Wednesday 7 May 2014

Cambodia…….Land of Angkor Wat.

If anyone asks me, one reason for visiting Cambodia…..its nothing but the world famous temples (Wat means temple in Khmer) of Angkor, erstwhile Capital of Khmer Empire. Its once in a lifetime experience to visit Angkor Wat. It was the greatest Hindu temple complex cum capital of the world. In 12th century, at the height of its rule, Angkor was a capital city which was spread out to an area of about 45 Square Km and with a population of more than a million! Biggest cosmopolitan city in the world, at that time London was slightly bigger than a village with a population of less than 50,000!!  Just imagine the size & the majesty of this city during the 10th  to 14th century. How could I explain that Majesty of Angkor Wat in a better way; Epic of the proportion of Great wall of China, intricacy of Taj Mahal and symmetry & symbolism of Pyramids; all these rolled into one would be called Angkor Wat !! I think that’s enough for introduction, I will be explaining it in details with photos, when we reach Angkor in my tour diary. 

While going through below please note that time imprinted on photos are Indian Standard Time (UTC+ 5.5 Hr). So add 1.5 hr to get Cambodian local time. On the other hand, time mentioned in my writing are local time of the corresponding place.

07th Apr 2014, Kochi –Kuala Lumpur:

Departed from The Bungalow at 2030Hrs and reached Kochi International Airport at 2115Hrs. Immigration was smooth. Our flight took off right on time. 

08th Apr 2014, Kuala Lumpur – Kampot:

Flight reached Kuala Lumpur LLCT Airport at 0620Hrs. We completed the immigration formalities and were out by 0715Hrs. Our flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia was at 1500Hrs. So we had a lot of time to while away. To make the story short our flight to Phnom Penh took over by 1515Hrs and reached Phnom Penh by 1615Hrs Cambodian local time. As we had e-visa, immigration formalities were easier. Our cab driver was waiting for us outside the gate. We started from airport by 1645Hrs and reached our hotel at Kampot by 1910Hrs. At last after a long journey we reached our first destination. Road from Phnom Penh to Kampot was good, better than what I expected and read. We had dinner at our hotel itself. Cambodian Beef dishes of Saraman- and Loc Lac. Really good.

Olivia @ Phnom Penh  International Airport.

Dinner  @ our hotel.

We were so tired and it was time to rest, a well deserved rest.

09th  Apr 2014, Kampot:

Today we had our first hand experience of Kampot. Our hotel was facing the river and it was really good to have breakfast on the first floor over looking the river. Then we started exploring the French town of Kampot. It must had been a good small town with well laid roads and French colonial buildings. Most were deserted and some destroyed during the infamous Khmer Rouge regime. After Khmer Rouge those heritage buildings are renovated into heritage hotels and restaurants. One of the best French building I found was the Old French Governor’s Mansion. Morning was hot and humid but evening was really pleasant; footpaths with chairs & tables laid out for dinner. We tried lunch at a place called Capt. Chim’s and  Dinner at Mira’s Home cooking. 
Though Capt. Chim’s restaurant was recommended on Lonely Planet but we found that Mira’s food was much better than Capt. Chims.

Durian roundabout @ Kampot.
Durian is the National Fruit of Cambodia.

French Heritage Buildings.

French Governor's Mansion @ Kampot.

View from our Hotel Restaurant.
I am the one crossing the road!

10th Apr 2014, Kampot:
Today was our second day so we decided to take it easy at Kampot.

 11th Apr 2014, Kampot - Phnom Penh:

Morning we had a quick breakfast and departed from Kampot by Giant Ibis bus. They provided a complimentary pick up from our hotel which was indeed good. We started off  by 0820Hrs on their bus to their office at Kampot and by 0835Hrs we departed from Kampot.  

Giant Ibis mini bus.

By 1130 Hrs we were at Phnom Penh. Took a Remork (Tuck-Tuck) to our hotel in Phnom Penh.. As Khmer New Year was fast approaching, all Museums and markets would be closed from 13th Apr evening for 3 days, hence we had to plan our time efficiently; we were left with only 2 1/2 days to cover Phnom Penh.
After checking in we headed straight to the Central Market (Psar Thmei). Built by French, its one of the world's 10th largest markets with Babylonian Ziggurat.

Shops on either side, while approching Psar Thmei.

Under the dome of Psar Thmei, Jewellery section can be seen.

Selling Insects, a Cambodian delicacy!

Dry Fish section of Psar Thmei!

