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Siem Reap. Cambodia. Again. Part Three

Siem Reap: 2012

Siem Reap, Cambodia…

As mentioned in Part One and Part Two, on my return to Siem Reap I revisited Viva’s nachos and ‘buckets’ of margaritas, Ankor Wat, Ankor Tom, and the heads of Bayon. A new (and not to be repeated) adventure was the fish massage.

And day two? Well, the second day was saved for a trip out of Siem Reap to Kulen Mountain.

Phnom Kulen National Park: Kulen is considered by Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and it is a popular place for domestic visitors during weekends and festivals. The hill is used as the ancient capital city II in AD 802 to declared himself as god king and announced independence from Java, then giving birth to present day Cambodia.

If you jump in your vehicle and drive straight through from Siem Reap to Kulen Mountain it takes about an hour. Our guide added detours so it took us twice as long. And at each stop he shared insights into the Cambodian countryside. It was perfect for me because I love learning new stuff.

The first stop was at a small family owned… I’d like to say ‘store’ but it was more than that. They sold baskets and tourist bits but they also educated tourists on the production of palm sugar. I remember stopping by this very same place 5 years ago (I still have the baskets) but I somehow missed their sugar palm spiel (if it was even around back then).

Siem Reap: 2012

I find the practicals of tropical living interesting, so please bear with me… For pollination to occur, both a male and female coconut palm tree are needed. While I realise you can’t see it clearly, in the photomontage above the male tree is on the left and the female on the right. And just like you’d expect, the male flower (top right photo) pollinates the female flower (shown underneath). The female flower is bent down, cut, and a container (bamboo or plastic bottle) is attached to gather the dripping nectar. Each morning a palm sugar worker climbs into the trees to collect the harvest. On his return, the nectar is then boiled down to create palm sugar.

Was my explanation of palm sugar production as clear as mud, or what? To help fill in any holes, above is a video explaining the how to’s of palm sugar. The video is shot in nearby Amphawa (Thailand) so I just might stop by at some point.

Siem Reap: 2012

Another first for me was seeing a real live cashew tree. And who knew that a cashew tree has two types of fruit? As you can see from the photos, the cashew grows out of the middle of the green fruit, which turns yellow when ripe.

Tasting a bite of the yellow fruit I found it watery and slightly sweet. Refreshing actually. And from the piles rotting on the ground I’m guessing that the yellow fruit isn’t the main cash crop.

Siem Reap: 2012

This is a lucky shot taken out the window of the van as we drove away. Along with other family members, these two beautiful Cambodian gals ran the tourist stall.

Siem Reap: 2012

And here are two more things that surprised me about Cambodia: 1) Cigarette butts offerings at spirit houses, and 2) monks asking for money donations.

When I asked the guide about the cigarette butts shoved on top of joss sticks he suggested that it was a joke, not a serious offering. Because same as in Thailand, Cambodians leave whole cigarettes for the spirits, not just the butts.

Further up the road we stopped to donate money to novice monks. I was surprised because in Thailand monks are not supposed to ask for money. If they do they are usually fakes. But apparently, in some parts of the Cambodian countryside, the locals are too poor to support their monks. Being practical the monks take to the roads to get money to feed themselves.

It just goes to show how impoverished Cambodia is in comparison to Thailand. Or perhaps I haven’t been to the dirt poor parts of Thailand yet?

Siem Reap: 2012

We saw other sights along the way but let’s fast forward to Kbal Spean’s 1,000 Shiva Lingas. I grew fond of lingas while researching for my post, Bangkok’s Fertility Shrine: Chao Mae Tuptim. So of course, when the chance came to see 1000 more, well, there I was!

wiki: Kbal Spean: The site consists of a series of stone carvings in sandstone formations carved in the river bed and banks. It is commonly known as the “Valley of a 1000 Lingas” or “The River of a Thousand Lingas”. The motifs for stone carvings are mainly myriads of lingams (phallic symbol of Hindu god Shiva), depicted as neatly arranged bumps that cover the surface of a sandstone bed rock, and lingam-yoni designs.

Before we got out of the van the guide told us to avoid standing on the carvings. But everyone does. Locals walk over them. Tourists stand on them. Oh well.

