Tuesday, July 13, 2010

100709 Siem Reap - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Woke up bright and early and caught the 6.30am bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Sure, I was sad to leave Disneyland Siem Reap and head back to tuk-tuk crazy Phnom Penh, but I had a flight from Phnom Penh back home the next day and theres just no way I'm going to miss that. We both slept through the 6 hour bus ride and got back to Phnom Penh. Witnessed a traffic accident that left a Khmer guy dead at the roadside too. Sad thing to see/ Much sadder that the Khmer people didn't really bat an eyelid and was more interested in our bus driving past.

Anyway, we got to Capitol Tours (took the Capitol bus again because it was the cheapest at 17000R or US$4.25). We didn't even need to get off the bus for hoards and hoards of crazy tuk-tuk drivers to rush at the bus and scream "Tuk-tuk, tuk-tuk! Lady, you need tuk-tuk? Tuk-tuk, miss!" Oh my god, I don't usually hate, but I really hate tuk-tuk drivers who scream and tout. At Capitol, we were constantly harrassed by tuk-tuk drivers. One particular one was particularly irritating and creepy. He kept saying "Lady! I know you! I know where you stay! You stay same place again? I know you! Lady! Lady!" I wish I had a bazooka to blast off his mouth. I really really wonder if these tuk-tuk drivers know how creepy they are or how uncomfortable it is. Also, Leah noted that the creepy Australian guy was still at the restaurant and trying to make eye contact with me.

We decided to walk away from the mess at Capitol. We crossed the street, and less than 100m away, with only 2 tuk-tuk drivers touting for business (instead of 20 - no kidding!), we were at Dragon Guesthouse. As Dragon Guesthouse was recommended in Lonely Planet, we decided to head up and give it a try. Upon inspection of the room (after the scare at Capitol), we decided that Dragon Guesthouse was it for the night. US$8 - double bed, hot shower, fan, cable tv and free wifi - awesome deal!

This is what US$8 a night gets you

Once we settled our stuff in the guesthouse, we headed out again. For fear of dealing with tuk-tuk drivers, we decided to take a walk to the Royal Palace (about 30 to 40mins). Passing by the Royal University of Fine Arts, we saw a photography exhibition and decided to head in and take a look.

Photography exhibition at the Royal University of the Arts

Before long, we reached the Royal Palace, right by the Sisowath Quay. It was a grand sight. Everything was gold-gilded and painted yellow. There was a sprawling green park right in front of the Royal Palace, followed by Sisowath Quay. Sisowath Quay really reminds me of the quay in Zadar. That was beautiful too.

Sisowath Quay

Emy in front of the Royal Palace

We decided to head into the Royal Palace to take a look. It costs foreigners US$6.50 to enter the Royal Palace. Shoulders and knees have to be covered or one can rent pants and buy a T-shirt at the souvenir store. We decided to head to the Silver Pagoda first. The Silver Pagoda is floored with over 5000 silver tiles each weighing 1kg. It is a building made up of concrete and marble that housed the famouse 'Emeral Buddha' and a life-sized statue of Buddha that is in pure gold and weighs 90kg. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed.

exterior of the Silver Pagoda

Surrounding the Silver Pagoda are numerous stupas made of concrete. These stupas are very intricately decorated. Somewhere, we heard music being played. Being curious, we followed the music and was brought to a courtyard where traditional Khmer music was being played.

Leah and Emy

Traditional Khmer Music (will upload video soon)

After leaving the Pagoda, we decided to head to the throne room. The exterior of the throne room looks typically southeast Asian, however, the interior reminds me of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. They have mosaic on the floor that matches with the carpet (huge huge carpet, gift from China). It also has frescoes on the wall (just like most churches in the western world).

throne room

side view of the throne room

There was really nothing much to see at the Royal Palace. For US$6.50 (which is alot of money there, considering the average yearly wage is US$480!), at least the gardens were well pruned. *haha*

pruned gardens

After leaving the Royal Palace, I headed over to the National Museum (entrance US$3), which was just beside the Royal Palace. All the missing statues at Angkor are apparently kept at the National Museum for safekeeping, because people often headed to Angkor to steal statues to sell in the black market.

exterior of the National Museum

statue in the museum

collection of statues

more statues

The museum has a very pretty courtyard. Lots of flowers, greenery and ponds filled with koi! I really like gardens and water, thought not necessarily as manmade as this one. In the middle of it all, there was also a stature of Buddha.

Buddha in the middle of the courtyard

Leaving the museum, I took a walk along the Cambodian-Vietnam memorial, enroute to the Independence memorial. I walked along a very long mall, just like the one in Washington DC. People were playing ball games and doing mass exercises there too. It was fun. Along the mall was a monastry, so there were many monks there too.


a long way to the memorial...

Cambodia-Vietnam memorial

Independence memorial

And what better way to end the trip than going back to the very first place we had shakes and dinner? Again, shakes and dinner - fried mama noodles with beef, was AWESOME!


Monday, July 12, 2010

100708 Siem Reap, Cambodia Pt6

After a whole day of activities, we slept in and had a late start to the day. I woke up at 10am and talked to Jas for a while (there is free wi-fi in our guesthouse), while I let Leah sleep till noon. When we got out of the guesthouse, it was already 1pm and I was hungry! Unfortunately, Disneyland is still asleep and we had to search hard to find food.