After shopping we took Remork in order to visit The Royal Palace but it was closed till next afternoon as King & Queen were performing prayer ceremony for the preparation of coming Khmer New Year. After walking around the palace compound we walked back to the hotel.After taking some rest we made our way to the waterfront area in order to enjoy the beauty of Palace from the river with lights on. We were able to see waterfront decorated with flags from different countries.  

View of Palace from outside.

Flags of different countries along the walkway,
opposite side of Palace.

12th Apr 2014, Phnom Penh:

Today morning after breakfast we took a Remork and proceeded to see S-21 Genocide Museum. It was a sober experience but a part of recent Cambodian History. Khmer Rouge after taking over the country, opened high security prison all over Cambodia. In 1975 Toul Savy Prey High School in the heart of Phnom Penh was converted into a Security Prison and it was numbered as 21. In short it was called S-21. After the liberation from Khmer Rouge this prison was turned into a museum for the world to know the atrocities done by the Khmer Rouge.

S-21 Museum.

Class rooms turned into prison cells by Khmer Rouge.

Another modification of class rooms to Prison Cells.

History of Khmer Rouge:

Before going into detail let me give you a short touch on Khmer Rouge. So that you will be able to understand the fall of Cambodia from the heavens of Angkor classic culture to the hell of Khmer Rouge!  

Pol Pot, educated in Paris was the head of the Khmer Rouge, who with the help of Chinese communist government conquered Cambodia. After the independence from French, the country was totally corrupt and the people were unhappy. Khmer Rouge revolution was welcomed by the Cambodians but after getting power, they started changing into a brutal system. Initially they killed their enemies and then started purging their own. Comrades became enemies and a system evolved where nobody could be trusted. Families were uprooted and shifted. People who were unproductive to the society were killed immediately; they felt it was a waste to feed them. Phnom Penh became a ghost city. If Vietnam had not invaded in 1978, I believe, the entire population of Cambodia would have been “purged”.
Vietnam Army  buried the dead bodies from S-21 here.

Khmer Rouge were like Nazis, good at keeping records. Each prisoner was photographed from front and side. In Prison S-21, a museum now, we could see the photography room, each classroom was subdivided into prison cells on ground floor and mass prison cells on the top two floors. Interrogation rooms and torturing equipment are also displayed. After interrogation, if sentenced for death, then they were taken to the killing field which was about 16kms outside Phnom Penh city and executed. Bullets were precious and not to be wasted, so they were killed either by hitting on their head or by slitting their neck. When army of Vietnam approached; Khmer Rouge killed most of the prisoners and there were only 7 survivors, out of these only 2 are alive now. Bodies which they found were buried by Vietnamese at the S-21 ground. 

Chum May with his book.
One among the seven survivors was a gifted artist and he painted the torturing so vividly and were displayed in the museum. Also, we were lucky to see one of the survivor named Chum May over there.

Our Guide at the Museum was 15years old when Khmer Rouge came in, his family was dispersed. He was sent to north western Prison labour camp and his brothers and sisters to other places. They were provided water porridge with some rice twice a day after 15 to 18 hours of back breaking labour. After “liberation” from Khmer Rouge, he walked to Phnom Penh in search of his family. His father who also survived had displayed their names outside the house, so that his children could recognize. It was a touching experience.

With Guide.
From S-21 museum we went to Psar Tuol Tong Pong (also called) Russian Market. After Russian Market, we had lunch and came back to our hotel by quarter past one. After resting for a while we went to see Royal Palace.

Royal Palace of Phnom Penh resembles that of Bangkok. Royal family shifted their seat from Angkor after the attack by Siam (Thai) to south and ultimately settled at Phnom Penh. Phnom in Khmer means hill. Later we took a tour of Royal Palace, which is facing the Mekong River and next to it in the same compound is the famous Silver Pagoda. It’s the pagoda of the Royals and here the floors are with pure silver tiles each weighing 1kg. Photography was not allowed inside but still I think the exterior photos which I have taken will speak much better than I can.

Royal Palace, Coronation Hall.

Royal Palace, Dance Hall.

Royal Palace.

Silver Pagoda.

13th Apr 2014, Phnom Penh:

Today we went to visit the famous Wats (temples) of the city. Wat Ounalom  and Wat Phnom. Its from Wat Phnom the city derived its name. In 14th century while capital was still at Angkor, A wealthy lady named Penh got a statue of Buddha from the Mekong river and she enshrined it at the hill near by. The shrine became popular and the hill (Phnom) came to be known as Hill of Penh or Phnom Penh. When Royal seat shifted here, the city developed around this hill and it got the name of the hill, as Phnom Penh! 

Wat Ounalom.

Wat Phnom.

