Sunday, February 28, 2016

Travelogue: Asia Pacific - Part 4b

Day-3:

We had not climbed the central towers at A. Wat and we also wanted to see the rising Sun again, so we woke up at 5AM this day all excited to spend another day in Siem Reap. We reached the queueing (word with the longest consecutive use of vowels) area only to find out that the opening time was 7:40. It was not 7:30 or 7:45 as one would expect but giving it some thought revealed that it was exactly 1 hour after Sunrise. So we thought of roaming around a bit and enjoy the not so hot hours of the day. We were entering cave like structures at A. Wat and coming out. There was one particular place where we were standing and discussing the directions when a man came forward and handed over his camera to Him to take his photos. I was the one dressed like a photographer, He already had a camera in His hand and still people preferred Him, unfair world I told Him and we giggled.

Trying to smile on Day-3

We went back to the queueing area (don’t forget that it’s the word with 5 consecutive vowels) around 7:15 to find that people had already formed a queue and were waiting for the staff to arrive and open the gate to the staircase. Fortunately, the queue was not too long by then and we started climbing before 8. There were four Buddha temples in each direction of the central tower. We saw the rising Sun from here too. The architecture here was similar to the rest of the temple like the dancing apsaras, the intricate design on the walls and the Buddha statues. After roaming around the Central tower we came down, walked out of the main gate for the 3rd time, then crossed the moat and went back to the hotel.

Still hiding but definitely rising

That's an observatory in the distance and the stone ramp we crossed to get to the main temple!

We overslept in the hotel room again after breakfast and Mr. Kun had to ring us this time. We got up, got ready fast and soon were on our way to Banteay Srei. The ride was long and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Banteay Srei from outside felt like a resort  and it was so in some respect as you will figure out. We had heard that this place has the most intricate carvings of all the temples in Siem Reap and that turned out to be very true. There were fantastically detailed carvings and they reminded us of various episodes from Ramayana.

One of the stupas at Banteay Srei     An episode from Ramayana: Hanuman sena

After some photography, we followed the sign boards and found some people singing folklores and playing their unique musical instruments. We also found a fishing & boating area (surprisingly!) but there was no one boating or fishing as there was little water to be able to do so. People were either having snacks under the shacks or were just stranded on the still boats. A young girl of about 5-6 years old in her school uniform started talking to me as we were walking along this trail. She was asking if I had some dollars. I didn’t reply but she continued following us until she was distracted by another girl of about the same age who was not in a school uniform and was riding a bicycle. As soon as the girl on the bicycle came closer, she stopped talking to me and got up on the bicycle with her friend. I was reminded of those days when my mum asked my younger sister to look at me playing or doing things while she slipped food into her mouth.

Men singing and playing instruments at Banteay Srei

We continued to follow the sign boards and reached the information centre. This was a small building with large boards hanging on all sides showing the history of Cambodia and of the different temples. Some boards spoke about religion too. We understood that Hinduism was followed till the late 11th and 12th century in Cambodia after which people started to follow Buddhism. The person-in-charge of the place asked us to sign a large roster with our names, nationalities and comments. We noticed that people had come there from all over the world – US, Canada, Australia, Europe and there were of course, the Asians.

A snapshot from our trail at Banteay Srei

After roaming around the souvenir shops and restaurants, we got back on the Tuk-tuk, had a nice Khmer meal on the way and started our journey to Pre Rup. It’s a nice temple complex surrounded by green grass and some tall trees. Pre Rup was built by a Khmer King named Rajendravarman. We had to climb stairs here too to reach the main temple. The main temple was getting renovated with a German collaboration and we found stones draped in red or yellow clothes inside the smaller temples. There were open rooms constructed on all sides of the temple. We are assuming they were the quarters for the priests. After taking pictures of the towers and the steep stairs, we got on the Tuk-tuk to visit the Cambodian Cultural Village.

