Sunday, February 28, 2010

Granddaughter BeBe will visit for the summer

We love having friends and family visit us. Last year our 8-year-old grandson Zachary visited us in Australia for his summer vacation. Unfortunately, he fell and broke both bones in his dominant forearm on his first day in Australia; so instead of being "the summer I sailed the Great Barrier Reef with my grandparents" in his future memories, it will always be "the summer I broke my arm." He enjoyed the summer, but didn't get to do many of the activities we had planned because of that broken arm. This year, we were thrilled when our daughter-in-law used our being in Malaysia for 9 months as an excuse to book a trip for our 8-year-old granddaughter Elisabeth (a/k/a BeBe) to visit us for the summer. We are hopeful that Zachary will also visit for the summer so the cousins can entertain one another, but he has not yet decided if he wants to come or not.

This is the one of those rare times we have been someplace where sailing and water sports cannot be big parts of our guests' time with us. The western coast of Malaysia isn't hospitable cruising ground. There are not many places to stop overnight and the currents are terrible. The idea of swimming in these waters isn't very attractive. There is just no such thing as a good sailing holiday in Singapore or western Malaysia. Thank goodness there are a few nice marinas. Unfortunately, the conditions here just aren't conducive to providing visitors with a view of the cruising lifestyle. So we plan to leave the boat and head inland with our granddaughter this summer. Zach will miss out on some interesting trips if he decides not to come. Instead of being hosts, skippers and chefs, we will be on vacation too.

Shortly after returning from the Cambodian trip we hired a couple of guys at the marina to clean, wax and polish the boat. A full-day's work by 2 young men for the whopping cost of about $67 USD!! How could we say no to that! Let them work out in the sun and heat. We will be doing our own work again when in the high-priced Mediterranean. Very happy to do our bit for the local economy when the labor prices are so reasonable here in Malaysia. After they finished the hull and came topside to start cleaning, Bill handed them each a toothbrush and taught them the rules of toothbrushing all the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny spots. Bill says all cruisers who follow in our wake should thank him for teaching the local workers the proper way to clean a boat. If a worker shows up to clean your boat and brings a toothbrush, you can thank Bill for teaching that man properly. When they finished for the day S/V BeBe was sparkling!

Last week we went to Singapore for a couple of days to visit the US Embassy and have more visa pages added to our passports. This requires dropping off the passports one morning and picking them up the following day at 3 p.m. And there was no fee for this service! That was a nice surprise. When we had additional pages added to our passports in the US in December 2008 they charged us $100 each. At the embassy in Singapore there were no charges or fees whatsoever. The State Department is inconsident in how they handle this service, or so it appears. BTW, Google Maps makes it so simple to get anywhere in Singapore. Just use the drop-down box for mass transit and instantly you have detailed instructions on which subway station and which bus number(s) to use for your desired destination. Before setting off on this adventure Bill printed maps getting us from the arrival bus station to the embassy; from the embassy to the hotel; from hotel to the various stores and places we wanted to visit; from hotel back to embassy; and from embassy back to departure bus station. You have to remember when planning a trip like this that the return bus might be a different number than the originating bus. Using the maps with the detailed instructions made it so easy for us to travel around the city without feeling lost. We also walked a great deal and were worn out by the time we returned to the boat.

While in Singapore I found a place for a haircut and few brown highlights. Bill went walking while I was having my hair done and decided to have a beer. He had already had one beer before I found the hair salon, and these are large he couldn't quite finish the second one. Soon he returned to the salon with a plastic bag of beer with a straw in it. That is how they do take-out beverages in this part of the world. Coffee and juice were sold this same way in Colombia and Panama, but this is the first time either of us had seen beer served baggy style.

One afternoon a local man brought his family out to see our boat. He owns the security company that monitors the marina with CCTV cameras and security guards. He is a Malaysian man of Indian heritage and had visited our boat several weeks ago and thought his kids and wife would get a kick out of seeing the inside of a sailboat. This is a novelty for all local people. The kids were cute (ages 11 and 4) and excited to see a real boat. We will be going out to dinner with them later this week and have promised to take the kids out for a short sail later in the summer when BeBe is visiting.

