Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Ho Chi Minh City... ya Saigon Done it!!!!

Day 79- We FINALLY received our Vietnam VISA's, so we had the clear to head out of town. We took another Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh city. It took 7 hours and it cost us $19 dollars each. 

We used our time wisely on the bus and watched another couple episodes of Star Wars. Oh how happy my heart was to finally arrive in Vietnam. I have wanted to come here for years and years and if it hadn't been for bad weather, we would have come for our honeymoon. 

They don't standardize the taxi meter rates in Vietnam, so if you have a taxi driver offer up the meter, don't be too quick to accept. We fell for this tactic as soon as we got dropped off at the bus station and after many arguments with thai taxi drivers, begging them to use the meter, we were quick to accept this option in Vietnam when it was presented to us. However, his meter was rigged so it charged us twice as fast and we heavily overpaid. Tip: Look up where you are staying in town in advance, and agree on a set rate before you agree to a ride. As dramatic as this realization was, in hindsight it turns out that twice the rate is stil quite cheap...haha. 

Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh city, also known as Saigon. (It was changed from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh after the Vietnam war in honour of the famous revolutionary leader.) We stayed at a lovely guesthouse called Giang Son 3, located in the heart of district 1, on the backpacker street. This area can get pretty chaotic but our home was on a side street, so we were able to avoid the noise and chaos of our fellow travellers. The staff was very helpful and they served a delicious breakfast every morning, included in the cost of the room. Definitely one of the nicest rooms yet and we paid $30 bucks a night. A little more than we usually like to spend but there were not a lot of cheap options when we were searching. 

We were pretty tired from sitting on the bus all day so we grabbed some quick McDonald's to satisfy our hunger. It was delicious, as always, and it was the nice reminder of home we were itching for. 

Day 80- Saigon is a walking city and it was great to have some freedom back, to go where we wanted, when we wanted. We set out to see some of the sites and explore our new city. We walked in every direction and our first stop was the opera house. We bought tickets for the performance, scheduled the next night. 

Next we went to Pho 24, which is one of Vietnams best Pho restaurants and it is also a franchise so it is possible that you may see this restarant in other places around the world, not to mention all over town. It felt like the Canadian version of Tim Hortons but instead of serving delicious coffee (I don't care what anyone says, I LOVE Tim Hortons coffee) they serve pho. The name has 24 in it because they use 24 ingredients in their pho recipe. For those of you who know me from home... I love Vietnamese food! For my first Pho experience... it was delicious and it only cost $2.50!!! 

After our tummys were full, we went to a Starbucks so I could buy a mug from Vietnam to add to my collection at home. We had a lot of research to do for Vietnam and Australia so we sat down with a chai latte in hand and researched away. It was another great reminder of home once again. 

We had a lot more to do than we realized and we stayed there for the next 3-4 hours. After we had a good plan in place we headed for dinner. I read about our dinner spot on a blog and it said "if you're looking to try some street food, this is the place to go".  The restaurant is called Nha Hang Ngon. We were confused when we walked up to the place because it seemed more like a fancy restaurant than a street food eatery. Once we sat down, we realized that the restaurant area was completely surrounded by individual booths that worked on orders brought to them from the waiters. Such a cool idea and place. I couldn't wait to order pork vermicelli with spring rolls and let me tell was A M A Z I N G!! Meghan and Kassie ...oh boy has this changed the viet game! By far the best food we've eaten so far this trip.

Here are some of the many cooking stations that surrounded the restaurant. 


After dinner we went to yet another night market. Although Mike does not agree, I can't get enough of them. I could walk around these markets for days and I don't think I'd get sick of the constant howls and whistles that are thrown our way, in hopes that we are their next lucky customer. Luckily, Mike holds me back from buying any "dust collectors", as my mother would call them.

I did however convince Mike to let me buy some Vietnamese coffee for my sister and brother in law. As I was taking a photo of the coffee table, the little girl working the booth flashed me the biggest smile!

While walking home from the night market, a group of college students greeted us and asked us to sit down. It wasn't clear what their intentions were until they told us that they would like to practice their english. Mike and I both sat down with different groups and we discussed different topics such as; the Vietnam war, their homes in the countryside, what they study in school and what Calgary is like.  I showed them pictures of the rocky mountains and they were very curious to learn about our bears. After speaking with them for some time, I learned that they went to that place everynight of the week, after school and work, in hopes of grabbing foreigners attention to practice their english. It was really interesting how tirelessly they worked to improve their english, increasing their chances at a better career. The kids in Vietnam see how lucky they are to have an opportunity like an education so they don't take it for granted. If that means they need to spend every night trying to improve their english, they will do it. 