14th Apr 2014, Phnom Penh:

Khmer New year at our Hotel; note the red coke cans.

It was Khmer New year day starting from today for the next 3 days. In fact Khmer New Year day always match with Kerala’s Vishu Festival. Today Phnom Penh was like a dead city, so it was nice to walk around the city leisurely. Early morning walk was great, but by 11 o’clock clouds started building up and very soon ……it was down pour. We got into the near by Royal boat jetty right opposite to the palace and when the rain stopped we moved on.....

15th Apr 2014, Phnom Penh – Battambang:

Today early morning at 0545Hrs we left the hotel in order to reach in time at the bus station of Cat Mekong Express. Boarded the bus by 0615Hrs.

VIP mini bus of Cat Mekong Express.
It was a Mini bus, what they call as VIP bus. Seats were good and excellent WiFi connection was available on bus. We reached Battambang by 1115Hrs . A free pick up was arranged by our hotel, so our driver was there waiting for us. It was again a Good hotel facing the Sangker River. Afternoon we took some rest. Evening was pleasant so we walked to the former French Governor’s Palace. Had dinner and came back.

16th Apr 2014, Battambang:

Today we went to visit Battambang. All most all sights can be seen on foot. First we went to the Old Railway station, where time still stands 0802Hrs. It was built by French now totally non-functional after Khmer Rouge regime. It was said that renewing work will begin soon. French laid grid system of road on either sides of Sangker River. Battambang along with Siem Reap was under Thai’s control when French arrived. French forced Thais to give back these area to French as part of their Indochina colony. Thus Battambang (and Siem Reap & Angkor) came back to Cambodia after almost 200years of Thai rule. In fact the French Governor’s Palace was Thai Governor’s palace when French took over Battambang. Palace was built by an Italian Architect for the last Thai Governor. 

View of Battambang French Heritage Town &
Sangker River from our hotel.

Buddhist Pagoda, note the Samudra Manthan (Palazhi Manthan)
Bass-relief on top of red compound wall.

Thai / French Governor's Palace.

Battambang Railroad station. Note the time on the clock.

17th Apr 2014, Battambang:

Bamboo train journey is one of the highlights of Battambang and it was our wish to go for a ride in it. We made all arrangements with a Remork ( Tuck-Tuck ) driver the day before and today morning after breakfast we went to see the Bamboo Train. As the railway system became dysfunctional, Cambodians found an innovative system to carry cargo on rail. About 3.7km south of Battambang to O Sra Lav along the misaligned bumpy rail lines left by French, Khmers tied 3m long Bamboos to form a pontoon on wheel which will be driven along the rail by 6BHP Gasoline engine. They carry everything from people to cargo on it. Soon it became a tourist attraction.

So we went to explore, it was an hour ride on a“Bamboo Train”…… Khmers call it as “norry” a derivative of lorry.  It was a ride for about 7kms one way. The drive started from an abandoned station to the next one. There was a stop for about 10minutes to cool the “engine”and later we returned back to the starting point . The renovation of Railway line will take away this system. Another funny thing about this "norry" is that ; when two Norries comes in face to face then the one with less people/cargo will be taken out of rail and the other with more people and cargo gets the chance to move on...... This is the rule of the road (or rail)  for bamboo trains and it has been loyally followed. The ride is indeed a funny and interesting experience .
Bamboo Train!!!
18th Apr 2014, Battambang:

It's Good Friday. Morning after breakfast we went to the Capitol Bus company office to buy our bus tickets to Siem Reap. Afternoon we went to church for the Good Friday Service, as Way of the Cross and the service was in Khmer so we were not able to follow still we found it interesting.
Way of the cross on Good Friday.

With priests from England.

19th Apr 2014, Battambang – Siem Reap:

Today morning after breakfast we checked out of our hotel at 0900Hrs, took Remork (Tuck-Tuck) to bus station of Capitol Bus company. Bus departed at 1000Hrs and we reached Siem Reap at 1415Hrs. Siem Reap would be our base for exploring Angkor

Capitol Bus from Battambang to Siem Reap.

Siem Reap in Khmer means, "Siem  Defeated". Siem means "Thais" (Siamese), so the city name is "Thais defeated" !!! It will be like naming Kargil as Pakistan Defeated. How funny that name would be. So is Siem Reap. This is the place where Khmer fought and defeated Thais; irony is that ultimately Thais defeated Khmers and Angkor (and most of Northwestern Cambodia) was under them for almost 200 years till French took it back and added it to French Cambodia (Indochina).

