February 6, 2015

Cambodia: Temples, Mass Graves, Angkor What?

There are certain things we only want to do once in our life. But my first backpacking trip with my high school friends to Cambodia and Vietnam, well that’s one thing I won’t mind doing over and over again.

It was an unforgettable experience right from the very start we arrived at Siem Reap International Airport. Since the night was still young, excited na kami to go to Pub Street (agad agad).  Unfortunately, while waiting in queue for the immigration clearance, na-realize namin na hindi pala kami nabigyan ng arrival card before we exited the plane. Ang masama dun, naubusan na rin ng arrival card sa airport. Just imagine our dismay and the hassle it caused. Hold kaming lahat ng pasahero for almost an hour (until such time na nakapag produce na sila). But by that time, marami nang mga tourists na dumating, ang haba na ng pila and almost midnight na kami nakalabas. Lesson learned: sa plane pa lang, make sure you are able to secure the departure and arrival card of your country of destination. 

Hello Siem Reap! After checking in at our hostel and with barely two hours of sleep, we started our temple run adventure via their local transportation, tuktuk at 4:30 am. This lasted for two days.

There are over a thousand majestic stone temples and ruins in Angkor, the main attraction of Siem Reap. Known as the largest pre-industrial city in the world, Angkor served as the seat of the Khmer Empire which flourished from 9th to 15th centuries. The temples of Angkor are collectively declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site. We only got to visit the major temples - the Angkor Wat (the largest, most impressive, the mother of all temple complex), Bayon (my personal favorite with towers made of enigmatic giant stone faces of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvar), and Ta Prohm (the temples seem to be in harmony with mother nature since they are beautifully adorned with growing roots of banyan trees, also the location site in the movies Lara Croft: The Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones' Temple of Doom). It was haunting to see desecrated and decapitated Buddha statues in almost all of the temples.

Traffic of tourists visiting the temples is quite heavy. Nakakagulat nga na madaling araw pa lang, andami nang naka-vigil sa Angkor Wat. E sa totoo lang naman, walang panama ang Angkor sunrise sa Boracay sunset. And despite the magnificent and distinct beauty of each of the temples, kung puro yun lang makikita mo ng bentekwatro oras, mauumay ka rin. To add the fact na nakakapagod, akyat, panaog, takbo sa temple complex. So we decided to visit other non-temple sites in Siem Reap, na originally wala sa plano.

We visited the Angkor Silk Farm, an 8-hectare complex where visitors get the chance to see the mulberry trees plantation, silkworm farming, cocoon unwinding, and silk weaving. Dito ko na-appreciate ang hirap pag-gawa ng silk scarf.

About an hour away from the city, is the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest fresh water in Southeast Asia. We took a half-day boat tour and pretty much enjoyed exploring the floating village and the enchanting Kompong Phluk flooded forest. Though the river is murky and smells of poverty, this part of Siem Reap is a sight to behold.

On our last night in Siem Reap, we were finally able to (slightly) party in Pub Street.  

The next morning, we left for Phnom Penh, where we will be staying for the night before going to Vietnam. It took us 8 hours with all the stop overs to reach the capital of Cambodia. How depressing to arrive so late in the afternoon (mean less gala time). My first impression of Phom Penh is dangerously beautiful, lalo na siguro sa panahon ni Pol Pot.

I would have loved to stay longer in this place but makuntento na lang siguro ako kasi we were still able to roam around the city and visit the Killing Fields, a mass grave site for thousands of people who were tortured, killed and buried during the Khmer Rouge regime. Nakakapangilabot at the same time, nakakalungkot.

A Sam Tsui song was playing on my cp as we were leaving on board a bus to Saigon the next day - I'm trying hard to forget you. But my empty walls won't let me let you go.” Maybe my mind is playing a trick on me again, but then I want to believe there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind. 
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