The second day we went to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise and so did like 1000 people! We walked in the dark towards the pond thats right in front of the temple to see. It was hard to take picture where there wasn’t at least 10 people in it, but somehow I got a couple. Finally after the sun was up we went to the main tower, the only one that they let people in to wait to in line to go up. We were the first ones there so we got to see the highest part of the temple plus the view empty! No one blocked us or pushed us or rushed us… it was beautiful!
The lady temple
The Lady Temple (Banteay Srei Temple) this one is further away from the other temples so it was a good 5 minutes drive in a tuk tuk so slow but we enjoyed every second of the scenery, filled with green and smiley faces (all the little huts selling palm sugar candy and such). This small temple was built in the 10th century, its the only temple around this area that is made with pink sandstone instead of the black one. Its also a hindu temple dedicated to shiva. If I thought that Angkor Wat was very elaborate this can kick its butt. The lady temple has more detailed carvings than any of the other temples I’ve seen and some how its beautiful and tasteful. Every inch of everything in there has some hindu detail, whether it is Garuda statues, or Apsara statues, small shivas in every corner, flames or flowers… anything you can imagine related to shiva or the Cambodian culture of the time, it was there.
Palm sugar candy, please!
On the way back to Angkor Thom city we stopped at one of the little huts on the road to see how they make palm sugar candy. We were received by a sweet young mother with five children and another woman. They explained the process of how they get the palms and what they use to make the liquid version (warm palm sugar), the candy ones, then they gave us some fruit to try it straight from the tree and even the water thats inside the fruit. The kids would run around and smile for my camera. They didn’t understand one word of english but we communicated through gestures and smiles. When we were done we asked how much it was and the lady said nothing. I wanted to reciprocate and feel like an energetic exchange was made, so I gave her five dollars (in Cambodian money this would be way more than what we consumed of the candy) and she wouldn’t take it. I couldn’t believe how genuinely nice these people are! I insisted so they gave us some candy to go and all of them waved to us leaving in the tuk tuk. My heart was filled with joy to have had that experience with these wonderful people. Living in a big city all my life has made me be prepared for things going wrong with people, people trying to scam you or take advantage of me and I love how in the countryside this “corruption” doesn’t happen that much. You can see the true good nature of people and its beautiful.
After the quick snack we went to the ruins of an old hospital (Bha Keang), it was built in the 9th or 10th century and it was all Ayurvedic medicine. It was mostly blocked for the public because it had a pond all around the structure and its not completely restored for the tourists. It was a fast visit so we went for some real street hand made Cambodian noodles!! I know probably most people would be saying how crazy to go eat street food in a foreign country but we did go and no one got sick! (PHEW!). Unfortunately I couldn’t eat the real meal because I’m a vegetarian. The meal was a soup made from fish and they put a lot of veggies and the handmade noodles. So… I had only the noodles in a plate with their seasoning….
The next day we got up bright and early to take a 7 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh. This stop was not originally in the plans but we figured we were close and would want to see the capital city. The ride was surprisingly comfortable, the bus had Wifi!!! This is the first time I am in a bus that has wifi so I spent my time listening to music, napping, sending emails and meditating… it went by super quick even though there was a lot of construction work on the road and thats why it took so many hours.
Capital city and it has all that big cities have. Its a different world than Siem Reap for starters. Its louder and more modern, the tuk tuks and bikes are everywhere but the smiley Cambodians are around every corner. We had four items to visit and only got to two of them… The National Museum and the royal palace we really wanted to go to. Then the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields… well, not so sure. I come from a family that has survivors of the holocaust and was brought up hearing about the horror stories and the unbelievable things that my grandparents had to go through to survive and later to thrive in life… so I was not sure if I could handle a Genocide Museum or the Killing Fields of that genocide. Cambodians went through a very rough and violent time in their civil wars and these museums are in memory of those people that died during that time.
So we went to the Royal Palace, very beautiful and ornate, red and gold everywhere, and of course the apsara sculptures since their current king used to be a ballet dancer (apsara dancer). The surrounding walls of the palace on the inside are covered with fresco painting depicting the Ramayana and they are just incredible (right now they are restoring a good section of them, it would be great to see the whole thing completely “new”). Afterwards we got a tuk tuk to go see the National Museum but somehow the driver got confused and drove us to the Genocide Museum (the one I was not sure I wanted to see and wanted to think about it over lunch later) :S
We were already there so we said, let’s just see how it goes. We went inside the school (the prison used to be a school before the war which makes it a little more disturbing) and they said that they were playing a documentary with the testimonials of the survivors, that we should see that before going around the museum. To go see this movie we had to go all the way to the end of the school, up three floors to a class room. When we were going through we saw an old man speaking to the tourists and a huge sign with his picture that said: “I’m a survivor”. I couldn’t believe the courage of this old man coming back to the place were he barely got out of alive. My skin started to get goosebumps just walking to the classroom where I was about to see the documentary. As I suspected when I sat down and started watching, the documentary was an interview of three man, one was in the military and got drafted to be a guard in the prison. The other two were prisoners (One of them was the man that was outside this very day and I just passed by him!)… I had a knot in my throat… watching these men talking about every detail of how they got interrogated and beaten bloody, how they were tortured.. I won’t go into details here because it really just makes me sick how horrifying the stories were. I felt my stomach just turning, my heart pounding and the tears just started filling my eyes…I kept trying to hold them in and keep watching but… About half way through these testimonials I could not take it anymore, such pain and suffering…All I could think of was my grandparents stories, especially my grandfather… sitting in the brown sofa in our living room in Caracas, me sitting on his lap (I was maybe 8-9?) I can still see his watery eyes so clearly in my mind when he told me about his life during the war… the same watery eyes I was seeing in these survivors… I had to leave the room.
The rest of the morning was pretty quiet, trying to calm my mind from what I just experienced. Equanimity is a hard thing to maintain, yoga teaches us to maintain it through the good and the bad situations but sometimes its just too hard to attain at all. I can’t compute how humans can get to such levels of violence, hatred and greed for power. It corrupts their minds and souls and it seems like they don’t even have a conscious anymore. How can they not see the difference from right and wrong? I just can’t understand these things at all. So I stayed quiet, observing my thoughts while I walked the hallways of the National Museum (Yes, we finally went to the right museum).
I read an article recently of how Harvard conducted a 75-year research about happiness and the conclusion was “Happiness is love. Full stop ”. Maybe if people have love in their lives they would be happier and that would stop all this non-sense about wars and hatred? Maybe King Jayavaranam VII who built the Bayoun Temple was right? To be a good person you need to have the four basic qualities: compassion, pity, sympathy and equanimity, but not everyone can attain them. Maybe we just need to have the evil to see the good? Maybe we just need more people doing yoga ( 🙂 ) to be more aware and considerate, spreading the love where ever they go? Call me “naïve” or “eternal hopeful” or plain “stupid” but I’d like to think that each person can make a difference in their surroundings and inspire others to do the same. The change starts within… 🙂
Soon the Laos experience… Stay tuned!