December 20 and 21

Of the 48 hours that make up these two days I spent 18 of them in-transit. It was the 20th that made up the unexpected bit. Or, as I call it, how to turn a 4 1/2 hour trip into 12 hours easy.

Although I thought I had made arrangements with the hotel for 'the fast boat' to Phnom Penh when I arrived at the pier only 'the slow boat' was available. It was one of those backpacker jobbies that I did a lot of in China so ok, that has its charm.
We went through some of the same sights I had seen the previous day. I know everyone is concerned about the bird flu so I've been keeping my eye out for fowl in general and noticed here in the Mekong that a few chickens and a very few ducks were in evidence.
Colorful characters though. You could see how the few that were there lived right with the people and how it is that prolonged and close proximity makes disease transmission most likely.
Everyone got to lolling around enjoying the sights...
...and then the boat broke down. We were left with one blade on the propeller. This is one of the travelers and the replacement propeller. Much better as the spare had two and a half blades.
All along the river banks for a couple of hours kids would run out to wave at the boat. It's not like they could be asking for anything either - they were just waving and calling out.
How ever many there were they would all wave and call out.
More. Then we finally got to the Cambodian border and that took a couple of hours and then we changed boats into a pretty nasty affair and no longer did children run out to wave a greeting.
And then even Later after Another several hours we changed to a really messed up bus that bounced like the proverbial e-ticket ride along the rutted roads.
A pretty typical view out the window.
More, until we finally arrived in Phnom Penh to be greeted by hordes of shouting tuk-tuk drivers demanding that they saw you first and they should be the one to drive you to your hotel which is not a good hotel because they know a better hotel for cheap and you Have to let them drive you.
The next morning I was a little cranky with Phnom Penh and was feeling like a very bad tourist. Bad tourist. I knew I should go see the renowned Genocide Museum. I should. I even headed out in that direction but I just didn't Want to go to see the Genocide Museum renowned for its power to make you feel like sh*t.

This is the National Museum that contains many original sculptures from the Angkor complex put here to protect them from looters.
Heading out to the Genocide Museum verrry slowly.
The Palace complex is also famous and doesn't make you feel too bad.
Why was this there?
In the foreground is a model of Angkor Wat.
And not only did I not go to the Genocide Museum, I didn't try the Happy Pizza. How old AM I? Oh bad bad tourist. I was even cranky with my hotel. The service stank. And the room had a huge picture of a half-naked woman like you'd see in one of those black-velvet black-light places.
I just gave up on being a good tourist and had myself a nice foot massage. Now we're talkin'.
Then I got on the Mekong Express bus. Which was all as advertised except that they played loud Khmer TV the entire time and TV in any language is just not fun.

It was one of the rice harvesting seasons.
All along the road for hours you'd see these individual houses with a rice field in back and rice drying in mats in front.

I arrived safe and sound at the hotel in Siem Reap in time to have dinner with the crowd that you will meet tomorrow.
December 22 and 23

Here is an introductory photo of me and the six people with whom I'll be spending the next few days. From the left: Ann, Jane, Julie, Max, Leslie, me, and Jim. Leslie and Julie met Jim in some work situation many years ago. Ann is Jim's wife, Max is his son, and Jane is his sister.

Ann is a Foreign Officer with the Commerce Department and Jim, Ann, and Max are living in Bangkok now. Jane is visiting from Boston.
We're up early for a full day of temple viewing in the Angkor complex. There are dozens of amazing sites including of course the Big Daddy, Angkor Wat.

I'm going to be filling in the story for the next day or two. It's a Very long story. The building occurred from around 850ad through around 1200 and you'll see how complicated it all must be - with complex social and religious symbolism, various purposes for the temples and palaces, kings and gods up the ka-zoo-ly, ...some forgotten and re-found, others continually in use, and not to overlook the generations of Tomb Raiders.
Our guide for the first day and a half and Everyone just loved this guy. His knowledge of the Angkor temples and the social and political history and culture of Cambodia is deep and wide, he is expressive and eager to share, and kind and attentive to his guests.

I've got his card if you're ever in the area.
Angkor Thom is a gigantic fortified city built around the model of the Hindu Mt Meru surrounded by the oceans. The main temple is called Bayon. All the information in quotes is from Lonely Planet's Cambodia guide.

