Tag Archives: Cambodia

50 — Scene in Cambodia (6) Tomb Raiders

Note: this is an ongoing series about our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia in December, 2009. Part I of this account can be found here.

Served up by Netflix — Tomb Raider!

Yes, I did actually put this movie into my queue…for a reason.

When we were in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and told our tuk-tuk driver that our temple itinerary for the first day was Morning–Angkor Thom, Afternoon–Angkor Vat, he looked at us in horror. “No, no,” he insisted. “Morning–Ankgor Thom and Vat. Afternoon–Ta Prohm.”

I admitted to him that Ta Prohm had never been on our schedule at all.

His eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Angelina Jolie, Angelina Jolie,” he screamed. “Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm, Tomb Raider.” He waved his arms wildly. I was worried he’d fall off his motorcycle seat with all the combined enthusiasm and horror.

“Okay,” I tried to pacify him. “We will see Ta Prohm–but not today.”

What could we do? I’d made a promise. So, three days later, we made our pilgrimage to Ta Prohm. And am I glad we did. I’m sure you will see why…

No matter where you turn in Ta Prohm there are picturesque examples of tree over temple.


…and again.

And obviously, I am not the only one who thinks they are “picturesque,” or at least worthy of a photo!

The trees that swallow these structures whole…

are not called “Strangler” figs for nothing.

And, Ta Prohm is not the only temple threatened by stone-grinding roots.

The distant Beng Melea is so consumed by figs…

…that parts of it resemble a quarry more than a temple!

In both these cases, the decision has been made that the temple-raiders add as much as they take away and are part of the charm and allure of the temples they destroy. Efforts are being made to somehow preserve a balance of both. Not an easy endeavor with trees that have such ravenous appetites.

Happily, there are several places where the forces of nature are just as beautiful, yet far less destructive. This stand of grass at one of the best-preserved temples–Banteay Samre–has a stark simplicity that is breathtaking.

Also, at Banteay Samre is a graceful frangipani…

and bougainvillea to add a splash of color.

At the Bayon, in Ankgor Thom, I am captivated by the delicate beauty of wildflowers against carved stone.

Not all the vegetation has turned raider.

However, there is no doubt that there is something irresistible about the power and audacity of the strangler fig which thinks nothing of pitting wood against stone. I have to agree that Ta Prohm is indeed a dramatic backdrop for a tomb raiding adventure, and I cannot help but look back on it as I leave.

Again, and again.

And almost as if the temple has read my desire to linger here and stamp this place in my memory, we pass a group of tourists on the long way back. While walking by a company of “minefield victim” musicians, they cannot seem to help themselves, but break out dancing!

I see their graceful moves and watch in awe as the stone apsaras from the temple, come alive in their steps.

Their hand gestures…

…mirror those passed down through the centuries.

So, here I sit watching Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie, waiting, lusting for one more glimpse of the haunting Ta Prohm.

Uh…where did that come from?

Every time I remember our trip, it seems, I dream of food. This diet is killing me. Better chill before it sends me to my own tomb!

49 — Scene in Cambodia (5) Mystical Mountains

Note: this is an ongoing series about our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia in December, 2009. Part I of this account can be found here.

Well, February has snuck up on me. It’s that sort of month. Right when I’m beginning to believe that January will go on forever, and the New Year really is still new, there it is–February. Creeps in under my radar, and is gone before I have any idea what really happened to the second month of the year. The only consolation prize? Valentine’s Day.

Not much consolation there either. It’s silly to buy roses on the day they are the most outrageously priced. Besides, chocolates (and love) are not something you hoard all year to hand out on one day just to give the wimpiest month a raison d’etre. And, bah humbug too!

Yes, it’s obvious isn’t it? It’s raining, gloomy, and murky here today. The clouds are marching down those invisible mountainsides with dark purpose, swirling at us with moist intensity. So, I’m going to fight the blues by picturing the obscured moutains, instead.

Take that, you Pacific Tropical Depression, you!

And that….

And that’s the thing about mountains. They have a way of lifting me up with them. Some people like to live in the mountains and look down. Me. I love the valley, where I can raise my eyes to the beauty of the mountains, and be carried away by the view…without having to scrape my car out from under six feet of snow.

Yes, I’m happy to leave the mountain peaks to the gods. Like Olympus, and Mount Meru–the abode of the Hindu gods that separates earth from the heavens and which is the model for the “temple-mountains” of Angkor, styled on the temple architecture of South India.

