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Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

When arriving in Siem Reap, tourists are greeted with tons of options for exploring the temples.  We decided before we arrived that we were going to purchase the three day pass and  take our time exploring the many temples around the area.  I loved the way we did it and have no regrets, but we easily could have gotten the week long pass and had no problem filling the time.

We decided to hire a tuk tuk for the three days.  Basically, we paid a tuk tuk driver a certain amount of money to drive us around from temple to temple all day long.  If going to Angkor, you can do it any way you want.  We didn’t want to see the biggest, Angkor Wat itself, until we had explored some of the smaller surrounding temples, so we read and researched and talked to our driver and got a plan together.

The temples were spread out across a huge distance (if you take a look at the map, you can see the many temples around–sometimes it was several kilometers in between each, plus close to 20 kilometers from Siem Reap to the entrance), and I’m really glad we decided against renting bikes one of the days.  It would have been a long, hot, and tiring day.

The first day we spent exploring many of the smaller temples around Angkor Wat.  We set off a little after 8am and returned about 3:30 after visiting seven different temples.  One has to remember that the temples are in the middle of a jungle in SE Asia.  That means it’s incredibly hot and humid.  We were thoroughly exhausted by the end of the first day (a night out with Dave and Tina the previous night didn’t help matters any), and we were quite glad we decided to take a day off before going at it again (when purchasing the 3 day pass, you have the option of going three days in a row or 3 days in one week; curiously they are both the same price, making one wonder why anyone would bother with the three consecutive days pass).

East Mebon

East Mebon

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

So after an off day of relaxing and resting, we went back out for  day two, this time leaving at 7am.  There are more temples not on this map, and in the morning we decided to check out Banteay Srei, which was about 40 kilometers away before going back to our guest house in the afternoon.  It was a nice hour drive, and we thought that since we were venturing out further, we would miss some of the ridiculous crowds.  Boy were we wrong.  This was probably the most crowded temple we visited.  It was spectacular (as they all were, really), and I am glad we went,  but the crowds took a bit away from it.  Damn tourbuses.

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

We split the day up and went back to Siem Reap to eat lunch and rest for a few hours before heading back out to watch the sun set at Angkor Wat.  We went back out again at around 4:30 and headed to the big one, Angkor Wat itself.  We had driven past it and saw it from a distance first thing on our first day, but it was pretty exhilerating driving up to it again knowing we were going to see it up close.  We expected tons of people everywhere, and that’s what greeted us as we arrived (along with the hordes of children relentlessly trying to sell anything one can imagine-which is just part of visiting Angkor and something that has to be dealt with-just put on a smile and be ready to say “No Thank you” about four thousand times, and that’s not an exaggeration).

We went through the main gates to see Angkor a little closer, and we were greeted with throngs of people unsurprisingly.  We decided to go into the temple itself and explore a little bit, and when we got to the tall towers themselves, we were quite disappointed to learn that you can no longer climb to the top of them (for conservation purposes, I suppose).  There weren’t nearly as many people inside, so we decided to explore more around the sides of the temple.  We found several spots for some fantastic pictures, and we walked around the outside of it in what used to be the residential areas.

We were enjoying the fact that there was no one around, so explored some more until the sun was starting to set.  We had walked down a road away from the temple itself, and when we approached the side of Angkor Wat we were greeted by a guard hurrying us out as it was closing time.  As we walked back through, we noticed we were the only ones around, and when we walked out the main door, we noticed that we were literally the last ones inside Angkor Wat.  There were still a handful of people on the long walkway out to the surrounding walls of the temple, but as we turned around, we realized that we were able to get pictures of Angkor itself with no one else in it.  Our wanderlust provided us with a fantastic opportunity that not many people get, and we took full advantage of it, much to the chagrin of the guards shooing us away so they could go home.

Our thoughts of not being able to climb the steps to the tower at Angkor

Our thoughts of not being able to climb the steps to the tower at Angkor

Angkor Wat when walking in

Angkor Wat when walking in

Angkor Wat when walking out

Angkor Wat when walking out

We were giddy upon leaving Angkor Wat, despite the fact that the day was very long and the plan was to get up really early the following day for sunrise at Angkor.  Since we have been gone for so long and travel has become our lives over this past year, I sometimes take what we’re doing for granted.  But this time I was able to take a step back and realize how fortunate and how absolutely incredible these past ten months have been, and I was ecstatic after being one of the last ones to leave Angkor Wat and get some great photos before arising and doing it all over again the following day.

As you can imagine, it was not difficult to wake up the next day.  Sure, we were tired, but we were heading out to watch the sun come up behind one of the most spectacular sites on Earth.  We left our guesthouse in the dark at 5am and were at Angkor at the perfect time to get a great spot for sunrise.  Again, we were blessed with good weather, and the morning was quite magical.

