Cambodia- My Revisit
This is the story of my visit to Siem Riep - ancient capital of this beautiful but full of tragic country. The original is in Vietnamese.
Some days before March 5th, 2010 Mr. Ha was assigned to contact to a travel agency to organize the trip to Angkor Wat that Mr. Hai proposed to be the destination for the trip as agreed in the last meeting of the company Board of Management.
Really this is a place that many want to visit but still have not a chance to go. Mr. Ha actively contacted Viet Travel, a tourist service company at their Can Tho Branch. A rough plan of 3 night 4 days was mapped up at a suitable time for us to attend. When this was reported to Mr. Hai that this time would be March 5 to 8, he (Mr. Hai) promptly said that the time is best choice for such a trip!
Based on this trip plan I looked on Google Map a place named Prey Veng where we would have our first lunch on Cambodia soil, I could not find out such a place on the Road No. 2 that connect Tinh Bien of Viet Nam to Phnom Penh (later on I know that the place was mistaten named by the man who prepared the plan-probably he had took the plan for Tay Ninh- Phnom Penh- Siem Riep and revised to suit for our trip but with some mistakes such as this Prey Venh. Really, we had our lunch in Phnum Penh, not Prey Veng. And in the rough plan I found some other errors, such as when leave Cambodia to turn back to VN it mentioned that the group would leave Singapore for VN(!) by car/air plane (!) (we use car only for all our trip). That's the work of VietTravel, and we do not mind much on these details. What we pay attention is that with a total members of about 14 persons, each would pay about VND 5 million for the trip.
To get the number of participants as just said, Mr. Ha had to persuade many to take part, including Ms Mai Loc, a person known for her carsick, and Mrs Thuong, a retired staff just left the company in 2009. Mrs Thuong accompanied Mai Long with one important obligation to her: to take care of her (Mai Loc) health just in case Mai Loc would be poorly affected with her carsick.
After several contacts and arrangement with VietTravel Cantho on time, total members to take part etc, VietTravel prepared the last schedule for the trip: the group would consist of 12 (or 13) member, in which Mr. Ha, Mr Hai and I will go with our wives, other members bring no one: Mr. Ky, Mr. Thanh, (HCMC) Mr. Phuoc Hai (HCMC), Mr. Nhan, Mr. Tam, Ms Mai Loc and Mrs Thuong. The 13 person is Mr. Tam, will be decided at the last time because he would get his passport on the last day before the trip (Mar 4, 2010). Luckily he got his passport on time, and be the last member of our group.
A quarter to 1 AM of March 5th, 2010 we got on the 15 seat Toyota (Mr Quang as driver) started from 16 Phan Dinh PHung, Ca Mau. Next we went to take Mr. Hai at his house, then headed to Can Tho. At Bac Lieu, we stopped to take Mr. Tam and Mr. Nhan who were waiting for us at Bac Lieu Public Car Station.
During the night the trafic was so light so we could have a relative good speed. Some small sound was heard and it was clearly Mai Long was vomitting. Mrs Thuong did her work so skillfully that hardly any one elso knew that she was vomitting...
When we arrived at Can Tho, Mr. Thanh and Phuoc Hai Anh had been there already. I saw Mr. Duong Minh Tri there too. He got up early to be there just to see us starting our trip. Seeing me with a notebook in my hand he joked by asking me if I intended to write a story on Angkor Wat. While we were busily bringing our luggage to VietTravel car, Mai Loc was sitting tiredly, her face looked so pale like a sick person. I wondered if she could complete the 700 km trip by car to Siem Riep this time.
Just when the car starting the tourist guide called Ti, about 25, introduced shortly about himself, the schedule of our trip. He asked every bodies to show him the passports sothat he could check to be sure that every things were OK. He gave a declaration form for us to fill in so that when we crossed the border we had to show them to the customs and other checks there before we could go to Cambodia. He also presented some gifts from VietTravel to us as their customers: a cover for passport for each person, a tourist bag....
The car moved on in the silent night, but the noise caused by Mai Loc wih her continuous vomitting was not so, although she and Mrs Thuong tried to manage to reduce to maximum this sound. Mai Loc had asked to drop her so that she could go back, but every body tried to persuade her to continue. The reason was that if she leaved no one could accompany to take care for her. A rare silence one could feel then, but no one said out the trouble could happen by her sickness. At 10 to 8 AM we arrived at Ben Da Restaurant in Chau Doc and had our breadfast there. Ben Da is very near Tinh Bien Customs Port of entry, near Sam Mount and the Religious Site of Mieu Ba Chua Xu and Tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau who was in charge of Vinh Te Canal digging in 19 century.
|Ben Da Restaurant||Mr. P Hai & Mr. Thanh|
|Ben Da Restaurant in Google Map|
After breakfast we continued our trip heading to Tinh Bien. Not so long after we arrived the last kilometer of the road on Viet Nam at 9:10AM. We all got down the car to finish the immigration check before getting on the new car from the VietTravel's Cambodian tourist partner, CN International. This one would take us for all our trip in Cambodia.
