Before going to Cambodia, we knew that Angkor Wat is there (though I can't really pretend that I knew what Angkor Wat is--just that it is big) and that the country was somehow involved with the Khmer Rouge, who were bad people in some way. We got some details on those two points, but you understand most of Cambodia once you know more about those things.
Angkor Wat is actually a single temple--the largest temple--in a huge complex of temples and religious buildings that stretches many miles. The temple is apparently the world's largest religious building (take that, St. Peter's). It is well preserved, but has also had tons of work done on it during the 900 years of its existence, so it is best photographed when you can only see the silhouette without the repair work being done.
Right after the sun started to rise, we ran inside while the crowds were blinding themselves staring at the sun. We were rewarded by being the only ones inside for a few minutes. The lobby (I'm not really up on proper temple terminology) has a bunch of pools that are now empty. And Tara was all ready to go for a swim.
A lot of Angkor looks like this--restored to a point that you don't expect the building to fall down, but missing a lot of the fine detail that you can see it once had. Fairly certain that you could get a nice discount by pointing out this wear and tear to the realtor if you wanted to buy the place.
Each of the four sides has massive bas relief carvings. The most famous is this one: The Churning of the Oceans. To make a very, very long story short, the good guys and the bad guys make the waves of the ocean by pulling back and forth on a giant snake in a huge tug of war match. This theme appears a lot in Hindu (and, therefore, Buddhist) mythology.
All the tourists get driven around in the nice moto-rickshaws that get attached to motorcycles. Because the drivers just sit there for hours waiting on their passengers at many sites, this driver wins my respect for stringing up a hammock and sleeping anytime he thought it would be more than 10 minutes before his passengers returned.
One of the temples in the complex had scenes from everyday life in the 1200s. Our favorite had a line of animals that they ate at the time and a giant tapir was part of that line. Right between the pig and the duck. Who doesn't enjoy a bit of giant tapir?
One of the kings wanted his subjects to know that he was always watching, so he erected a huge temple with his staring gaze peering out everywhere. Several other buildings have just a few of his face, but what remains of Bayon has faces everywhere. I plan to start putting up huge stone pillars of my face just as soon as we have a house.
The "Elephant Terrace" is like a long, giant porch without a house. It is decorated mostly by elephants, such as these. You can imagine how much more amazing they would have been before the erosion.
The steps all have carved elephants as well. We have never seen an elephant trunk more than a couple of hundred years old, so these have certainly been restored. Really, never use elephant trunks to decorate something that you want to last. It is one of our key takeaways from our travels.
Much of Angkor Wat has not been restored at all. At those temples, the views out the remaining windows look something like this. Makes me realize that being an archeologist ranks as one of the most boring jobs on earth.
Many temples have trees like this one growing from them. This one is nicely placed right over the door. If I bought a castle, could I get a tree like this installed over the door? Who would I call to do that?
This lizard looks like he is praying to me. He must be a Buddhist who wasn't very good in the last life and got reincarnated as a lizard. Now he comes to pray at Angkor Wat every day.
A lot of the ruins look like this one. The structure has been restored, but none of the artwork, so it still looks a lot like a heap of bricks. On the plus side, you can climb all over them without worry. And the government can easily hide nuclear missiles inside for easy launch. Or maybe I'm the only one who thinks it looks like missile silos.
This is Tara in our chariot for the day. We love that the back part just attaches to the driver's motorcycle. This is the most common form of taxi in Cambodia, but we haven't seen a contraption quite like it anywhere else. This driver ranks as one of the most honest transportation providers in the entire world. I don't know his name, but look for the guy who looks like him if you are at Angkor Wat and need a driver...
Angkor Wat is very nice in the morning, but becomes a sauna by late morning. Even this lizard seems to have gotten a terrible sunburn.
For every kid who loves to toss the helicopter seeds from a sugar maple into the air, a trip to Cambodia is in order. They have trees everywhere that produce these massive toys. You toss it into the air and it whirls down like a helicopter. It's not an exaggeration to say that we threw hundreds of them.
This is supposedly the most famous tree at Angkor Wat. I surmised this mostly from the line of about 50 people who wanted their picture next to this tree. This temple is sometimes called the Indiana Jones Temple. If Indiana Jones had hundreds of tourists meandering around when he went into the Temple of Doom...
Angkor Wat, the temple, is surrounded by a massive moat and outer walls. The worlds of religion and defense are almost always related in Southeast Asia. Luckily, Buddhist and Hindus seem quite happy to conquer each other and just use the temples for their own peace-seeking religious beliefs.
Siem Reap, the tourist city next to Angkor Wat that has about 15 tourists for ever Cambodian, is filled with fish spas. You pay a dollar or two, then stick your feet into a pool of ferocious fish that try to eat your feet. Apparently, one person started this in the city and it was popular, so now every store seems to have one.
The one we visited had your choice of ravenous fish or killer fish. Tara went with just the ravenous ones while I went straight to the killer fish. For a dollar, we sat for 20 minutes as they ripped dead flesh from our feet. Sometimes it tickles, sometimes it hurts. Our feet were very soft for at least the next couple of hours. Value to my feet: none. Value of the experience: way more than a dollar.
Tara really appreciated all the Fish Massage signs, which are all something like this one. Because the idea is copied, the signs are also nearly exact replicas of the place next door. Tara's favorite part is that it is funny and happy, though a few of the signs actually say it will make you funny and happy, which is better.
Queue depressing music. In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge came to power, led by Pol Pot. He proceeded to kill 2 million people in four years, which was a huge percentage of the population. He killed anyone. Essentially a death lottery. Another few years in power and he would have surely killed everyone but himself. Not surprisingly, the US supported him. Good job, us. Here is the inside of a cell at the notorious S-21 prison. Something like four people survived of the thousands who went through. This cell was mostly used for high ranking officials while they tortured them on the never-ending witch hunt that was the Khmer Rouge regime.
Standard prisoners got something more along the lines of these hastily constructed boxes. Oh, and I forgot to mention that this prison was a school before. They got rid of all the schools, though, so it isn't like it was being used. Pol Pot's great plan was that if Cambodia returned to an illiterate, agricultural society, it would rule the world. A shame that he never knew Kim Jong-Il, as it sounds like they could have been friends.
Cambodia has a lot of skulls. If you need a cheap human skull for some reason, I suggest trying Cambodia first.
Yet, Phnom Penh has a very nice Independence Monument. Most of the country seems in much better shape now.
Most of the S-21 prisoners, along with many others, were killed in the now famous Killing Fields. They have erected a memorial there.
Filled with human skulls.
You think that's depressing? Here's the tree where the guards would taking turns swinging kids and babies by their feet and bashing their heads open against the tree. It's a fair question to ask who could do such a thing, but most have said that their entire families would have been tortured and killed in various ways had they not. They may be right.
On a happier note, the country seems to be on a slightly better path now and many expats now call Phnom Pehn home. Lots of new buildings and parks seem to line the river. Let's hope that genocide does not reappear soon. And that if it does, the US intervenes on the right side this time.
Cambodia does supposedly have some attractions that aren't Angkor Wat or genocide-related, but I can't really name them. The people are generally very friendly, and we had a nice stay. We just hope the country continues to recover from years of misery.