Monday, August 22, 2011

Week 12 - Angkor Wat and Angry Bums - THE END!

Siem Reap – the mighty ANGKOR WAT

  Once in Siem Reap, we found a great hotel, showered, stuffed ourselves with BBQ and passed out. We're still not really sure what happened during the conflict back at the border near O'Smach. Some of the locals here say Cambodian villages were hit by rockets or bombs from the Thai side, others say only soldiers were killed and reports online say 2 soldiers were killed. In the end, we are safe and weren't ever actually in real danger. 

  Siem Reap (pronounced See-EM Ree-AHP) is actually a great town - a huge difference from the little desolate bit of Cambodia we saw between the border and here. Of course, a lot has to do with the tourism in the area for the Angkor temples and palaces, but they've got great city planning, an awesome concentrated zone of good restaurants and bars, and all the locals speak impeccable English and are incredibly friendly. This is not what we expected from a country that was ravaged by war, genocide and poverty less than 40 years ago.

  Anyway, the main reason for our visit was the Angkor temples and palaces. These ancient wonders of the world were built between the 10th and 13th centuries by a succession of kings who created some of the most intricate and large stone buildings of their time, most of which are still in great condition. The name of the empire and culture that rule this area during the time of construction is known as Angkor and the word Wat means temple. The area that contains these buildings is located just north of the city of Siem Reap and covers a huge area that needs a week to be visited in its entirety. Until recently, the whole compound was overgrown by weeds and jungle, leading it to be known as the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider hidden temples. Now all teh weeds (except for a few) and the area is a major tourist attraction. Most people visit all the temples and apalaces by taxi or tuk-tuk, but Em and I chose to go by bike. Since the area is so spread out, it is still possible to feel completely secluded and to imagine what it must have been like to be there in it's glory days.

Indian Jones escaping a jungle-y temple in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Research shows that the temple is actually located in Peru, but whatever

Lara Croft in the temple of Ta Prohm
Angkor Wat from across the moat

Overgrown trees in the temple of Ta Prohm

Em and I experimenting with other couples

   It was impossible not to dream of being an amazingly inspired artist and photographer after visiting these sights, so we spent a lot of our other free time visitng galleries, markets, and shops to pick out gifts that would capture the beauty of this area for our family and friends. One place that we really liked was the Artisans D'Angkor shop and school which offers deaf and other impaired locals a chance to learn new skills and produce some fine reproduction pieces for sale. At the school we toured the different workshops and even spoke to some of the artisans in sign language while we watched them expertly craft their pieces. Then we visited the shop and bought up a ton of stuff - we're sucker for that kind of stuff.

Time to Go

   A few days into visiting Siem Reap, Dan started feeling a pain in his underside. Within a few hours it became unbearable to the point that Dan had it looked at in a clinic for foreigners, which was oddly staffed by Chinese doctors who could not speak a word of English - maybe they should add "...Foreigners Who Can Speak Chinese" to the sign. They confirmed the suspicions, Dan had gotten his first hemmorhoid, and they recommended a $150 injection or surgery!!

   Being used to taking chances and making mistakes, we decided to go for the cheap solution of ointments and change of diet while waiting for it to subsude (which we were told could take up to a month).

   Dan also recently got news that his grandfather in Israel was not doing well, so all signs pointed to wrapping up the trip.

   We tried one last time to finish the trip by bike, so we cycled 160km over two days to the westernmost border between cambodia and Thailand. This stretch of road was so flat, and hot, we actually came close to dehydration and heat exhaustion. Emily also gave her self a nice three layered tan/burn. By the time we reached the border, which was another casino-ridden, armpit-of-the-earth, Dan's butt hurt so bad that he had to cycle standing up which then transferred the pain to his knees and wrists.

Em's neopolitan thigh tan

   By a stroke of luck, there was a train heading for Bangkok leaving the first Thai town across the border in an hour. We used our bikes as an excuse to cut the border crossing line (a move that was actually encouraged by the local officials) and we rode like hell to the train. Having gone through the fiasco in Vietnam we knew we would have to demand and shove our bikes onto the train. Actually, at the train station they had a separate car and ticket just for bikes and they even helped us get the bikes up from the platform - one of the reasons we love Thailand.

   Within 6 hours, we arrived in Bangkok train station and knew the trip was over. Just like that. it was both relieving and incredibly sad, to know that real life was about to start, and despite the bum pain, family health, and money issues, we were the only ones who were to blame.

The happiest saddest people on earth

   What exactly was our "huge little mistake"?
  • Was it the fact that we left our lives, jobs, adoptive family, dogs, and friends in Moganshan China?
  • Was it the fact that we went to the coldest and hottest places on earth for a vacation?
  • Was it that we decided to spend the better part of 4 years of savings on one long trip?
  • Was it that we were end our 4.5 year Asian Adventure to start "real life" in America?
  After 3 months of being back with old family and friends, we still don't know. We wish we could stay kids, exploring the world and having new adventures everyday, forever. But if we're going to be adults who make changes in the world, changes like the ones we saw in all the wonderful non-profits across our trip, and who will have enough money to raise children, pay off loans, eat good food and continue to travel, we're gonna have to get serious at some point. Then again, we've never seen smiles and families as happy in America as we did pouring from the impoverished villages to greet us with beer, water or hugs along our ride.

   The grass is always greener on the other side. But if we appreciate the moment, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, or whoever we are with, Then everything is exactly as it's meant to be and nothing could be a mistake.


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