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Temples of Angkor

December 19, 2008

angkor_thumb1.jpgWe would be remiss were we not to document our stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We spent three of our six incredible days there touring the amazing temples of Angkor. There are more temples in this general area than one can imagine, the earliest having been built in about the year 1000 and the last some 400 years later, all by kings of the Khmer empire, the most famous and revered being Jayavarman VII, whom the Cambodians simply refer to as Seven. The temples are a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist stemming from the religious influences of India into Cambodia at the time Cambodia rested in the middle of the silk trade routes. It was fascinating to view the intricately carved sandstone and marvel at the immense feat of engineering, architecture and artistry. The people used a combination of huge sandstone, brick they had made, and a very porous but hard stone for the structural parts. The stone carving in the sandstone is simply glorious. We found ourselves comparing the stone works of the Incas at Machu Picchu and the Japanese at a shogun castle in Kyoto. The massive stones these people moved are just incredible. Of course, at Angkor, there were elephants to do some of the hauling. These stones almost speak directly to you, reaching back through history to flood your imagination to a different time and different culture.

Some of our favorite temples were of course, Angkor Wat, but also the Bayon Temple with its many, many faces, and Ta Prohm, the one temple that has been left more or less as it was rediscovered, with huge trees climbing on top of walls and buildings. This is the temple where film footage was used in movies like Indiana Jones. It is spectacular and a stroke of genius on the part of the archeologists to leave it mostly as is.

As we have experienced throughout our trip while touring religious sites and buildings, from the churches of South America to the temples and shrines of Japan, Cambodia and Thailand, the children have continued to absorb the essence of these places with such open hearts. We hope our pictures will capture a bit of that same essence for you, too.

Cambodia - Phnom Penh and Motorbikes

December 9, 2008

pc070083.jpgThree months in South America, nearly two weeks in Japan and a whirlwind three days in Hong Kong had us feeling like veteran travelers, prepared for any challenge. Well, I think that Cambodia has been a bit of a gut check for everyone.

It’s hard to know where to start.

With the still present scars of a war stricken country that will take generations to heal? With the constant movement and mayhem of motorcycles, mopeds, tuk tuks, bicycles and Toyota cars? With stories of rampant government corruption and greed? With the air hanging thick with dust and smoke, hurting your eyes and challenging your lungs?

Or…with the serenity and peacefulness of saffron robed monks walking silently by? With the history and simple splendor of buddhas from the 12th or 13th century? With the amazing friendly and welcoming nature of the Cambodian people?

We spent 3 nights in Phnom Penh, blessed with an extremely pleasant and restful place to stay. As Ainsley reported, The Fancy Guesthouse. Not really fancy, but very clean, quiet and run by the nicest family possible. Everyone felt good to be there and it was a nice place to retreat after exploring the streets of Phnom Penh. The first full day in the city brought a bout of home sickness for Ainsley. She was really missing her extended family and I think the streets of Phnom Penh had quite an impact on her. She has held my hand along the way during our travels, but here she grasped my hand and held on the whole time as we navigated the streets. Then as we toured the National Museum she shared her surprisingly vast knowledge of Buddhism and Hinduism, learned at Carolina Friends School, where in one course they studied the world’s five great religions. I learned as much from her as I did from the tour guide.

Now, after a 6 hour bus ride through the countryside of Cambodia, we are in Siem Reap. Here, Jack had his own bout of homesickness yesterday, really missing his friends Matthew and Ben. Thinking about how much he loves to play with Legos at Ben’s house. How Ben kept a lego creation of Matthew’s put aside for the entire year he and his family were away in CA. How Ben is doing the same with one of his own creations, but lamenting that it wasn’t the best one he ever built. How it will be two years before he will see Matthew, with our families’ times away from Durham happening in succession. Jack ended the day by giving Kelli an early Christmas present, purchased with his own spending money, a small buddha statue in a pretty silk pouch. He was smiling.

So, taking advantage of a comfortable place to stay here in Siem Reap we will stay a bit longer than originally planned, probably a total of 6 days, before heading off to Thailand. The American owner of our guest house is well versed in the border crossings with Thailand and will help us navigate our way there via taxi/bus/etc. Many have reported that the journey from Siem Reap to Bangkok overland was a highlight of their travels in South East Asia. We hope it will be one for us too.

Soon we will explore the temples of Angkor Wat, attend a local dance performance, ride elephants and setup more of our plans for Thailand and beyond. That’s all for now!

…..not quite!

June 23, 2008

We plan to go here, but haven’t yet arrived. Take a look at the map at the top right side of the home page to see where we are and the “Where?” page for where we intend to go.