Saturday evening the marina shuttle brought us over to Raffle's Marina for a concert by some guy who was billed as "direct from Dubai." It was a fun evening. The only other people from our marina who participated in this little trip were Allison and Nigel, a British couple on S/V Strummer. The music was okay. The hamburger at The Pub was great; now we understand why other yachties have raved about the burgers at Raffle's. We enjoyed chatting with Al & Nige. Even got to watch some football (soccer to us) on the pub televisions and saw Manchester City beat Chelsea while Bill managed to force down 4 pints of beer -- well over his normal limit.

Yesterday a couple living in Singapore came to visit and see our boat. Bill had had email coorespondence with them and invited them over. Mike and Peta are a British couple who are buying an Amel exactly like ours. Their new boat is located in France so they will be starting their cruising adventures from the Med, probably late this year since the normal time for crossing the Atlantic westward is November. We showed them all the little things we have learned while living aboard this model boat for almost 4 years. Wish we had been fortunate enough to have someone do that for us when we moved aboard. Bill also gave Mike a copy of his ultra-complicated "Mother of all Spreadsheets" which provides details on so many boat-related things. Guess that should be called "Mother of all Workbooks" because it does contain multiple inter-related spreadsheets.....with cells that turn green, yellow or red depending on dates of scheduled maintenance. Mike should have fun learning that complicated workbook.

While eating lunch at the marina cafe with Mike and Peta we received another pair of guests. The pharmacist who is special-ordering some medication for me arrived with her fiance. She is a very friendly Chinese girl and her fiance is a very nice Chinese local man. We had invited her to come out and see our boat and to check out the marina grounds for her upcoming wedding photos. For some reason that totally escapes me this marina is very popular for wedding photos. Every weekend we see couples in full wedding dress and professional photo teams doing photo shoots around the marina grounds. They explained that it is customary for the Chinese to plan a wedding for one full year. Jasmine and James will be married in November, but the wedding photos will be taken in May. So much for the groom not seeing the bride in her wedding dress until the day of the wedding. Guess they don't observe that bad luck warning. There will be 2 wedding ceremonies -- a civil ceremony and a religious ceremony. It is not unusual for the civil ceremony to be performed several months before the religious ceremony. Apparently this is very common in Singapore because someone cannot get on the list for government assisted housing unless they are married. A single person cannot get on the housing list until he/she is 34 years old. There is no age requirement for a married couple to get on the housing list.

It was very enjoyable sitting in the boat and chatting with Mike & Peta and Jasmine & James. James gave us lots of tips for our April/May trip to Beijing. A fun afternoon sitting inside the air-conditioned boat. It has been unbearably hot in recent days and we are hibernating inside the boat until temps return to the normal 90F -93F range.

Following in the same vein as my last posting about strange local produce and foods, for dinner tonight we are having bottle gourd and chicken keels. What is a chicken keel, you ask. My thoughts exactly. Did not know that a chicken had a keel. The supermarket did not have boneless chicken breasts this week; the closest thing I could find was a package labeled as 2 pieces of chicken keels. These looked like partial pieces of chicken breast with the breastbone cut in half sideways. Figure I can debone it and cut into cubes for stir-fry. The bottle gourd is another of those unfamiliar vegetables. It is about a foot long and can sometimes be much larger. Looked it up online and learned that it is a popular Indian veggie. It is called sorakaya in the Telugu language and is called bottle gourd, laki, dudhi or lau in different Indian languages. I plan to cut it into cubes and cook with chopped onion, various spices and chopped peanuts. Bottle gourd and chicken keels; oh yumm! This might not be Bill's favorite meal.

(Follow-up: bottle gourd is tasteless; absolutely tasteless. Not objectionable texture; just has no flavor whatsoever. Cardboard has more flavor than bottle gourd. Hard to believe that people actually plant and harvest this stuff.)

And my last item of interest, here is a photo and video of a swimming fish head. No body, just the head. A larger fish apparently chopped this poor little fish directly behind its gills. There were 2 tiny fins flipping like crazy as it propelled itself mouth-down through the water. We watched this partial fish for about 10 minutes and it was still swimming along. Wonder just how long it could live without a body.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And what are we having for dinner?

Just what do you think these 2 pieces of produce might be?

That is how I feel every time we go grocery shopping. Most of the produce is unidentifiable to me. Oh sure, lettuce and tomatoes are easy....usually....although sometimes even those can be strange colors and have different textured leaves than seen in other parts of the world. And apples and oranges normally look like apples and oranges. But a whole lot of the veggies and fruits here in Malaysia are a mystery to me. If it were up to Bill, I would never buy anything new. But, hey, when in Rome.......

