Cambodia, Day Two (July 30, 2007)

Had an awesome breakfast for $2 apiece at the Star Rise Restaurant. I had a fresh baguette with jam, butter and two boiled eggs. Brad had crepes filled with strawberry jam.*

We hired two tuktuk drivers (not three, to their consternation) to take us to Angkor. First stop: the city of Angkor Thom and its driveway lined with larger-than-life statues. Once inside Angkor Thom, we headed straight for Le Bayon** which is known for eerie, enormous heads staring out from the tops of 37 towers. We were awed by the intricate carvings that you could run your hands over, feeling the gritty sandstone. Part of the temple had collapsed, and it was necessary to climb over fallen piles of rock -- although I felt strangely disrespectful doing so.***

We moved on to the Elephant Terrace which was lined with seven-foot stone elephants whose trunks curved out of the rock and touched the ground. The Leper King Terrace had a hidden passageway covered with images of multi-headed nagas (snakes). I was told the hidden wall represented the underworld.

Next was the Bapuon, an enormous mountain-temple that could only be reached by walking across a causeway on top of round pillars. The bas-reliefs at this temple were different from the others because they're arranged in blocks, like comic books. Brad decided to climb the steep,**** crumbling stairs to the top. He made it all the way up, as did Meg and Eric, but he admitted the views were not spectacular enough to risk that climb again.

On the way back to the tuktuk, we stopped at North Khleang, which was probably used as a warehouse. Each window was filled with small, narrow columns -- it looks as if there were originally eight in each window. Across the road, you could see the lonely prasats, towers that felt like deserted, haunted houses.*****

We stopped for lunch in the marketplace; I had a bowl of curried vegetables with rice, and Brad had fried chicken and veggie stir-fry with rice and a pineapple shake. We didn't realize how tired and dehydrated we all were until we sat down. It was unreal eating lunch while staring at Le Bayon -- or rather, while Le Bayon stared at me.

After lunch, it was on to Angkor Wat. I could hardly contain my joy as we passed through the outer enclosure to a spot where we could see the temple unobstructed for the first time. We decided to visit Angkor Wat over two days because there's just too much to absorb in one visit. We crossed the bridge over the moat; it was dotted with lions and nagas every few feet. Once inside the temple, we turned right and followed the bas-relief gallery all the way around the building. We saw The Churning of the Sea of Milk, lots of battles scenes from the Battle of Kurukshetra, monkey soldiers, elephants, turtles, the scene of the death of Valin (monkey soldier who dies in his wife's arms), the procession of Suryavarman II, the torturing of sinners in 32 hells, and the battle of Lanka.******

By 3:30, we could barely walk, so our tuktuk drivers Su (pronounced SUE-ee) and Mr. Vanna drove us back to the hotel, where all six of us passed out until dinner.

The ballet performance was at the Angkor Mondial, and the concierge at the Grand Hotel hooked us up with front row seats and what seemed like our own personal waiter. On the buffet: fried coconut meat, crepes, Thai noodles, sauteed greens with beef and ginger, papaya, dragonfruit, lychees*******, and so much more.

The ballet costumes were bright, silky and colorful, and the dancers had total control of their bodies. Brad and I cringed every time they knelt down while standing on one leg, and they could bend individual fingers back to their wrists. After the ballet, we all sat on the hotel balcony and talked until bedtime.
Brad's footnotes
* I won.
**Which means, literally, "the Bayon"

*** Meh.
**** Steep as in, "don't look down whilst climbing or you'll puke or become-disoriented-and-fall-and-die."
***** These were among the very favorite things I saw. So forlorn.

****** The Churning of the Sea of Milk is a beautiful creation story, and we bought a rubbing of this to take home and frame. But, I ask you, what could top monkeys dressed up in battle gear?
******* I don't know what they are either. Yet I think I ate some.