Between the customs, health... check posts of VN and Cambodia we had some hunder meters of road to walk. Evey body had to bring his/her luggage from our VN car to put on the new car on Cambodia side, finishing the checking before getting on the car. I saw some posters asking for not to commit child abuse in Khmer and English, and in English the words are, “If you witness a child abuse please call 24 hour police hotline national wide 023 997 919. Siem Riep..”. Another poster: “Please respect our children: A children is any one uner 18 years old. do not hurt or sexually exploit our children. These are crimes in Cambodia.” Under these words I see the word JICA and some other logos, may be these poster were financially supported by these social or governmental agencies from Japan or some other countries. Later I found many such posters inother places, usually in site with many foreign visitors. I personally had seen some movies on girls being sold to be prostitutes and many of them are so young. Tourism brings Cambodia much profits but on the dark side, it causes many sexual exploits committed by foreign visitors to this poor country children and women.
|Change the car||A huge motor bike "truck"||Houses on posts||Do not hurt children!|
|Tinh Bien Customs|
The road is build so high above the rice field level to show that the water level during the rainy season is so high. The Cambodian houses built on the posts in a scene perculiar to Khmer people, that you can find every where in this country. Not because the land is low and is covered by water during the rainy season, but rather this is a tendency, because you can see these houses on the hill sides too. This I knew a long time ago when I had served in VN army in 3 years in this country (1979-1982).
The guide for our trip in Cambodia is Mr. Khen, of Chinese origin, but couldspeak fluently Khmer, Chinese, Vietnamese and English. He is young, knowledgeable and skill in speaking. He introduced precisely some basic data on this county, population, roads, ets..The way from Tinh Bien to Phnum Penh is about 135 kilometers and we had to pass only Takeo Province. This is a province with small population, vast rice fields. However, it is dry season when we passed these areas so all seemed dried up. Cars and trucks on the road is so few, but now and then you could see a commuter with so many passengers packed full inside and outside of the car (on the top of the car, to be corrent!). Khen explained that legal enforcement is not so strict here, so the car owners can take as many passengers as he can. If he was asked by police, just gave him some money, then continue the trip! As any one can see passengers are really in danger of being drop on the road if the car had to stop suddenly, and deadth is nearly unavoidable..
|Takeo rice field||Man Han Lou Restaurant|
We entered Phnum Penh at about 13:10 PM. Khen told us that we would stop soon for lunch in a Chinese restaurant called Man Han Lou (that i tonized it to Mãn Hán Lầu for easy to call for us Vietnamese). Man Han Lou is on Sisovong Avenue, a well looking restaurant. The restaurant serves Chinese and Western foods, but mainly Chinese that tofu and eggs usually a part of these dishes. We had a good meal, but our special member, Ms Loc seemed at her last strength of her life and could not drink nor eat. She was helped to take a rest at a bench in the restaurant, and they ordered rice soups, cold tea with sugar etc. for her to use. She insisted that we definitely let her stay at Phnum Penh because she knew that she could not go to Siem Riep. In such a weak voice that we thought she was going to die soon. How to the tourist guide in charge of the whole group to take care of her? If she should stay in Phnum Penh, how could he take care of her while he had to take care for the rest of us? Or he had to assign a members of VietTravel of another group to stay here to take care for her? Such a big problem was finally solved by change Mai Loc to a bigger car also under VietTravel hoping she could feel better in that car, then we finally continued on. So from Phnum Penh to Seim Riep Mai Loc was separated from our group. By the way it is noted that Man Han Lou is the first restaurant in Phnom Penh where home grown beer of Western style is served with 3 colors and has been introduced recently to the public (in Sai Gon you can have this kind of beer in many places, but in Phnum Penh this is the only one you can taste it)
We again resumed our trip. When crossing a bridge over Tonle Sap River, Khen introduced that it is names the Japanese-Cambodian Friendship Bridge. This once was collapsed in the middle spans during the war and has been repaired by Japan Government, so the it has the name. On Ok Omboc Festival, hundred of thousands of Cambodians from all provinces in the country gathered here to watch the boat racing event, and the winner will be greeted by the King with gifts. On such time the bridge is usually jammed with people. When passing a new area with many new home construction works, Khen said it's the property of a Mr. Sau Co, a send richest person in Cambodia now. He is the owner of the biggest gasoline stations in Cambodia under the name Sokimex. He the one who supply freely gasoline for government cars on the condition that he can get license to import freely gasoline to distribute to the whole country (who knows if this is correct or only a joke by Mr. Khen!). If all stories about this man are correct, Sau Co is really a very powerful and rich man here (gas system, real estate, and other services such as helicopter renting, etc.. He is only after another power man, the present Prime Minister of Cambodia, Mr. Hun Sen!