20th Apr 2014, Siem Reap/ Angkor:

Angkor, including the famous Angkor Wat, is indeed worth a visit in our lifetime. Angkor was the capital of Cambodia and from 7th Century when the construction of these temple city started, it was the reign of King Jayavarman II (802-50). He unified Cambodia, proclaimed himself as Devaraja (God King), as god represented on earth. His initial capital was nearby a place called Hariharayala (now called Rolous). He started the construction of Hindu Temples and city itself is in form of mount Meru, the abode of Lord Shiva. Angkor Wat the most famous of them is surrounded by a big moat, representing Ocean. The entrance to it is having rainbow bridges which is symbolized by seven headed Nagas; through which man can reach abode of Gods. Once inside generally there will be 3 layers (stories) and the stairs to each level is steep. 3rd level represent mount Meru, the abode of God. Depending on the favorite deity of the King. Earlier there were statues of Shiva or Vishnu at 3rd the top most level. Later in 12th Century when King Jayavarman VII converted to Buddhism, Vishnu & Shiva statues were changed to Buddha statues.

In 12th century, at the height of its rule, Angkor was a capital city which was spread out to an area of about 45 Square Km and with a population of more than a million. It was the biggest cosmopolitan city in the world, at that time London was slightly bigger than a village with a population of less than 50,000!!  Stone structure were only for the abode of Gods and all others including palaces of Kings were made in wood, those were decayed long ago. Only temple complexes remained after the city was abandoned, mainly because of the attacks from Thais and also because of the lack of water to sustain such huge population. Capital was shifted to south till it settled at Phnom Penh.

Angkor, once a Glorious city was forgotten in the 14th Century. In 1860, French explorer Henry Mouhot accidently ‘discovered’ Angkor which was hidden in the forest; it later became an international sensation. 

Tourists started flowing since late 19th Century, it continued till 1970s when Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Opened to the world again in late 1990s.

A minimum of 3 days is required to glance through complete Angkor, and it's the main reason for our visit to this country. So as and when we were planning our trip we fixed up with one of the Remork driver for our pick up from the bus station, drop at the Airport and of course for a 3 day tour with him. 

Today morning as discussed he was there waiting for us at the hotel and we made our way to explore our life time dream. Reached there safely , went on to buy tickets. Tickets were issued with photos for a day, week and so on....We took a 3 day pass, it was USD 40 / Person and on each day they punch the pass before our entrance.  Today we went to see Angkor Wat, near by city called Angkor Thom and the surrounding temple complexes like Ta Prohm ( famous in Angelina Jolie’s movie called Tomb rider). In 12th Century Angkor Wat was ransacked by Chams, after the initial set backs of King Jayavarman VII who threw Chams back. This surprise attack made Jayavarman VII to think about making another New City which will be extremely difficult for the enemies to conquer. Later next to Angkor Wat there formed a new city called Ankor Thom. Walled city of Angkor Thom itself is 10 SqKm.

I think my description of Angkor will not do any justice, so let the photos speak.

Photos of Angkor Wat:
Entrance to Angkor Wat.

Majestic Angkor Wat!

With Buddhist Monks @ Angkor Wat.

Bass-relief of Battle of Kurukshetra @ Angkor Wat.

 @ Angkor Wat with my Husband.

Olivia @ Angkor Wat.

Photos of Angkor Thom:
Entrance to Baphoun.

Baphoun Temple @ Angkor Thom.

Bayon Temple @ Angkor Thom.

Face of Avalokiteshvara @ Bayon Temple.

Sa Srang Lake, man made lake for the ablution of Kings.

Angelina Jolie's Tomb rider fame Ta Prohm Temple,
see the tree grown on Temple.

Archaeological Survey of India's Restoration of Ta Prohm.

21st April 2014, Angkor:

Today we went for the tour of the Bigger Circle, which covered the outer laying Temples. I think you all can go into detail through these photographs rather than my write up.

Ta Som temple entrance, Tree again!
Neak Poan temple, at the middle of the lake.

Prasat Kravan Temple, Construction early 10th Century.

Vishnu Carving @ Prasat Kravan Temple.

Pre Rup Temple built by King Rajendravarman in early 10th Century.
Almost 100 years prior to the construction of
Brihadeshwara Temple at Tanjavore in Tamilnadu, India.
I am Climbing down  the stairs @ Pre Rup!!!

Evening we were invited to the house of our Remork ( Tuck-Tuck ) driver Lim Kimhean. As a sailors wife I have traveled far and wide and even visited many families in different countries, so we were happy to take his invitation. Thus Lim's invitation gave us our first hand experience of a Khmer family.