When I purchased the two items of produce shown above I hoped that the orange thing was a type of squash. The guessing game usually involves me cutting off a small piece and tasting it raw to get a feel for how it should be cooked and with what seasonings and/or herbs.

Squash is something we both really miss. Every once and awhile the market will have a few very overpriced pieces of zucchini but yellow squash or summer crookneck squash is unheard of in this part of the world. Of course, there is the regular hard squash (what we would call winter squash in the states) that is popular here and usually called pumpkin...although the outside color and shape does not resemble what one visualizes when thinking of a normal orange pumpkin. But we miss regular yellow squash and zucchini. So I was hopeful that the orange thing might be a type of squash.

The long white thing looks similar to a parsnip to me and I hoped it was something like that.

Nope on both counts. The long white parsnip-looking thing turned out to be a mild radish of some sort. So much for my idea of cooking that. The orange thing turned out to be a form of cucumber. Bill searched on the internet and found that this is usually called a Chinese old cucumber and it is often used in a particular soup. Hot cucumber soup? Nope; don't think that appeals to us. Although the recipe did sound different, using cucumbers and scallops and dried fish in a broth, plus abalone if available. We won't be trying that particular recipe.

Turned out it would be salad and grilled chicken for dinner this night and no cooked vegetables.

On our last regular weekly trip to the supermarket I found these tiny purple things called brinjal. They looked like tiny eggplants, not much bigger than red globe grapes. Bill has learned to like eggplant cooked Chinese style so this seemed like a logical thing to try. Bill wanted me to buy the regular long eggplant instead but I insisted we needed to broaden our horizons on this new food issue. Bill says I should be happy that he enjoys the same old things over and over again. Better watch out with statements like that.

Sure enough, when we got back to the boat I researched and found that brinjal is simply the Indian word for aubergines, which is what the rest of the world outside the USA calls eggplant. And here we in the USA thought aubergine was just the name of a color the shade of deep purple.

I cooked these tiny brinjal with green beans, garlic, minced ginger and a Chinese stir-fry sauce in the wok, topped with cilantro or coriander as it is known here. Bill thought it was good but my verdict is that the regular long eggplant is better. The tiny brinjal has lots of very tiny seeds. The long eggplant grown locally has more eggplant "meat" and far less and far softer seeds inside. By the way, the local long eggplant is much superior to the fat big dark purple eggplants we have in the USA. They are not at all bitter and do not require salting and bleeding before cooking.

Had never thought of eggplant and green beans stir-fried together until we tried it at a Chinese restaurant several months ago. Eggplant fried with potatoes and onion, then mixed with Schezuan sauce is also delicious if you like spicy foods; and much more filling. Bill and I think both eggplant dishes are pretty darn good, though totally different.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Final day in Cambodia

The sprained ankle was tolerable for walking today....with the help of double doses of Advil and tight bandaging. The tuk-tuk driver met us at the hotel at 0900 and delivered us to the National Angkor Museum. Ahhh, air-conditioned comfort as we strolled through the exhibits with the audio tour headphones. With lots of places to sit and watch the various video presentations and rest my ankle.

This museum should have been our first stop upon arrival in Siem Reap last week. I would highly recommend this as a first stop for any future visitors reading this blog. It is very imformative and well presented. Well worth a visit and would prepare a tourist for what they are about to see at the various temples and about the ancient Khmer civilization far better than any written guide book.

One room has 1,000 statues of Buddha in different postures, mostly sitting in one of the 2 most commonly seen positions. Most of these statues were in floor-to-ceiling small niches completely covering all walls of the room; the larger statues were in display cases and on tables in the middle of the room. I looked at every sitting Buddha within eye level sight and could find only one that had the legs in the double crossed position....with each foot placed on top of the opposite bent knees. This is one of the positions that I tried for several years to attain in Iyengar yoga classes and never managed to attain it correctly. Every other statue had one foot on top of the opposite bent knee, but the second foot was placed beneath the opposite bent knee....a much easier position to accomplish. I have no idea the significance of the double foot posture but it apparently was not the common pose. It took about 3 hours to walk the museum and listen to all the video presentations.

