Saturday morning, we woke up at 4:45 to visit Angkor Wat. We woke up early so that we could see the sunrise. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises that I’ve ever seen! After watching the sunrise, we explored the rest of the temple and learned stories about how it was created and why there had been many pieces missing.
On our fourth day in Siem Reap, we visited the Big Buddha Wat or pagoda, to ask for blessing and wishing for good health and of course, to see the giant Buddha statue on top of the mountain. I could not believe how big it was, it has to be at least 15 ft long. I was sadden to see the back of the statue with names written all over it, these names were written before the statue was preserved. After we lit incenses and prayed for our family and friends, we continued our schedule for the day and head to Kulen Mountain. we drove through a narrow dirt road up to the mountain, on the way we passed through two giant boulders on both side of the road. It was so small that only one car could squeeze through them at a time. As we arrived on top of the mountain, we went close to stream of water flowing down, underneath the water you can see the lingam carvings onto the stones as a symbol of Shiva, one of the main Hindu Gods. The lingam was ordered to carve into the stones by Jayavarman II, liberator of Khmer nation from the Kingdom of Java and the founder of the Khmer Empire in 803 AD. Jayvarman II was kidnapped as a child to the Kingdom of Java when Javanese invaders attacked the Kingdom of Chenla. He was raised in Java and eventually escaped and returned back to his homeland. He started to united the clans under his rule and built an army that equipped with advanced weaponry and built a stronger navy than the Javanese navy. His strength in naval command gave him the victory over his enemies, and to pay respect to it, he ordered the carving to be done. The water that flows through the stream covering the lingams is considered to be holy water. Every Angkorian King used the water during his coronation as he took the crown. Jayvarman II was the founder of the Khmer empire that ruled over the mainland Southeast Asia for over 600 years. After learning the history of the beginning of Khmer empire, we made our way down to the waterfall. The view was breath-taking and scenic, from the top of the fall to the bottom is 15 meters high. We took a swim in the water underneath the waterfall. The steam, blowing off from the waterfall, keeps us cool, even it was 90 degrees at 2 PM, we could not feel any heat from the sun beaming down on us. There are also fishes in the water that eat away the dead skin on our feet, just relax, sit back and enjoy the steam and the view.
We finally had some free time on Saturday afternoon away from our fun-packed busy schedule that Sievlan and her sister, Alann had arranged for us. I decided to go visit two small schools with Sievlan to help her posting posters to spread the news on scholarship opportunities that are being offered by AUPP to high school students around the country. These two small schools are not regular schools that students are required to attend, in fact, they are not school at all but rather places for teachers to hold extra classes for their students. The students need to pay to attend these classes. On average, students need to pay 5 dollars to attend a class for a month but the price is varied depend on the teachers. Each student often take 5 classes that teach math, sciences, and others, and they have to go in order to do good in class. Teachers often withhold information on certain topics, for example, in math, the teacher do not do the exercise or not fully finished at explaining how to do it and would tell the students to come to the extra classes to get the full lesson. Students often have to go because the exercise can be on the test and they will not be able to solve it since they have not learned it yet. The main reason the teachers are doing this, it is because of low wages as teachers do not get paid enough to support themselves and their families. This is another source of income for them to get by on the daily expenses. Unfortunately if a student is unable to afford such extra classes, he or she may never do good in school or even pass the national exam at the end of their 12th grade. This practice contributes to the high rate of drop out of Cambodian students, especially in the rural areas, where most of their parents can barely support their families. Hopefully the new direction that the government is taking in reforming the education system in the country will eventually stop this practice from continuing since I believe that neither the teachers, nor the students are willing participants. This is a necessity due to financial needs of the teachers rather than a greedy interest for money from the students.