We eventually settled in a cafe that had free popcorn and fruits with your meal. Leah had Khmer noodles (US$2) and I had Khmer fish soup (US$2.25). This is by far my favourite meal in Cambodia. The fish soup has chunks of smooth fish, green leafy vegetables, pieces of yam and sweet potato. By now, we have realized that everytime they name a food Khmer, it means it has this special blend of Khmer spices called Amok.

Khmer noodles

Khmer fish soup

After having lunch, we decided to visit the workshops that make traditional Khmer handicrafts. These workshops often hire people who are handicapped or have been injured in the Khmer Rouge regime and could not have found a job otherwise. The first one we went to was Senteurs d'Angkor.

At Senteurs d'Angkor, we saw people making baskets out of palm leaves. Baskets made of palm leaves are very common in Cambodia. They are used for packaging bought goods, just like plastic bags! There, they dye the palm leaves and others weave the palm leaves into baskets.

women weaving palm leaves into baskets

dyed and drying palm leaves

baskets made of palm leaves

At Senteurs, they have their own herb garden that boasts of numerous local herbs such as lemongrass, betel, tumeric, chili and others. They grow the herbs, harvest them, and grind them. Senteurs also uses its own herbs to make aromatic candles, soaps and oils.

lemongrass in the gardens

soap-making department

candle-making department

dried spices

packaging department

We also visited the packaging department, where all the soaps, oils, spices, jams etc. were packaged. The women working there were very friendly too. It felt like a comfortable and relaxed working environment for the staff.

At the end, we were also served tea and coffee at the cafe. I had iced lemongrass tea. It was so good. Its no surprise what I got at the store. :)

Artisans d'Angkor

After Senteurs, we got the tuk-tuk to drive us to Artisans d'Angkor. Artisans, like Senteurs, also hires mainly handicapped people who cannot find jobs elsewhere. At Artisans, we had a guide who took us through all the different workshops. The first workshop we went to was the wood-carving workshop. Here, the sculptors are basically interning at Artisans before they open their own workshops elsewhere. We were told these internships usually last about 18 months.

wood bas-relief

copying a wood turtle from the cement original

tools of the trade

Moving on, we also visited the sandstone sculpting workshop. There are many different types of sandstone. All the sandstone used in the workshop is brought in from different quarries in Cambodia. The special and rare green sandstone is used only for restoring sculptures at Angkor.

the different types of sandstone

sandstone elephant wearing the sculptor's safety glasses

Next, we visited the metalworks workshop. They were making silver-guilded bronze jewelry boxes.

decorative pumpkin leaves to be put on the jewelry box

Jewelry box filled with resin for engraving

Leah tries her hand at working in metalworks

At the Artisans store, there is a section full of pink, purple and orange things. The silk there was so smooth too, but everything just cost alot, even for American standards. Love the store! :)

Silk clothes

love this silk bed!!

silk bags and scarfs

silk scarves of all colors

Sunday, July 11, 2010

100707 Siem Reap, Cambodia Pt5

When we were done with Bantaey Kdei and Prasat Kravan, it was only 4pm and about an hour and a half away from sunset. Preferring not to bum around at Angkor, we decided to go back to the tourist temple (hotel/guesthouse) for some rest (at this point, we were out climbing temples for 11hours already).

A shower and a nap later, we were all ready to go again! First stop: Fruit shakes and fried mama noodles (or as I call it, maggi goreng - malay for fried maggi noodles). There was a whole row of makeshift food stalls at the street next to ours. Again, the locals flock to you when they see you coming.

mixed fruit shake (US$0.60)

Fried Mama noodles with shrimp (US$1)

After our evening snack, we decided to walk around Siem Reap and attempt to find the less Disneyland-ish part of town. The number restaurants, cafes, massage parlors, guesthouses, internet cafes and tour agencies within the five-block radius is unbelievable. This is what we found - a lovely sunset!

Sunset in Phnom Penh

After walking around, we decided to head to dinner. We were told that The Temple Balcony, a restaurant and bar on Pub Street, had nightly traditional dances, hence we headed there for dinner. Leah had Khmer curry (US$3.25) while I had beef kebobs (US$3).

Leah and her Khmer curry

Emy and beef kebobs!

At the temple balcony, we caught the entire show of traditional dances. The first dance was the Khmer blessing dance. We felt it was very similar to the Balinese welcome dance (I took Balinese dancing classes when I was in Bali in 2008) with similar hand positions and the gesture of throwing flowers as the audience.

Khmer Blessing Dance from Emily Koh on Vimeo.

Khmer Coconut Dance from Emily Koh on Vimeo.

Khmer apsara dance

More apsara dancers

After a night at Temple Balcony, we decided to head next door for fish massage. Here, you sit with your feet in a pool of fishes. The fishes eat up the dead skin on your legs. It is incredibly ticklish and it took me a good 15mins or so before I settle down and managed to put both feet into the water. 30mins later, I had clean smooth feet. US$3 well spent! :)

Fish massage!