We weren't hungry and decided to skip lunch. Headed over to the Bayon temple at Angkor Thom to see what I missed the day when I sprained my ankle. This is the temple with the 200 faces. Could have knocked me over with a feather when we climbed the steep steps to the top tier of the temple and heard our names being called. It was Paul and Sima from S/V Leander out of Boston. What a surprise! We had met Paul last month at Puteri Harbour Marina. He would go for a run each morning at the same time we usually walked our daily 2 miles and we often talked.

Leander left the marina headed toward Langkawi shortly after we returned to the marina from Houston in mid-January. They plan to head up the Red Sea in March. We had no idea they had planned to visit Cambodia at the same time we would be here. Unfortunately, all of us would be departing Cambodia the next morning...they to Bangkok and us to Kuala Lumpur... so we would not even be on the same flights and would not have a chance to chat very long. Sheema told us they had taken the train from Langkawi to Bangkok and loved it. Good to hear as we plan to do that train this summer. She had good advice on which type of sleeper accomodations to buy on the train. Glad we ran into them. We chatted about an hour and then they left to try to cram in as much temple touring as possible for the day.

I am glad we returned to Bayon. All the faces are more impressive when viewed from the center top of this temple. Still cannot believe there are really 200 faces carved into that temple.

The French were in the process of dismantling parts of Bayon as the first step of restoration when Pol Pot attacked. The French had just removed and stacked a huge number of pieces of stone when they received word to abandon the site immediately and depart the country. They had not yet had time to catalog the stones by measuring and numbering each piece.

During the Pol Pot regime the Khmer Rouge destroyed and broke many of the stones and scattered the stones all around the Angkor Thom complex. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge the French returned to try to reassemble the stones back into the temple, only to find the stones so scattered that they did not have any idea how to manage the reassembly. This is like the world's largest 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle!

There are still large blocks and pieces of stone strewn about the grounds surrounding Bayon temple today. People are again measuring the stones and with the use of computers hope to be able to once again piece this special temple back together. The thing that surprised me is that tourists are allowed to climb all over this temple. It is not safe footing and has no handholds and is very steep in places. I could imagine the lawsuits if this were in the USA.

After Bayon we returned to Angkor Wat to try for some late afternoon photos. Here are a few. Click on each image for larger view.

Finished with all temples (a loud yea!!! from Bill on that!). Where else would we go on our last evening in Siem Reap but back to Pub Street....although it was a tough decision because we also would have enjoyed returning to the fabulous Paris-Saigon Restaurant.

This time I chose a Khmer style restaurant. Figured we should at least try the local style of foods once before we departed. We sat at sidewalk level in order to be able to watch people on the streets for entertainment. Very soon Bill had struck up a conversation with the couple at a nearby table. The man was born in Baja Mexico, lived most of his life in California, and married to a Malaysian. They live in Kuala Lumpur and would be on the same return flight with us tomorrow morning. Small world. They were a delightful young couple and we enjoyed talking about all manner of topics for an hour or so.

I ordered 3 Khmer dishes and Bill ordered a plain chicken & rice dish and simple fresh spring rolls, not fried. He doesn't get very adventurous with foods; whereas, I always like to try anything that I have not had before. Figure if I don't like it then I don't have to eat it, and sometimes the new food is pretty good. Expand your palate whenever possible is my motto when it comes to eating in foreign countries.

All of the 3 Khmer dishes were just okay, nothing great. Bill pointed out that I had ordered too much food because half or more of each dish was left on the table, but I only wanted to taste each one to see what it was like. Can't say that I could see much difference from the Malaysian style meals and the Khmer style meals. The amok fish was the specialty of the area. Frankly, I much prefer the Chinese style steamed fish over the Cambodian amok style fish.

Monday, February 8, 2010
The hotel prepared breakfast boxes for us to take with us to the airport since we left before the restaurant opened. They gave us way too much food. I noticed a janitor watching us pick out the banana and croissant that we each ate. I left the remaining sweet rolls and fruits still nicely packaged in the containers and the unopened liter of cold drinking water on a shelf near the trash cans. Sure enough, as we walked toward the metal detectors to the gate area, the man walked over and snatched up our leftover breakfasts. Glad it didn't get wasted.

Flight to Kuala Lumpur; wait in the airport all day for the flight to Johor Bahru; taxi to the marina; and home on the boat around 11 p.m. Unfortunately, when we turned on the laptop we had brought on this trip the hard drive immediately died. All the notes of what we had seen and done were lost. Not a big deal because we have a couple of extra hard drives already pre-loaded for the laptop so Bill was able to just put in a new drive. We probably will shop for a larger faster drive next time we visit Singapore. Thank goodness we had left all the photos on the camera and not uploaded to that laptop during the trip.

