Siem Reap, Cambodia

At the entrance of a Temple

We took a short flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, Cambodia and checked into our hotel, The Raffles. 

This totally land-locked country is populated by the Khmer people, who trace their heritage in this part of the world back about 3,000 years. At one time the Khmer occupied all of what is now Thailand and the southern part of Vietnam around the Mekong Delta. They are a separate people from the Chinese, the Vietnamese or the Thais, and they are fiercely independent.

Faces of Buddha still survive on the exterior of the Temple

Starting about the 12th Century, successive rulers of the Khmer people began building enormous religious temples. These temples were originally Hindu, but quickly became Buddhist as the population switched its religious affiliation. The complexes, sometimes, were as large as 1,000 acres. They were built over a period of approximately 300 years. At some point in the 16th Century, the Hindus retreated; the Thais and the Khmer fought and separated, and the area of the Temples (present day Siem Reap) was reclaimed by the jungle and rain forest. The Temples were lost and over time became unknown to most of the world.

Tree growing the walls and
 roof of the Jungle Temple

The most elaborate and most famous of these temples is Angkor Wat. We will see that temple tomorrow, but today we began our journey into the Temple World at the so-called Jungle Temple. This temple, of about 79 acres was completely over grown by the jungle. Some rooms and hallways are completely blocked or destroyed by very large banyan trees and kamfort trees that have grown right through the walls and ceilings. In many places, as the trees grew, the walls and monuments of the temples fell down. I will post a few pictures to show the jungle attacking this temple.

Fearless travelers in front of tree growing through a Temple, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Wall carvings survive 800 years
on the Jungle Temple walls
Next we visited several other temples that had been freed from the surrounding forest. Each has its own character and sense of place. Many were surrounded by moats, but they were not towns or forts. The people lived outside the Temple walls and military installations were elsewhere. These were places to pray and pay homage to their gods.

Following our temple visits we had a great Cambodian lunch and then proceeded to our meditation class at a local temple with the resident monk. Despite my reservations, I must admit it was an interesting session.

Lovely honeymoon couple that we're traveling with

A floating Catholic Church in Cambodia 
And finally, we took a sunset cruise on a small boat on the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. The Mekong River (yes, the same Mekong that we were on several days ago south of Saigon) feeds this lake which today was 100km long and 40km wide. I say today, because during the rainy season the lake can expand to three times this size, overflowing it banks and in the process swallowing whole communities. In the area where we boarded our boat there are about 10,000 Cambodians who permanently live on the water in floating communities or in stilt homes along its banks. These are very poor people who scrape out a living on fishing or short haul transportation. Nevertheless, it was one of the damnedest things I’ve ever seen. Not only are there floating restaurants, there are schools (we saw a "car-pool" run in a row boat), churches (a rather well-built floating Catholic Church), Buddhist Temples, small gardens and poultry pens.

Heard of water buffalo

The people of this area move their floating residences depending on the volume of water in the lake.

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