As you can see from the top photo, the lingas are boxes carved into the river rock with carved circles protruding from their middles. The boxes are symbolic of the yoni (lady parts) and the circles the lingam (man parts).

wiki: (Sanskrit: योनि yoni) is the Sanskrit word for the vagina. Its counterpart is the lingam, interpreted by some as the phallus.

wiki: The Lingam (also, Linga, Ling, Shiva linga, Shiv ling, Sanskrit लिङ्गं liṅgaṃ,Tamilலிங்கம், meaning “mark”, “sign”, “gender”, “phallus”, “inference” or “eternal procreative germ” is a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples.

As I was taking this video I couldn’t help but be impressed at the dedication needed to pull off a project of this size. Hermits started carving in the 11th century and finished in the 12th. That’s a 100 year stretch, give or take. Very impressive.

In Thailand there’s a mix and match of Hindu and Buddhism so to simplify it in my head, I sometimes lump the two together. And that’s why I at first assumed the lingas were carved by monks. Wrong. Monks aren’t Hindu. Plus, the issue of sex comes into play. True? Obviously, monks on their knees carving male and female sexual organs doesn’t make sense. Or does it?

Siem Reap: 2012

After wandering around in the heat of Kbal Spean for hours, off we went to Preah Ang Thom.

wiki: Preah Ang Thom is an 8 meter tall statue of the reclining Buddha reaching nirvana. The statue is carved into a huge sandstone boulder. Preah Ang Thom is the sacred and worshipping god for Phnom Kulen.

The Buddha at the top of the mountain is (I’m told) the largest reclining Buddha carved out of a solid piece of rock in all of Cambodia. Note: The photo of the Buddha shown above is not mine but was taken by a dear friend.

Before you get to the reclining Buddha you have to first run the gauntlet of professional beggars. The guide instructed us to get small change from the money changers to share around. After seven plus years in Thailand I’m cynical about beggars, so instead of giving handouts, I opted to wield a camera. Not much different than I was doing previously but it kept my hands busy.

At the shrine before the shrine, and after the first bit of stairs, you take off your shoes and then get blessed. And only then can you climb the next steep lot of stairs to the top of the mountain.

I’m not a wimp, but I’ve been there, done that. I’ve climbed many stairs to see many Buddhas on many mountain tops. Most in the baking sun. Opting out (yes, again), this time I stayed back to take photos of an equally cynical monk. To get photo permission I waggled my camera. Nodding his reply, he put out his cigarette and signed off from his mobile (both are on the mat in front of him).

Siem Reap: 2012

PHEW! The last monument of the trip was Banteay Srey (Citadel of the Woman).

wiki: Banteay Srei or Banteay Srey is a 10th century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Located in the area of Angkor in Cambodia. It lies near the hill of Phnom Dei, 25 km (16 mi) north-east of the main group of temples that once belonged to the medieval capitals of Yasodharapura and Angkor Thom. Banteay Srei is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable today.

Banteay Srey is truly stunning. A must see. I did stop by this Wat on my first trip to Siem Reap and I was thrilled to do it again. In my opinion, the carvings are the best out of all the Wats on the tour. And if you catch the sun just right you come away with fabulous photos. Again, on my first trip the sun was perfect. This one not so much. Regardless, I found the ambiance of the area much the same. Fabulous.

Siem Reap: 2012

Returning to the Heritage Suites Hotel we were tired, hungry, and dusty. Checkout time was around noon but to accommodate our late flight they moved us from our Bungalow Suits (see the wraparound view) to a smaller but equally suitable room to relax and do whatever. Bless them.

After being showered, watered, and fed, we were tucked into a vintage Mercedes Benz (formerly owned by the King of Cambodia) for a ride to the airport. And home. Finish.

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

13 Comments

  1. I really must visit Cambodia again. I never got arround to visiting Siem Riap which is a real shame.

  2. Paul, I hope you do get to Siem Reap because it’s a wonderful experience. After my first trip I felt the Cambodian Wats had a bigger impact on me than the monuments in Egypt. Now that I’ve been twice I see them more neck in neck, but still impressive.