Next month's trip will be 2 weeks in Vietnam. Already looking forward to it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Floating Village and a wonderful restaurant

The car driver picked us up at the hotel at 0900 and we were off to see the floating village. This is another popular tourist destination in the Siem Reap area. It is possible to do this trip via tuk-tuk because the roads are paved and well-maintained. We would have been willing to use the tuk-tuk, but the trip via car was included in the hotel room rate and it would be quicker and more comfortable. There was very little walking involved, just from the car down the ramp to the boat and back up when finished. Figured I could hobble that far on the sprained ankle since it was now tightly wrapped for good stabilization.

We had been advised that going to the floating village would use one day's admittance on our 3-day pass for Angkor Wat. First day was used for the Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean and Beng Mealea trip. Day 2 had been used for Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm temples. The floating village would be day 3. Except the entrance road guards did not clip our passes for admittance to the floating village after all. There is a separate charge for admittance to the floating village area which is paid when you reach the boat boarding area. That left us with one last day on our admittance passes to again visit the main temple area if my ankle would be better the next day, our last full day in Cambodia.

February is part of the dry season in Cambodia. During the wet season from June to October the water level is much, much higher. The snow in the mountains melts each year and drains to the Mekong River. The Mekong River normally flows southerly through Vietnam. But the snow melt combined with torrential rainfall each year cause the Mekong River to briefly stop flowing and then reverse to a northerly flow during the wet season. Then the Mekong river flows northward and eventually dumps into the Tongle Sap, the great lake in Cambodia. This river flow reversal assisted in the development of trade centruies ago. Other rivers also flow southward from Laos with tributaries from Thailand, all ending into the Tongle Sap. Transport on this extensive river network between Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand has been happening for well over a thousand years.

The Tongle Sap is the most productive fishing fresh water lake in the world. There are numerous floating villages around the edges of the Tongle Sap. This great lake is also surrounded by some of the more productive rice lands in the world. The annual flooding brings new nutrient rich soil to the rice fields. When the floods recede the exposed rice fields are ready to produce heavily with no need for fertilization or irrigation. There are fields of rice at various encircling ranges around the Tongle Sap grown year round. The field locations are constantly moved about as the water level of the lake changes.

This is not an attractive lake. The water is very muddy and brown. There are plenty of small crocodiles. Since we were visiting during dry season, the tributary down which the boats bring tourists to the floating village on the lake were unusually shallow and muddy. The boats are constructed with very shallow draft in order to be usable during the shallow times. And it smelled to high heaven. Whether sewage or fish remains or drying nets, the smell in places was barely tolerable. Other places there was no noticeable odor. Very, very glad I was not born to be a villager here!

Boats carrying tourists continuously plied up and down the tributary to the lake. These are called speed boats but ours did not go very fast. Other, bigger boats did barrel along fast causing much rocking of smaller boats like ours. There were 'no wake' signs posted but absolutely no one paid any attention to those signs. Forget things like COLREGS. It was just like the motor vehicle traffic on the streets; everyone drives very defensively and accidents are rare even though the traffic goes willy-nilly in every direction.

Bill and I were the only passengers in our particular boat out to the village. The uncovered engine was so loud that I soon moved to the forwardmost seat. That poor driver must be half-deaf from doing this daily. The seats were rattan chairs just sitting in the boat in rows with nothing holding the chairs in place. Very different than the way we restrain everything in our sailboat to keep things from flying around when at sea. Each rattan chair had a lifevest on its back so there was at least some semblance of safety requirements.

Along the banks of the tributary to the lake there were at least a dozen boats under construction. Some of these new boats will be quite large to be maneuvering on this shallow water path during the dry season. The boats were being built by hand and the craftsmanship was apparent in the construction. Guess when a culture does something for centuries they learn to do it right. The local lumber yard leaves a lot to be desired but they do very well with what materials they have available.