We sat on our street and enjoyed the madness with some Saigon beers in hand and the voices of hundreds of travellers all around us. 


Day 81- After we enjoyed some fresh Vietnamese coffee, we set out for a day of sight seeing. First we went to the day market inside their famous clock tower. One realization we had is that one thing that never seems to change from country to country is the product sold at the markets. We have yet to see any differences between the products in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and now Vietnam. Perhaps this is the source of Mike's indifference to them... but what does he know, its market time!

Next, we headed to the Notre Dame church. The inside of the church was decorated beautifully with unique stain glass windows. 



This one below is particularly interesting as it depicts what can only be an angel slaying a demon in the form of a dragon. I have seen many churches but never anything quite like this;


It was time for more pho. We read about another spot that made a top 5 list for pho in Saigon. They make pho with more of a northern Vietnamese influence and use fewer ingredients than the typical southern pho. The restaurant is called Pho Thin Ha Noi and we paid $3.00 each. 
Pho crying out loud it was gooooooood! Maybe even better than the last one? 

Even though it is rainy season in southern Vietnam, we had experienced very little rain. That is, until we got caught in an extreme downpour. But pour us couldn't be kept down with our new rain gear purchased for $0.50. 

After lunch we went to the War Remnants Museum. This was another harsh realization for myself when learning of the tragic and gruesome events that occured during the Vietnam war. Side note: the Vietnamese call it the American war. I could only bring myself to take one photo at the museum. It was difficult to learn of the terrible things our neighbours did to the innocent people of Vietnam. 
"I learned that the Vietnam war occured because the USA felt as though Vietnam was moving towards communism. During this time in history there was friction, on the global stage, between communism and democracy. The United States feared Vietnam's adoption of communism, would prompt others in the world to follow suit, making them natural allies of China and Russia. On the heals of the Cold war, the USA felt this was an unacceptable risk and began backing a small democratic movement in the south. Meanwhile Russia and China supplied the 80% of society that supported Ho Chi Minh and his "Communist party" in the north. The more I learned the more I realized that the Vietnamese were merely collateral damage in a much larger global political war. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Vietnamese revolution, was a nationalist first and foremost. He looked to offer more freedoms to his people who, for hundreds of years, had been a highly oppressed colony of China, France and Japan respectivly. Ho Chi Minh was viewed by the USA as a fanatical communist, when in fact he was a nationalist in every way. It just so happened that he felt communism would be the best political system for his newly sovereign country. This is a very reasonable conclusion when considering the fact that there was already very little social hierarchy in the region, do to the years of colonialization and oppression. The sole goal of Ho Chi Minh was to build an independent country, NOT to spread communist ideals around the world."
As you can see I was exposed to a bunch of information and Mike was kind enough to add the above few sentences. He took a particular interest in this piece of recent history. I will not add to his info but there are some very interesting documentaries on YouTube that are worth watching as well as googling "Agent Orange" will show you just how bad things got during the Vietnam war. I wish we had more time to spend at the museum but a previous engagement had us running for the exit door. 

We had a show to catch so we ran home for a quick shower before heading to the Opera. 

It was fun to dress up a little and wear makeup for a change.

The performance was fantastic. The production told the story of the Vietnamese culture from past to modern day society. Bamboo was used as the only prop to create traditional boats, huts and to represent objects in other forms. The use of the bamboo was artistic and creative, the acrobatics were captivating, the music, harmonious and the story was inspiring. Very well produced show and very much worth the $30 each. 

Turns out we were right by that amazing street food restaurant from the night before and we were starving, so we went back for another delicious meal!

We ended the night off at a little cafe right off the backpackers street and enjoyed some delicious iced Vietnamese coffees. It wasn't until 3 in the morning that we realized how much caffeine we must have ingested!

Day 82- We caught a bus near our guesthouse and headed to the Cu Chi tunnels.  It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the tunnels and the busses will always stop at a factory along the way to get commission for bringing tourists there.  The Cu Chi tunnels were built and used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnamese war. The tunnels maze through 240 km of earth, acting as an underground army base.