When we are some where in the Kompong Cham Province, we had a stop for a short rest in Skul at 15:15PM. One could see interesting things here: many local Khmer were selling cooked insects as human foods here. Surely there were visitors who would buy these to try, resulting in lot of insects were sold here. A Khmer child came to me to ask me to buy some live insect, but I just said No, No. When we resumed our trip, Khen said that in that place one could buy a very special item of this local, that is wine with spiders as medicine for many diseases. Many tourists had tried this and they appraised, and looked for chance to buy it again. "If the husband used it, the wife would praise her husband for his strength, and if she herself used it, the neighbor would praise her!", Khen said.
|A a stop on the road||Sugar palm water|
All through the road the scenes along it are rural rice fields dotted with here and there villager homes. Vast rice fields had dried up in the dry season, only the sugar palm were still have their green leaves. Khen said this province was the home village of one of the famous Khmer leader, Mr. Hun Sen. When we were in Kompong Thom area, Khen said this is also the home village of another notorious man, Mr. Pol Pot. But when he was staying here, his name was Sloth Sor. When grown up, he went to Phnum Penh for further studying, then he got some scholarship to study overseas in French where he actively joint many political activities, and later change his name to Pol Pot. When he was the Khmer Rouge leader, he applied his political theory and put Cambodia in the darkest genocide in 20th century history with million of people deaths. In Stung Leng, only dozen lived after the regime collapsed. One woman left only among this, and the reason was she is of the same home village with Pol Pot..
On the way Khen explained one culture aspect of Khmer people: for unmarried women, their houses's windows usually hang a curtain in red color. Then village unmarried men know where to look for their persons! Althought I had lived here in Cambodia for nearly 4 years but I did not know this. Khen also explained that this custom is similar to Thai's, but instead of using the curtains, they put a water tub in front of their house so that villagers who walked by can drink. "But mind you", Khen said, "if you are looking for a red curtain house, please select the new one, or you will see an old woman!"."
Khen introduced us a very common article in Khmer daily life: the croma scarf . It was so closed to their daily working and playing time, and used in many purpose, from covering their heads, wrap around their necks, wrapping things to carry... Khen guided us how to cover our heads with croma exactly in Khmer style. We all followed him to put it on our heads, then all laughed noisily to see that we all now looked like Khmer people!.
As told at the beginning when we met Khen, that we started our trip in the night, and would arrive our destination when night would come. That's true: after the night came we were some where near Siam Riep town. As schedule, we would have our dinner before checking in the hotel. At time time an informaiton from the other car same to us through Tin: Mai Loc now definitely asked to put her out of the car for a rest because "if the car going on, I would die. I know that my blood pressure would drop and this could kill me". They asked if there was a doctor in the car to say something to her (my wife is a doctor), but my wife took the mobile phone in hesitation, and gave some ideas such as tried to have Mai Loc drink some tea with sugar, or milk, because she was too weak after a day without any food, while lost lot of water. " I asked my wife what the poorest result could be in such situation. "Death due to loss of blood pressure!". How I can think about this before our trip?
However we were very near our destination place so the best solution was to encourage Mai Loc to continue for some more until we arrive the hotel, and this was exactly what we could do in such situation. Our car finally had to stop to wait for Mai Loc on the other car so that she could joint us to have dinner and hotel, because the other car had their own schedule. It's 7 o'clock then. In the twilight of the night, I found that Siem Riep Town was not so bright with street lights, due to the shortage of electric power.
At last Mai Loc car came, and they helped her to change the car. We continued on some time and arrived at the restaurant at 8.00PM. The restaurant with Chinese and national foods, served two peculiar Cambodian disks: prohok and steamed fished in coconut. I had my seat in the same table with Mai Loc, and found that at last she could use some soup and boil rice. Until then I was sure that Mai Loc was in Siam Riep, after a trip of more than 700 kilometers..
Finishing our dinner, we checked our hotel after a nearly 20 long hours trip on the car. The hotel was said a 4 star one, and its name was Angkor Holiday Hotel. It situates on the street corner: one the side is Street No. 2, and in front is Sivatha Street. Large and convinent room, in the 4 stories there was an balcon and in the night we could sit there outside of the room. Next to my room a couple of foreign visitors stay, I saw them sitting outside on the balcon late in the night to smoke and talking..
|Angkor Holiday Hotel|
|Angkor Holiday Hotel||Sivatha Street|
March 6, 2010: Angkor Wat and Bayon
Perhaps too tired after a day of travelling on the car, and also saved our energy for the next day walking as scheduled we all had a good sleep. But as usual I got up early the next morning at 4 :30AM (which I set my phone to alarm exactly at 4:30 and could not sleep in case I did not get up at that time for morning excercise in my weekdays). I washed and put on chlothings and watched the morning TV to 5:30AM. The telophone alarmed as asked by the tour guide so that we could get our breakfast at 6AM then start for the day visit destinations which were Angkor Wat and Bayon. After this we would get our lunch then would have our noon break to avoid not noon heat, then continue to visit to other places at 15:30PM..
When finishing our breakfast we went to the reception room on the grough floor to get on the CN International's car. I said hellow to the driver in Khmer, "Sốc sà bai tê សុខសបាយទេ, and he laughed heartily to hear a few sentences of his language.
