.  It wasn't uncommon to see a Buddha image beside an aspa (a dancing girl with their impossible knee contortions) or a Hindi god like Brahma or Krishna.  And everywhere we went, I was just AMAZED at how detailed and intact all the carvings still were.

The photo loses some of the amazing
spatial aspects of the stones, which are
curved and sanded to enhance the reality.
Not that a dude with four arms is all that
realistic, but still...points for creativity.
After this temple it was off to what I'm going to call the "Weed temple" (no, no - you could NOT put your weeeeeeeeeeeeed in there), as all of the towers had grass growing from the tops of them.  This was really crazy, as it was one of those "life finds a way" images.  It was during this part that we learned that 4 nationalities do restorations in Angkor:  Japan, Germany, America, and Italy.  Each has a specialty, and there is usually a certainty specialty required at any given site.  Ther Germans are apparently the masters at restoration of art and foundations, as that's what they were doing at Angkor Wat.  The Japanese are apparently good with restoring water damage.  I actually can't remember what the Americans were good at (insert all the Brits reading this saying "NOTHING" here), but I do remember that the Italians were good at "propping up leaning towers" (Daling's words - not mine).  Can't imagine where the Italians learned to do that? :-)

I mention that now because the Italians had been called in to prop up and level all the towers in this temple.  They had removed their tools and scaffolding on all but one (which was off to the side and therefore didn't detract from the photos), so people could see the work they'd done and how they'd gone about it.  This place was massive, and the roaming around this yielded more great photos.

Interesting - the hair on my head resembles
the grass on the tower.  Hot...
It was then off for some more iced coffee, and the hole-in-the-wall shack that they took us to this time CHANGED OUR LIVES.  Seriously - I almost moved to Siem Reap, this coffee was so good.  When we got back in the car, Daling (who always sat with the driver at the end of the restaurant) said, "I think I can tell that you really like coffee."  Yes - "ladies and gentlemen" do like coffee.

It was then a bit of a drive to Banteay Srei, the temples of pink sandstone.  These were a bit further off the beaten path (32 KM from Siem Reap), and the road out there was a DISASTER due to all the flooding.  Jenny and I always felt SO BAD getting in and out of the car, as we tracked TONS of mud in each time.  But every morning it was clean as a whistle again, complete with mineral water chilled and ready for consumption. 

Banteay Srei is considered another one of the jewels of Angkor, but it had been off limits until 2 weeks prior due to the flooding.  In fact, this was the temple were 200 tourists had to be airlifted by helicoptor once the road washed away (sorry, mum - I just couldn't tell you that before I went...).  It was still dicey going to get up there, but the flood water had completely receeded.  In fact, something that was interesting was that ancient ponds and pools that are always dry where FILLED with water whilst we were there, giving the temples a bit more of an authentic feel.  That also meant fish and crabs, and tons of local folks were out fishing for crabs (Daling could spot those puppies a MILE away) and fish.  In fact, hunting, fishing, and gathering was around us at all times in Siem Reap.  At one point we saw a guy probably 80 feet up a tree hacking off coconuts.  If I'd been up there, I would have been TERRIFIED. 

Daling earned his keep.  We have more photos of us together at
Angkor than in the previous 2.5 years combined.
Banteay Srei was really neat, but it actually was smaller and less impressive than I'd expected.  I'm really glad I went (it was Daling's favorite), and some of the statues were very cool, but it didn't wow me like I'd hoped.  The next one was actually cooler, I thought.  It was the 3rd largest of the temples (again, no clue how you pronounce it - Jenny's got 'em all written down in her journal if folks really need the breakdown), and it went on FOREVER.  It had a very gothic feel to it - I was expecting Batman to pop out at any moment and ask me if I was a member of the League of Shadows.  All in all, the day was going well.  But then it went to a whole new level.

At the entrance to Ta Prom - it was like walking onto the set of a movie (which,
in retrospect, was a true statement).