The tunnels were not only used by the Vietnamese army but also by villages living above the tunnels. When they were under attack, the villagers would take their entire families and move underground until the fighting ceased. 

Above ground, many traps were set by the Vietnamese to ward off American Soldiers. As the Vietnamese had very little fire power and explosives available to them, they were creative in their tactics and built some pretty effective traps to catch American troops. 

Visitors are given the opportunity to shoot military weapons (this is the real money maker for the tour) but Mike and I have spent plently of time at or local shooting range in Calgary and didn't feel the need to shoot any guns.

Our guide told us that if we wanted to see bats, spiders, centipedes and snakes, we were welcome to crawl through the tunnels from one side to the other. We all laughed, until the first boy went in the tunnel and came out a man. The stories were true and we all quickly lost our nerve. Two other guys in our group who were in the American military couldn't wait to go in and roll in the dirt. Most of the other guys all chickened out. Some of them even got as far as getting in the hole but panicked when they saw the closed quarters and bats inside. Mike was gutsy enough to give it a go and he went the whole way. For those who are wondering, yes those are bats and there were spiders and centipedes (the big red ones), no snakes though. The guide also joked that is was important not to take a wrong turn because someone could easily get lost in there and end up in Saigon. Then again, we thought he was joking about the bats and bugs too... Mike and the other courageous souls said "it was like a maze down there and it would be easy to get lost if we hadn't been told which way to go".

Off he goes.... bye bye Mike.


I went in for a photo but didn't crawl through. It wouldn't have been a healthy choice for the sake of my nightmares. 


On our way home we witness typical Vietnamese rush hour. 

For dinner we went to a "street vendor" for the BEST Vietnamese sandwiches ever. Although the food carts sit indoors, it is just a shelter for the meals on wheels. You always know it is a safe choice when the lineup is out the door. We politely stood in what we thought was the start of a line until a local told us "you won't get anywhere standing here, you need to get in there". So we made moves and ordered the sandwiches traditional style.  

Fresh baguettes baking in the oven, ready to order. The influence from France is very apparent everywhere in Saigon. The buildings, food and even lauguage are very present in the Vietnamese culture. 

We learnt that meat is not refrigerated in Vietnam so it is very important to find a busy street food vendor or restaurant to make sure the ingredients are fresh. Below you can see our sandwiches being made. Each meat you see there was added to our sandwich... most of them look unrecognizable. It was a mystery meat sandwich.

I can't say it enough, the food in Saigon was absolutely, positively, scrumptious!!!


Saturday, 26 September 2015

Reasons To Be Thankful

Day 75- We took a 6 hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Once again I did some research to find the best valued mode of transportation and we ended up booking with Giant Ibis bus company. They give passengers a delicious baked snack, water, they have wifi (worked better than I expected), it was clean and wall chargers at each seat for the cheap cheap price of $20 CAD/person. We arrived at Eighty 8 backpackers hostel and once again we were lucky that they had a room available for us. The hostel had clean rooms, the staff was friendly and the restaurant/bar served one hell of a Cambodian curry. :)

Day 76- We came to Phnom Pehn to see two things; the killing fields and S-21. The other sites here, such as the national monument and temples, we avoided. It wasn't that we didn't think these attractions would be interesting but we had just spent 5 days seeing some of the most incredible temples in the world and we wanted to let those memories marinate a bit. Also the temples had proven to be a bit of a touring bender, and wanted to chill out a bit.

WARNING: The following text and pictures may be disturbing. 

