Jamie and I just took a weekend for a relaxing get-a-away to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We stayed at a lodge called Phum Baitang that was built in line with the Cambodian landscape. We stayed in a little cabin that was set among others around some rice paddies. There was also oxen grazing around the property. They had a couple of restaurants and a cocktail lounge that was one a 100 year old Cambodian barn. It was really peaceful and serene.
Siem Reap has a relatively large population, but it is still pretty undeveloped. The entire country of Cambodia only has 6 highways, like 2 lane highways. No freeways and multi-car accommodating roads. At night it was quiet and the stars were unbelievable in the super clear sky. However, there was a critter that hung out at our cabin at night, and only at night. It made the loudest and funniest sound I have ever heard. And it sounded so close like it was in our cabin, although we knew it wasn’t. At first I thought it was a bird, but then I thought the sound was too loud and too close to be a bird. On the last night at 3:30 in the morning when this thing woke me up, I literally Googled “bird in Siem Reap that comes out at night and is loud”. I swear that is what I typed. Google knew exactly what I was asking and told me it was the Tokay Gecko. Not a bird, a gecko. Here is a link to a YouTube clip of the sound of this thing and there is a picture of it. Have a listen and come back to me…OK now do you see what I am saying?! Also, upon further investigation, this gecko can get to be about 15 inches long and changes color from gray and brown to blue and orange! Now I wish I would have gone outside to take a photo, but let’s be honest. As far as we were concerned there was a monster out there and going outside was never going to happen.
The first day there we had the lodge arrange a day of temple tours for us. We had a guide that took us around and explain brief history about the temples we went to. We went to 3, which are considered the main ones to go to, especially if you only have a short time to spend there. You could literally go to one temple a day for a month and not see all the temples there. The ones we went through were Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon temples. There is so much history here. I am going to tell you what we saw and a bit of basic information, but I highly recommend, especially if you go, doing some reading on the history of Cambodia and these temples. It is really fascinating. I wish I would have done more research not only on the history, but of Hinduism and Buddhism, before visiting. It would have really helped with what we were seeing, but we bought a book afterward and it has helped to put things into perspective.
Angkor Wat is believed to be the the largest religious complex in the world. It was built in the early 12th century and occupies a rectangle about 0.9 miles by 0.8 miles (1.5 km by 1.3 km). Around it is a a moat that is 620 ft wide. To enter the city there are 5 doorways that lead to hallways with massive wall-carvings of depictions of epic battles. They were extremely well-preserved. As you walk more inside, you go up one level and come to the temple situated in the middle of the city. There was a long queue to be able to climb to the top of that, so we opted out. Plus the stairs were STRAIGHT up, and it scared me a bit. Angkor Wat faces the west, so we got up early and went there to see the sunrise. The sun rose from behind the temple and made for a really beautiful scene and pictures.
Calling all “Tomb Raider” fans! This is where Lara Croft did her thing. Ta Prohm was built in the 12th century, however French archaeologists didn’t discover it until the late 19th century. Over the centuries, the jungle has overrun the temple with trees growing and forming root systems right in the middle of the stone. It has made restoration difficult as the tree roots destabilize the temple, but there is also a need to keep the jungle in tact. King Jayavarman VII built Ta Prohm for his mother and inside in the stone are holes where rubies and other gemstones once covered the walls. Silk-cotton trees and strangler figs can be seen throughout the temple, just seeming to engulf the whole thing. Here is the most famous and photogenic tree, apparently now called the “Tomb Raider” tree.
Bayon Temple was inside Angkor Thom which means “Great City”. Angkor Thom was built in the 12th-13th centuries and was literally a walled city spanning over 7.5 miles (12km). The city had 5 gates and a moat around it. You enter in the South Gate which is the most well preserved and is 75 ft high. As you approach the South Gate you cross a causeway flanked on either side by 54 gods and 54 demons. Bayon Temple was built in the 12th-13th centuries and once consisted of around 200 mysterious smiling stone faces carved into 50 towers. Now there are only 37 towers remaining, but it is still awesome to see and at little strange to have all those faces smiling back at you. Some believe the faces represent the Buddhist embodiment of compassion, or Buddha himself, and others think they are a representation of the king at the time, Jayavarman VII. The temple has been restored as best it can. There are still hundreds of stone blocks just cast to the side because they are unusable to try and reconstruct whatever they once were. The temple also has wall carvings all around it representing everything from the common peoples’ day to day life to going off to battle. There are 3 tiers that you can climb within the temple. I think we only went to the second and snapped this photo.
I also took a photo that our guide said is a good “tourist photo”. I think it looks silly, but here it is. Nose to nose with the smiling face.
The next day we just hung out at the lodge, laid by the pool. We had wonderful massages that included warm coconut oil dripped on our foreheads while getting our head massaged. It was wonderful, but we were really oily afterwards! My hair is super soft right now, though. In the evening we sat in the old barn (now a lounge) and listen to the frogs in the rice paddies and just chatted amongst ourselves. It was a really pleasant weekend and would highly recommend it.