On Thursday Morning, June 18th, we arrived to the bus station at 6:45 AM to begin our journey to Siem Reap. It is a 6 hours drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, where most of the ancient temples are located. Two of AUPP students, Sievlan and Nicole, had also joined us on this trip, we arrived around 2:30 at the bus station in Siem Reap. We were greeted by our tour guide, Sopky, who was Sievlan’s brother, waiting for us with the van to take us to our hotel. On our first afternoon/night at Siem Reap, we went to 66 Route Market/Picnic place to try some exotic snacks such as fried crickets/cocoons, boiled snails, fried beetles, snakes and others insects. They also sell a variety of sweet and delicious desserts, and there are also entertainments such as darts throwing at balloons, Merry go-round and many more. Around 7 PM, we went to a restaurant called “Khmer BBQ”, where we were treated to traditional Khmer dinner and dances. There were 6 different dances such as the Blessing dance, the Coconut dance, the Fishermen dance, the Cadamon dance, the Hanuman dance and the Apsara dance. Each dance tells a different story, and my favorite dance was the Fishermen dance. The dancers were performing vividly and in rhyme, and there was also a courting scene between a fisherman and a woman who he liked. It was the perfect touch to end our first night in Siem Reap.
Oh my goodness, this is it! My very very very first time checking out one of the seven world wonder in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is the holiest ancient temple in the heart of Cambodia. It has historical contexts based on the Hinduism history and the great war of the Khmer Empire. Everyone like to explore this ancient temple like Indian – Jones style. For me particularly, I love looking at ancient pictures of the wall as if I’m reading it from a comic book. My mind was totally zoned out and I was imagining a comicbook action between the ancient soldiers versus the Hindu gods. Sometime, I worn my headphone on to listen some cinematic music while looking at the wall. It was totally epic. My entire trip in Angkor Wat, I was mesmerized of the beauty of the temple. I can’t believe my ancestors built this massive building in the ancient day. The rocks were completely heavy and the sculptures were everywhere. Sometime, there are some drawing on the wall that is left unfinished. I learned a lot from observing Angkor Wat and I’m glad that we have a tour guide to give us a history lesson about Angkor Wat. You wouldn’t believe the amazing history behind Angkor Wat.
Cambodian kickboxing is the authentic martial art that hold values to its sport and tradition. A Khmer word for kickboxing is “Pradel Serey” meaning “free fight” based on the context. This sport is absolutely brutal, because you are allow to use elbows, knees, and sheens. Unlike boxing, using your elbow to deliver a blow is like a blunt knife and using your knee and sheen is like sledge hammer. I’ve been practicing Cambodian Kickboxing for almost four years in Lowell. So far, I still haven’t been to one kickboxing gym yet in Cambodia. I thought it’s going to be very popular here since it’s their original sport. I heard very few gyms are open yet I still have a hard time finding it. One time in Kulen mountain, we went to explore the waterfall and check out the enormous Buddha temple in the village. For some reason, I have a crazy imagination in looking for the sensei of Pradel Serey in the village just like a Chinese movie. Usually, a wise sensei or fighter live up in the mountain, or near the waterfall. Also, this place is a perfect place for fighter to maintain their faith at the Buddha temple. Usually, Cambodian martial artists are faithful to the Buddha religion. I guess is just my imagination or I just watch too many kung fu movies. Unfortunately, I found no sensei in this village. This place is your everyday village in the countryside of Siem Reap. While everyone is enjoying swimming at the waterfall, I was exploring to other side of the waterfall in the unoccupied area. With my plain t-shirt, Levi jean, and my chuck sneakers, I was walking through bushes, branches, and rock just to get to the other side of the waterfall. Then I hop off from the ground and land on the boulder laying on the stream. I was standing on top of the boulder and test out the platform. It was a suitable place for me to practice my martial art. It’s not an everyday thing for martial artist to train their body outdoor near the waterfall and the stream. I was training my body like a kung fu man training their body in a Chinese film. I was doing Cambodian kickboxing, yoga, and tai chi. I was concentrating my energy by listening the flow of the waterfall. I’d been there for a good 15 minutes until a local child saw me and decide to join me with my training. I was aware of his present, but I ignore his present since I was really into my training. Next thing I know, he was duplicating my moves. We were punching together and kicking together. We were making read sound and noises while we were training. He was giggling thought out training. In the end, he was exhausted then sat down on his butt and I was giggling. Since there was language barrier between us and my khmer is still elementary, I was using sign language to communicate him better while I was speaking English. I was giving him some final lesson before I let him go. Surprisingly, he know some English. This is how it’s go:
Me: if you want to become good, (pointing my head) always learn a lot
Him: Learn a lot!
Me: when you learn a lot, (flex my biceps) you become stronger.