First let me begin by saying that this was by far one of the most difficult things I have ever seen. I am sad to admit that I knew very little about what happened in Cambodia until our recent trip to the landmine museum in Siem Reap. The museam ignited a research frenzy for Mike and I prior to arriving at the "Killing Fields" in Phnom Penh. We were also given an audio information tour at the fields, which further informed us on the dark times in Cambodia between 1975 an 1979. I found it difficult to take photos of the remaining evidence in the area, representing all of the terrible things that happened there. The killing fields did not get their name by chance. It is a farmers field, where many of the 3 million innocent Cambodian men, women and children were brutally beaten, tortured and murdered in cold blood. The worst part for me was the realization that this did not occur because of a war, or because another country was battling for victory. The 3 million murders were comitted by innocent Cambodians, to innocent Cambodians. The Khmer Rouge was in power and the leader of this fanatical group had a plan to build a unified communist country, with a strong focus on rural production. Step 1, abolish city life and relocate all manpower to the rice feilds; Step 2, remove all free thinking individuals that may oppose the Khmer Rouge's ideals, by any means necessary; Step 3, close off any sources of outside influence to the remaining populous. In other words, take everyone from there homes, seperating them from their families and send them to work camps, execute all social leaders such as teachers, engineers, business men and other educated civilians and lastly, convict and execute any individual that has been in contact with a foreign body in their lives. The problem with this plan is that when the country did not see the economic progress anticipated, mostly because city workers without training don't  make good farmers, "followers" can't help but question their leader. This environment creates a society of fear and paranoia. The fear keeps the distructive system in place and the paranoia, mostly on behalf of the leadership, causes more accusations of treason amongst the citizens. The result, bus loads of people brought to the killing fields 3 times a week, where they would be murdered in the most cost effective way possible. One of the saddest realizations is that the soldiers tasked with carrying out these orders faced death themselves if they even hinted at remorse. A country full of victims in fear of one another. The more the national economy failed, the more the people would question the leadership, the more the leadership became paranoid, ultimately resulting in more accusations and genocide. The leader of the Khmer Rouge stopped at nothing, even killing members of his own family. The destruction was so terrible that between the Khmer Rouges reign of 1975-1979, 1 in 4 Cambodians were executed, totalling 3 million innocent people. I found all this particularly impactful when Mike concluded that every Cambodian we saw around the age of our parents lived through these dark times. Truly a terrible piece of history. 

Above is one of the mass grave sites where hundreds of people still rest. As the earth shifts and the rain falls, bones and clothing continue to make their way to the surface of the killing field grounds. Staff at the grounds clean up human remains on a regular basis, however, they had not gotten to the teeth we saw below. 

The following photo needs no explanation. It was very hard to walk through the fields without crying for all of the innocent victims, especially the little ones.


A gallery of 8 levels with the skulls of many of the victims. 

The governement of Cambodia has declared these killing fields a memorial for the many people who lost their lives. This was only one example of where people were murdered, many more killing fields were spread across the country.

After an already difficult and impactful visit to the killing fields, we made our way to S-21. This stands for Security Office 21. This was a high school that the Khmer Rouge took over and after relocating the city's residence, they turned it into an interrogation and torture facility. With paranoia running wild, a word from your neighbour was enough to get you executed. The scary part was that the Khmer Rouge held political positions on the world stage and in a calculated political manouver to cover their actions, one would be tortured until the Khmer Rouge received written admission to guilt from all of those scheduled for execution. Once the admission was received, they would be loaded onto the many busses and taken to the killing fields where the victims would "answer for their sins". Another sad reality of torture is that victums will not only admit to crimes they did not commit, they will also condemn their friends  and family in an attempt to please their captures. This created a ever growing list of potential "traitors" to feed this vicious cycle. Propaganda posters stating "It is better to convict the innocent than allow the guilty to run free" and "to remove a weed one must extract the roots as well", referring to executing the family members of a criminal to avoid future vengeance, gives you a pretty clear picture of just how bad things got. 


The entire high school was transformed into a place of death and torture. We walked through the grounds and saw the many pictures of the recorded 500 victims that were tortured here, many of them not even in their 20's. There was more to see but we couldn't handle any more stories of death for the day.

We returned home feeling dirty, with the weight of death lurking above us and with a great sense of anger. The most disturbing fact gathered during the entire day is that the leader, Pol Pot, who was the man behind the death of 3 million Cambodians over the 4 year period, was allowed to live a happy life with his family after his reign and got the pleasure of enjoying the younger years of his grandchildren. Only in 1997, following a split in the Khmer Rouge, another person of power seized control, making himself supreme commander. Pol Pot fled to another faction of the Khmer Rouge in the north where he was later captured and sentenced to lifelong house arrest.  He died in 1998 from a heart attack but rumors have it that his death may have been caused by poison. Where is the justice? 

On a personal note I think these moments in history are very important to discuss no matter how uncomfortable they may be. We must recognize the lowest points of humanity so that they may never happen again. 


