Monday, May 04, 2009

Temple hopping in Cambodia

We flew out of the urban jungle that is Singapore and submerged ourselves in the rustic charms of Siem Reap. Siem Reap, and the neighborhood surrounding Angkor Wat, moved slow and relaxed. It felt like a lazy dream. We went to Angkor Wat carrying with us Lonely Planet and our guts hungry for experience.

The city greeted us with a swarm of tuktok and an organized tuktuk drivers’ council (our driver explained to us that the numbers on their vest is matched to their tourists, so if anything happened to the tourists, the driver will be the first to blame). It is best to map out to your tuktuk driver your entire agenda, and negotiate the rate he will charge you from there. Our goal was to visit the temples in the city and a couple of areas from two separate provinces, so we settled to hire him for 3 days at the total rate of USD 70.

Our prime agenda for the visit was temple hopping. I suggest that you go through the smaller but older temples first so you can get a feel of the starting point of a trajectory that will climax in Angkor Wat.

I had three favorite destinations. First is Angkor Wat, which is a shoe in favorite. The temple, representing the highest point of their ancient culture, was built much earlier than the founding of the British empire. It is fascinating to realize that so much time and labor went into these columns, each one designed more intricately than the last.

My second recommendation is Ta Prohm, the landmark temple that is embraced by the gigantic roots of the fig tree. This is also the shooting location of Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider segment on Cambodia. The sight of it proved that nature trumps human architechture anytime.

Banteay Srei is another must see. We crossed a province to see this jewel in the crown of Angkorian art.

Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women.’ It was reportedly made by women because the elaborate and intricate carvings were too fine to be designed by men. (This is why microchips are assembled by women – they are the likely sex that will pay more attention to detail)

ceramic carvings

Banteay Srei - small but infinitely more beautiful

We ventured to another province to take a look at Tonle Sap. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, but what is more amazing is how life is lived in the fishing village within the lake. I could not imagine how they managed doing their business in their boat, much more an entire settlement co-existing on that body of water. You have to believe it before you can see it!

One dollar kids from Ton Le Sap

Amok is a popular Cambodian cuisine, sort of like curry, but a lighter taste. Both are coconut based. A basket of amok mix

Some colorfun fans from the market

What I enjoyed the most is the food adventures we had in the city. When in Cambodia, eat as Khmers do, so we picked the creative sounding titles on the menu. Old Market has a line of charming restaurants that catered to all foreign and local palates. We chose dishes that included snake meat and crocodile meat. We went as far as to try the local street food delicacy - crickets! The cricket, though, was sumerged in oil so I could not taste anything distinctive about it. My best recommendation to make your cultural experience a blast is to eat Happy Pizza. Google it, and try it with a sane person watching out for you.

Happy Pizza =) (= =) (=

Beef, Chicken, Squid, SNAKE, CROCODILE

Chicken Amok (their version of coconut and spice)

Pumpkin and coconut soup

Shrimp Amok

Longganisa look-a-like and snake!

Banana with Ginger, Honey with Anise

Desserts at Lonely Planet's recommendation

Beef in oyster sauce - back to normal food

CRICKET!! Seriously!

Cambodia is full of surprising finds. The most significant that we had was a LARGE pile of elephant dung that yielded fresh leaves. Excrement is truly the best fertilizer.

Happy Pizza
Preah Sisowarth Blvd. 345
(Near Old Market)
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Blue Pumpkin
Near Old Market
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 63 963 574

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