22nd Apr 2014, Angkor:

Today we went to see War Museum, which includes weapons caught from Khmer Rouge including Tanks, Fighter Planes, Helicopter, Mines, Guns etc. It was worth a visit, here the Visitors were allowed even to touch and feel these weapons so for the first time in our life we too went ahead and felt it.
Hi....its me!!!

Olivia on Anti-aircraft Gun.


After war museum we went to see the Floating villages at Kompong Phulk. It was in Tonle Sap lake. This is a special lake, I mean special because during rainy season water will flow into the lake and the level of water rises by 7m and the lake then will cover an area of 3200 Sq km. After rainy season water starts flowing out into rivers. This is only one of its type of ecosystem in the world, where water flows in two directions in two seasons! As we went in dry summer season of April water level was low and the village houses, made of wood and on bamboo polls were 7 m above the water level! During rainy season water level rises and comes in line with their floor!!! There were even restaurants, houses and fish farms which floats in water.  
Tonle Sap Lake houses.
Water will rise upto the floor of these houses during Monsoon.

Floating houses of Tonle Sap.

After lunch we went to visit two more temples which are lying out. First to  Banteay Srei and then to Banteay Samre. On the way back my husband wanted to taste Cricket, to him it was like an adventure so our driver brought some wild cricket for him to try and they both ate in front of us. Though I loved to try many things but in this case I was hesitating, to me it was something far away, so I had to say a big NO to my hubby !!!! Now here they are....... 

Prasad & Kim enjoying Cricket....

This is what they had!

 That was the end of our 3day Angkor visit. Tomorrow we will be exploring Siem Reap our own.

Before I end on Angkor, I would like to thank Mr. Lim Kimhean, our tuck-tuck driver who was extremely good and helpful in arranging our tour of Angkor and the floating village. When we started planning Angkor as I had mentioned before, I started exploring Tripadvisor to select a reliable tuck-tuck driver who had some knowledge of Khmer History as well. I stumbled upon Kim and it was good we selected him. Normally on my blog, I would not like to name people but he was so humble, honest, helpful and full of information of Khmer History; so I would strongly recommend Lim Kimhean to any one visiting Siem Reap/ Angkor and you will not regret. 

Kim and his  Remork (Tuck-Tuck).

23rd Apr 2014, Siem Reap:

Today we spent our day exploring Siem Reap. Walked upto the Royal Residence, walking leisurely along the river was great. It was our last day in Cambodia, so we did some shopping as well, you all know that Ladies are fond of shopping and so do I ... it's nothing but Souvenirs and tiny catching things ....   

Town of Siem Reap.
Pub Street of Siem Reap at night.

24th Apr 2014, Seim Reap – Kuala Lumpur – Melaka:

Today morning at 0600hrs had a quick breakfast and checked out at 0615Hrs. Our Tuck-tuck driver Kim drove us to Siem Reap International Airport and we said bye to Kim and to Cambodia.... There wasn’t much crowd, all formalities finished quickly.
Siem Reap International Airport.
Statue is the same from Neak Poan Temple.

Flight departed on time at 0830Hrs and arrived at Kuala Lumpur at 1130Hrs. Took Transansional bus from LCCT to Melaka, by 1530Hrs we were at hotel in Melaka.

25th & 26th Apr 2014, Melaka:

Melaka has some heritage attraction to us like other Heritage towns like Fort Kochi, French Quarter of Pondicherry, Latin Quarter (La Fontainhas) of Goa. I am not going to explain much about Melaka as its already explained in my last Travel Diary about Malaysia. In short I would like to say that we really enjoyed our stay, a Good relaxation after the Angkor Tour...

27th Apr 2014, Melaka – Kochi:

Today we departed from Melaka; caught 1500Hrs Transnasional Bus from Melaka Sentral to LCCT. By 1730hrs  we were at LCCT of Kuala Lumpur airport…….saying bye to this trip of ours. A special heartfelt thanks to our Lord Jesus for keeping us safe, sound and guiding us throughout this tour too.

Before I end my blog, following are a few selected interesting photos I would like to share: 

Carrying Pigs.

What is the Cargo????

More than he could carry!!!!

Its not soft drinks....guess what.....Gasoline!

Hammock is a common sight at Cambodia.Even,Cab drivers park their car near trees, tie hammock and take a nap....

and the Award goes to.....

One evening while we were walking along the riverfront at Kampot....I saw this sight. Initially I didn't understand what it was...when I looked across the road to the opposite side, there was "Kampot Provincial Hospital". Then the picture became clear....a patient and his helper, took the drip along with the stand...crossed the road, came and sat at riverfront see the sunset and have a good breeze. "Open" hospital I guess!!!

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