We entered the Angkor Wat from East gate, and climbed to the upper part of the temple. I walked around to looked at the complex tructure of the temple then got down at the left stair for the leaving visitors. Then we turned left on the ground of the temple to leave at the west gate where the car waiting for us there. On this way Khen showed us necessary things to looked at, the steep stairs, the broken Buddihst statue and beautiful Apsara dancers with her breasts so smooth due to visitors touching them so many times (now this is not allowed any more). You just imagined how talent the 12 century Khmer craftmen to perform all these tasks!
Angkor Wat អង្គរវត្ត is considered a construction that is relatively in good condition of the Angkor group of temples in Siem Riep. It was built by King Suryavarman II at the early of 12 Century. Around the temple is the moat of 190 meters wide. Next to the moat you can see a lot of big trees and lot of monkeys to walk around on the ground, perhaps waiting for foods thrown to them by the visitors. Then you see a sandstone wall circling the temple, this wall is 1025 meters by 800 meters. And in general you have up to one square kilometer of bas reliefs and scultures and works to view!
Angkor Wat plan
|This is the satellite picture of Angkor Wat. You can see the moat around the templem, then the sanstone wall and the main temple.|
Khen reminded us the purpose of these temple is religious, not serve as palace for the Khmer kings. And if you tried to ask why they, the Kings, had put all resources to build such huge temple, you would be answered with varous theoretical possible reasons, and the best one would be for religious purpose or serve for the death time of them. The Royal palaces were however all collapsed because they were built with wood and decayed all. Even their books that were described that there were in large number were all disappeared, because they were made of sugar palm leaves. There are only three sources for you to study this old civilisation, and they are these remnants with some more 1200 inscriptions carefully studied and classified by French researchers, the works of Chinese ambassadors when they visited these places. A powerful empire like this had disappeared in a strangest way that no one know why. When the French scientists did their research here, they wondered why these temples were ignored for centuries in the jungles with nobody around!
We are only but visitors, not researchers, so we just looked at those Khen advised us to look. Besides the skillfull engraved works in the sandstone wall, pillars, statues, the construction itself was of highest achievement of old Khmer engineers in setting up the building, their symmetry and beauty are so great. I myself and other visitors climbed up the central construction and take a walk around this to see this building. A wooden ladders is set up for visitors to climb up easier than using the stone steep steps (really it is not allowed to climb up this way). There you can see the skillful works carved in the stone wall or pillars, looked as if it had been done recently on the piled up sand blocks. Khen told us that these stone blocks were taken in Phnum Kulen some 40 kilometers or more from here. How did the workers brought these blocks? They had dig a canal from there to carry these blocks to build these temples. and used boats to carry these blocks (however, in a recent book I read that this seemed unreasonably reply when they tried to repeat this hard work). Only one thing is surely right: thousands and thousands of slaves and workers toiled up to set up these temples, huge national resourced were used up, and finally the empire was collapsed and Khmer people were in their darkest time for centuries. How many people died due to these works out of some millions of population? May be hundreds of thousand, but this is only an estimation.
|Steps leading up||Leading up||Complex details||Stairs to ascend up|
|Complex construction||Skilfully carved details||Snake tail symmetry||With a foreigner|
It is noted that here in Angkor Wat a stone block of 8 metric tons was found: it is the 2nd largest block found in these constructions! (The biggest is 10 metric ton block found in Preak Vihar temple). Imagine that nearly one thousand years ago, labors and slave with no machinery, truck, had moved these block from Kulen Mount some 40 kilometers from here to build these temples!
Khmer people are proud of these proofs of their past civilization. The Angkor Wat symbol is put in the national flag. and at the peak of its glorious time, Khmer Empire had a boundaries so far reaching Champa, Lao, part of Thailand and Malay peninsula!
When we got out from this temple and right at the outside of the West gate, Khen showed us the stem part of the sugar palm leaf with the side like a saw blade. It is listed in Khmer Rough documents that this could be used to kill the people. I touched the stem, and realized that this is quite true, you can kill a person with this type of weapon. Near the trunk of another sugar palm tree a Westerner lady is lying on the ground for a rest. Mr Phuoc Hai said he'd like to take a picture with her to me, and I translated what he just said. She smiled and said OK, so Mr. Hai and Phuoc Hai each had a picture with her, and you can see here one.
Outside of the temple East Gate where our car was ready there, I saw a pillar with the word UNESCO World Heritage 1992, and I stood there and asked my friend to take a picture.
|Killing weapon||World Heritage|
When we finished our visit to the temple, we continued on to Bayon Temple. Surely you had seen stone Buddhist faces of Angkor some where, and it's here at Bayon Temple that hundred such faces can be seen. (it is said that there are total stone 200 faces at this temple).
|The temple on Google Map|
Bayon was built at the end of 12th and early of 13th century under King Jayavarman VII, and is a Buddhist temple. The one now we can visit actually for a long time had been covered totally under huge trees, and French scientists and explorers had cleared it so that it can be visited. Mostly important ones are Mr. H. Dufour and Ch. Carpeaux (in 1901 - 1902 – 1904, researching), Commaille (clearing the wild trees on or around the construction from 1911 to 1913), G. Trouvé in 1933 (consolidated the main tower), M. Glaize (study the four face towers and the main tower from 1939 to 1946).
