|Renée’s dream for many years had been to cruise to Indonesia. HAL Volendam is a ship we know and love and we were happy to be booked on her again. The itinerary around Northern Australia and up through Indonesia is different and unusual. After disembarking in Singapore we flew to Siem Reap Cambodia for a few days post cruise.|
PAGE ONE is Australia: Pre-cruise Sydney, Brisbane, Hamilton Island, Cairns, cruising Great Barrier Reef, and Darwin.
|After disembarking the Volendam, we transferred to the beautiful Singapore airport and flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Here we were met by Kim San, who would be our guide for the next three days. He is very knowledgeable, speaks perfect English, and was so helpful and flexible to us. We were delighted to be able to see Cambodia under his guidance. If you are going to Cambodia, visit his page at Angkor Guides.
Kim had made our reservations at the Tara Angkor Hotel. This is a gorgeous modern hotel and we were happy to be able to settle in, shower and refresh ourselves.
|The Tara Angkor is decorated everywhere with beautiful artwork and tropical flowers. We went to the restaurant in the lobby for a quick lunch. Both Cambodian and Western food was available. Our lunch choices ranged from fried fish cakes and shrimp curry over rice to hamburger and french fries.
||After lunch we began our tour. Our first stop was at Artisans Angkor. This is a government operated school where craftsmen are trained in many disciplines including painting on silk and wood, copper work, wood carving and stone carving. They have done restorations at Angkor Wat and Bangay temples. Some of the students are handicapped, the silk painters being deaf, for example. It is a very interesting place to visit and to see how the ancient crafts are still being carried out and passed down today. Then, of course, there is a gift shop to visit. This is the place to buy high quality works of art for yourself and your friends at home. Prices ranged from moderate to “don’t ask.” It was possible to ship artworks home for fairly reasonable prices.
||We then travelled through Siem Reap, on some good roads and some not so good. Kim said that the tourism industry only began in 1998 when peace was established in the country, and the government is working hard on infrastructure. On one of the bumpy side roads we stopped for a Khmer Massage. This was a somewhat different experience from massages elsewhere, combining many techniques into an hour long relaxation session that left us delightfully limp.
Then it was off for our balloon ride.
|The weather was overcast and rather misty, which limited our view a bit and made getting pictures difficult. Nevertheless the panorama of the countryside, and the great moat and temple of Angkor Wat in the distance, was an exciting view.
|| The balloon was tethered, of course, so the ride was simply a matter of up, look around, take pictures, come down. It was a very good introduction to the temple.
||Then as sunset neared it was off to the Night Market, source for cheap souvenirs of every description. The ladies wandered happily through the many stalls, checking out Khmer scarves, silk scarves, table runners, wood carvings, post cards, paintings, statues, hammocks and other tawdry stuff.
||A hat stall was one of the many they visited and for a few dollars came away dressed in style and comfort.
||Kim then drove us a few blocks to a good restaurant which he said featured the local food. We were able to sample “amok”, a dish made with coconut milk, vegetables, and either fish or chicken. It is served in a bowl chopped from a young coconut, and eaten over rice. It was a very interesting meal and we all enjoyed the dish. Then it was back to the hotel for some much needed rest.
|Next morning it was time for the temples. Angkor consists of many temples, each with its own significance. First we went off to Angkor Thom, one of the major temple complexes. Here we got our elephant ride! Outside the gates the elephants were waiting for us. Fortunately there was a wooden platform to climb up and mount the elephant. It was convenient and the seats made it easy to ride.|
|We rode down an avenue decorated with gods on one side and demons on the other, and in through the gates of Angkor Thom. At first on the road, and then through paths in the woods, we enjoyed quite a long ride on the swaying elephants. Passengers in vans and tuk tuks clearly enjoyed seeing us and waved as they swished by.
We reached the end of the line at the Temple of Bayon, where Kim was waiting for us.
|The Temple of Bayon was built by the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII in the 13th Century. Kim told us that the Temples were ceremonial and pilgrimage centers. The many monks who staffed the temples lived in wooden structures surrounding the temple, in what is now the woodland. They were fed by the donations of the people.
