During our stay in Siem Reap, we traveled to visit some of the famous temples such as Ta Prohm, Banteay Srey, South gate of Angkor Thom, Terrace of Elephants, Phimean Aksa, Terrace of Leper King, Bayon temple, and one of the world’s wonder, Angkor Wat. we learned about the reason why these temples were built. During the Angkor era, the golden age of Khmer nation, from 802 to 1431, each king who reigned, would construct a temple for his coronation to the throne. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, it was dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, and it was the capital city of the Khmer Empire. The construction started by Suryavarman II and finished by Jayavarman VII, the most famous king during the Angkor era. It is a testimony of the Khmer civilization and architecture to have the wealth and the unique technology to construct such an enormous structure. Each stone weighs 1.5 tons, and was placed on top of each other. There were 9 towers in total, however, four of them had collapsed from years of abandoned after the successor kings to Jayavarman VII moved the capital to Phnom Penh area due to Siamese invasions, failure of irrigation system, and widespread of diseases. One unique technique that was being used in constructing the foundation is the sand beneath it to make it all stable, they dig up a moat around the structure as big as a river. The most fascinating thing about the temple is the carving on the stones. On each side of the wall lies a story that carve into the stones and the stories are a major part of informing historians and the people of Cambodia of the rich cultural heritage of the Khmer people. The Angkor Wat was converted to a Buddhist temple in the late 12th century after the reigning king became a Buddhist. Statues of Buddha were placed inside the structure, but most of them were destroyed when the next king decided to change the state religion back to Hinduism. Its rediscover during the French colonization gave rise to the Khmernization and the beginning of Cambodia as a country that quickly wanted to become independence from France and self-governing their own future. Angkor Wat is the most prestigious structure that give every Cambodian a great sense of national pride and prove to the world that they are the descendants of such great builders, craftsmen, and architects, descendants of those whose created one of the greatest civilizations that the world have ever known and constructed one of the most uniquest structures that the world have ever seen. One of the disappointment moments I had is the vandalism inside the structure, as some people had carved their names onto some of the pillars. Please do not touch or make any actions that would destroy or damage the temple or any other ancient monuments around the world. Let help to preserve them for the next generations to see what the ancient civilizations were capable to do with just stones, ropes, and sticks.
On our last day, we drove out to take a boat ride at Tonle Sap (Freshwater Lake), to visit some of the floating villages that are built completely on the water. Before we got to the lake, we made a quick stop at the Hammock restaurant/bar to get some more delicious Khmer dishes for lunch. the reason why it called that because there are hammocks hanging all over it for guests to sit in and rest after the meal. We rested for about an hour, then we headed out to the lake. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and it expands to three times its size during the summer. The lake is a great resource of food and income for people living on it and around the area. When the water rises up, the plants around the area become food for the fishes and when it goes back down, those fishes will become trapped which are easy picks for the fishermen. It is also a popular attraction site for tourism with hundreds of tourists wanting to see the villages floating on water, and how the villagers live in these villages. We took a medium size boat out, as we were about half-way to the lake, a few smaller boats appeared. They offered to take us to the middle of the lake where the villages are at a price of 2 dollars per person since the water was too shallow and the boat we were on may get struck. Seeing a boat got struck, not even 5 minutes earlier, we agreed and we thought it would be a fun experience. As we arrived to villages, we actually saw restaurants, schools, even a church, all floating above the water, and we saw where they raised crocodiles and catfishes, so we found out where our crocodile meats come from. We went to the top of the floating restaurant, this was when we began to realize that big boats were coming into the villages, even boats that were bigger than ours. We knew we were tricked but we also realized that this was probably one of their ways to make some money to afford themselves till the raining season finally kick in in the country. We had a fun ride on the smaller boats too, with the wind blowing and the water flashing on our face.