Me: but always remember that you always need (pounding my left chest) a good heart.
After that day, it got me questioning: what do kids do to keep themselves busy while living in Kulen mountain? When I was up to the mountain, I feel like there is barely any activities for kid. There was no soccer field, they barely have toys, no technology whatsoever, and I think I don’t even play tag or something. There’s not even a school or a club that can teach them art or music; not even a Pradel Serey gym. I feel like there is barely any activities to encourage them in learn new thing. To me, I think having activity help them to become more discipline; just like learning Pradel Serey in how my master taught me. In reality, I think the only things that kids do here are doing chores at home and help their family with farming. I can see a huge difference in being a kid in Cambodia and used to be a kid in America.
It was too early for us to wake up, and I’m still running in the American time. My roommates and I were packing clothes and all the stuff we need to survive five days at Siem Reap. We were leaving from Thursday morning thru Monday night. We were happy to have AUPP to help us organized everything for our trip to Siem Reap. They were a great help in giving us transportation to the Bus station and helping us booked tickets for our trip. My AUPP classmate Sievlan was the main coordinator of our four days trip. She had gotten everything organized for us in exploring Siem Reap. We were fortunate to have Sievlan to be our main tourist to Siem Reap since it is her native city. Once we arrived to the bus station, we there one hour early of our schedule. I was surprise of the number of tourists from all over the country. Just hearing from their foreign language, I heard one from French, Germany, Korean, and some with a British and Australian accents. So far while I’m in abroad, I only met two Americans, but majority time I encountered Europeans. They were some African-descendant and Middle-Eastern tourists also in Cambodia which I find it pretty cool to see them here. I just find it fascinating that there is a diverse of tourists take an interest in exploring Cambodia. Anyway back to the story, the bus station has a lot of things to offer. You can take a bus to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh city, and Vientiane other than the national area like Sihanoukville or Siem Reap. I believe Cambodia it’s a perfect place for tourists who want to explore some part of the Southeast-Asian region since Cambodia is the center of everything. Having the bus may sound convenient, but the only problem is that the ride is ridiculously long. A ride to Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is about six hours long! That’s like going to Boston to New York City approximately. The bus we went to was clean and somewhat spacy. They also accommodated us with snack and water during the trip. There is WiFi in the bus, but it was straight up unusuable. During the trip on the highway, the road was very narrow. It was a two way traffic freeway, but driver can pass the car in front of them. It’s so weird, because in America, majority of the highways have three lanes going one way. Also, they were lot of scooter drivers riding the freeway and often the bus intend to pass them constantly. The bus driver always honk his horn every three seconds every time there is a scooter drivers. It was obnoxious at first, but we were used to it later on. The scary part about scooter driver is that they carry their family on the scooter. I saw the mother sitting behind the scooter driver while holding her sleeping toddler onto her arm. I’d seen one son sit on front of the scooter driver and two of the son sit on the back. Sometime, I see cars carrying out their family or a pick up truck. But majority of time, I always see the whole family sat together in one small scooter. Imagine bringing your family in a small scooter for a long road trip. Perhaps this is the lower class lifestyle in having a long road trip. It could be cheaper to bring a scooter for a long road trip, but it’s very time consuming and it is extremely risky cause’ you don’t know what would happen to you once you stranded in the highway. We were granted to have two stops at the restaurants. The restaurants were built for bus passengers or tourists specifically since some of the foods are pretty expensive to eat for a Cambodian price. Out of everything during the long road trip, I couldn’t stand taking a nap while I’m at the bus. I was enjoying seeing the beautiful view in seeing the countryside of Cambodia. There were so many palm trees and cows in every area. There’s even mountain filled with trees that I can see from the distance. I enjoyed watching the view during the trip. I believed everyone should experience a long bus ride at least once to see the beauty of Cambodia. You learn a lot by just observing the view.
