Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Coming out of Depression

Note: Pictures have been added to yesterday's blog. In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is just a ploy by Dave and I to increase the number of hits to our blog. But, we hope you enjoy!

Note 2: Pictures of the temple aren't uploading (for below), we will try to get them up tomorrow!)

So when we last left you, I was enveloped by a deep cloud of depression. Carrie's cloud of optimism was fending off mine. She remained optimistic (as did I- once you hit bottom there is only one way to go). In fact, I have spent the entire day practicing the art of not seeing it- a very sad choice, but one that is necessary if I am going to spend time here. And, according to various stories a) the beggars can often make more money than the people with jobs b) giving only encourages begging and c) you certainly can't give to everyone. Ok, enough with that- on to fun stuff!

Lunch. We like food and food likes us. This meal was no exception. We went to the Khmer Kitchen in the Old Town for our first experience with Khmer food. We enjoyed spring rolls, a chicken curry with potatoes, carrots and pumpkins, and an amazing fried chili and basil with chicken. Spectacular (and a far cry from a Potbelly's! sandwich). The lunch was pleasant and only cost like $10 (and we only had 5-10 beggars stop and stare at us while we ate).

Carrie really wanted a massage after lunch, since they are only $7 or so here. I don't generally get massages in the States, and didn't really wanted to go to one here. Of course, I am the muscle- Carrie needs my protection on the streets of Cambodia (the plan is that if something happens, I will run away very quickly, they will get distracted, and Carrie can (hopefully) go on about her business). So we took a tuk-tuk (what do you call a tuk-tuk stuck in the mud... tuk-tuk muck-muck!) over to Seeing Hands Massage on Sivatha Blvd. No ordinary spa for us! Tapping into our desire to help those in need here, we went to a place that employs the blind (and gives proceeds to organizations for the blind here in Siem Reap). To be very clear, the building and surroundings are nothing to write home about (or email, text, skype, facebook, or blog about...oh wait, strike the blog part). But, it did include some attractive spa wear, and a clean massage bench. Literally, that was about it- except the good feeling you get from helping out a group that is a) really trying and b) needs our help. The massage was very good- we left $20 for our two $7 1-hr massages (we cannot verify that the massage was 1 hour since I forgot my watch in Newton, MA- but a crow crow-ed 4 times if that makes a difference).

After the massage, we got into the tuk-tuk (what do you call a tuk-tuk playing hockey? tuk-tuk puck-puck). Our driver had waited for us (he told us that he hadn't had a customer in 1 month- very believable since there are more tuk-tuks than people here) and took us back home to the Two-Dragons Guest House for a quick nap and BBC news watching (Iran is going thru some stuff, huh?!).

We woke up and headed to Phnom Bakheng, the Khmer temple best known for sunset watching. Built between 889-910 a.c.e it is a monument to the Hindu god Shiva. After a massive climb up a steep path, we got to some steep stairs (we later learned that stairs were kept steep in the temples so that you had to work to get to heaven. Fall off... off to hell! The temple was cool and the views were great, but like everything else, Mother Nature had the sunset under cloud construction. That is what you get for coming here during the rainy season (as a note, the weather is hot, but not nearly as hot as we thought it would be).

Back to the tuk-tuk (what do you call a tuk-tuk in a patch of four-leaf clovers? tuk-tuk luck-luck). And what do you at night in a city that had culture shocked you into submission? Shower and eat at your hotel! Plus, we got up at 3:45am that day and we were tired. We ate at the Two-Dragons (the food is superb, the setting is nice, and if you ever go to Cambodia, we recommend the restaurant). Pad-See-Ew (a Thai noodle dish), and a traditional Khmer dish, Amok, which was a fish and peanut curry served in a coconut. Awesome!

So we read a bit downstairs, enjoyed a glass of wine and a couple beers, and off to bed. We had to meet our guide Khim, and our tuk-tuk driver Mr. Thy at 5 am.

What's that you say? 5 am? We know it sounds torturous- but if you can figure out another way to the sunrise over one of the 8 Wonders of the World (Angkor Wat), then you you should have let us know before today. And this blog doesn't count.