Day 77/78- These days were spent playing games, watching Star Wars (for my first time ever), going to the movies to see Transporter (AMAZING) and catching up on research for Vietnam. We had to get a VISA for Vietnam but we made the mistake of waiting to apply on a weekend. The office is closed on weekends so we had to stay until the Monday before we could head to Vietnam.  Below is a photo of one of our chess games. My talented sister and nieces made it for us by hand out of felt. Aren't we lucky? This is only one of the many reasons to be thankful for the lives we have in Canada. Take a moment every day to remember how lucky we really are. 

 We had some kittens at our hostel that would greet us everytime we went to our room. We also spent a lot of our free time snuggling with them.


And sometimes I like to try new hairstyles. You need to get creative when you're wearing the same 5 outfits everyday. Sometimes the hairstyles work out... and other times they just don't. Hopefully this gave you a smile after reading this very heavy blog post. :-)


Friday, 18 September 2015

The Secret Garden

Day 70- Mike and I arrived at the Bangkok train station!! Yes, a real live train station. We were going from Thailand to Cambodia and after a lot of research, we determined the train was the best cost effective option. For $1.50 each, we managed to get from Bangkok to the Thai/Cambodian border on this third class only train, plus a short tuk tuk.

It was so much fun and the scenery was beautiful. We passed through many local villages in the countryside.

The washrooms were clean and I didn't have to miss out on the view while in there.

All in all the journey took around 9 hours from start to finish. During our research we read about the many scams that take place at the border. Rumors that said people would be pulling us in all directions trying to scam us, needless to say, when we arrived we were ready for battle. The whole process went smoothly, almost to our disappointment, and we had no issues crossing the boarder... Nothing that we read about came true and it was a pleasant experience. I would highly recommend this transportation option to other travellers in the future. 

We showed up at Cashew Nut hostel hoping they had open rooms and luckily they were able to accomodate us. It was a great location and the rooms were clean. They also served a great breakfast in the morning that was well priced. 

Day 71/72- We woke up late and enjoyed a lazy morning at the hostel. We figured out a game plan for our stay in Siem Reap, then made our way to Kompong Phluk to see a floating village on the Tonlep Sap lake. The drive through the country to the village was absolutely beautiful and it offered sights that were different from anything we'd seen thus far. The floating villages were much larger than we expected and they offered a real look into the daily life of the rural Cambodians that lived there. We were literally motoring down their front "streets", observing life on the food plains. 

A little herb garden on the lake of course. 

If you look closely, you can see a little doggy coming our way.

The local fisherman counting their daily catch. 

A secondary school right on the water, I would love to visit this classroom.

Two girls singing their hearts off, accompanied by a little dance routine.

Mike and I enjoying the adventure as we exit the flood plains and enter the open lake.


This floating village has approximately 3000 inhabitants and most of the people who live there earn their living from the lake in some form or another. During the dry season when the water dries up, they build temporary homes on the lake and live in them until the rainy season returns. Most of the villagers were quite welcoming as we rowed through their front yards, smiling and waving as we passed by. 
We left the floating village just as sun began to sink behind the horizon and we captured some pretty awesome photos of the sunset.

We got our tuk tuk driver to drop us off at pub street for some dinner then back home for a nap before a really long and eventful night! I'm guessing for anyone who has been to Cambodia in the last 10 years or so, pub street is a newer addition. Though tourism creates unauthentic environments like the one seen on pub street, it is very clear by the new infrastructure that tourism in Cambodia is an important piece of this war torn country's ecconomy. There is construction everywhere and things like electrical poles and roads that have recently been updated. 

We went to sleep as soon as we got home until Mike woke up at midnight to watch the opening weekend of the NFL. I joined him at 3 am to watch one of the games and eat breakfast before we left at 4 am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It is important to get there early as thousands brave the morning to try and witness natures curtain being pulled back on one of the 7 wonders of the world. The pond on the left hand side gives the best view point for a photo of the sunrise, as it restricts people from getting in front of you. The gates open at 5am to buy tickets and we bought the 3 day pass for $40 each. 

It was a cloudy few days in Cambodia so the sky gave us an assorment of blues and silvers for our photo.

Mike shot a sweet time lapse video of the sun rising over the Angkor Wat temple.