Tuk Tuk is your local taxi driver commonly in the urban city like Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Tuk Tuk is originated in Thailand, but Tuk Tuk in Cambodia is the most convenient driver you’ll be finding in the busiest urban city of Cambodia. For me particular, although I am 100 percent pure Cambodian descendant, a lot of Tuk Tuk driver ask me for a ride in English. Right off the bat, they know that I am a pure foreigner probably the richness of my skin color and the unusual clothing I wear. Every time we got off from the four-six hours drive from a long bus drive in a freeway, “hungry” Tuk Tuk drivers immediately lined up at the bus station and hastily asked the tourists if they want to take a ride to the Tuk Tuk. I’m the easiest target, because of my obvious look. They know I’m Cambodian – American, so it’s not easy to fool them. One time, a Tuk Tuk driver from Phnom Penh asked me if I need a ride and I replied back to him an English. I know my friends told me that if a Tuk Tuk driver talk to me in English, I should be replying back in Khmer. If I do, I would have disguise as a local and have a reasonable price like $3 dollar since they like to overcharge foreigners. This person in Phnom Penh particularly almost charge us $15 just to give us a 5 minutes ride to the apartment. I was mad cause’ they were a total scam artist. Luckily my friends speak fluent khmer and able to bargain with him in making the price 5 dollars for six people. In Siem Reap, they are swarm of Tuk Tuk drivers more than Phnom Penh. Siem Reap is known the most tourist-friendly place since majority of natives are capable in speaking foreign languages such as English, French, and Korean. Tuk Tuk drivers would run to me and asked if I need ride like every ten seconds I walk around the blocks. Usually, I denied their offer, since they are keep on coming. I think all the Tuk Tuk drivers are required to speak English in order to receive service. Tuk Tuk drivers love to be approachable in asking tourists if they need a ride. Usually, they charge in a ridiculous price just to earn extra. The price with Tuk Tuk is never stable or consistent. That’s why you’re bargain skills need to come in play. A suitable price should be 2-5 dollars depending on the destination and the amount of people. Beyond that, you should be skeptical. Regardless of the business of the Tuk Tuk driver, it’s a life time experience because you feel like you are in a wagon and you can enjoy the view while you at. Tuk Tuk drivers are usually respectful and courteous to their customers. If it’s raining outside, they feel obligated to put the tent down on the wagon to protect us. So far, I have never encounter a Tuk Tuk driver who is unfriendly. Tuk Tuk is worth the experience especially that you can watch the amazing view right to your seat.
Everyone likes a good massage! One time, my cousin from Seattle suggested me that I should get my feet wet in Cambodia, literally. He told me I should go find a fish tank at the local market in Siem Reap and dip my feet, so the fishes can “eat” it. I don’t know if he was talking about fishes or piranhas, but according to him, these fishes eat the dead cells living in your foot. He said it feels more like a massage and you are getting the benefit for your feet. I was totally up for it, because the word “massage” excites me enough. Once I arrived to the night market of Siem Reap, they were variety of local markets offering fish massage in front of the booth. I saw a foreign lady with a French or Swedish accent chilling on the fish tank like it is no tomorrow. She seemed so relaxed while a school of fishes nibbling her feet. I was excited to take the opportunity that I immediately slapped the two dollars to the owner’s hand. The moment I almost placed my feet in, those fishes look extremely hungry. I was nervous and fearful that I started with my pinky toe. One of the fish bites my toe, and I was hopping my butt off the bench. I was truly scared now. I dipped my feet one or two seconds at the time. My “good” friends with an East-Asian accent grabbed my knees and held down my leg against the bottom of the tank. Next thing I know, they were swarm of fishes nibbling my hairy ankle and feet as if it was a Chinese buffet. I know for sure, my Cambodian flesh was not in the menu, so I jumped out again and shook all crazy. My two “good” friends were laughing their butt off. My “good” friends were so generous that they recorded me while I was freaking out. Then she asked the owner to take a quick photo of me with her and her friend. I’m like “H” to the “NO”. I grabbed the side pole tight like a teddy bear, because I’m scare she might dumped me to the fish tank. After 30 seconds of “tug-of-war,” she finally dragged me to sit next to her by the fish tank and I was fidgeting my body while the owner was taking a picture of us. He told me to hold still and I told him to take the photo faster! They all laughed. It was not a cool experience, but it was fun experience overall. The two ladies said a farewell to me formally in the Cambodian bow. Now, I was alone sitting in the tank by myself and trying to man up. It took me 15 minutes to get used to it, and I was started to feel the massage. Just to let know, I am extremely ticklish, but I’m glad I manage to resist the tickles from the fishes nibble.