"Unique even among its cherished contemporaries, Bayon epitomises the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia's legendary king Jayavarman VII. ...locals suggest that the Khmer empire was divided into 54 provinces at the time of Bayon’s construction, hence the all-seeing eyes of Avalokiteshvara (or Jayavarman VII) were keeping watch on the kingdom’s outlying subjects.”
Here is one of the five monumental gates of Bayon.
From behind the gate above.
Nature too.
A guy selling palm sugar fermented wine from the back of his bike which I didn't get to taste because our guide said 'no no not for you, your stomach is too weak.' I couldn't convince him to even let me touch the cup to my lips!
“Preah Palilay, a small Buddhist sanctuary in the wooded area north of the Royal Enclosure in Angkor Thom...”
A view looking down from the temple above.
A Buddhist complex of monks is settled near the Preah Palilay including living facilities and a rough temple built in the style of Cambodian homes.

The woman is receiving a purification ceremony from the monk.
Monks here are making offerings of flowers, incense, and candles for the benefit of a young very well dressed woman who has paid them to create this generously sized ceremony on her behalf, to relieve her of her recent misdeeds. I was just sitting on the floor watching and she took it upon herself to explain which was very cool.
A section of the puzzle pieces of the reconstruction of a wall.
Detail from the wall.
The king's swimming pool.
Still in Angkor Thom this is Phimean Akas, the palace of King Suryavaman I and this is the Phimeanakas, the Heavenly Palace where the king spent the first part of each night with the Naga queen.

There was an awful lot of this. Climbing those steep narrow steps waaaay up there. Be Careful! And you can give a guess as to the condition of my calves.
Another view of Phimean Akas.
You see a combination of Hindu and Buddhist religious iconography throughout most of the temples since the first king who converted to Buddhism wanted the devotees of both religions to live in peace and to be able to worship throughout the kingdom.

But it didn't really take completely and over the years one group or the other did a lot of defacing of the temple's figures.
The Terrace of Elephants served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall in Angkor Thom.
A nicely detailed Naga.
During the terror of the Khmer Rouge these were used as swords to effect executions. The stories of those years and the aftermath - it is as awful as you ever imagined.
The opening scene at Angkor Wat.
Lonely Planet’s Top Ten Kings of Angkor: Jayavarman II (802-50), Indravarman I (877-89), Yasovarman I (889-910), Jayavarman IV (928-42), Rejendravarman II (944-68), Jayavarman V (968-1001), Suryavarman I (1002-49), Udayadityavarman II (1049-65), Suryavarman II (1112-52), and Jayavarman VII (1181-219). You can easily see why it was so difficult to follow who did what when!
The orange robed monks make such a dramatic view whenever they appear. The guide would always call out for them to wait-a-minute so the group could catch a shot.
Taking a break in one of the galleries of Angkor Wat.
“Stretching around the outside of the central temple complex is an 800m-long series of intricate and astonishing bas-reliefs."
...These are storyboards for the epic events in Hindu mythology and Khmer history including: Battle of Kurukshetra, Army of Suryavarman II, Heaven and Hell (including the punishments and rewards of the 37 heavens and 32 hells), Churning of the Ocean of Milk (my favorite and I’ll include a link later), Elephant Gate, Vishnu Conquers the Demons, Krishna and the Demon King, Battle of the Gods and the Demons...
...and the Battle of Lanka (the story we heard a number of times from the Ramayana).

The story of the Ramayana also appears as a magnificent mural decorating the classic temple of Borobudur in Java/Indonesia. The religion in most of SE Asia is called Indianized since they took so much from first Hinduism and then Buddhism from India while still integrating into these beliefs their own native anamistic practices.
Isn't this amazing.
All boys in Cambodia are meant to spend a few years as monks after which they return to their family and regular life.
To those in the know there is an epic story to be told from just this one panel.
All of this is under various governmental protection but the private and public corruption involved is huge and debilitating.
Banteay Srei or the Citadel of the Women so named because of the intricacy of the carvings thought to require a woman’s hand. This is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and uniquely not commissioned by a king but rather by a young king’s teacher.
This is a very small section from a carved arch telling a long story about how one god killed another and what he had to give up to do it. Notice the smaller figures so intricately carved into the decorative pattern.
A view from outside the wall.
Banteay Samre and the guardian lions. Which is why we travel with kids.
This complex was quite off the beaten path and hence more easily looted. Again, a few of the more dramatic pieces are removed to the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

Here you can see the reconstruction technique whereby missing pieces are replaced with blocks from the original quarries without an effort to recreate the carvings.
It was relatively peaceful here and we liked that. Staging your visits to the various sites to get the best light and avoid the crowds as much as possible is definitely tricky.

This chapter featured my old pals Leslie Ruff and Julie Ruff and a bunch of their friends.
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