03/14/2010 - 03/14/2010
This morning we started bright and early on our tours of some of the many temples of Angkor. These are huge structures built between the 9th and 13th centuries (if I'm remembering correctly) to celebrate various god-kings. The complexity of these ruins is just mind-blowing and the fact that so much has survived so many years, wars, and plundering is incredible. I asked Soluy how it is that so many ruins are still so intact and she explained that basically this is what is left, which means that all this unbelieveable architecture (literally, I wouldn't have believed this really existed, and I'm a professional archaeologist with a PhD in this stuff) is the dregs. As she put it, showing me her hand with fingers outstretched, if I was going to steal some part of her hand, I would take the thumb, then the next person would take the biggest finger and so forth; what we see around Siem Reap is just what's left: the pinky finger.
These temples are just what you see in Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider movies (actually, one of these temples does appear in one of the Tomb Raider movies; it is nicknamed "Angelina Jolie Temple"), the kind where I am always saying "yeah right!" and Dan is always asking me, "why don't you ever find something cool like that" (answer: I'm a North American archaeologist. We're doing little happy dances if we find a mostly intact projectile point). I am going to have to stop saying that now. These things really do exist, elaborate stone structures with every surface carved with people, gods, and demons, even several stories into the air and room after room of statues (almost all of these have been looted, but you can see where they used to be). I was so glad to have Soluy to explain it all to us, otherwise it just would have been too overwhelming. I really can't find words to describe all of it, so I'll let Dan attach some photos instead.
We took a break mid-day to have a much needed swim and a nap at the hotel. If you are considering a trip to Cambodia in the summer (their summer, which is apparently March to April), you must find a hotel with a swimming pool. We were so grateful for the pool at Steung Siem Reap, although it was quite salty. I assume because it was filled with the sweat of foreigners touring temples all day and then jumping into the pool.
After our break, Soluy took us for "afternoon tea" at another local food stall. I don't know the names of what we ate, but it was all delicious. My favorite was these things that we first took to be some kind of poached eggs, but in fact turned out to be rice (the part that looked like egg white) surrounding a bean paste (the "yolk"), drizzled with coconut water and crushed peanuts. There was also curry, some beef on sticks, a soup that included some gelatinous stuff Soluy told us was blood (but it didn't taste gross, so I'm wondering if I heard her wrong), and more noodly dishes. Again, so yummy and so cheap! After "tea," we were on to more temples. By this time we had talked quite a bit with Soluy about history and life in Cambodia so that Chop felt comfortable enough to ask her what her family had done during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life to stand on top of a thousand year old temple, listening to her tell us about her father's experience in a forced labor camp, while the sounds of the Macarena drifted up to us from a wedding below.