By Cambodia I really just mean Siem Reap and its surrounding ruins. There’s a lot of those. As before, this information comes from our guide and my observations. This can actually be a bit annoying since I will use the internet to spell check terms that our guide uses, only to find nothing.

On the whole, Cambodia presented the most beautiful temples of the entire trip. The crafting centers were also well organized and informative. Of the bunch, it is clear that Cambodia had the most developed tourism industry.


Once known as the Khmere people.

There’s 1 million people in town including foreign residents.

And about 15 million in whole country.

90% of Cambodians are Buddhist, but the principle religion has gone back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism, not to mention branches of Buddhism.

People mainly eat rice and soup. Sometimes also insects, snakes, tarantulas, and frogs (something they got from the French).

Speaking of, from 1867 to 1953 this place was a French colony.

Dance of the Apsaras

Dance of the Apsaras

English is compulsory second language in schools

School is free through high school; though, you have to pay for books and uniforms.  Some people check out after secondary school if poor. Teachers now paid more.

Siem Reap is totally tourist town. There’s about 500 hotels here.

And on Pub Street, which our guide is really pushing, a Coke is $2 and a beer is $0.50.

The fine for not wearing a helmet is $4.

Everything except change is in dollars.  The local currency, riel, is only paid to public employees. Private employees get paid in dollars. It’s about 4000 riel to dollar. The only time I got any riel was when my change was in cents.

The complimentary drink served by hotel was lemon grass with a straw made from lemongrass stem.

The main traditional crafts of Cambodia are silk, stone carving, wood carving, and silk. I realize I said silk twice, but it's such a big thing for these folks that it deserves to be mentioned twice.

There are more than 300 temples nearby. Siem Reap used to be the capital, Campokhmere. Then it was lost to Siam. When they retook it, they renamed it. Siem Reap means “Siam defeated”. For those that don’t know, Siam is now called Thailand.

The oldest part is from the 9th century. The newest one is from the 13th century.

Tradition required the king build a new temple. 

Each temple is a small universe for the gods.

When the king died he became god.

The moats help with drainage to keep the temple from eroding.

Locals come and picnic in the area surrounding the temple.

Angkor Wat's moat is full even in dry season as it is fed by river.


Angkor Thom

Area called Angkor Thom (angkor means city and thom means big).

Built by Jayavarman VII. It was his main temple.

Once upon a time a capital.

Two types of Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is less strict; it preaches "love and caring".

Right side of the entrance bridge is lined with asura (bad guys). The left side is lined with deva (good guys). To found the holy water in the bottom of the sea, and they play tug of war with a snake to churn the oceans to get at that holy water. It’s a fairly central myth both in Cambodia and in Thailand. Here their use shows that they come together to rebuild the capital, after Khmere took it back from the Cham, who were from central Vietnam.

Built from sand stone from mountains 75km from here. Blocks were transported by canals and pulled by elephants.

Built ~1200.

9 sq. km large.

Monkeys, elephants, who’d a thought.

Oh hey, monkeys.

Oh hey, monkeys.

There’s 54 statues on each side.

The tour guides all have the same uniform. It’s issued by the government when they are licensed, but they work for private groups.

Three headed elephant represents Hinduism holding a lotus representing Buddhism.


You may note the face of the king on the towers.

You may note the face of the king on the towers.


This temple called Bayon. Ba means male. Yon means magic.

Yeah, that was an awkward silence.

There are 49 towers in the temple.  It has three levels. The first level tells the story of the conflict.

The roof is gone. Used to be coated in gold.

This is a Buddhist temple from when the king shifted from Hinduism to Buddhism. A later king removed the Buddhist stuff.

The faces on the walls are local influence. They are meant to be the king's face, which, of course, becomes the god’s face.

It used to be called Jayakiri.

Naga decorate the temple to signify that it is from heaven.

Apsara was dancer from the heavens. You have to learn the dance when little for flexibility.

Dancing hand motions based on plants: fruit, flower, leaf, stem.

Wall show construction of the temple. For example, builders and people preparing food.

Then the fight between Khmere and Cham. Initially Khmere defeated and taken as slaves.  Next people training and in daily life. Then Chinese coming to help Khmere. The war is done above scenes if everyday life, like games and childbirth.

Lots of people here.

So many Chinese stayed after they helped that there was a Chinatown.

Khmere inured themselves to killing by practicing on buffalo.

The Buddhas on the columns were carved over to make them into different figures or flowers.

Who let him in?

Who let him in?

Each side of the temple was given a different theme. The south entrances has a Buddhist theme. The east entrance depicts the king’s family. The north and west were Hindu themed, likely done later.