After watching the sun come up, most people got back in their tuk tuks or buses and left for some strange reason.  We decided to go to the second biggest complex, Angkor Thom, and we found ourselves completely alone there for about an hour.  Amazing considering the absurd amounts of people everywhere the previous two days.  As it got later, it got more and more crowded as we explored Angkor Thom.  We spent several hours there and at a few more temples (including Ta Prohm, where Angelina Jolie filmed Tomb Raider) before heading back to Angkor Wat one more time to check out the vast and intricate carvings on the inner walls of the temple.  After that, it was time to head back.  We were thoroughly exhausted yet felt like kids at an amusement park who didn’t want to leave.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat (possibly one of my favorite pictures of this trip--good job, Megan!!)

Sunrise at Angkor Wat (possibly one of my favorite pictures of this trip--good job, Megan!!)

Bayon (in Angkor Thom)

Bayon (in Angkor Thom)

There are many ways to tackle Angkor Wat, one day, three days, a week, tuk tuk, tour bus, bicycle, some even walk.  While I’m not  going to say ours was the best, I am very satisfied with how we spent our time at the temples.  We saw tons of temples, took our time, and never felt rushed.  For any traveler who ever plans on coming to Angkor  Wat, I have three main tips:

1.  See both the sunset and sunrise at Angkor Wat itself.  Words can’t begin to describe the magic and elation we felt afterwards.

2.  Get up early to beat the heat.  It’s a killer.

3.  Stay after the sunrise because inexplicably everyone leaves.  You’ll have the place to yourself, which is awesome because once 8am rolls around, there are people everywhere.

We will have one more post that will be mainly a picture post.  We took about 950 pictures in our three days there and have managed to narrow them down to about 100, so we’ll have many more to post in a few days.

Until then…

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PURE! for kids

DSC_0099What you are reading is draft four hundred fifty nine thousand of this post.  I thought it would write itself, but it’s become clear to me that I’m having trouble putting my thoughts to paper (to keyboard??) because I’m scared that I won’t be able to do this experience justice.

We spent a couple of days visiting an orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and met some of the most wonderful little people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.  I absolutely fell in love with them, even when they were running me ragged.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In yet another instance of serendipity on this trip, during our visit to Cambodia we happened to cross paths with a friend of mine from way back, Nicoline.  Nicoline and I met when she was an exchange student at my high school, and she very graciously tour-guided Adam and me around Amsterdam a few years back (and ferried us around on her bicycle, the poor thing!).  When I found out that Nicoline was running an orphanage in Cambodia, I immediately began to hope that we’d be able to meet up with her in our travels.  I wasn’t hoping too strongly, though–our schedule was unsure, and Nicoline splits her time between Cambodia and Netherlands.  Moreover, when she is in Cambodia, she also spends time in Siem Reap, working on other projects her NGO supports.

Nicoline, doing what she does best

Nicoline, doing what she does best

The travel gods were smiling on us yet again because our arrival in Cambodia coincided with Nicoline’s return to Phnom Penh, where the Pure for Kids orphanage is located.  Nicoline invited us to visit the orphanage and we jumped at the chance.  We arrived that first day to find thirty four kids, ranging from eighteen months to sixteen years, studying away.  They greeted us warmly and kept on with their lessons while Nicoline showed us around.  The orphanage is simple, but clean and safe.  The younger children sleep in teeny wooden bunk beds in large dorms and the older kids share smaller rooms upstairs.  There are three full-time live-in staffers and usually three Pure Volunteers to teach classes.

Boys bunk room

Boys bunk room

After the children ate lunch, they had some free time, during which we were free to play with them.  Some were more shy than others, but some were braver and promptly decided that we should join in the fun.

This little girl, Srei Hong, was the bravest among the little ones, and was the first to approach us.

This little girl, Srei Hong, was the bravest among the little ones, and was the first to approach us.

Srei Hong and one of the boys leading Adam off to play.

Srei Hong and one of the boys leading Adam off to play.

They were so proud to show off the songs they knew in English and eagerly soaked up anything new we could show them, which resulted in me singing “The itsy bitsy spider” approximately eleventy gajillion times.  Sorry, Nicoline 🙂 The real fun started, however, when I pulled out the camera.  There was something about being able to ham it up for the camera and then being able to look at the pictures immediately that broke down any remaining barriers.  They bounced between Adam and I, shouting to get my attention, “Picture, picture, one more, one more!!” and climbed on Adam like a jungle gym, then fanned him with their coloring books when he sat down for a moment.

piggyback

group

This little group was always running around together

This little group was always running around together

Too cool for school

Too cool for school

3 hug

Little Nita was the darling of the place--constantly being held or spoiled by someone!