The trip to the lake was about 20 minutes. All the tourist boats took turns tying off to a blue building on the lake interior outskirts of the floating village. The tourists disembarked and purchased souvenirs or snacks (not us, brother; not there unless it was an unopened can like a Coke). They had about a dozen crocodiles trapped in a floating pit attached to the wooden walking platform for those tourists who had never seen this creature. We were not impressed with these tiny things after seeing the big ones in Australia. By the way, people eat crocodiles here. Just like alligator in southern Louisiana. One can buy croc burgers at several places on Pub Street in Siem Reap. We have eaten alligator in Texas so passed on eating crocodile in Cambodia. Figure it tastes the fishy chicken.

There were a several small canoes of women and small children who were trying to sell things to the tourists as the speed boats arrived at the floating tourist building...mostly selling bananas. Several of the small boys had boa constrictors wrapped around their shoulders. Their mothers were offering "take a picture, one dollar." Bill refused because he felt like they are just exploiting the kids.

On the way to this tourist building we passed floating grocery stores and floating hardware/general merchandise stores. Also saw the floating school filled with little kids in school uniforms. What an unusual way of life. Everything any land village would have, only all floating on a big lake. As noted in a previous posting, these villagers traditionally have been a tribe of Cambodians but today almost all of the residents of the floating villages on Tongle Sap are Vietnamese Cham, who were the traditional enemies of the Khmer for centuries. The Cham left Vietnam because life is much better for them here in Cambodia than in present day Vietnam in their traditional lands.

We did not hang around the tourist building long. It took only 10 minutes for us to see all we wanted to see of the floating village. We reboarded the speed boat and the driver took a different route out of the Tongle Sap through another tributary which intersected with the waterway that had delivered us to the lake.

One thing we did find interesting was the way small children visited their friends. They would sit in large pans, like industrial sized shallow food preparation bowls or shallow metal laundry tubs. The rims of these large pans barely stayed above water as the kid paddled with his or her hands. A slow method of transport but you gotta do what you gotta do and obviously the little kids did not each have their own boat. "Hey Billy, want to come over and play?" "Can't right now, Mom's soaking the laundry."

The boat ride back was just like the boat ride out. Soon we were back in the car; soon back in the hotel, passing many motorbikes loaded with various goods and animals on their way to the town markets. Climbed into the tuk-tuk and returned to Pub Street for lunch again. Then back to the hotel and I had a great Khmer traditional massage. Wish I had found time to do that every day of this vacation. Felt wonderful.

For dinner we went to a fabulous French-Vietnamese restaurant called Paris-Saigon Restaurant, located in the Wat Bo area of Siem Reap. The staff at the Pavillon d'Orient was not familiar with the restaurant when we requested they make the reservation. We had driven past in the tuk-tuk during our return to the hotel from lunch. We had stopped and perused the menu and decided to splurge for a nice evening. The Paris Saigon is a very small upscale restaurant owned by a Frenchman. It is managed by his friend, another Frenchman, who is married to a Vietnamese woman. She handles the kitchen. They offer an excellent selection of French wines. The restaurant is cozy with less than 10 tables. We listened to Chopin playing quietly in the background as we enjoyed two of the best meals we have eaten in the last 10 years. This restaurant is expensive by Cambodian standards; a true bargain by American standards.

Only French dishes and Vietnamese dishes are offered on the menu. Bill opted for a French meal and I opted for the Vietnamese. Each dish was superb. We decided to switch plates several times. The nems were delightful and the Ca Loc Quay Muoc Dua was a dish to die for! This is something I definitely want to try again when we are in Vietnam if the opportunity presents itself. Everything about this meal was perfect and both Bill and I would highly recommend splurging for an evening at the Paris-Saigon Restaurant if anyone plans to visit the area.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Angkor Thom first visit and Ta Prohm

After falling in Angkor Wat and spraining my ankle, walking more than a few steps was out of the question. But it was too early in the day to go back to the hotel room. Figured I could sit in the tuk-tuk and hurt just as well as sit in the hotel room and hurt. So we continued the very short distance to the complex of Angkor Thom.

The total complex of Angkor Thom is four times larger than Angkor Wat. It covers about 5.5 square miles inside the broken stone walls. Angkor Thom was built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. He established the capitol of the Khmer empire there and a city of about 1,000,000 was soon established.

The center is the temple of Bayon, commonly called the temple of faces. This was the last major temple built during the Khmer empire. The final minor temple built in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which we did not vist. There are 200 carved stone faces of the king on the Bayon temple. Every direction one looks there are multiple faces to be seen. Every face has the identical peaceful expression with slight smile and almost closed eyes.

