Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Silip sa Siem Reap (A Glimpse of Siem Reap)

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
This post is long overdue. It was only when I got an invite to write “My ASEAN Story” that I thought of writing about our trip to Siem Reap a couple of years ago and giving you a glimpse of this charming city.

I couldn’t think of anything to write about as an ASEAN story that has changed my life as I am not involved in any of the projects or programs of the ASEAN. So I thought, perhaps a travel post will do. As one who travels frequently would realize, every travel brings a change into a person no matter how insignificant that change may seem.

And so, let me share my ASEAN story.

The English writer, Aldous Huxley wrote, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” I haven’t traveled much to other countries although my family and I have frequently taken trips to the Philippine countryside. We prefer to explore places not frequented by tourists. When the opportunity to go to Siem Reap came up, I gladly embraced it, packed my bags and off I went on a week-long trip with my sister-in-law and daughter who dreamed of going there from way back her college years.

I have to say that never in my wildest dreams have I thought of going to Cambodia. The image seared into my mind was the country pictured in the movie, “The Killing Fields.” It was only when we stepped into Siem Reap soil that that image was “killed” and in its place a field of ancient dreams came through. 

A major activity in going to Siem Reap is a three-day tour of the World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat, a temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. From the rising of the sun in the main Angkor Wat temple to its setting in downtown Siem Reap, we couldn’t help but be amazed by the complexity and enormity of this treasure that Cambodia holds, a structure which has been preserved through the centuries.  

Inside Angkor Wat

Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom complex

Bantey Srei, a pink temple
It is advisable to go to Siem Reap while one still has the energy and the strong legs to carry one around the vast complex. We did ride the tuktuk, a three-wheeled auto rickshaw, while we hopped from one place to another but in temples like those in the Angkor Thom which spans 9 square kilometers, we had to walk from one temple to another. As much as my sister-in-law and I wanted to explore the heights of the Baphuon temple, we had to content ourselves with sitting in one of the window openings in a lower level while we watched my fit and athletic daughter climb the steps to the top of the temple. The view must’ve been awesome from up there.
Walking through Angkor Thom 

Baphuon Temple, Angkor Thom complex
Visiting the temples is like being transported back into ancient times. At one point I could imagine a movie in my mind where I could see the majestic kings, the workers and slaves, the artists and artisans as well as elephants and apsaras come alive from the walls of the temples.  No wonder the makers of “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider” were fascinated with the place so much so that they filmed the movie in Ta Prohm, one of the temples there where huge roots of trees hug the temple ruins.

Ta Prohm temple where "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider" was filmed

I don’t think I could ever find the words to describe how amazing the place is nor do I think my camera could even capture the grandeur of the temples which must surely have seen their days of glory. It is easy to read about Angkot Wat and understand its history and structure but it needs to be seen and experienced in person to feel its history and appreciate its astonishing structural beauty.
Downtown Siem Reap
Siem Reap is a city of fusion of what is ancient and what is modern. In the countryside lies the temple complexes while in the city proper, alongside the present-day Buddhist temples stand rows of restaurants, cafes and modern shops which are owned not only by the locals but by foreigners as well. The famous Pub Street comes alive at night, teeming with people making it a veritable melting pot of different nationalities. People go there to enjoy a meal or a drink while listening to different kinds of music. I think I must have heard the song “Anak” being sung in one of the restaurants there. Like most tourist areas, it also has a vibrant night market where people flock for souvenirs and other goods at cheap prices. Street commerce is also bustling. For the first time ever, we got to taste some bugs! I like the silkworm most of all; tastes like peanuts. 
Silkworm sold on the sidewalk
The city is literally a warm one especially during the middle part of the year that is why men usually wear long sleeved polo shirts. The only other thing that equals the warmth of the place is the warmth of its people. Unlike being in a western country, one feels a tad more comfortable in this ASEAN nation as a lot of people also look like Filipinos. Most of those we got acquainted with were pretty much like people in our neighborhood. That courteous tuktuk driver could be one of our “Manong” tricyle drivers we laughed with on our way home. The lady we haggled with at the night market could also be one of the “tindera” in our “tiangge” or “palengke.” The fruit vendors and hawkers near the temple entrances remind me of our own people selling green mangoes and t-shirts. Even the customers in the restaurants could well be customers in our eating places. Just like in our country, a lot of them are ordinary people; most are not rich at all. The only difference is the language spoken.
Rithy, our tuktuk driver
One thing that fascinated me was the presence of art in the city, from the temple walls to the paintings sold in shops along the way to the intricate designs on silverware and jewelry. Even ordinary houses have carvings on their doorways and terrace railings. It seems art is a way of life for many of them. So is religion. Like Filipinos who display the image of the Santo NiƱo in their places of business, establishments also have an image of their god placed in strategic places.  I also noticed a lot of hammocks being used especially in the countryside on our way to Tonle Sap Lake. Perhaps they also have their version of our siesta.

At the steps of Pre Rup temple. I was fascinated that other people were also very much interested to have their photos taken.
Aldous Huxley was right. I was wrong about Cambodia. In the end, I could say, I left a part of my soul in Siem Reap.

Okun, Siem Reap! 

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