On landing in Cambodia, even the airport at Siem Reap, the capital of the Khmer empire, was an impressive nod to the architecture of the temples we were going to see.
Our apartment at the Sokhdom residence was out of the hustle and bustle and down a quite lane behind gates. We spent a quiet first day orientating ourselves with this new country and headed for breakfast on a tuktuk with Ream, who would be our driver for the remainder of the trip. Everywhere, down to tiny corner stalls have free wifi and Ream was on whattsapp and keen for us to stick with him when we needed transport!
After a beautiful breakfast at Malis, we headed off to meet Sok La, a lady whose friend worked with my Aunt Helen in Pennsylvania. She arranged a driver and guide to take us to the temples the following day and we were extremely grateful to have someone we could trust as we weren't staying in a hotel.
After a trip to the supermarket and lunch back in our apartment, the children made the most of the swimming pool and electric cars they could use in the drive!
That evening we headed back into town, and while looking for a cocktail bar we'd been recommended, were drawn to a bar with an array of flags around it. It happened to be an American bar, owned by a former trader from Chicago who Dave compared city notes with. They served the most amazing pizza's, had 'Just for Laughs' playing on a TV screen and had the most gorgeous golden retriever sitting next to us and beers for 50cents so it was hard to leave!
We walked off our dinner with a stroll down to The Night Market which was a true sensory experience. After buying the obligatory elephant trousers for temple visiting the following day (2 pairs for the children for $5), we had a family foot and shoulder massage ($8 for us all for half an hour) which sent Jake in to regular fits of giggles! But it was a very relaxing end to the day.
We headed back to find Miss Woos again - mainly to use the wifi to call Ream to pick us up - but we thought we could manage a drink before we left. I took Sophia to the bathroom and an English looking guy walked past me. I did a quick double take and realised it was Kev, someone I worked with at Slim Jims health club 10 years ago and I hadn't seen him since! A quick drink and a catch up on the last 10 years at the bar was just brilliant and we headed home incredulous at the small world we live in.
The next morning was an 8am pick up for our days excursion. We headed off to buy tickets first which are $37 per adult - a lot of money in Cambodia, but the children were free and the money helps to preserve these ancient ruins, parts of which are still being discovered.
See the following link for more on this;
Angkor Wat was our first destination and probably the most famous of the temples. The sheer size of it was a site to see and we were amazed that tourists are able to climb over and walk through these sacred ruins. The remains of the moat are still visible outside and inside the series of doorways was striking, as were the towers which are still standing without ever having cement or any fixings.
It's a real feat of engineering and its construction has baffled those who have studied its structure for decades. How did they build this in the 12th century using only elephants to bring the stones in??
The gardens and grounds were equally stunning and from the back of the lake you can see how the temple at sunrise would be an awesome site.
To Angkor Thom next, and the gateway to the old city. On the bridge lined with 'good' Buddhas on one side and 'bad' Buddhas on the other, we were all delighted to see elephants walking past us, the first time Sophia and Jake had seen some in real life.
As we came through the gate we could see the forest on either side of us, under which much of the old village remains. At the end of this ancient trail is The Bayon Temple, which stands at the centre of the walled city of Angkor Thom.
The incredibly intact outer gallery is covered with stories of everyday life in the 12th century when the temples were built under the reign of Buddhist King Jayavarman VII.
The scenes tell stories of everyone; fishermen and farmers and Princes, merchants, cooks and soldiers preparing for battle. As well as elephants, monkeys and birds and my favourite the Banyan tree.
On the top terrace you come face to face with colossal faces. Buddhas that seem to watch you as you go past and are staring out on four sides. Our guide was an expert in setting us up for photos so I think we have every conceivable angle covered in the 'kissing a Buddha' photo opportunity list!
They are thought to be symbols of Buddha or sculptures of King Jayavarman VII staring at all four corners of his kingdom. Whatever they are they have been staring out into the distance for over 800 years!
Saving what was, in our opinion, the best until last and after a much needed break for lunch, we headed to Ta Prohm, the setting for Angelina Jolie in the movie Tombraider.
If anyone is thinking of Cambodia as a destination GO SOON! The trees that make this temple so epic are very much alive and growing and the temple is gradually crumbling around it.
There's isn't much they can do about this as they are kind of holding it together as well.
A stunning site indeed and the children enjoyed exploring all the doorways, pretending they were in the film.
The other thing they were looking out for were the bullet holes left after the war with Vietnam. Fortunately the temples weren't damaged, but battles took place here and the evidence is there to see.
(Our guide certainly knew a lot more about iPhone photography than us!)
So concluded our tour of the main temples. There is plenty more to see but for us it was a great history lesson in the founding of this beautiful city and we were all templed out!
Our final destination for the day was a silk farm. Our guide showed us every stage and we saw the fields of mulberry trees the worms eat the leaves from, how the silkworms emerge from the cocoon and lay eggs and how those eggs grow into silkworms.
Sophia and Jake were given their very own worm in a cocoon to try and hatch. It's here in a dark wardrobe waiting to emerge!
We saw how the cocoons are boiled and even the bug inside is used for food. We declined our guides offer of a sample! The silk is then wound onto spools and the silk then died many colours with natural dies such as curry powder and lavender. The raw silk is the same colour as Sophia's hair as you can see!
It is then spun by hand here and made in to the most exquisite scarves, bedpreads snd bespoke designs that can take months to hand make. The farm is a not-for-profit centre that trains local people in this most complicated skill. Talk about multi-tasking! There were levers, pedals and patterns that we could never work out.
Sophia took charge of the new pet silkworms and is taking her role very seriously.
After going back to our apartment for a swim and a shower, we headed out to town for a feed and a foot massage this time with Dr Fish. Boy was it tickly!! We had such a great time and Sophia didn't want to leave - she actually wanted to get her whole body in!
To virtual reality with a difference next and one Jake was especially keen to try. He had spotted a shop where you put on virtual reality goggles and a man shakes you on a platform on chains and you feel like you're on a roller coaster. So much so that he got too scared and they had to stop it! After Sophia did a swing experience option, he had recovered enough to try again and this time his squeals drew a large crowd who found it hilarious. Videos are on my Facebook page it's priceless!
The next day we had a fairly quiet day, catching up on schoolwork and heading into town for a thanksgiving lunch at the American bar.
It was lovely to learn a little more about the tradition. The owner of the bar was from Massachusetts and he told us how the native people had helped the Europeans who arrived, to grow food after their known methods of farming and the climate meant their crops failed. Rather than watch them starve, the native Americans not only shared their food with them, but also taught them how to farm the land, in very different conditions to what they were used to. Americans and Canadians have since celebrated thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, to give thanks and spend time together with family and friends. We are all certainly looking forward to getting home and spending time with ours.
Later that evening we met up with an old friend and volleyball team-mate of mine, Jen, who with a group of 6, had cycled from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia over 6 days. A journey we didn't even want to drive so we felt very lazy! We hadn't seen each other for years so had a great evening catching up. Sophia had to take her to see Dr Fish as well so got to hang out with her fishy friends once more.
We said our farewells to beautiful Cambodia, a land of extremes and to Ream who looked after us so well.
The next day we flew out to Phuket, Thailand, where we are really looking forward to some rest and relaxation after this crazy last leg!
I've found this guide to Buddhism in a drawer so have plenty of bedtime reading!!