Cambodia, Day One (July 29, 2007)

Julie* dropped us off at Groome** at 3:00 Friday afternoon. I think it's now 12:48 a.m. Cambodia time - on Sunday, that is. But I can't say for sure; sitting on a plane for 17 hours has taken away all sense of time. My knees hurt. My feet hurt. And, oh dear God, my butt hurts. I can't wait to get off this flying bus in Bangkok.


Best sign we've seen all day, compliments of the LA airport:


Finally, truth in advertising.


I can't believe our good fortune. We booked cheap tickets from Bangkok to Siem Reap on Bangkok Airways, and I assumed it would be a low-rent operation. I couldn't have been more wrong. Checking in was a breeze, and we were sent to a beautiful lounge with free food, drinks, and Internet to pass the two hours until the flight. I'm addicted to the orange-flavored, cold Thai tea.

NOTE: Brad just discovered our Thai Air toothpaste lists myrrh as an ingredient. Awesome.***

There's a platter of finger-sized desserts in the lounge; my favorite has a strange consistency, somewhere between sticky rice and custard. It's fruity -- maybe papaya -- and shaped like a tiny ice cream cone. Each one is wrapped in a banana leaf.


A driver from Home Sweet Home Guesthouse picked us up at the airport in Siem Reap in a tuktuk -- a motorbike with a covered cart attached from behind. The fresh air felt wonderful after being cooped up in the airplane.

The countryside is beautiful, but it's disheartening to see so many new luxury hotels and souvenir shops. A "Royal Shopping Village" is under construction, and everywhere you turn, there are T-shirts and trinkets. I fear their culture will be sold to the highest bidder if no one intervenes. At the same time, it's hard to fault them for pulling themselves out of the rubble of the Khmer Rouge by any means necessary. If my children were hungry, I'd sell T-shirts at the temple too.

We all showered**** and cleaned up before walking down to the Psar Chaa Marketplace. We were trying to stay awake and acclimate to Cambodian time, so we spent the afternoon at an open-air restaurant chatting and watching the world pass by.

Having decided to see the Cambodian ballet this week, we caught a tuktuk to the Grand Hotel D'Angkor to make reservations for Monday night. We then strolled through the Royal Gardens and visited a temple during prayer hour. More fascinating than the beautiful music and chanting were the giant bats overhead. I saw one spread its wings and thought, "What a pretty hawk." Then it landed on a branch and swung upside down. Once my eyes focused, I realized the trees were swarming with bats.

For dinner, we each had a traditional three-course Cambodian meal. We started with fresh spring rolls that were both hot and cool because of the mixture of hot spices and mint. The main course of amok***** was great -- it was served in a hollowed-out green coconut shell. It's like a coconut-milk soup with fish, onions, peppers, and basil. Dessert was grilled bananas, and they were delicious.

Even though it was barely 8:00, we crawled back to our hotel and into bed. We had hoped to stay awake to greet Maya and Phil, but there was no way. The exhaustion was too great.
Brad's footnotes
* That's Jenn's sister. She travels with us sometimes, including to Peru in aught-four.
** The ground shuttle service from our little city with its pathetic (read: nearly non-existent) airport to the Big City.
*** Now if they'd only figure out what to do with frankincense to go with my Goldschlager & Toothpaste cocktail...
**** Showered because traveling for 20+ hours produces smells that even myrrh can't cure. By "all" she means the two of us and our good friends Meg and Eric, or, collectively, "Egg." Eric blogged the trip live, actually, starting here. Anyway, those are their silhouettes in the photo up top. Phil and Maya would join us soon.
Yes, it means "crazy" in English. In Cambodian, it means "crazy good."

Cumberland II: Eclectic Bugaloo

Dusted off the video clips from the trip to Cumberland and assembled them into a loose narrative of our trip to the island.

Not that I'm (a) biased, or (b) bragging, but it kicks the tails of armadillos, horses, pigs, deer and gulls -- all of which happen to be featured in the video.

Do check it out.