The earliest temple to incorporate the idea of the five levels of Mount Meru, or the temple-mountain, is Bakong in the “Roulos” group. The first four layers symbolize the worlds of mythical beings such as nagas (multi-headed serpents)

(Angkor Thom)

(Beng Melea)

and garudas (creatures with the body of a human and the head and wings of a bird),

(Angkor Thom)

while the topmost level is reserved for the gods.

And when they say temple mountain, they aren’t kidding. The view from the top can only be attained after a steep climb as here at Phimeanakas, the King’s temple in Angkor Thom.

Of course, the epitome of the temple mountain concept is Angkor Vat, itself,

where the five central towers, symbolize the five peaks of Mount Meru at the center of the universe.

–a popular spot for photography!

The outer wall represents the mountainous edge of the world,

The massive moat stands for the oceans beyond.

And then, of course, there are the mountains themselves, with the gods carved into them such as at Kbal Spean, a short hike up a peak in the Kulen mountains.

Here is the source of the River of a Thousand Lingas…I didn’t count…but the lingas and the gods are everywhere.

It is a most magical site.

Unfortunately, the mountains are not only frequented by the gods, or the tourists, but by fugitives as well. This cave, we were told, was one of the hideouts of Pol Pot and the corner served as his kitchen.

The tales of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are still on everyone’s lips–our guide lost eleven members of his family including his father, our tuk-tuk driver’s uncle had a leg blown off by a landmine…

…stories of horror and hardship that stole like a shadow across the beautiful landscape…constant reminders of how easy it is for human beings to turn heaven into hell.

And there it is. The clouds have returned, here. The heavenly mountains have vanished once more. Little wonder this was once known as the Valley of the Clouds and before that, the Valley of the Disappearing Mountains.

But, I know no matter how dark the day, the mystical mountains will be back. They are just around the corner, only temporarily hidden from view.

48 — Scene in Cambodia (4) Dietary Restrictions

Note: this is an ongoing series about our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia in December, 2009. Part I of this account can be found here.

So. I’m on a diet. Invariably, the holiday season has its tradeoffs. A time of reckoning when all the good food and drink must be balanced by a lean time that generally lasts at least till summer. And, invariably, diets make me think of food.

Here’s what I’m hoping–that pictures and memories of food, not all of it inviting, will dissipate the cravings. While in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we were treated to a trip through a village marketplace and the sights were everywhere from exotic and appetizing to…well why don’t I show instead of tell.

The marketplace was basically a large outdoor supermarket, and we began our sojourn in the fresh produce section. Bananas were ubiquitous and came by the bunch–the large bunch, holding something like twenty fruit a piece. They were delicious and sweet, despite this kitten’s opinion of them.

Vegetables came in all shapes, sizes, and colors, some recognizable, some not.

And I couldn’t help wondering what a goose egg would taste like, but alas, didn’t get the chance to find out.

Staples included rice,

palm sugar, palm oil,

and yes…monosodiumglutamate by the plastic bag-load.

No meal is complete without a dish containing coconut and this full-service supermarket served it up freshly ground.

One of the things that surprised me was the easy access to portable electricity. Just carry your car battery with you, hook up your grinder, and voila!

When you run out of juice, no worries, the charging station is in another section of the supermarket and a charge can last upto three days.

Moving on to the butcher and fresh fish sections was considerably less appetizing, at times even hair-raising.

Fish, I expected, in all shapes and sizes, such as these baby catfish…

…and dried, roasted, and smoked fish.

But then there was the more exotic fare, such as snakes…

fish heads,

…and all parts of pig,

…that almost made a vegetarian of me.

Just as I’d lost all appetite, and then some, we came on the freshly-made snacks section. And, irresistible sizzling banana fritters, hot and sticky!

Even the less recognizable goodies were tempting.
Fish paste wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over a slow fire.

Steamed packages of sweet goodness.

Rice and bean paste roasted inside hollowed and stripped bamboo shafts that you peeled open like a banana to eat.

I would have loved to crunch on salty-sour cut fruit…if I’d had the courage.

Finally, something I could buy without fear of the traveler’s sickness — food wasn’t the only item for sale in this market. The bangle-man drove a hard bargain!

One of the things that really impressed me was how safe and trusting the place felt. Women walked around with wads of cash in their hands that they plonked down in baskets and picked up a bag of cooking oil or a pat of palm sugar, without bothering the shopkeeper for the transaction.

And shopkeepers had no money boxes. Stacks of cash accumulated at their knees

or on baskets, waving in the breeze.

Well, luckily, the outdoor market wasn’t the kind of place that would ruin a dieter’s resolve…

unfortunately, the restaurants were!