Sunday, May 9, 2010

Even More Siem Reap

OK, time to finish up my posts about my recent trip to Siem Reap.  On our third and final day there, we woke up super early to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be cloudy that day, so no sunrise.  The upside to this was that it was much cooler, which in my opinion was an OK trade!  We decided to head out to a temple called Banteay Srei, which was about 30 km away from the main temples.  On our way, we stopped at the Pre Rup temple.  Pre Rup means "turning the body", which probably references a traditional cremation method. Thus, it is believed that Pre Rup was used for cremations and funerals.  Here's a view from the top:

After that, we continued on our way to Banteay Srei, which is one of the most beautiful temples in the entire complex.  The temple is built out of pink sandstone, and features many intricate carvings.  Banteay Srei means "Citadel of Women", and some people speculate that the incredibly detailed carvings were done by women. 

There were lots of monkey and lion statues, who were supposed to be the guardians of the temple.  They looked fake and I later read that there were replicas, and that the real ones were in a museum somewhere.
On our way back from Banteay Srei, we stopped at a museum about landmines.  The museum was built by a local man who has worked as a de-miner for many years.  He started the museum to educate visitors about landmines in Cambodia, since Cambodia has one of the highest concentrations of unexploded ordinances, which are left over from the civil war years.  Many of them are still active today, and the founder of the museum also runs a school for children that have been crippled by the landmines.  I found the museum to be super interesting, because it exhibited many different kinds of landmines and explained how they work and how to defuse them.  Here are just a few of the many landmines that the founder has disabled over the years:

On our way back into town, we visited several other smaller temples.  One of these was Eastern Mebon, which was originally built on an island in the middle of a baray, or reservoir.  These barays were huge - around 8 km on a side!  This temple was interesting because it originally had plaster facades attached to many of the walls.  Of course, these are all gone today, but you can still see the holes that were used to attach the plaster.
Another interesting one was the Neak Pean, which was also originally built on an island.  This temple had a central shrine surrounded by a pond.  The temple also featured fountains in the shapes of elephant, horse, lion and human heads.  These fountains were supposed to spout holy water that could cure pilgrims of their ills.  Here's the central shrine, which depicts two naga serpents from Hindu and Buddhist mythologies.

The final temple we visited was called Preah Khan, which means "sacred sword".  Like Ta Prohm temple, Preah Khan is held together by trees growing inside the temple.  I especially though that this decapitated Buddha was a neat example of the power of the jungle:

After a refreshing dip in our hotel's pool, we ate some great tacos at a Mexican restaurant.  Normally, I'm pretty dubious of Mexican restaurants in Asia and prefer to avoid them so that I'm not disappointed, but I had heard lots of great reviews of this one from fellow travelers, so we decided to take a chance.  It was actually pretty good!  Not Antojitos Mexicanos, which is going to be my first stop when I get home to Yakima in a month(!), but not utterly disappointing either.  After dinner, we went to an interesting show at a children's hospital in Siem Reap.  Every Saturday night, the doctor in charge of the hospital, who is Austrian, plays classical music on his cello and talks about his hospital in hopes of bringing in donations.  The music was very nice and I thought it was interesting to hear how he runs the hospital so that all care can be provided for free. 

Finally, one last picture, of a packet of banana chips that I bought at the local grocery store:
Future food! 

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