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December 25, 2014

I’ve spent the last couple days speed soaking in the temples of Siem Reap. Of course, there’s the big one – Angkor Wat – but that’s just one. There are so many temples here. The girl at the front desk of my beautiful hotel said “oh, there are so many. I don’t even want to go to them any more.”  I, of course, did.

The hotel had options of tours, but of course, I wanted to make my own so we would head off in one direction for an hour or so and then another, but it would knock some high points off my list. Bunruth, my driver who’s name I now know, picked me up Wednesday morning and off we went. First stop – Banteay Srei, the “Ladies Temple.” The drive wound out of Siem Reap and through the countryside. There were rice fields of deep emerald green and scattered huts or street vendors.  Along the road were the skinniest cows and plumper water buffalo.  We stopped at the National Landmine Museum, a quirky building with cases of various types of mines. The founder cleared mines and the collection contains many he found.  Also, he seems to have collected orphaned children and there is a donation box to help care for them. It was quite humble, yet incredible powerful.

Banteay Srei, built for Shiva was a lovely small temple with cascading grounds.  I followed a sign towards boat rides and found a group of children and assorted boats.  A boy of about 15 waved me towards a boat, handed me a parasol and began rowing me through lily padded water.  He told me he was in school, but today was off. All the children I met along the way told me they were in school, but still were some how able to be at the site. I hope they were.

After my boat ride, Bunruth and I headed toward the Kompong Pluk, a lake village. But first we stopped for lunch (more noodle soup. oh how I love it) and to see palm sugar be made. Palm sugar is a lot like maple sugar, just from a palm tree – that is what I can tell you about that.  We also passed nearly a dozen wedding parties.  It is wedding season in Cambodia.

After a little while we turned on to a bumpy dirt road.  Tuk Tuks are way less fun when they a pulling up dust and navigating potholes.  The road was so bumpy that my fit bit thought I’d jogged 7000 steps -about two miles. (it’s possible fit bits are not as accurate as they seem).

The ride seemed interminable, but it did end and I got into a boat with another child driver, and a young family. The husband told me he operated a boat as well but business was slow.  The boat wound around at maze of stilted houses, one of which belonged to our family and they jumped out.  There was a temple, a floating garden, loads of animals and a bustling schoolyard. The community is made up of fisherman mostly, but tourism plays a big part as well.  We parked the boat and I was moved into one of several waiting small boats with women at the helm.  We traded through the Flooded Forest. The sun filtered in through the trees as we moved peacefully through.  It was magical.

Bunruth and I headed back to the hotel and I was asleep once again by 9pm.  Good thing too, because today started early.

At 5am Bunruth picked me up and we drove into the darkness.  He deposited me at the main gate and said just keep walking.  I did. There were a lot of iPhone flashlights on that walkway and eventually we came to a small lake.  This is where the temple reflects a voice called out.  As people jostled to get close, a women came through the crowd saying do you want coffee? You get coffee, I bring you a chair.  Done and done.  So I sat comfortably waiting for the sun.  The drama was marred a bit by a drone that some idiot had brought, but still – what a sight.  As the sun rose, I walked into and around the temple’s many corridors and courtyards.  At 7:40 the steep steps to the most holy area opened up and a line quickly formed. Women with exposed shoulders or knees were plucked out of line and the rest of us headed up.  It was worth the effort.  How this was created is a mystery, but it is a sight to behold.  Men offered prayers for money and costumed dancing girls would pose for a dollar a photo, but it still felt pure there.

Ta Prohm was our next stop and my final temple (turns out you can see to many and I’d found my limit). The temple is overrun with banyan trees who’s roots have become part of the holy space.  Lara Croft also spent some time here.  It was jammed with tourists each taking a photographic turn with the roots.

at 10:30 I headed to a most unexpected detour.  Because of Facebook, I learned that a friend from summer camp, whom I hadn’t’ seen in 25 years was also in Siem Reap.  I joined her group as they finished a lively christmas yankee swap and then she and I caught up over a cocktail.  She had to dash off for a flight, but the reunion was made.

My afternoon was quiet.  Some shopping, a massage, and a traditional dance dinner theater.  It was a lovely christmas.

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