A Chinese delegation visited this country in 13rd century, when Angkor era just at its initial degradation, had described these beautiful and glorious buildings like this "the tower becomes the center of this kingdom, circled by 20 towers with at lest hundred of stone rooms", Tcheou Ta-Kouan.
But the temple had not been built on a vast space like Angkor Wat, in fact Bayon is desribed by Maurice Glaize in his guide published in 1944, 4th ed., in the English translation as [the temple is] enclosed withinthe rectangle of 140 metres by 160 that constitutes its third enclosure (the gallery of the bas-reliefs), givesthe impression of being compressed within a frame which is too tight for it. Like a cathedral built on the siteof a village church, its central mass is crammed into its second gallery, of 70 metres by 80, in a jumbledconfusion of piled blocks.’.(Angkor, p 85)/
Researchers have studied in deep the bas reliefs at this temple which vividly described the daily living activities of the ancient Khmer society, such as farmers, officers, army at war, markets. This is a valuable documents for us to study that society in the 12 and 13 and earlier centuries. These bas reliefs were all carved on the sandstone, and when comparing some of these scence and actual scene of poor rural people, there is not much difference. Examples are the oxcarts, rural houses on posters etc..
We followed the guide while he was explaining these scences. Some war scenes looked so interesting to us.
Next we got to higher part leading to the central tower, went through this to the other side of the temple where there is a good nature Buddha face that Khen said to us "if we visit Bayon without taking a picture with this Buddha, we can say that we have not visited it". I was not sure if this was the reason for most of the members of our group had one or two picture taken here. I myself had my picture taken here. Then get out of the temple, completing the visit to this Bayon Temple.
|In front of Bayon||Scene on bas reliefs||Good Buddha face||Way to Central Tower|
It was nearly noon, and the heat seemed more and more intense, and most of us felt tired. As schedule, we had a lunch break at a local restaurant name Jasmine Angkor Restaurant. That is a big restaurant but at that noon few of diners seen. It is listed as one of Siem Riep good restaurants, and Jasmine Angkor Restaurant serves you local and Asian and Chinese dishes. At night you can also watch traditional performance of Khmer people. According to this writing the price here is 12USD / person for buffet, drinks are separated charged. If you are interested in performance watching, the time is 7 PM and finish at 8 pm. The address is Taphul Khum, Siem Riep, and phone number is +855 12-615-168.
|Jasmine Angkor Restaurant|
We finished our lunch and got back to our hotel for a break to avoid the heat at noon. Some members suggested to visit the Tonle Sap lake, but some other did not like it so finally this was canceled. We would continue visiting other places from 15:30PM and destinations were Ta Prohm and Bakheng Mount. These being selected for our visit are surely not by random.
Ta Prohm and Bakheng
From the place the car stopped we had a rather lone walk following an earthen trail leading to the temple. On the two sides of this trail are dense forests, Khen said. Actually when this was found, there was nearly no trail or road leading to the temple because it was neglected from 14th century to 19 century, and during this time, forest had covered all this area, including the temple itself. Ta Prohm as described by a book, is intentionally left in this condition so that when visited it, we could imagine how wilderness the place is when it was discovered. Huge trees grow on the temples, their roots winding the contructions, and if we cut them, the temple would collapse!
Ta Prohm was also built under King Jayavarman VII in the middle of 12 century to early of 13 century. The man who cleared it is H. Marchal in 1920.
The temple was circled by two walls, the outside has a length of 1000 meters by 600 meters (or about 60 hectars). Only the west part of this wall can be seen by visitors, most of the other part was already collapsed). The inside wall circling the main temple has a length only of 100 meters by 100 meters. And if the inscription found here is correct, this had been a place for 12.460 people, consisting of 18 high rank monks, 2.740 officers, 2,332 assistants, 615 dancers....
King Jayavarman VII built this temple to serve as worship place for his mother. Khen guided us to a room, where Khen said the resting place for the King's mother. The sandstone wall room were dotted with many holes that Khen said the places for putting the germ stones such as saphire, ruby etc... If this was true, surely with some lights, the room would be illuminated like the King chamber, and we had to surprise how deep the King's love for his mother. I checked this in some other books about this but regretfully could not find any thing.
Ya Prohm Temple and proposed vistiting waling routes by Maurice.
|The Ta Prohm on Google Map. It seemed to be nearly covered with tree|
We walked to a place that was used for a scene in Tomb Raider movie (I had not seen this movies myself) and saw that many visitors take pictures there. Then we got out of this temple. The wilderness seemed remained although now hundred of visitors day by day come to visit it. On the way out, I had a closer look at the performance of some string musical instruments by people who were victims of the wars. They got permission to perform the show to get some money given by tourists. However while I was walking by I saw no one give them any money.
|Performance...||An old tree||Grow on the temple||Grow on the temple|
|King's mother place||Tomb Raider scene||Tree roots winding||Trail to/out the temple|
We continued our visit to next place, Bakheng. Two sides of the road are big trees, and monkeys were seen too often, esp. where there were visitors. They used to got foods from them so they were not afraid of getting near people, a peaceful scene one could enjoy.