The central tower holds a Buddha.

It becomes amazingly quiet inside the center tower.

Back then women wore sarongs, but the top is up for debate. Some say topless. Some say bandeau. Most men wore just loincloth.


The name means male hiding.

In this temple, the king added a Buddha statue so Siam wouldn't destroy it.

The temple has five layers/levels.

The causeway to the temple is a pretend bridge to symbolize crossing the ocean, the same ocean the devas and asuras are working over.

Steep steps again.

Sponge trees make crazy trunk formations over walls and ceilings.



Temple elephants on corners. Lions at the gates.

It used to have a moat. Now it’s just a puddle

It is made of lava stone with sand stone on top. Our guide did not know which “lava stone”.

The palace that went with the temples, like all palace structures in Angkor Thom, was made of wood, so it is long gone.

There is quite a large pool for the ladies, and only a small pool for the king. Mind you, he apparently had 1000 concubines.

Between the heat and the humidity, I haven't sweat this much is a long time. Feels great. The trousers aren't hot for it though.

“Want to go for swim? Free insect massage.” - Guide.

Cambodian schools don’t include swimming lessons.

Khmere cremated the bodies of the dead.

The snakes decorating the crematorium are in odd numbers.  Odd numbers are lucky numbers.


Obligatory photo of famous sponge tree growing over ruins.

Obligatory photo of famous sponge tree growing over ruins.

Ta Prohm

Built in 1186. It was dedicated to the king's mothers.  The name is some old guy's name.

This is where Tomb Raider was filmed.

Just inside, past the entrance, is the dancing hall. I may mention this later, but in case I forgot to write it at the time, dancing was kind of a big thing. Many (most?) of the temples have a dancing hall just after the entrance, and apsaras (definitely more on them later) decorate many stone walls. The dancing was seen as both a way to enliven spirits and an invitation to the gods to enter the temple.

Echo room. Go there and beat your breast three times to cleanse yourself. The beating of your chest with your fist is supposed to sound like the beating of your heart.

There weren't so many tourists here when Tomb Raider was shot. Our guide claims that Angelina Jolie only came here for short time because she didn't think it was safe. Since Tomb Raider, tourism has improved greatly.

The central tower represented the center of the universe. The king put statute of his mother here.

The walls of the central tower have holes. This was so the plaster would stick better. 

It also once had copper tiles but those were stolen.

That guy's like a bad penny.

That guy's like a bad penny.


Banteay Kdei

Pagoda temple. Built by same guy as Bayon, but instead of faces there are lotuses.

Temple construction: First dig and line the moat. Then build the dancing hall. Then do temple proper with towers. The moat represented the oceans. The dancing hall was the chorus of angels. The temple proper was where the gods lived.


Angkor Wat approached from the rear.

Angkor Wat approached from the rear.

Angkor Wat

The main entrance is on the west side. Most temples have this entrance on east side. Archeologists found a king's tomb, so one explanation is that this was a tomb as well as a temple as west is the death direction.

There is now a second entrance on the opposite side.

A side entrance once inside the compound.

A side entrance once inside the compound.

The moat is 1.1 by 1.3 km.

At equinox you can see the sun rise on top of the central tower.

It was built 1113 through 1150.

The jungle overgrowing the compound used to be clear. On the grounds there were instead wooden buildings for dancers, priests, guards, etc.

Locals harvest some of the jungle plants for animal feed.

Vishnu in the middle of the asura v. deva tug-o-war.

Vishnu in the middle of the asura v. deva tug-o-war.

The temple has three levels. The first is hell. The second is humans. The third is heaven.

Hinduism has 32 levels of hell and 37 levels of heaven.

Yama is [one of] the gods of death, and he rides a water buffalo.

A later king removed images of Vishnu and added statues of Buddha.  The locals beheaded these statues.

One of the libraries.

One of the libraries.

There are 12 stairs, each with 37 steps for the 37 levels of heavens. The top had a crypt and some gold.

The temple has six libraries: two on the second floor, two in front, and two outside.

Apsara images are everywhere. They are used to remind people of fun and happiness after a day of hard work.

The four pools on the front side are for collecting water, for religious cleansing, and to keep water from eroding the foundation.

This time from the front.

This time from the front.

Four was a sacred number due to the elements.

The center part of the pool building has a center stone. This represents the center of universe.

Reflecting pools in front were built so they would reflect everything from bottom to top


Gotta be the sexiest ruins I ever met.

Gotta be the sexiest ruins I ever met.

Town Again

The night market here is mostly for tourists.

The old market is near Pub Street. That is the general market for people.

