Friday, August 27, 2010

Cambodia - Day #3 - More Temples and More Ruins

Our third day in Cambodia, Saturday 11 August, was spent touring more of the temples and ruins in the Siem Reap area as well as a visit to a holy mountain.  It was another busy day.

Cambodian Peasants Planting Rice Outside of Siem Reap

Farmer Uses Pole To Create Holes For Planting Rice

As we left Siem Reap at our customary start time of 8:00 A.M. we were soon out in the countryside where the people were busy planting rice.  Unlike in Isaan where the farmers transplant rice seedlings into the mud of flooded paddies, the Cambodian farmers use the dry cultivation method where the rice seedlings are transplanted into prepared relatively dry ground.  The work was performed by hand other than using oxen to plow the ground.  A woman used a pole to create holes in the ground to place the seedlings rather than using a see drill even one powered by an animal.  Due to the lack of money and with Cambodia still recovering from its recent history, traditional methods of farming predominate.  Hopefully in the not too distant future productivity can be improved with the incorporation of some mechanical methods of agriculture.  We watched these farmers for awhile and upon our return to Siem Reap later in the day, approximately 4:30 P.M., they were still hard at work in the fields.  I thought that we had had a long and tiring day but our exertions paled in comparison with their activities for the day.  Whereas we could relax and enjoy our time, they were working for their and their family's survival.  It is on these forays out into the countryside of southeast Asia that the reality of the differences in life and culture here as compared to people's life in America becomes so apparent.  I end up appreciating both more for these experiences.

Harvesting Rice Seedlings For Transplanting

Cambodian Farmer Preparing Ground For Rice Seedlings
On the way to what is considered to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia, Phnom Kulen, we stopped and visited a family business along side of the road.  Once again the label of "family business" in Cambodia as in Thailand indicates that the small children are directly involved in the business.  If I were a child again, this family business would be one that I would be most happy to be working in - "palm sugar".  In front of their home, the family was busy producing "palm sugar'.  Palm sugar reminds me a great deal of the maple sugar candies from Vermont that I often got in my stocking at Christmas.

Family At Work Making Palm Sugar

Duang Climbing A Sugar Palm
The production of palm sugar commences with workers climbing a primitive bamboo ladder to reach the flower buds of the palm tree.  The workers slash the nut like buds to cause sap to flow which the y later collect.  The sap, just like maple sap, is then boiled to reduce it to a thick syrup.  The thick syrup is then poured into molds on top of a cooling table where the syrup quickly solidifies.  At this location the "cooling table"  was a rough lumber table covered with a thick and clean heavy plastic tablecloth.  The molds were rings about 4 centimeters (1-1/2 inch) in diameter created by cutting off  1 centimeter long pieces of bamboo. The day that we visited the family, the mother and father were busy boiling the sap down over a wood fire while the children under the shade of a canopy were occupied in removing the solid disks of finished sugar from their bamboo ring forms. Once the disks of palm sugar had completely cooled, the children placed them into plastic bags for sale to customers.  The family was very generous in allowing tourists to sample the drippings from the cooling table.  It was an act of kindness often experienced during our trip to Cambodia and a very effective marketing ploy.  We left with two bags of finished product - one to eat during the remainder of our stay in Cambodia and one to bring back home to Thailand.

Palm Sugar Ready To Be Sold

One of the benefits of freelance travel is stop and spend as much time at locations that interest you.  Hiring a guide and letting them know what your interests are helps to make each trip that much more special and memorable.  Being able to talk and learn from your guide about life in the area is another added benefit.  During our stop at the palm sugar "factory", we took the time to watch traffic move along the road.  Three of my favorites were the young woman with firewood stacked high on the back of her bicycle, the coconut vendor headed to his stall on his motorbike, and the farmer in his ox cart.

Headed Home With Some Firewood

Headed His Food Stall With Fresh Green Coconuts

Cambodian Farmer Headed Down the Road
From the palm sugar "factory" we drove aways into the countryside and commenced the climb to the sacred mountain.  We stopped at Kbal Spean - a locale on the Kbal Speam River where many ancient carvings have water flowing over them.  The ancient carvings are related to Hinduism and the worship
of the Hindu trinity "Vishnu", Shiva" and "Brahma"  One section of the riverbed was discovered in 1968 to have many lingham (linga) carved into the bedrock.  "Shiva" is worshipped in the form of "lingham".  Lingham or linga have been interpreted by some people as representing or symbolizing the male penis.  There remains a debate about the phallic symbololism of linga.  My attitude is ... "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck .. it is a duck"

Hindu Carvings In River Bed of Kbal Spean River

The Waffle Maker
We arrived at Phnom Kulen to discover a temple and near by picnic area where many Cambodian families were enjoying the surroundings and opportunity to swim in the narrow river.  After touring the temple, we crossed a small suspension bridge - think in terms of Indiana Jones over the river.  We were open game for the Cambodian children.  As we crossed the rickety bridge the children at the far end of the bridge jumped up and down causing the bridge to sway from side to side and to bounce up and down.  It was all good natured fun and when Duang's screams got too loud and uncontrolled, the children stopped.  There were many vendors in the area selling all types of prepared foods and drinks.  One of my favorite treats were waffles cooked over an open wood fire - delicious.  As we ate our lunch we watched the children diving off the bride into the river, and splashing about in the water - just like children at a river anywhere else in the world.  It was entertaining and enjoyable to observe them.

A Khmer Mud Pie Maker in Phnom Kulen

As we enjoyed the children's antics at the river and watched other children playing in the nearby village, our joy was somewhat tempered by the knowledge that these children and their families remain at risk from UNEXO "Un Exploded Ordnance" - land mines in the area.  Phnom Kulen had been a refuge for the Khmer Rouge so both sides of the civil war extensively used land mines in the area.  During our Cambodian visit we saw many people missing limbs from war and from the remnants of war that continue to victimize innocents today.

Courtyard of Land Mine Museum

On our return journey to Siem Reap we visited the Land Mine Museum - a vast collection of defused land mines collected by a Cambodian man dedicated to freeing his homeland from the curse of modern warfare.  It was a sobering experience to view the quantity as well as variety of weaponry used for "denial of territory".  Weapons that still kill, maim and will for many years to come.

Banteay Srei Ruins

Before returning to our hotel, we visited Banteay Srei, a 1,100 year old Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.  The temple is constructed from pinkish rock and has excellent carvings - an excellent choice by our guide for the last temple that we would visit on this trip.

Exquisite Banteay Srei Stone Carvings

One of Many Banteay Srei's Fine Carvings

We returned to our hotel around 5:00 P.M.  After dinner at a restaurant across the street and a visit to the local night market, we retired to our room for some well needed sleep.  the next day would be another long day - a trip to Tonle Sap Lake and the floating village of Chong Kneas.

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