The White Elephant Temple, Wat Tahm-rai-saw, was built in 1904. Yary Livan attended here as a child. In the 1960’s, the Thai took over this area and they still visit this temple. Because it survived the Khmer Rouge era, it is considered to have “good spirit.” It was restored in the 1990’s. Its interior is ornately decorated, with stories from the life of the Buddha painted around the perimeter and grillwork with Apsara.
The Ramayana/ Reamker is painted on the exterior. It includes a funny picture of a monkey on a train (artist humor). Most tourists miss this.
We stopped in Yary Livan’s ancestral village, Phnom Toh (meaning small mountain), to ask for a blessing for his father and ancestors. Yary’s grandfather had a rice farm here of over one hundred acres and he employed workers. His grandfather started the stupa 65 years ago, in 1951. It is still used by the family.
At dusk, we waited outside one of the bat caves on Phnom Sampeau to view the Asian wrinkle-lipped bats as they exited on their nightly journey. Each bat eats 50-100% of its weight in insects every night, thus helping to preserve the rice harvest. The bats were still exiting as we left.
We left the Somadevi hotel in Siem Reap at 7 a.m. We said goodbye to our tour guide, Jeudi, and boarded our boat to head for the Tonle Sap Lake. On the approach along the tributary, we saw houses, stores, restaurants, and even a church on the water. On the lake, there were clusters of vegetation and we sighted some large water birds.
On our boat trip, I saw places of worship for three faiths: a church, a Buddhist temple, and a mosque.
We crossed only a portion of the lake and then entered a channel to continue to Battambang.
The green vegetation and fishing areas were punctuated with clusters of homes lining the waterway. I was surprised that a humble home still had a solar panel and a satellite dish.
I noticed that the fishermen worked from small boats and used both basket traps and nets.
Sometimes they used a pulley system operated by more than one person to lift big nets.
Early morning, we set out by bus for Preah Vihear, a temple which is near the border with Thailand. It has been an important pilgrimage site since the Angkor period.
Before we reached Preah Vihear, we stopped at the house of the late Khmer Rouge leader, Ta Mok. He was Pol Pot’s military enforcer who died before he could be brought to trial. The two-story house uses massive tree trunks as supporting pillars and has some simple murals on the walls. There were also two prisoner cages on display.
Preah Vihear Temple is located at a high elevation, so we rode up the mountain and back via pick up trucks.
As I walked the last few yards to the temple, my cell phone announced “Welcome to Thailand” and offered different cell service with lower rates. My guidebook warned to keep on the well-worn paths so as to avoid any remaining land mines. The site offers spectacular views of the plains below with Phnom Kulen ( holy Kulen mountain) in the distance.Even though the site has been looted and vandalized, Preah Vihear Temple is impressive.
After checking into the Green Palace Hotel in Preah Vihear, we walked to a nearby restaurant where we ate family style and enjoyed entertainment.
We traveled by bus to Phnom Kulen. We went to see the giant reclining Buddha at the 16th century Buddhist monastery, Preah Ang Thom.
Phnom Kulen is a holy mountain of pilgrimage for both Hindus and Buddhists.The mountain has two waterfalls, the first smaller than the second.
We also visited “The River of a Thousand Linga” or Kbal Spean, whose sandsone riverbed has carvings of linga. Linga often rest on a square pedestal, called uma or yoni. As the water rushes over the linga, it is sanctified.
On our way back to Siem Reap, we stopped by a rice paddy. (Perhaps watered by the Kbal Spean.) The woman working in the paddy allowed us to try holding her pole with rice plants. It felt heavy.
The Cambodian Living Arts Khmer Magic Music Bus picked us up at our hotel and brought us first to see 60 Roads Studio, a social enterprise recording studio, and then to Man Men’s village where we heard musicians play traditional Cambodian instruments. Along the way, we were entertained on the bus.
The traditional Cambodian instruments included the ken (a rare wind instrument that was played on the bus), the tro, the kse, and the chapei.
The final instrument which we listened to was made from a snail shell.