When we were at the start of the trail leading to Bakheng Temple on top of a mount, we were so surprised for there were so many cars and visitors gathered here to visit Bakheng. Hundreds of cars crownded in the car lots in front of the trail to Bakheng. And so many visitors too.
Like other places, we had to pass the ticket checking then followed the winding trail rightwise up to the top of the hill. There are however four sandstone steps leading up to the temple, they are steep and are all not in use. The other trail on the left as recommended by Maurice is now used for hired elephants..
Bakheng was built to the year 900 by Yasovarman I, of Brahma religion. He enthroned in 889 in the former capital- Hariharalaya (or Roluos), a primitive capital with not so complete construction in a plain 13 kilometers east of Bakheng. Yasovarman I later moved the capital to the new one, and Bakheng is the place to build the temple to show his power.
Bakheng plan view
|Here Bakheng in Google Map|
The temples consists of 5 tiers smaller upwards. The width of the lowest tier is 76 meters, and the topmost is 47 meters. The height of the temple is 13 meters.
Khen introduced us the most interesting thing visitors usually do when they visit Bakheng is to watch the sunset on the top of this temple, an action he called it a "romantic sunset scence". I could not locate where this story orininated, but think that very probably it is from a certain guide book about these Cambodia temples. I looked in Maurice guide book and he did describe that the beautiful scene of Bakheng can be watched in the afternoon or morning, when one can enjoy a view stretching across the plain -dominated by the two other peaks that are also each crowned with a temple by Yasovarman; - Phnom Kromto the south, close to the Tonle Sap lake, and Phnom Bok to the north-east, standing out from the distantdark line of the Phnom Kulen - and then the plain of water of the western baray, the forest of Angkor Thomand the majestic composition of Angkor Wat, lying golden in the setting sun.’ Is this the reason that thousand of tourists coming here in the afternoon to watch the sunset scene? It is not likely so, for when I was there, hundred of other visitors were standing on the top of the temple, waiting to see and take a picture of this romantic sunset. This is not what Maurice described as be just read above. Some visitors with sophisticated camera, but most of them just used the amateur digital camera to take picture of the sunset scene. They were not watching the general scene, but watch the sunset! And perhaps this one is described in some other guide book, regretful that I still did not find out what the book title is. Needless to say that Khen also mentioned that this emotion depended on personal perception, some may like but some may not like, and the romantic sunset scene may becomes the chaotic scene not worth their try!. I smiled when I heard Khen said so about this Bakheng. I however was still there, waiting for a suitable time to take a lot of pictures of sunset, and finally I had one of mine of the sunset scene of Bakheng before I hurriedly got down and walking to the parking lot in front of the trail, finishing my only day of visiting Angkor Wat.
|Waiting for the sunset||Waiting for sunset||Let's take picture||My picture|
That afternoon we got our dinner in a buffet restaurant (Tonle Mekong Restaurant, No. 110, Sivatha, Phum Krous, Svay Dangkum, Siem Riep. Tel: 063 964667 / Fax: 063 965035), where there were cultural and music presentations. At least there were 5 such shows, but in that noisy place I could not enjoy any thing! The photographer who accompanied us in the whole day had our pictured developed and brought them to each of us and charged us VND 20,000 for each picture. All seemed happy to look at their pictures! Phuoc Hai said how honest man he seemed to be, and said he liked him very much! Tonle Mekong Restaurant was really good at its buffet that Khen appraised with us that we would have our super dinner here. Super because there were lot of dishes and types (Western, Chinese, Japanese..) to select, and any man can be served satisfactorily here.
When we were back to our room and had taken our wash, I asked my wife to have a walk around the city so that we would have some impressions about Siem Riep at night. She agreed and we both take a walk down (go south, to the Tonle Sap direction). Contrary to our area, the South part of Sivatha Road were full of Westerner tourists, and they walked noisily in that area. Many restaurants, massage service houses, shops from popular to high grade can be seen there. We walked to a place where I found the sign "Night Market", and asked my wife to walk through the area. So many shops and tourists were there. Especially I found that they liked fish massage so much, any many of them sitting for the fish to bite the feet. That's the first time I saw 'fish massage' although I had read many times about this. Seeing one Westerner enjoying her massage so much, I walked by and asked her, ‘How do you feel it ?’. She smiled and replied, "Oh, it’s really good, I enjoy it !" I laughed heartily with her but did not try this type of fish massage..
When got out of this night market, we continued our walk southwards to see another small road on the left and followed this one. Just some steps ahead I saw Mr. Thanh, Phuoc Hai and Nhan drinking beer on a table by road side. They called me to have beer with them, but seeing that my wife accompanied, it was not so convenient for her, so I refused at their first ask. However after some drinks with them, I stayed to the end when they called a "tuk tuk" to go back to the hotel, while I walked home with my wife. I was not sure if they were back or continued their way. Phuoc Hai was joking with the girl who sold beer there, and asked her to help him buying the nearly cake, noodle, etc... all the time, but I found that she was still smiled in help him to get these.
|Fish massage||Drinking beer|
Phnom Penh : Visit Jewelry Workshop, Royal Palace and Mount Penh
Next day at about 6AM we got down to ground floor to have our breakfast then all got on our car to go back to Phnom Penh, using the National Road 6, the one we used to go to Siem Riep.