After the sun rises most people go into Angkor Wat to beat the crowd but we had something more important to do. We raced home to witness Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys "rise" in there own way, over the New York Giants... again. Quite a few different shades of blue and silver to start our day. 

After a quick nap and some dinner we were off to the Circus! Cambodia has many programs put in place for troubled youth, to teach them the skills necessary to provide for themselves. These programs aim to keep kids off the streets as well as build a strong sense of self worth. The circus is one of those programs and it is called Phare Circus Cambodia. Any of the tickets sold go directly to the students and the program. The show we attended was called Eclipse and it was a suspense filled spectacular spectacle. There were acrobatics, to the most amazing juggling I have ever seen, to fire dancing (yes, Chudi they were wayyy better than you) and strength balancing, it was an impressive show. 

It was a circus out there!!!

Day 73- Woke up early for a day of temple touring and our trusty tuk tuk driver Sokean was waiting for us. I did a lot of research on whether or not to get a guide for the trip and most people recommended that it was worth the money, so we went ahead with it. We paid $35 US for the full day but unfortunately, our guide was not as qualified as we had hoped. Communication was very difficult and we were unable to get many of our questions answered, not to mention that some of his facts were inaccurate. For other travellers considering the same question, I would suggest getting a guide who speaks your language well. Though the scripted information received from our guide was interesting we were unable to get the more in depth understanding of the temples that we were hoping for. We had purchased a guide book on the Angkor temples that would have sufficed had we known better before hand but we made sure to use it on our next visit to the temples, the following day. 

Our first stop was the ancient city of Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple. The Bayon temple is famous for the 4 stone faces that look north, south, east and west as a means of protection. They symbolize one of the states of buddhism, leading the way to enlightenment. It is speculated that the face is of bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who is meant to embody the compassion of Buddha. 


Mike got a special kiss from the famous Buddha.

Reclining Buddha depicts Buddha before his death, just before reaching nirvana.


Next we walked to Phimeanakas temple.

Terrace of Elephants was a terrace used by the king to welcome his victorious army as they returned from battle. 

Ta Keo temple.  This temple represents Mount Meru, which Hindu mythology considered to be a mountain at the center of the world. I wasn't feeling well so Mike walked to the top of the very steep steps to see the view.


As we walked through the jungle I saw something familiar in the trees....I could see it from a mile away... or should I say, smelt it? See the ressemblance? Teresa how did they get a replica of our famous Pinto nose?


Finally we were going to the temple that has been on my bucket list for some time now.. it is famous for it's role in Tomb Raider and although I had never seen the movie (until this trip), I had seen photos on National Geographic and I swore I would see it one day. Ta Prohm shows how much time has passed since it was built in the 1100's, as the jungle has slowly consumed the stone. This temple has been left in in it's natural state with only restoration being done to keep doorways and walls from collapsing. 



Every corner offered another view worth capturing. 


Look out for spiders in there Mike! What a wimp.


Ta Prohm makes you believe in magic, as little pieces of ancient history "peak through" the vines of the jungle wall. Can you see it? She can see you. 




Are you wondering how the trees grow on top of the temple? This is actually the result of birds. They drop seeds as they fly over the temple and the seeds grow in place. As the roots mature, they push through the boulders and stones until they reach the earth. Sometimes they don't even reach the ground and they continue to grow on the rock. In many cases, the trees actually support the temples and strengthen their structure but this has become an issue with these famous trees. When the trees die, they collapse and bring the temple, who has become a part of them, down with them. 

Moss and greenery paint many surfaces of the stone temple.

After a pit stop for lunch, we went to Angkor Wat. This is the biggest religious temple in the world. Like many of the temples of Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat was also built originally as a hindu temple. The temples were places of worship and were dedicated to the Gods Shiva and Vishnu. At the time of their construction, in the 12th century, the king in power as well as most of the population were hindu. As time passed and a new king who worshiped Buddhism came to power, the temples were converted to buddhist temples. All of the dedications to Shiva and Vishnu remain, although Buddhist symbols were added. It was a little confusing to see the temples with momuments to both Hindu and Buddist religions all under one roof. After many questions and research, the best we could understand is that society, for the most part, was tolerant of both religions and allowed them to coexist. 

As we arrived at Angkor Wat the rain began to pour, luckily we had a huge temple to take shelter in. 

Four pools on the inside of the temple. One of which was dedicated to the king for bathing. 


