April 2007


Ok, so it’s been, well, way too long, I think since we were in Australia, since I graced this fine blog with my 2 cents. And so, after much goading from Marc (he’s refused to write another post until I do) and a huge outpouring of popular demand from our adoring subscribers (there must be at least 10 of you now), here it is-wait for it-drum-roll please. . .Lisa’s 4th blog post! However, this one is going to be short and sweet as we’re going to trek part of the Annapurna Circuit tomorrow and I’ve got to go pack (and find some Yeti repellant).

I’ll give a detailed account of this later, but to catch everyone up, we spent the last three weeks or so in India exploring the urban madness and sensory overload of Delhi, absorbing the serene splendor of the Taj Mahal in Agra, wandering the fairy tale forts and palaces of the magical deserts of Rajastan, and chilling and yogaing by the Ganges in the Himalayan holy cities of Rishikesh and Haridwar. 

After that, we flew to Kathmandu, absorbed further good vibes and awe-inspiring sights, and took the bus today to Pokhara, gateway to the Annapurna trek, to check off one more “thing to do before I die” list. Wish us luck! (Oh, and wish the Red Wings luck too–Marc will be away from the internet during the NHL playoffs. I’m telling him it’s all in the name of personal growth. 😉

Namaste and happy trails!

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Yes.

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“There is no glory for a lazy person however good looking”

“Clean, clear, calm: These are the characteristics of a noble person”

apothegms in tree garden of Chiang Mai’s Wat Phra Singh

It’s all about getting there. The road from the Thailand border to Siem Reap, the Cambodian town nearest Angkor Wat, potentially one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, is notorious, excruciating, some say deliberately neglected, something like driving on the moon, or in some corners of Detroit. Only it goes on for an interminable 150 kilometers.

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I’d love to bore you with the details but my page-and-a-half of notes from the journey look like they were written in Sanskrit. By a kindergartener. Using his toes. As I mentioned in this highly amusing account.

Angkor Wat is a catch-all to describe what is actually dozens of religious, administrative and otherwise buildings of the ancient Khmer Empire. There are some great condos for visiting nobles as well. The ruins date from the 9th to the 12th century and range from huge “temple mountains” like this

 

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to out-of-the-way, nearly forgotten, jungle-eaten temples like this

 

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They are one and all amazing, from the awesome sight of Angkor Wat itself to the meditative quietude (dude) of places like Ta Keo, Ta Som, Banteay Samre, Pre Rup, Preah Khan.

 

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Banteay Kdei, with its giant spung trees growing into the rock walls, and the Bayon in Angkor Thom, with its serene colossi looking in every direction, are must-sees.

 

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We spent three days, dawn to dusk, exploring: peeking into antechambers, clambering around on sunbaked walls, suffering vertigo on slick stairways to the top of imposing temple pyramids looming over dense jungle. Meandering over foot-polished flagstones in a forgotten corner of the woods: having our fortune told by guardians of headless Buddhas: resting with a water bottle in the shade of a chieuteal tree, watching the birds. Standing silently by silent sentinels of lions, elephants, nagas (seven-headed serpents) in the sun. Fun.

 

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The stonework is detailed by incomparable craft: The nagas lining dikes and balustrades everywhere: every panel, stele, column adorned with devatas, female divinities, apsara, dancing nymphs, elephants and lions, Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha. Because Angkor belonged to both major religions amid periodic upheavals it feels layered, one mosaic outdoing the next or being outdone.

 

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And the lintels! Oh, the lintels!

 

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For your trip to Angkor, learn more here. For more background on the history, see this. The best plan is to take three days, hire a tuk-tuk driver – agree on payment beforehand – and explore at your leisure. These are end-days for the tourist season: the weather has taken a turn for the humid. So maybe rates will be down too.

Whatever the season, sunset on Phnom Bakheng, the highest eminence for many miles, is a must.

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat — where you’ll hear the light-switch effect of the sun on the locusts — is likewise essential.

 

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Angkor Thom is one of the most spectacular compounds: those giant faces are unforgettable. Try to see them in the afternoon for the best light.

 

 

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Banteay Srey, some 37 kilometers from Siem Reap, is also worth a look if you have the time. Or even if you don’t.

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If you can still walk try to see some of Siem Reap as well. It has a decent couple of downtown lanes that boast a little regular nightlife. Angkor What? is a great bar. We stayed at the Two Dragons Guest House, run by an expat American: affordable, quality place to stay and eat. Khmer Family Restaurant makes great traditional Khmer amok; Khmer Kitchen, where Mick Jagger has been rumored to repast, was also very tasty. The riverfront has been landscaped recently and brightens up at night with string lights and lampposts.

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Street view from Angkor What?

Cambodia is a country where people still pull over to the side of the road, unfold a blanket under a tree and have a picnic. Cambodians, like Lao, are gregarious people. Also like Laos, Cambodia has borne the brunt of too many regional and international conflicts over several decades, and the scars are still visible – in the country’s pitiful infrastructure, and in its many land-mine victims, some of whom you will encounter at Angkor. At several points on our tour we were serenaded by bands made up of land-mine victims. Throughout Cambodia the memories of Pol Pot and the Killing Fields are still fresh.

 

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But Cambodians have a lot to be proud of – their national personality, their diverse countryside, their reviving cities. And foremost, the rich cultural legacy of Angkor. It’s a beautiful country filled with beautiful people and we hope to return.

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We return to Bangkok. The road is no better on the way out. We leave for India. Goodbye Cambodia.

 

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Goodbye Southeast Asia.

 

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Hello Subcontinent!

 

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