The king built 52 towers, and put his own face on all four sides of each one.
|We next went to the most famous of all the temples, Angkor Wat. Kim was a marvelous guide and gave great consideration to our mobility limitations. Instead of having us walk across the long causeway at the main entrance, he took us around the “back way” to a position from which it was a much easier walk for us to the main temple. Angkor Wat is undoubtedly a stunning sight and is very impressive.|
|At Angkor Wat, wooden steps have built in some places and it is considerably easier to climb to some of the higher levels. Many ancient carvings surround each level and depict scenes from Buddhist stories. Although the slightly overcast sky did not give us as pretty a background for pictures, we were very fortunate in the weather as it was not oppressively hot. The humidity was very high, however. We found that touring in short time spans and then returning to the air conditioned car was a wise idea.|
|Kim was very accommodating in understanding our needs. The many steps, in places uneven, and the worn paving stones can make Angkor Wat a bit difficult for the mobility impaired. Kim San was wonderful in taking into consideration my limitations, getting us to the best parking places and the easiest access, and assisting me over the difficult spots. Really, without his aid I would never have been able to see this marvel of the world.|
|Angkor Wat also abounds in marvelous carvings. The Ramayana cycle is repeated in many panels. The final battle in which Hanuman and his monkeys save Prince Rama is done in exquisite deteals. In a few places traces of the original colors remain on the stone.|
|The many headed cobra who is a guardian of many temples is particularly impressive. It can be seen in many of the entrances.
After Angkor Wat, we returned to the hotel for lunch. By this time I was in the mood for Western food so I had a club sandwich and french fries. The Tara Angkor restaurant did a good job on both Cambodian and Western food.
|After lunch we were off to Ta Prohm, the temple built as a tomb for the king’s mother. This temple has largely been taken over by the jungle. The temple is in a state of being restored, and in some places the piles of numbered stones can be seen, and in other places the walls still show the numbers used to piece them together.
The sight of the ruins of the temple overgrown by the large trees is very famous. They are everywhere in the ruins, extending their roots throughout the temple.
|On our way back we drove through an area near the river which is very popular for picnics. There were many stalls selling food of various types. At several places a whole cow was roasting. People came up and purchased a few slices and took their plates to nearby mats where they sat and ate.||Then we went to the Kuolen Restaurant and Theater for a great buffet dinner followed by a wonderful dance show. The dancers exhibited amazing grace and poise. Dances such as the coconut dance and the fishing dance are drawn from local folklore.|
|Some of the dances were in the ancient classical Apsara style and reflected a long cultural tradition.||Apsara dancers are represented in the carvings at Angkor Wat, dating from the 12th century. We enjoyed the evening greatly.|
|Our next visit was to the famous Tonle Sap lake, fed by the Mekong River. Traveling through lush countryside, we saw many poor farm villages and many different crops, including the wondrous and mythical lotus flower.||We descended a steep ramp to the boat dock where dozens of boatmen vied for our patronage. In some sort of seemingly orderly system Kin chose a boat which pushed its way to the dock and with some trepidation and lots of help we got aboard.
||Once safely aboard the boat we commenced our trip up the river to the fishing village of Tonle Sap. We proceeded at a leisurely pace, pushed by a noisy motor and a rudder held together with bailing wire. We saw much activity along the banks. In some places, we passed through the “flooded forest,” dry now but in several feet of water during the rainy season. We saw a few birds including mynahs and ravens, as well as water birds.
All along the bank we saw people at their occupations. Many fishermen were casting their nets, but others were scouring the banks for clams or snails, and yet others were searching for recyclable bottles, of which there were a unfortunate supply. Others approached our boat with coolers of soda to sell. It was certainly a lesson in third world economy.
|The village itself is entirely self sufficient. The government supplies free drinking water. Many floating houses sport their own gardens.
||Dogs and even pigs, chickens, and other livestock live aboard the boats. Somehow the cats did not look quite so thrilled at having bath water so near.
||Churches and schools are available and the students happily paddle their way to classes.
|The evening finished off with a nice Cambodian meal. I saw both shrimp and prawns offered on the menu, so I ordered the prawns. I wound up with these small sea monsters. After figuring how to get them out of their shells, they were delightfully like miniature lobsters.|
|Just as we were ready to head home after a wonderful vacation, the unexpected happened. In the middle of the night I suffered an attack of congestive heart failure, brought on by the heat and excessive liquid consumption. Suffice to say the Royal International Hospital took great care of me, but our departure was delayed until I was able to fly. This gave us a few extra days in Cambodia. Although Renée was very solicitous and supportive, it did give her some extra time.