There is no way we could have done today's adventures without a tour guide. It is a must if you want to explore Angkor Wat. And not just because he took us behind virtual every 'No Access' sign, but because he knew everything! He went to archaeology school, started a restoration of a temple, and is super proud of his Khmer ancestors. It is heart-warming to hear how he talks about the success of the empire, and his views on the future of his people today (and the past with the Khmer Rhouge- his father, an intellectual working for the gov't, was hidden in the country side, while his uncle was not so lucky). We started in Angkor Wat (unbelievable- huge and obviously well constructed). Then onto Angkor Thom (under construction). Note the faces build into the sides of the temple. Lunch (see below), several smaller temples, then Ta Prohm Temple- known as the jungle temple. All were amazing, but for the sake of yours and our time, just look at the pics below.

A quick note on the jungle temple. There was a book that came out a couple of years ago called The World Without Us. It goes through how the world would evolve if humans were to disappear right now. This temple shows how nature doesn't care about the things we build (destroy). Trees grow on walls, moss on stones, birds nest on top of spires, and dogs sleep in the temples. Both the permanency and temporary-ness of what is built there astounds you!

Here's Carrie to describe our meals today (her personal Food Network Show)...

So, for all our attempts to be prepared for this trip (in regards to food safety), our research, our visit to the travel clinic, our searching on the internet, it was all thrown out the window this morning. After our sunrise at Angkor Wat, our guide took us across the street to a small shanty town restaurant. It was outdoors (with plastic tables and chairs), small fires cooking the food in the center of the pavilion, and no other non-Cambodians around. Who knew how the food was stored, the dishes cleaned... But, we felt much better when the silverware was served in a cup of boiling water. I had the vegetable omelet with french bread. Due to the French influence here, the bread was crusty and delicious. The omelet may have been the best I've had (sorry mom). This was probably due to the amount of salt added. Dave had pancakes with honey and bananas (because he was too scared to eat anything else). He said the were delish too. Top it off with a can of Nescafe with milk (they need to start advertising this stuff in the US - really good) and we were set to move on. No stomach issues there, and we would definitely recommend it if you need to grab a bite to eat (the first restaurant walking out of Angkor Wat on the left). Plus, there was an adorable Cambodian baby with the cutest smile we were playing with. Interesting, the babies we have seen have only a shirt on, no pants or diapers, probably due to the cost. But he was adorable none-the-less.

Lunch was also fantastic. Our guide took us to the Khmer Village Restaurant right past the jungle temple. We would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting (just remember your toilet paper and hand sanitizer). We split (which even Dave enjoys doing here so we can try more) fried chicken with lemongrass and rice, as well as fried noodles with chicken and veggies. Everything tastes so fresh here and has such great flavor. And for those who know me well, they even use white meat (I hope this keeps on going). The meal was fantastic and we didn't want it to end. So what did we do, ordered coffee (we were both falling asleep in the tuk-tuk) and fried bananas in a coconut cream. SUPERB!!!!! And I should mention, with the exception of the bananas, "fried" really means sauteed, so I don't feel too guilty. Overall, our dining experiences were exceptional today. I didn't realize how much we would enjoy Khmer food, but it really is wonderful!

So, now we're here (after an attempt to use the Internet at the slowest place ever). Probably will go out for dinner tonight and then another day in the temples tomorrow. Really amazing experience. You can see why the people would come to these spots to pray and is beautiful to see the monks in their saffron robes (the color of enlightenment) happen by to visit. Minus the begging and poverty, this is really an incredible country to visit.

[Final note. I forgot to tell you that my camera, with the annoying 'Lens 2 Error' got even more banged up today when a girl selling postcards (just 1$, just 1$) made me hurry out of my tuk-tuk. I got up, camera got down... on the ground, with a cracked LCD cover screen. Oh well. I can tell you, that because of the terrible customer service I got regarding that stupid lens 2 error, I will never buy a Casio camera again. There loss... lets hope the camera hold up past the Mekong Delta...)


  1. Hi Guys- this is an amazing adventure! The food, the sights, your comments --unbelievable. Hope you found your am-ex card!

    This is actually from your "second Mom" not Abe

    Stay safe and have fun!



  2. Sounds like you had another very interesting and educational day complete with wonderful eating experiences! Your pictures are great!
    It is fantastic that you really are getting to speak with the people and see what the culture is really like.
    Hope tomorrow will be another exciting one for you both! Stay well! We love you and enjoyed your skype call. Sorry I couldn't talk long!!

  3. We loved talking to you on Skype. It makes us feel like you are right next door. Each stage of the trip seems to be more interesting. Maybe you both can get jobs as tour guides-who needs and MBA from Babson?