The most famous image from Ta Prom - it was featured in National Geographic
(sorry, Jackie - I mean Nat Geo).  We had to come back to get this photo alone,
as our first pass through saw us with 19,000 of our closest Korean friends.

Tell me she's not ready for the starring role in Tomb Raider 3:  The Legend of Angkor Beer.

It was supposed to have beeen a romantic shot.  But Daling never counted on one
thing:  a fat Westerner's enormous amounts of back sweat.

Just below one of the spots where they filmed Tomb Raider.  We had to wait
for a Russian couple to talk 11,000 photos here.

Yes.  I am juvenile.  YES - I like toilet humor.  But in this case,
it's permissable.  Look at the second and fourth photos.  Photo
#2 means "don't use a regular toilet like a squat toilet."  Photo
#4 means "don't use the hose that washes @#$# off you on your

The 5th and final stop of the day was Ta Prom, more commonly known as the Jungle Temple.  Simply put - THIS WAS ONE OF THE COOLEST THINGS I'VE EVER SEEN.  Like many of the temples, this one is set deeper into the jungle.  Consequently, over time, ENORMOUS trees have sprouted up through the foundations or slowly dropped from the canopy, their gigantic roots covering the stones.  I seriously could have stayed here for a WEEK - it was that cool.  And whilst I can't remember everything I learned about the temple, I definitely remember a lot about the topic most closely associated with this temple in recent memory - Angelina Jolie.

Banteay Srei - also known as "mini-Angkor Wat."
No two ways to say it - Cambodians LOVE Angelina.  Baby Maddox is Cambodian, and apparently Siem Reap is where she met him.  This was the temple where they filmed several scenes from Tomb Raider, and Daling could actually tell us the camera angles, the sequences, how many minutes of film - you name it.  EVERYTHING. 

During the filming, Cambodia was considered "unsafe," and so Angelina slept in Bangkok and flew to Siem Reap every day for a month to complete the filming.  During this time she fell so in love with the place that she created her own charity organization dedicated to helping Cambodians.  The government loved this so much that they made her a citizen, and she's now officially a passport holder (not sure how she'd do on a Khmer language exam, however).  She now comes back every 3 months or so (Daling even know that she'd stayed in room 239 last time - WOW), and she always receives a hero's (or heroine's) welcome.  The quote that stays with me:  "Tomb Raider was the greatest thing to ever happen to Cambodia."  Now I really feel better about buying that DVD...

Move over, Gordon Ramsay or Julia
Childs - this gal has prepared some
calories and she's not afraid to sell them.
After these temples, we stopped on the way home in one of the local villages, where we literally pulled off the side of the road and watched a gal whip up pieces of palm sugar candy.  We bought 3 packages for $1, and I promptly tucked into them, as they were SO GUUUUUUUUD.  They were also SO HARD AND SWEET (that's what she said), and with that combination, I'm lucky I still have all 38 (or is it 36?) of my teeth.

We mixed it up for Happy Hour, going one street over to "the Alley" vs. hitting Pub Street again.  After a few drinks (and saying no to 10,000 kids selling everything on earth you would NEVER need), we rolled over to a BBQ joint called "Easy Speaking," where we promptly took down all the raw meat you could handle.  And in a new first for Team Taylor, the Bull and Striker tried frog legs!  They were actually really good, but dude - you'd need to eat like 700 Amazonian Cane Frogs just to get remotely full.  Those puppies were a lot of work.  And, considering that they looked like chicken whilst cooking, well, you can imagine how I felt about that (Price - picture the dude washing the kitchen with the raw chicken - that's pretty much how I felt).

After that it was back to the Motherhome, deflecting tuk-tuks and walking through some wet, muddy streets.  We then caught an episode of CSI before passing out, another GREAT day in the books.  And best of all, we still had one more day of temples!  But we'll get to that tomorrow.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!


Sam and (now safely on the ground in Brisbane and probably just back from the Ocean Park) Jenny

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