Wood carvings here are from rose wood or the rubber tree. Rose wood is hard and rubber is soft, breaking easily. Rubber tree pieces are often glued together.

Take a block of wood and sketch the template image on it. Cut the rough image out. Next, carve the details more precisely. Carefully polish the statue to remove tool marks. Finally, wax the statue to protect the wood.

Stone carvings also come in two types: sand stone and soap stone. Grey is hard sand stone. Pink is softer sand stone. For polishing, dunk stone in water and rub it with other stones.  Soapstone is softest so it’s always small, otherwise it would crack under its own weight.

Take a block of stone and sketch the template image on it. Cut the rough image out. Next, carve the details more precisely. Carefully polish the statue to remove tool marks. Finally, "sand" the statue with water to smooth out its surface.

Yes, I just did a copy/paste/edit there.

It takes three days to make a hand sized statue.

Copper leaves are first cleaned before being fire-molded and pounded until the shape of an animal. A special gum paste is put inside the box to avoid damaging it during the engraving and embossing processes. Additional elements, such as elephant trucks, are shaped, polished and glued to the main piece. After being dried under direct sunlight, the box is cleaned several times and then soaked in a silver bath for five or six minutes.

Wood carvings are then plastered, painted, and gilded.

Our guide said silver comes from mines close to Thai border, but the lady at the jewelry shop said that Cambodia imports its silver. It does have copper, which comes from Cambodia’s northern mountains..

Cambodia craftsmen have set up what amounts to a vocational school coupled with tourism. Locals can learn a craft here. The products are exported to their monetary partners, with the profits being returned to the workers and local orphanages.

The placards for the various finished statues gave me more information about many of the things that our guide was unknowledgeable about.


Tonle Sap

Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Cambodia.

It is formed from Mekong River, which comes down from down from Tibet.

There is too much water in the rainy season to grow anything. In other times they grow beans here.

The Cham came across the lake to invade the Khmere.

Not much fish in there anymore; though, our guide would not confirm why.

Cooking is done mainly with firewood or charcoal.  Electricity is mainly solar in origin. They are looking to do hydroelectric power further upstream near Laos.

Here they only do one crop of rice a year. Some people use buffalo or cow for labor. Others use machines for farming.

School and police station.

School and police station.

Traditional houses are on stilts due to flooding and dangerous animals, like snakes.  Stuff also gets stored under there.

School. Police station. All on stilts.

Hammock for nap or daytime rest.

The wooden or bamboo fencing in the water some 3x2 meters is for fish farming.

Mangrove forests beg for adventures.

It was too windy to venture onto the lake proper.  As a reminder, wind makes waves and surface ocean currents. Those waves were giving us a good toss.

At its height, the lake is 10 to 12 sq km.

It reaches its height in September or October when the glaciers in Tibet melt and meet the remnants of rainy season.

Our guide calls glaciers ice bergs.

Schools can be half day, either in morning or evening.

Locals want to call all whites Parang, meaning French. They were colonized the French and don't know the difference.

The boats here all have broad, blunt nosed fronts to assist in boarding and disembarking.

Boat passing protocol is quite a bit looser here.


No real difference between horse carts and ox carts.  None are terribly comfortable and none have good suspension.

So… this cart ride feels like we’re just strolling down the block in a village.

Our guide’s car is following us at a safe distance, emphasizing how silly this is.

Felt like the cart ride was just because other country tours do it.


Silk Factory

This is another branch of the same craft place as we went to earlier.

Silk worms are very fussy eaters. They eat two mulberry leaves a day. They only eat the center part of the leaf not any veins. They also only eat fresh leaves.

They eat for twenty-four days. Then they turn yellow and fat.

It takes five days to form a cocoon. 

Cambodian silk is naturally yellow, whereas Chinese silk is naturally white.

The cocoon has two layers. Outer silk is raw silk, lower quality. Inner sink is fine silk, more expensive.

Twenty percent of farmed cocoons are allowed to turn to moths. The moths are small and cannot fly, making them pretty useless as moths go. They live 47 days, making about 300 eggs in that time.

The raw silk is separated first. The cocoons are put in hot water. Use a brush to stir the water and find the end of the thread. Bring these together as they are spun onto bobbins.

Fine silk is then spun onto bobbins in the same way.

Tie plastic over segments pre-dye just like the other weaving we saw in Myanmar.

Dyeing takes two days.

After dyeing, the silk is spun back onto bobbins. These are put into shuttles for use on the loom.

Each shuttle is passed through the loom seven times before changing the bobbin/shuttle. Otherwise it messes up the pattern.

A patterned scarf takes four days of weaving, whereas a plain scarf takes only one day.