Little Nita was the darling of the place--constantly being held or spoiled by someone!

5 group 2

I have about thirty photos like this--it was a favorite pose :-)

I have about thirty photos like this--it was a favorite pose 🙂

Miss Nita

Miss Nita

Kindred spirits

Kindred spirits

Clowning around

Clowning around

Holding up the sun

Holding up the sun

10 peace14 climbing

Adam is just as good as any jungle gym

Adam is just as good as any jungle gym

These kids were so sweet--they just started fanning Adam with their coloring books!

These kids were so sweet--they just started fanning Adam with their coloring books!

They finally got to the point that they couldn't even stand still!

They finally got to the point that they couldn't even stand still!

I had such fun laughing and playing with them, but the impromptu photo shoot had sent them into a full-on frenzy, so we put the camera away and sat down with them for some calmer activities.  That’s when the cuddling started.  I was absolutely charmed when the eighteen-month-old, Diem, toddled over, pulled himself up on my knee and motioned for me to pick him up.  It made me melt when my little friend, Srei Hong, wrapped her arms around my legs anytime I stopped moving long enough, and always wanted to sit on my lap.  I have to admit though, to being surprised when I noticed that one of the teenage boys was shadowing Adam’s every move, and every time Adam would sit, the boy would rest his head on Adam’s shoulder or throw an arm around him.

Cuddling

Cuddling

So sweet

So sweet

Any time was time for hugs

Any time was time for hugs

What?  An affectionate teenage boy?  At that moment it hit me.  These kids have so little, there’s no room for distance, no time for pretending to be tough or too macho for physical contact.  I began to watch them in a new light, and was so moved by the joy that seemed to bubble out of them when they played, by the way that they formed a great big family–the older ones carrying the little ones around, by the way that sometimes you had to coax a smile out of one of the shy little ones, but once it was out, it was given so freely, with such trust and innocence, there was no hiding it.

These children don’t have a lot, but it is clear that they do have good family.  They may not have parents anymore, but they have each other and the Pure for Kids staff, and they are happy and healthy and loved.

My appreciation for Nicoline, her volunteers and the Pure for Kids staff only grew through the rest of our visits to the orphanage.  On the second day, the staff was preparing for a rededication ceremony and asked me to keep an eye on the youngest class–basically all kids under 6 or so.  Adam was helping the volunteer in the high school classroom, so I was on my own.  The teacher  got them set up with their workbooks and then left me with 12 little ones, all sitting at benches, diligently studying.  “Piece of cake,” I thought.  And then I promptly pulled those words out of the thought bubble over my head and ate them.

Holy sweet mother of mercy, those kids have loads of energy.  (That sound you hear is the hysterical laughter of all of my teacher friends who I’m sure, are screaming, “TOLD YOU SO!!”)  I was wholly unprepared for the “what next?” when they lost interest in their workbooks, and at one point, after retrieving two of the older ones from the middle school class on the other side of building, I realized that my best hope was to keep them in the room, even if we weren’t doing anything educational, per se.  Yes, that’s right, I resigned myself to herding them, not teaching them.  I managed to keep their attention, for the most part, with about a million more rousing renditions of The Itsy Bitsy Spider and enough Ring Around the Rosy that we were all so dizzy that the falling down part at the end was involuntary.  Sidenote: games involving children hurling themselves down onto concrete floors?  Not necessarily a good idea.

Thankfully, soon it was time for lunch and after lunch it was all playtime (they would normally have more classes, but the schedule was a little unusual that day), which did also involve a certain amount of playing in the pouring rain–such fun.

This little boy is new to the orphanage and was very timid when we first arrived, but once he came out of his shell, I could barely restrain myself from bringing him home with us.  (Also, that's clay on his head.  It was craft time :-))

This little boy is new to the orphanage and was very timid when we first arrived, but once he came out of his shell, I could barely restrain myself from bringing him home with us. (Also, that's clay on his head. It was craft time :-))

Chanti and Srei Hong playing in the rain

Chanti and Srei Hong playing in the rain

When it was time for us to bid the orphanage adieu, I was exhausted but so sad to be going.  I still get the warm fuzzies when I think about those children and everything that Pure for Kids is doing for them.  If you’d like to know more about the orphanage, please click through to the website: PURE! for Kids Orphanage.  If you click on any of the links on the right hand side of that page, you can see the monthly budget of the orphanage (for instance, the salary of the live-in director of the orphanage is $50 per month, and they spend $120 per month on 300 Kg of rice to feed all those children!) and information on how to sponsor one of the children at the orphanage, amongst other info.  It’s worth having a look–if you are in the position to make a donation, it’s such a worthy organization.  If not, it’s certainly worth the time to check out just to see some more of the photographs of the children and hear the latest news .

~Meg

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