After visiting me and seeing that I was well taken care of, the next day Renée signed up through the Tara Angkor Hotel for the VIP Cooking lesson. First she and the chef set off in a tuk tuk to the local market to gather the materials they needed for the meal.
|With her mentor Kimla, they gathered together all their ingredients and prepared to cook.||Chopping, sauteeing, combining spices and all the rest of the cooking techniques were taught.||A new skill was chopping the young coconut to shape, in order to create the bowl for the amok fish.|
|Finally all was in readiness. The raw materials had been properly prepared under the direction of the expert cooks and it was time to enjoy.||The proof is in the eating! Renée finally got to sample her own Cambodian cooking! Although she may not cook it every day, it is a good addition to her repretoire and she certainly had fun from the shopping to the eating.|
|In going back and forth to the hospital Renée acquired her own “personal” tuk tuk driver. Everytime she needed transport Rahtana was there waiting for her and it was very easy for her to get back and forth. Riding a tuk tuk in the streets of Siem Reap is certainly a less frightening experience than braving the streets of Jakarta!|
|Once I got a clean bill of health and left the hospital it was back to sightseeing until I got clearance to fly. Renée and I both had the aromatherapy massages in the wonderfully relaxing spa at the hotel. These were much closer to our expectations of Western massage than the Khmer massage of the previous day.|
|Of course the next thing on the agenda was more shopping. Two doors down from the hotel we found this art gallery presided over by no less than the king himself. They did have many beautiful things and we came home loaded with gifts for the friends who had been supportive during my illness.|
|We were exceedingly fortunate that our great guide Kim San was able to make himself available for us again. He planned some new activities that we would have missed under our original plan. We are very grateful to him.
He arranged a dinner performance of a traditional Cambodian shadow puppet show. We had a nice dinner accompanied by tropical fruit juices and then the shadow puppet performance. An interesting part of the show was a play about betting on buffalo fights, with a tragic ending designed to teach the local schoolchildren not to gamble. The shadow buffalo were quite impressive,
|Then came the classic Ramayana performance, with Hanuman the monkey king rescuing Rama and his princess. This made five times we had seen excerpts from it -- the crew show on the ship, the Kecak dance in Java, the puppet theater in Jakarta, the carvings at Angkor Wat, and now the shadow puppets. It is of course a very famous Buddhist story in this part of the world and it was interesting to see the different interpretations in various countries.|
|Our last full day in Cambodia dawned with a tremendous thunderstorm. Morning activities were postponed and we had time for a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel and catching up on our sleep!
In the afternoon Kim arrived and our first stop was a silk factory. It was a lot of fun to see the entire process from mulberry bush to finished product.
Growing the mulberry leaves
Mating the moths
Feeding the worms
unwinding the silk
The raw silk
The natural dye materials
Finally ready for the loom
WITNESS TO HISTORY
THE KILLING FIELDS
At times it is needful to witness the atrocities of history oneself, lest some day it be forgotten. Kim took us to the place known as “The Killing Fields.” Here under the regime of Pol Pot, millions of Cambodians, most from the educated classes, were starved and beaten to death. Today a commemerative temple marks the terrible spot next to the prison where so many were cruelly destroyed. It cannot help but impress all who come here with the inhumanity of man at his worst.
|The day we arrived was in fact a day of joy, as it was graduation day for novice monks. Monks, nuns and family were having a happy time in this hallowed spot and it was good to see life going on.
||But the ossuaries filled with the bones of the victims still cast a somber pall over the place. This is another of the many places that the world cannot stand to forget lest it be allowed to happen again. Althought it was not a pleasant experience, it was one that we needed to do. |
As Kim himself lived through this terrible time and saw relatives disappear, we are grateful to him for sharing this exprerience with us and the world.
|After several days my doctor cleared me to fly home. The wonderful assistance of Kim San throughout this experience, his great planning and execution of our original plan, his deep caring for my wife and his ability to assist us during this difficult time made our entire stay in Cambodia a lifetime memory. On our final day before Kim took us to the airport we were extremely honored to be able to meet his family. My wife took immediately to his wife and darling daughter, and his three year old son was as bashful as they are at that age. Kim became not only a guide but a good friend to us. Anyone who plan a trip to Cambodia should be sure to contact Kim San for the most helpful, knowledgeable and friendly advice you can find anywhere! Tell him Papa Mike sent you!|
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