In the northwest quadrant of Angkor Thom is located what was the royal palace. Also in the northwest quadrant are located the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. I have no idea who was the Leper King. There are carved elephants all down a long high stone wall. At the northern end of that wall begins another long high stone wall filled with carved animals that look sort of like monkeys. The "monkey" area is the beginning of the Terrace of the Leper King. I really can't say if these carvings are monkeys or possibly one of those 330 million sub-dieties in the Hindu religion.

In the northeast quadrant of Angkor Thom are located many tall stone buildings. These are all identical. They reminded me of townhouses or 3-storey patio homes. Supposedly the king had 2,000 wives who were all housed on the grounds of Angkor Thom. The king used these separate smaller buildings to sleep with a different wife each night. It was believed that if he ever was unable to "enjoy" a wife on any night then he would have been considered to have become weakened and would lose power of the empire. The people would not follow a weak king. We learned this tidbit when we visited a museum on our last day in Cambodia.

There were elephants walking around the grounds and elephant rides were available for sale to the tourists. There was also a very, very large stone Buddha between the Bayon temple and the royal palace complex directly next to Baphuon, a 3-tiered temple mountain. There are a number of temples inside Angkor Thom.

Bill snapped a few photos as I waited in the tuk-tuk and then we drove east out of Angkor Thom, past yet another temple called Ta Keo. We zipped right past that one. It did not appear to be much of a tourist attraction because all the tourist buses also skipped it.

Soon we were parked outside the temple of Ta Prohm along with at least 2 dozen big tourist buses. Our tuk-tuk driver warned us that Chinese and Korean tourists move very slowly so we probably did not want to get stuck behind any such large group. With that warning Bill headed off to take photos while I again waited in the tuk-tuk. While waiting there must have been 30 kids approach me trying to sell me souvenirs or guide books. One little guy was trying to sell very nice looking books about the temples around Angkor Wat for only one dollar. I didn't have any money or would have bought a few as gifts for friends who would be interested in this subject.

Ta Prohm is the temple that has been left as natural as possible so that tourists can see what the jungle can do to large stone buildings over 900 years. They have cut the trees well away from the buildings so no further damage can occur and have fortified the stone structures where necessary to prevent further deterioration. Several large trees have been left in place in the temple that show how the roots move the stones about.

Ta Prohm is one of the probably the frequently photographed temple after Angkor Wat. I had been looking forward to seeing this particular temple but it just wasn't meant to happen.

Bill was back in about an hour and announced that he was done with temples. Period. No more.

We drove back to downtown Siem Reap and spent most of the afternoon sitting at a place on Pub Street watching the interaction between the locals and the tourists. For some reason Bill thought the signs posted on lightpoles requesting people to donate blood were funny. The fact that they guaranteed clean needles was the part that I think he found humorous. He should remember that we are in one of the poorer countries on earth and clean needles are not such a far-fetched thing to worry about. I thought it was more unusual that they were giving out tee-shirts for blood donations. No one ever gave me a free tee-shirt for donating blood in Houston.

We stopped at a pharmacy and purchased some very crappy bandaging material to wrap my foot and ankle and returned to the hotel. Enjoyed room service for dinner and dug out the Advil. Tomorrow's activities would involve as little walking as possible.

Angkor Wat.... first visit

On our fourth day in Siem Reap it was finally time to visit the vast temple attraction of Angkor Wat. Since this temple is unique in that it faces west rather situated facing east as are most Hindu temples, that means photography is normally not very good during mornings. The morning sun ruins photos taken facing the temple grounds. The guide books recommend visiting Angkor Wat in the afternoon. We decided to go in the morning because it is cooler. We could always come back another afternoon to take photos.

Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at the front entrance and moved to wait in the nearby tuk-tuk parking area under the shade of the big trees. Immediately we were pounced upon by children trying to sell us one thing or another. Sorry, kids; not buying anything to carry around all day. The crowds were already building as one big tour bus after another deposited passengers near the front entrance esplanade. If the crowds are supposed to be in the afternoons rather than in the morning, then we definitely made the right decision to come early. It was crowded enough during this non-crowded time. We were a bit surprised to hear even Polish and Russian along with lots of French, German, Dutch and Italian. Many, many tourists from China and a few busloads from Korea and Japan. Tourists were from all points of the globe.