As plan we would have two stops on the way, the first stop is at the large river name Prei Bros, with its coordinations as 12°47'19.00"N,104°48'49.00"E. We spent about 15 minutes here then continue our trip. The second stop, as already informed by Mr. Khen, was a place we already knew when we drove to Siam Riep. But being introduced about the spider wine that if husband drinks, wife praises, and if wife drinks, her neighbor praises, many members of our group asked for this wine. This one I did not know on the first time we stoped here. Khen showed a woman with a pail in one of her hand, inside I saw only grass or leaves, the other hand she hold some plascin cans. Khen said that wine could be bought from her! Then Mr. Hai asked for twenty spiders and one liter of rice wine. Quickly she put down the pail, and with her hand she caught and counted 20 spider to put all into the plastiv pan. When enough, Mr. Hai her to doubled the number, so she continued caught and put in another 20 spiders plus one more liter of wine. Then Mr. Hai with exactly numbers of spiders and wine as Mr. Hai. Mr. Tam also bought the same. Lastly Mr. Phuoc Hai asked 100 spiders, and the woman now felt a little stressed with counting, for the time was limited for her to count. I was told this place was somewhere in Skun, and its coordinations are 12° 3'6.00"N,105° 2'42.00"E.
|First stop||Wine with spider||Selling insects|
|Where spider is sold||The stop at Prey Bros|
We continued our trip to Phnom Penh, and at around 12:30 PM we entered Phnom Penh. We stopped at Fat Li Restaurant specialized in seafoods and the owner is a Malaysian. (The Naga Hotel, the biggest 5 star hotel in Phnom Penh is also invested by a Malaysian. The businessmen of Malay are good here!)
When finished our lunch we begin our visit schedule in Phnom Penh. The first destination of the Jewelry Workshop at coordinations of 11°32'57.40"N, 104°54'11.86"E. The owner happily introduced us the processing steps from getting the rubies until it becomes an jewelry article sold in the market. The everage price for a simple and small ring is about USD 200, but there are some with much higher price. I had no intention to buy any thing here, so just stood their to watch other people buying. Mr Ky and Ha had bought something in this store.
In front of the workshop I took a picture of the tuk tuk, the one that I did not have chance to take in Siem Riep. Tuk tuk seemed still popular in Cambodia while in Vietnam similar cars are banned.
Having visited the jewelry workshop, we continued out trip. When we are on the avenue along the Tonle Sap, Khen showed us the place where 4 rivers meet: one of the Mekong down from Lao, one into the Tonle Sap Lake and two to Viet nam to the sea..
We stopped in front of visitor gate of Royal Palace, and all got out of the car. Khen entered first to show them the tickets of our group (already booked and in hand of Khen), so we quickly passed the check in gate. At the end of this entry, Khen stopped us under the shade of a big tree called Sala Tree, Khen introduced us the origin and meaning of this tree. He said the Budda was born at the trunk of this tree, so the Thai and Khmer who are seriously religious, consider it a sacred tree. Really it is used for medicinal purpose by Khmer. The fruit of this tree is round and looks like a canon ball on ancient time, so the English name of the tree is Canon Ball Tree. I looked more of its origin and know that the tree is native to America. Other says that it's found many in India, Thai long time ago, so really I do not know this tree is of America or Asia origin! In Vietnamese it is called Đầu Lân tree, and can be found in some places in Sai Gon.
Next we entered the mail building of the palace, the Throne Building where the ceremony for the King enthroning is hold or where he meets guests. A single chair is put in this palace, Khen explained that that meant the current King is single. Paintings were made on the ceiling, and according to Khen, this one never faded or being filled with spider nets for hundred of years since it was built. The Khmer name of this palace is ព្រះទីនាំងទេវាវិនិច្ឆ័យ Preah Tineang Teva Vinnichayyeaah.
Khen showed us the King Palace, where the current King resides, and this is called the Khemarin. One could know if their King is present in Phnom Penh or not by looking to see if there is a national flag there or not. If one cannot see the flag, this means the King is away or abroads.
We visited the Silver Palace. (shoes should be taken off before entering this place). Inside this palace there aer many national treasures. The palace itself was paved by silver sheets (visitors can see part of it when enter). I followed the line of visitors and quickly got out for it was so hot inside this place..
Next to this building Khen showed us the building where King meets government officers; the Napoleon Building is under maintenance work. However I noticed that there are two towers that seldom visitors ask for their purpose. Khen said it's the resting places of two Kings. Before putting inside this tower, the King body was burn, and the ash was put into these towers which were made of by concret cement.
|Jewelry workshop||Sala Tree||Royal Palace||Tower|
Phnom Penh in Khmer means Mount Mrs Penh. It is said that in the old time there was a rich woman whose house was on the river bank. In a big flood, some tree logs drifted and stopped at front of her house. When taken them she found five Buddist statues inside the tree, so she asked the people to bring earth to build up a hill and on which a temple to worship was set up. The name of the temple is Vot Phnom Daun Penh, and later on simply called Vot Phnom, or Phnom Penh.
