Little Black Books...Postcards from Angkor
What to See at the Angkor Archaeological Park
- Angkor Wat: The chanting of modern monks pours over the ancient temple. Children running in between the old columns peek out at the tourists in some elaborate game of hide and seek.
- Preah Khan: Hands down my favorite temple. Rambling, quiet and mysterious.
- Angkor Thom: The last capital of the Khmer empire, I especially liked the Bayonne temple with all its giant impassive stone faces.
- Banteay Samre: Similar to Angkor Wat in structure, it also has lovely carvings, many of which are still in very good condition.
- Pre Rup: A bit of a climb but great spot to watch the sunset (with less company than at other "sunset sites").
- Ta Prohm: Even the Cambodians call it "the Tomb Raider Temple" now. It's fame makes it crowded, but its beauty makes it worth it.
What to See in Siem Reap
- Night Market: Siem Reap lights up at night, the streets bustling with tourists. It was a little too touristy for me but an after dinner wander through the streets offers a good chance to hone your haggling skills.
- Beat Richner's Cello Concert: Dr. Richner partially funds his clinics with the proceeds of his biweekly cello concerts. Nan, our tuktuk driver, pointed out the clinic on our way back from the temple one night. Hot and dirty we almost didn't go, but were glad we did, not just for the music but for the cause. For more information check out his website http://www.beat-richner.ch/index.html
- Baca Villa Guesthouse: Far enough off the main road for quiet nights and close enough for walking. Cheap, clean rooms and friendly staff.
- Sugar Palm Restaurant: Delicious traditional Cambodian food, nice atmosphere and good service.
As our little tuk tuk bounced over the bumpy road, I could barely contain my excitement. I had always thought of Cambodia as my "someday place," the one you really want to see but have concluded you won't get to for a while. But here I was, crammed into a little carriage pulled by a motorcycle, on my way to Angkor Wat.
I fell in love with Cambodia as soon as I stepped off the plane onto the hot runway. It just felt right, the warm breeze, the red dusty land and impossibly green foliage. Even in my short time there it became clear that this was a land of opposites; beauty and pain, nobility and resignation, the intricate old versus the war ravaged new.
Scars of the Khmer Rouge are still everywhere, in the abandoned buildings, the legless beggars and the disconcertingly "open for tourists" killing fields. Yet there is something ancient, brave and noble in the faces of the Cambodian people. A nobility and strength I found myself envying, though I had no wish to endure the pain they had to attain it.
Temples and Tic Tac Toe
We only spent a few days in Siem Reap, most of the time at Angkor. The Angkor complex was massive and each temple beautiful in its own way, but I fell in love with Preah Khan.
It was much quieter than the other sites, less tourists and more trees. Though it is roughly the same size as Angkor Wat it is more rambling and intimate. It felt so familiar, so secret yet comfortable. It took me a few minutes to realize that the intangible feeling of deja vu in my gut was caused by the my old prep school. These dark quiet halls and tall narrow windows, courtyards and a hidden pond guarded by an ancient stone lion were somehow connected to those ivy covered brick buildings and long alleys of maple trees.
Perhaps it had something to do with the presence of the old library at Preah Khan that once contained ancient religious texts. The three of us girls met each other's eyes and silently agreed this was a place best explored alone. We took our time in the ruins, each wandering off in a different direction, so much time that our lovably protective tuk tuk driver Nan eventually walked in to make sure we'd not gotten lost.
It struck me there how different we three were. Kali disappeared over the rocks in a burst of climbers energy, eager to explore, to touch. While Nora snapped photos leisurely, smiling pleasantly at each passerby. And me, I found my way to the shadiest most secret part of the place, and took out my journal.
I am glad we lingered there, not only for our own personal sanity but also because if we hadn't I might have missed the little girl selling postcards at the next temple. Not to say there weren't dozens of children selling postcards and whatever else they could think of. Nan had warned us not to buy their wares since the parents took them out of school to sell them, he seemed quite adamant that if there was no profit perhaps the children would go to school, as he clearly thought they ought.
So each time I strode through the miniature throng of big brown eyes I tried to harden my heart and ignore the echoing little voices. But this girl stood apart from the rest, a hand on her hip she met my eyes as if acknowledging a worthy opponent. Then walked up and fanned out her postcards, "10 for one dollah." Hanging on to my last shred of resolve I shook my head. She smiled mischievously, "I play you for it."
I couldn't resist her spunk so I followed her to the mouth of the temple where she squatted in the sandy soil and scratched out a tic-tac-toe board with a twig. I lost. And ended up with 20 postcards, what can I say, I'm weak...and really bad at simple games.