All aboard! Let’s take to a journey across the fresh water lake where the sky is breezy, and the boats are sailing. Our last day of Siem Reap, we were taking a trip to the floating village at the big lake of Siem Reap call Tonle Sap. Tonle Sap is a habitat village located in the middle of the big lake where there is floating schools, floating restaurants, floating houses, etc. This village has people on motor boats to go places to places while tourist ferries come across to the floating village to check out some wonderful views and the lifestyle of its atmosphere. The moment we arrived to the dock, I was the last person to get into the ferries. I winded up to the far end of the seat where the loud engine is at. While the engine was on, I was getting splash of water by the motor of the engine. This was no fun, until my tour guide suggested me that I should sit at the very front of the ferries. I’m like heck yes! I was standing at the peak of the ferries as if I was tip-toeing my feet like Rosie from the Titanic movie. The breeze was nice, and I was able to take some awesome photos from my DLSR camera. According to the tour guide, we came into the wrong time to explore Tonle Sap, because the river and the lake are somewhat shallow. There is no rainy season in June, and I believe it begins on July or August. From my viewpoint, the scenery looks kind of drought and dried, but it still have enough water for us to set sail. The ferries was slowing down a bit when were almost to the floating village. Next thing you know, they were two men in each of the three motorboats immediately rushed to our ferries and grabbed the side of the ferries. They were holding tight on the ferries and didn’t want to let go. The tour guide was confused and doesn’t know what’s going on. The tour guide asked the men from the motorboats in what’s going on. Based on their respond they said, you have to take our small motorboats if you want to go to the floating village. The tour guide was still confused. So he asked the captain of the ferries, and he said that this ferries cannot go any farther due to the shallowness of the river. And then he advised us to take the motorboats to the floating village instead. Dr. Chigas was very skeptical, because he saw few ferries went by to the floating villages. But since we were stuck and we don’t have any better option, we had to take the motorboats’ service. The men charged us two dollar for each person, and we had to split up into two groups. I was the first person to walk to the motorboat, and immediately, three men from separated motorboat reached out from their hand and tell me to sit down to their motorboat from left to right as if they were a bunch of hungry Tuk Tuk drivers ready to make business. We were forced to take their service and pay for their service if we want to check out the floating village. After the trip of the floating village, in the end, the tour guide was still confused and frustrated in why other ferries manage to go to the floating village without the motorboats. Once we arrived to the dock, the tour guide filed a complaint to the ferries service, because we didn’t know that we have to use the motorboats to go across the floating village. I told everyone that the hold time that we were attacked by “pirates”! If you think about it, these pirates came to our ferries and asked for our money! It’s either we gave them money to go to the floating village or head back to the dock. Overall, these pirates did give us good service in bringing up places to places in the floating village. We get to check out restaurant and a place where they store real life crocodiles for dinner. It was a great experience in having these pirates carrying out our voyage.
Everyday in Siem Reap felt like an adventure with something new and exciting to do each day. Our third day was spent at Phnom Kulen. We were able to ride elephants, get our fortunes told, and pray. Not to mention, there was a huge waterfall for swimming! Admittedly, I don’t know how to swim. A friend of mine tried to teach me how to float in the past but that was a major fail. The extent of what I can do in water is walk in it but my feet have to touch the ground, otherwise I’d be a total goner. I walked in neck deep and totally started freaking out, it was all giving me anxiety. But I managed to walk on wet and slippery rocks to get a picture with my other UML and AUPP students on huge cliffs. I wish I could say I did it all on my own but they helped swim me back to safety.
Had a meeting with the Minister of Environment and we were able to share our research. We were privileged to meet the Minister himself, and was able to talk a little about his concerns on current environmental issues.
There was a lot to witness here. We took a boat along the river and were hijacked by smaller boats, not that I minded too much. Our original boat was a bit sluggish and somehow managed to steer its way too close to shore. Anywho, we were separated into two small boats, with the most of the girls in one boat and most of the boys in the other. We were brought to an area where we could see live alligators and huge catfish. We even witnessed a little girl wearing a snake as a scarf super nonchalantly, on a separate boat that just happened to pass by. It was all so bizarre to me but definitely made for some fun memories I won’t forget. Honestly, it was all pretty darn cool.
And on an unrelated note, I tried my first cricket that day. It was crunchy. More than one was eaten. No regrets.
One of my favorite nights in Siem Reap was when there was a world music day festival held on Pub Street. During this event, they had the children that live in poverty, go up on stage and sing with the musicians. What I loved most was seeing how happy the children were just singing and dancing. Although they don’t have much in their life, they appreciated the little things like dancing on the streets.