We strolled up the causeway across the 200-meter wide moat that surrounds the temple complex. There are basically 3 rectangular "rings" around the inner temple at Angkor Wat. The outer wall is 2.2 miles long surrounding the temple complex. I cannot conceive of the manpower required to build this place about nine hundred years ago. The photo at left shows the distance between the first gallery and the entrance to the second gallery. Photo was taken about 30 feet from the entrance of the second gallery, looking back towards the rear side of the first gallery. The temple was built in the early 12th century by order of King Suryavarman II as the state temple. After his death, the temple was sacked by the Cham from Vietnam, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Later the Khmer empire was restablished in the region by another king. This later king built another temple very close by called Bayon. We would see it next.

Inside the outer wall of Angkor Wat are 3 rectangular galleries, each raised higher progressively toward the center. The second rectangular gallery has 4 spires/domes and the central gallery has the highest spire/dome at 65 meters. These 5 spires are in the shape of closed lotus blossoms and form the very distinctive shape of the central area of Angkor Wat. The central gallery is higher than any cathedral built in Europe during that time period. The actual sanctuary inside the top of the central gallery is very small. When the temple became Buddhist, this is where a small statue of Buddha was placed for worship. The only people allowed in this small sanctuary were 2 Buddhist priests who brought offerings each morning to the statue. An enormous temple complex surrounding a small statue to worship. Today there are several Buddha shrines placed in the lower level of the central gallery as well as the Buddha shrine in the dark hallway in the second gallery. There might have been more shrines that we missed because we did not walk the entire gallery complexes.

Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Visnu. But later it became a Buddhist temple. The guide books and a Discovery show we watched claim that Angkor Wat was overtaken by the jungle and forgotten until it was rediscovered by Frenchman Henri Mouhot in 1860. Balderdash! Angkor Wat was overtaken by the jungle. The wide moat helped a lot to protect from the jungle, but the jungle still managed to invade the temple grounds and severely damaged the stone buildings in the process; but this temple has also remained in constant use for worship by local residents and inhabited by either Hindu or Buddhist priests for the entire time of its existence---about nine hundred years.

The first western visitor to Angkor Wat was a Portuguese monk in 1586. Afterwards, rumours of this special place circulated for centuries. After the "rediscovery" by the western world in 1860, the French became very interested and began efforts to salvage the temple from grips of the jungle. This salvage effort continues today with monies provided by UNESCO and also through contributions from many countries. There is a restoration project in the central gallery currently underway until December 2010 that is financed by France.

Shortly after we entered the second gallery a Buddhist priest blocked the walkway forward and insisted we turn left and enter a dark hallway. Bill stepped over the high stone doorway threshold with no problems. Being a bit shorter, I have a shorter stride. When I stepped from the bright sunlit open room through the opening into the dark hallway, my right foot went into a deep depression in the stone floor and I went tumbling down and sprained my ankle. There was another Buddhist monk in the dark hallway and he said "Look down, madam; always look down." Well, excuse me, buddy. Madam was looking down but couldn't see the floor stones in the dark. The monk then did 5 bows to a little Buddha statue and asked me for a donation to Buddha. My ankle was hurting badly and I was in no mood to donate anything to Buddha at that moment. I hobble away looking for a place to sit for awhile.

When the throbbing stopped we continued to walk around the second gallery. Something I found particularly interesting were the ceilings of parts of the galleries. Much of the stone both on the walls and on the ceiling were covered in what must have been a plaster of some kind. A few of the walls and ceilings had multi-colored plaster still in place. Obviously at one time this temple or parts of this temple was decorated with bright colors. In the limited research I had done on Angkor Wat, no where did I read anything about the possibility of the walls and ceilings being decoratively colored.

Inside the second gallery there also were two sunken areas that appeared to be like swimming pools. Of course there was no water in these sunken areas but that is what they reminded us of. I have no idea what these large rectangular pits were used for.

We slowly made our way to the central gallery. Soon the realization set in that if we did not start toward the entrance that I wasn't going to be able to walk out of there. The entrance causeway across the moat and the causeway between the first and second galleries were both very long and I was having a difficult time hobbling along. We slowly made it to the tuk-tuk and that was the end of any walking for me for the day. Bill tried not to jump for joy that I wouldn't be dragging him through any more temples. Little did he know that I still expected him to visit a few temples and take photos while I sat in the tuk-tuk. Our day was not over yet.