A carving on the walls of the gallery depicts the king riding on his elephant. 

Out of all the temples from our day, Angkor Wat was my least favorite. I didn't find the architecture as interesting and the detail on the stone was not as intricate and beautiful as some of the others. 

Day 74- We had another day of exploring the temples before heading to our next destination. We opted out of the tour guide and Mike used the book he purchased at the market to take us around the remaining attractions. This was much better and more information than the guide was able to give us the day before. 

Our first stop, Preah Khan. Built by the same king who constructed Ta Prohm, this 12th century temple was made in honour of the kings father. It has been left in the same condition as Ta Prohm with old stones scattering the ground, leaving a reminder of how grand the temple once was. The trees here have also slowly devoured the temple walls. 

Next to Ta Prohm, this was my favourite. Chambers, doorways and hidden corridors remain in the shell of the building, reminding me of a favorite childhood movie, The Secret Garden. 

Fantastical spiderwebs everywhere we looked. (turns out fantastical is a real word!)

Mike guiding our exploration.

The rain pouring in through what used to be a roof.

The next image shows the old homes of the many buddhas that surrounded the walls of Preah Khan. They were removed during one of the kings reigns, whose name I could not pronounce nor remember, as it was converted back to a Hindu temple after a century long stint as a Buddist temple. (It appears as though it was not uncommon to flip flop the temples like this, from century to century)

What I found exciting was imagining how european explorers must have felt stumbling upon such incredible  ruins. All of the temples spread out to cover more then 400 square km. Though the stone temples are all that remain of the Khmer civilization it is said that they were surrounded by great cities and home to thousands of residents. To play the role of the french explorer as we walked through the temples and think of how incredible it must have been, gave me butterflies.

Next we went to the landmine museum, which came highly reccomended by Mike's cousin Lee who had also visited Cambodia nearly 10 years ago. The museum has changed a lot since Lee and Brie's visit and part of me wishes I could have seen it while it was still in its raw and real state. The museum holds a gallery of disassembled land mines. These thousands of landmines were extracted from the ground by one man and his wife.

Aki Ra has been recognized worldwide for his efforts to remove landmines from the many villages around Cambodia and even surrounding countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. Aki donated his time and efforts for free to remove landmines. He significantly reduced the number of annual landmine victims in Cambodia. He truly is a life saver. Him and his wife also take in children affected by landmines and care for them. His old home, which used to house the thousands of landmines, has since been closed and they now reside in the new facility close to Banteay Srei. He also has a school and home on his property for children who struggle with disabilities. Before he began removing landmines, 1 in 300 Cambodians were directly affected by a landmine, by 2013 only 111 landmine victims were recorded. This was a truly eye opening experience that taught me a lot about Cambodian history. It also gave Mike and I our first exposure to a group of communist extremists named the Khmer Rouge, who ruled Cambodia in the late 1970's. With the country decimated from civil war, the Vietnam war and a lack of reasources, the stage had been set for the extremists to take power. The Khmer Rouge would sacrifice everything, including the lives of the civilians to achieve economic progress and the adoption of their extremist ideals. Neither of these goals would be achieved. The more information we gathered the sadder this story got, involving mass genocide and large scale poverty. The long term effects of this temporary reign can still be felt today as 1 in 4 Cambodian civilians were executed between the years of 1975 to 1979. Cambodia and Cambodians are truly a testament to the resilience of humanity when considering the incredible impact of war, landmines and extremist activity in the area.

On a lighter note, this was a huge furry spider that crawled on Mike's neck while at the museum.

After that very eye opening experience, we were off to Banteay Srei. This temple was the only temple not built by a king. Instead, it was built by a monarch and it was quite the controversial monument back in the day because the beauty and detail surpassed that of the other temples built around the same time. There were questions of how the counsellor could afford to build such a work of art. 

Banteay Srei quickly became my third favorite temple of the trip. It easily stands out from the other temples because of its pink color and the intricateness of the carvings. It is best to go in the late afternoon when the crowds are minimal and the sun descends, allowing the pink color to really show.

One of my favorite photos from our visit was of this wall with the various patterns and colors coming together to truly showcase the detail of the temple. 


Our visit to Siem Reap was truly amazing and it surpassed our expectations of Cambodia. Now off to the Capital city Phnom Penh.