  3. Cambodia has one the countries that are very rich in culture. Glad that you had the chance to go there. Hope I can also experience Cambodia. :)

  4. Lawrence Michaels

    April 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Oh Cat, you had me at nacho’s and buckets of margaritas. I am highly disappointed in your post’s lack of nacho’s and/or buckets of margaritas.

  5. Cat, blast, I knew there was much more to see in SR, than we did. Good excuse to go back and explore some more. We were only discussing the way cashews grew, the other day. No wonder they’re so expensive. It’s unusual that the fruit part is discarded…usually every little thing gets used up, one way or another, in SEA.

    “To get photo permission I waggled my camera. Nodding his reply, he put out his cigarette and signed off from his mobile” what a classic, I can just picture it ;)

  6. PS. where have your share buttons gone…or is that my problem?

  7. Marry, I too hope you can get there on day. Cambodia has a lot to offer :-)

    Lawrence, I can only consume one half of a bucket a year – yes, I’m a wimp, I shared – so I’m afraid after my first post I was done. Margaritas are great fun but they do pack a wallop!

    Snap, the friends I went with didn’t want to spend all their time scrambling over old piles of stone so I had to look further afield. And as it turns out, it was a positive.

    When I went to write this post I noticed that I missed a great deal on the mountain so if I go again I’ll spend the night at Kulen National park and a full day walking through the various mountain trails. But I’ll go at a cooler time of year (Dec-Jan) as it was hot hot hot on the mountain!

    One thing I would recommend is hiring a guide. Cambodia has some of the best trained guides I’ve come across in any country so they are worth the money. From young ages, many of the Cambodians I met strive to learn foreign languages in order to pass the training necessary. They are proud of their profession, and should be.

    Share buttons… you are right. My share buttons are no longer available. Thanks for pointing that out (I didn’t notice). I had a cron job going bad and had to trim down my plugins. The share buttons should still be there though so I’ll get them back up today. Again, ta :-)

  8. Catherine – You shared nacho’s and buckets of margaritas in your first post, this one’s much more photogenic and touristy. Very good, but what a shame about the beggars. I think the sheer amount of them shows that Cambodia is very much a ‘have and have not’ country.

    Stop your Valley of 1000 Shiva Linguas video at the 15 second point and look below the word Linguas. Can you see the rock formation of a duck. It looks perfect to me, or is it only me who can see it.

    Thailand has ‘money for honey’, does Cambodia have ‘money for loni’?

    Nice post and now I know why cashew nuts are so bloody expensive.

  9. Thanks Martyn. The beggars and touts in Cambodia are a bother and the sooner Cambodia does something about them, the better for everyone.

    I don’t know any tourist who enjoys being hounded. And when they are not enjoying themselves, money stops flowing.

    There are rules inside the monuments but beggars often slip in anyway. And once out on the street, tourists are (un)fair game.

    ‘money for loni’ … During both trips to Siem Reap I did not see anything close to Pattaya. Not that I was looking, mind you… but I assume it can’t be missed?

    Now off to check out your duck…

  10. Cat, Martyn, I don’t want to dwell on the beggar issue, but to date Vietnam would have had to have been one of our biggest challenges. I seriously wanted to buy a hat with ‘Please!!!, I’m eating’ plastered on the front. The owners of the cafes etc. turn a blind eye…which I understand. Not sure what the solution is at a non governmental level. Curse this bloody smart phone keyboards !

  11. Snap, it’s not a hat but have you seen the Thai t-shirt Richard posted on his site?

    “Cool t-shirt to wear if you are annoyed by tourist touts”

    “Massage, tuk-tuk, suits. I don’t want. Thank you very much.”

    I want one…

  12. I have a T-shirt in Vietnamese. We bought them in Hanoi, from an Aussie based cafe. I took it off after 10 minutes, because the last line says ‘go away’ and I just couldn’t bring myself to that level of rudeness. I’ll have a search for it, I’m sure it’s in the 90% of our house contents, still packed away :)

  13. I don’t know about Vietnam but saying “go away” in Thailand would indeed be awfully rude. But no matter what’s written on a T-shirt, I don’t wear them but I do have a collection (weird, I know :-)

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