After lunch, some of us went to the National Museum in Siem Reap for two hours before it closed. Most striking was the room with 1,000 Buddhas. I soon realized that no amount of time is enough for 1,000 Buddhas.
In Siem Reap, we attended a presentation about how Artisans D’Angkor reduces rural poverty by providing high-skilled training and a vocation for the rural population in surrounding villages. The artisans are paid during their training period which can be from six to nine months, or even a year for weaving. Today, Artisans D’Angkor is a fair trade development company. The artisans have contractural working conditions with social and medical benefits. They are paid hourly rather than piece by piece so that they do not rush their work, and the hourly rate is determined by the quality of the work. They have no shops abroad, but they have an online presence and ship via DHL.
Following the presentation, we toured their Arts & Craft Training School.
Then we traveled to the outskirts of Siem Reap, to Teik Tar village to tour the Artisans D’Angkor Silk Farm & Weaving Training Center. In the Cocoonerie, we viewed active silk worms, worms spinning cocoons onto baskets, and the collected cocoons. About 20% of the cocoons are saved for breeding. Others are killed by placing in the sun in the dry season or steaming in the rainy season. The chrysalis is a good protein source and has been used as food for astronauts.
After visiting the Cocoonery, we saw the process of creating silk fabric, from forming thread to weaving.
After our observations, we all were inspired to purchase many items from Artisans D’Angkor.
We accompanied Dr. Darith and his Pannasastra University students on a tour of the Angkor complex. We began at Angkor Thom. Dr. Darith explained that the high temples were for the king. Ta Prohm was for the king’s mother. Other low temples were for the common people.
The Baphuon is a mountain temple, representing Mount Neru.
Before proceeding, Dr. Darith asked us how we were at climbing. We all reached the top and the view was worth the effort.
Baphoun was built in the 11th century as a Hindu temple, but in the 16th century, materials from the temple were reused to construct the Reclining Buddha on the second level of the western side of the temple.
The last site toured in the morning was the Bayon, a temple built by King Jayavarman VII. Its third level has 54 towers decorated with faces of Avalokiteshvara, which bear some resemblance to Jayavarman VII himself.
Dr. Darith pointed out and explained some of the extensive bas-reliefs on the first two levels. They depict scenes from everyday life, as well as military battles.
In the afternoon, we visited Angkor Wat.Dr. Darith’s focus was the bas-reliefs in the surrounding galleries, noting depictions of the Battle of Kurukshetra (part of the Mahabarata), scenes from the Ramayana, Suryavarman II and his troops, and the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.As we departed Angkor Wat at the end of the day, Dr. Darith pointed out the elephant gates which had no stairs. From these gates, the king and others could mount and dismount an elephant directly from the galleries.
We went with our tour guide, Jeudi, to see daybreak over Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Built by King Suryavarman II as a Hindu temple to Vishnu, it is now a Buddhist temple and a symbol of Cambodia.
If you want a good view, you need to get there early to avoid the crowds.
Our designated meet up location was the Library building. Jeudi told us that the Library would have stored stone tablets.
We then proceeded to Ta Prohm, a.k.a. the Tomb Raiders temple. Ta Prohm was built as a Buddhist temple by King Jayavarman VII. Jeudi told us that when the French discovered Ta Prohm in 1863, they took its Buddhas to the Louvre. Ta Prohm has beautifully carved stone wherever you gaze, but sometimes you need an artist’s observant eyes, like those of Yary Livan, to sight objects like a bas relief figure peeking out between the roots of a tree or a headless figure on one of the pieces of rubble.
In the evening, we saw a Cambodian Living Arts shadow puppet performance at Wat Racha Bo. Afterward, we had conversation over dinner with the artists.
We flew from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and checked into the Soma Devi hotel. After this, we went to meet with the Director General of APSARA, Dr. Sum Map. He greeted us warmly and presented “kramas” (scarves) to us, as well as a group pass for Angkor Wat. Also present was Dr. E.A. Darith, who let us tour the labs where they work to restore ancient pottery. He also invited us to join him and some of his university students to tour the Angkor temple complex on the 17th.