Long way to go at Pre Rup

This village has various sections for tourists to get familiar with Cambodian people and their culture. Some sections are dedicated to showing the cultural performances, some are like mini museums, some show tribal people and their villages, some show the floating homes popular in Cambodia and a section showed scaled models of famous Angkor temples. There are also 3 theatres, a park, a boating area, etc. We checked all the sections and it was pretty dark by the time we came out.

3 Spheres of Gandhiji at the Cultural Village

We wanted to taste something different today and He had asked Cortana earlier in the day to help Him with some good places to dine. She showed a couple of places all of which were in the mid-budget range that were close to our hotel and we showed the topmost in that list, ‘The Glasshouse’, to Mr. Kun who didn’t take long to realize where we wanted to go but he did take a lot of time to digest if we really wanted to go where we wanted to go. We didn’t understand his astonishment till he dropped us in front of Hotel Park Hyatt and said that this was ‘The Glasshouse’. Now who knew these whatever star guys would name their dining area different from the name of the hotel itself. Since we were already here, we went inside with a dusty (red) face from the day and informal clothes. We were worried if the staff would chuck us out asking us to come again when we were well-groomed and better-dressed but that didn’t happen. Maybe they thought we were like this cool couple in cool clothes with a cool outlook towards life (as if!). One of the staff took us inside ‘The Living Room’, found us a nice & cozy place with a beautifully lit candle. There was a fire going on in the background and light music was playing too. I rubbed my eyes to check if I was not dreaming. We smiled to each other for a while through our dusty eyes. The meal and the desserts were really good. I have never had a date night in my life but after having the passion-fruit ice-cream that evening, felt this was it.

Day-4:

We spent our last day relaxing, shopping and doing our favourite pastime of photo editing. Every evening, we had deleted some of the blurry photographs from the day but today we sat down to review and edit all of them. We had also shot a video during one of our Tuk-tuk rides. He transferred that video from my phone to my laptop and we downloaded and installed Microsoft’s Hyperlapse Pro to do extensive video editing. We tried a lot of stuff and shortened the video to 1/10th of its original run time while maintaining the video quality. Now don’t ask me where the edited video is because it’s lost in the transition between who knows what but it was an exercise worth the effort.

We wanted to have some Indian food on an otherwise important day. Luckily, there were a couple of popular Indian restaurants just round the corner from our hotel. Here Maps don’t cover Cambodia but the map I showed you in the last post had a detailed road map on the other side of the page as shown below.   

Road map near Angkor Pearl Hotel

We walked down, enjoyed a heavy Indian meal with banana-split ice-cream at the end. We came back, packed our bags, rested for a while, went out again to look at some souvenir shops here and there. It was already time for dinner so we went to another Indian restaurant. I enjoyed the masala tea there while He had some spicy food. While returning we entered a few more shops which included a Japanese store as well. We also took a halt before Park Hyatt, better dressed than yesternight but with no camera. We still managed to take a blurry photo with my phone. We walked back to the hotel completing our one last walk in Siem Reap.

Selfie near The Glasshouse, Park Hyatt

Day-5:

We got up early, got ready to go back to our own worlds. We were amazed that hotels in Cambodia start their breakfast at 6 in the morning. I guess it is so because people go to see the sunrise at A. Wat. After a light breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and Mr. Kun dropped us at the airport. He did the Namaskar and we did the same bidding farewell to him and Cambodia.

Some facts: We can apply for a Cambodian E-visa online. The currency of Cambodia is Cambodian Riel (~4300 Riel = 1 USD) but most of the trade happens in USD, at least with the tourists. Even the petrol pumps have the quotations in both USD and Riel. We are not allowed to carry any local currency in or outside the country. The Khmer cuisine is truly delicious – it is both sweet and spicy at the same time. Angkor is the lifeline of Cambodia. Their national flag and currencies both have Angkor Wat on them. The people are very polite, friendly and humble. For us, it was definitely one of the trips to cherish for a lifetime.