In front gate of the temple there is a large clock on the ground still in operation and I was told that it was a gift from China to Cambodia.
We got on the temple and burned some incense sticks to wish good luck. Khen reminded us that for worship in this temple, please do not wish for a partner, because Penh hersefl was not lucky in her marital life.
When we finished the day tour, we got our dinner at Soriya Restaurant at 11 34 05.03n,104 55 12.61E. Do not know what street it is on.…
|Big clock||Statue on way to temple||Worshipers is praying||Visitors to temple|
The men of the group were drinking wine while women only had foods, so they completed quickly. During these days my blood pressutre were rather high (140-150/ 90-100) so I avoided beer and wine by sitting with the women table when had my meals. While waiting for the men to finish the drinking, it was suggested that they should go shopping in a center nearby. We went as suggested but no one could by any thing. Mr. Ha saw the owner of the jewelry workshop here at a counter selling jewelry, and said hello to him.
When we got back the men still continued their drinking and we had to wait for some time. When got on the car to go to our hotel, the 5 star Naga World of Phnom Penh, where there is a casino, also a part of the tour. Tin distributed us a hotel coupon for take part in casino, but I did not interested in the game, so I passed it to Nhan, and I and my wife took a walk to the river bank. It was so hot that we could not walking much. My impression is Phnom Penh is not so well lighted due to power shortage, so the river bank although visited by many guests, not so interesting to us. Some young couples were nugging and kissing when we passed them and we felt that that place was not suitable for us to walk any more. We went back to Naga to take early rest for the trip back to VN tomorrow..
On next morning after having our breakfast in 1st floor of Naga we all gathered in front of Naga waiting for our car. Some minutes later, the car arrived, luggages were brought onto the car and we headed to VN on National Road 2. We passed Phnom Penh in early morning, passed the new Monivong Bridge (that the Vietnamese there call Sai Gon Bridge) completed in 2009. The bridge was crownded with cars, trucks, bicycles.. I saw an new walkers bridge being built over it to lessen it traffics on the main bridge.
The road from Phnom Penh to Viet Nam is not so long, just about 130 kilometers and quickly we got near the border with VN. Khen announced that we were approaching the customs posts. We all thought that this would be quickly done, but on the Vietnam side, the young customs officer asked every of us to open our bags, luggages so that he could have a look at it(!). All our used clothings were packed into these bags, so what the real purpose of this officer was I could not know. Perhaps he wanted us to know his power(?). Such a ridiculous action I have never experienced when I traveled to other countries.
When on the way to Chau Doc Mr Hai asked us if we would like to stop to visit Mieu Ba. Most of us agreed, so we all got down to visit the temple at around 11:20 AM. I and my wife burn some incense sticks and made some praying, then quickly got out to ask the motorbike rider to bring us to that restaurant for our lunch as scheduled.
The half used bottle of wine was opened again and we had one or two cups at this restaurant. We tried the Chau Doc raw fermented fish (mắm sống) with this strong wine, then finished our lunch at about 12:30 PM. Then the car drove us to Can Tho, where our car was also available there to pick us back to Ca Mau. Mai Loc had been well through the trip from Phnom Penh to Can Tho, but only some time after getting on the car driven by Mr. Quang, she again vomitted.
At Bac Lieu we stopped for the light dinner (beef with noodle) and continued back to Ca Mau at about 8 PM.
So the trip completed. A meaningful trip to me that I've ever taken. My first experience with Cambodia was my military service in the border war with Khmer Rouge. At that time I was at my third year in my university, suddenly I was called to join the army toghther with 116 other students in Can Tho University on Oct 28, 1978. I had been trained some months in Dong Tam, then sent to Can Tho some months before lastly sent to Sre Ampil, then Veal Renh. My last place was Komponspeu. The Cambodian people then just like a sick man getting up after his serious illness. They were hungry, in serious short of every basic things and many of them ended with a death from disease or hungry, resulted from a long time sufferings under genocide regime of Khmer Rouge. When I was in Veal Renh I used to see orphan children, first were raised in the village office, and later in the orphan house. I still remembered some of them such as a* Dol, a Thought, a Khol... (Khol latter was received by a relative of her so she left the orphan house first). On the day I left Veal Renh to move to Komponspeu, a Dol said to me naively, ‘Chos thngay na sway tum, pu De mok hop na ចុះកាលណាស្វាយទុំពូដេមកហូបណា។.….’ (Oh when the mango fruit getting ripe again please come back to eat, Uncle De…)
It seemed that the story had just happened some time ago, but in fact nearly 30 years passed since that day of mine in Campuchia !
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* The a (pronouced as a in are) put right before the name of a child denotes a sense of closer, friendlier meaning to the speaker.