After my trek on Kilimanjaro I had to attend the MobiSys conference in Singapore, so I sent my trekking gear westward with Ken while I headed east. While planning the trip I realized that Cambodia and the famous ruins of Angkor Wat were a short hop away, so I extended the trip with a quick visit there. What a contrast with Kilimanjaro and Tanzania – but what a great opportunity!
Singapore is one of the most impressive cities I have ever visited. Organized, efficient, attractive, and clean. I spent most of my time near the conference site in the center of town, around the Marina Bay area, which seems to be one extended shopping mall with a few offices and hotels intermixed. Still, I had a chance to visit the zoo, Little India, East Coast Park, and the aromatic food festival along Geylang Road after sunset during Ramadan. The only catch – the weather was incredibly hot and humid. [See the photo gallery.]
Cambodia is a challenging place to grasp in just two days, and I’m sure I only scratched the surface. We flew directly to Siem Reap, a small but booming city now focused on tourists who drop in to view the incredible number of ancient temples close by. Cambodia’s rich history includes many painful memories from the 20th century, but Siem Reap proudly shows off the impressive Khmer temples of the 10th through 13th centuries. There are, I’m told, 1,080 temples scattered across Cambodia with perhaps a hundred located near here. We spent two days visiting a sample of the best-known temples:
Angkor Wat [photos]
Angkor Wat may be the largest and most famous of the many temples in the Siem Reap area of Cambodia – but the others were equally if not more interesting. Originally a Hindu temple early in the 12th century, and later transformed into a Buddhist temple. It is purportedly the largest religious monument in the world.
- Angkor Thom [photos]
An incredible temple complex from the late 12th century. Nearly 3km on a side, this is the largest complex we visited. Indeed, I think Angkor Thom was far more interesting than Angkor Wat, though it is not as grand or famous as its cousin.
- Preah Khan [photos]
The “royal sword” temple was built by the same king who built Angkor Thom, in this case to honor his father. It was built in the 12th century.
- Ta Prohm [photos]
One of the more impressive temples in the Siem Reap area, if only because of the huge “Spung” trees that have woven their roots and trunks in among the blocks of the temple. These trees support the temple, and destroy it too! Originally built in the late 12th and early 13th century.
- Prasat Kravan [photos]
A small 10th-century Hindu temple, predating the better-known temples of the Siem Reap area, Prasat Kravan is worth a visit. The main door includes extensive Sanskrit carvings.
In addition, we visited one of the floating villages on Tonle Sap, a huge lake that dominates central Cambodia. The residents of this village construct homes on boats and barges, which they tow out onto the lake during the dry season and anchor in the shelter of the shore’s wetlands during the rainy season. This small village seemed to have a complete set of services, including two schools, a church, a restaurant, a bar, and a convenience store.
We also drove into the center of Siem Reap, one evening, to visit the Night Market and the famous Pub Street. The nightlife is certainly hopping, where backpacking twenty-something tourists hang out after dark and enjoy $1 cocktails sold by street vendors and wander among the competing rock music blasted from the cafes and bars along the streets. The heat has diminished somewhat, but the humidity is still at maximum. (Indeed, Cambodia makes Singapore seem cool and dry. ;-).
A great place, certainly deserving a more extensive visit someday.