In Search Of Blue Zircon Via The Angkor Wat Temples
This trip Frank and Mark are off to the northeastern part of Cambodia in Southeast Asia to find blue zircon. Blue zircon can be found in the capital city of Banlung in the province of Ratanakiri. Ratanakiri province borders Vietnam and Laos. Banlung is 636 km (395 mi) from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh but only 420 km (261 mi) drive from the town of Siem Reap which happens to have the closest operational airport to Banlung. The Hindu / Buddhist temples of Angkor Wat are near Siem Reap so they decided to take a day and visit these remarkable temples while they were in Cambodia.
Frank and I left the United States via Los Angeles International Airport in California on Saturday 4/9/2017. Beth dropped us off at LAX about 9:30 PM for a 11:50 PM flight to Hong Kong, China with Cathay Pacific airlines. The flight was a little late and by the time the cleaning crew finished screwing around we boarded about 1.5 hours late. When we finally got off the ground the route the aircraft took was north west into a 140 mile per hour head wind. We traveled just off the Alaskan coast, across the entire southern coast of Russia, directly over the full length of Japan, and into Hong Kong, China. We spent a whopping 16 hours in the air because of the headwind. This is noteworthy because the return flight was easterly where the path passed just north of Hawaii, had a 150 mile per hour tail wind, and just 12 hours travel time. At times we were traveling at 700+ miles per hour.
We finally arrived at Hong Kong International in China. Frank was not a happy camper because the Boeing 777-300ER they flew does not have the little adjustable air jets that point at you and allow you to get some air flow and Frank was a little sick from lack of air circulation. He was also pissed because the audio jack was broken on his seat and the flight was sold out so he had to go 16 hours without any entertainment. He said he slept most of the way but even if he slept for 10 hours that still leaves 6 hours of nothing to do but sit and that had to be miserable. It was no consolation that the airline gave Frank what they called a $50 refund for the inconvenience. This was not a big help because you can only spend the refund on items in their little buy me book in the seat.
I was ok with the journey. It was long but not too arduous. I met a Cambodian named Johnny who sat in the middle seat next to me. Frank always books window seats for both of us. Johnny ships containers of food, purchased in the USA, to Cambodia and sells it there to retail stores.
The Hong Kong flight being late did mean that the scheduled 2 hour layover was cut short and made our stay in Hong Kong a short one. We both agreed that the Hong Kong airport is not as nice as LAX.
So far we have missed Sunday 4-9 altogether. 24 hours traveling is a long time and it sucks.
We arrived in Phnom Penh Monday 4-10 at 12 PM and we still need to fly on to Siem Reap. We had enough time to get a bite to eat at Burger King - another 2 hour layover - then off on a 45 minute flight to Siem Reap on a ATR42 twin engine turbo prop. The ATR42 aircraft is manufactured by a consortium of French and Italian companies.
One interesting event was when we landed at the Siem Reap "International" airport the aircraft just stopped in the middle of the runway, made a 180 degree U turn, and went back down the runway about half way then got off. We have never been in an aircraft that did that. They always get off at a taxi way but not this time.
The first thing we noticed is that it was hot - Cartagena Colombia hot - and that is somewhere above 90 degrees F (about 33 C) with 70% or more humidity. We waited for a while and a driver from the hotel named Sambo showed up in a van. Off we went to the Chronicle Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap.
Bottom line - LAX to the hotel in Siem Reap - 29 hours. Not any record but a long #!@^%# time traveling.
One interesting thing is that by the time we had been there for the second night, every one of the staff members were able to address us by our first names. Why the picture of the slippers? Because although a nice thought they were about a size 6. Not useful for 6'+ American dudes.
We had a great swim and dinner at the hotel. We walked around downtown Siem Reap for a while and visited Pub street. We had a couple of $0.50 draft beers (Angkor Beer) and bought some food for some barefoot kids that were begging for money. We headed back to the hotel early because we are off to the ruins early on Tuesday.
On the way back to the hotel we visited some monks who were preparing for the upcoming New Year's celebration (4-14). They had built these sand cones and they were putting the finishing touches on them.
The morning of Tuesday 4/11 we had a good complementary breakfast at the hotel and were off to see the temples of Angkor or Angkor Wat which means Angkor Buddhist temples. So Wat and temple are synonymous. There are several temple complexes that make up Angkor Wat. They are all similar with varying degrees of aging. All of them were built in the same time period of a few hundred years.
Via tuk tuk we traveled from Siem Reap to the Angkor temples. Our tuk tuk driver was named Kong. Kong took us to get our admission tickets, to eat, and back to our hotel. One admission ticket is good for all of the temples. An admission ticket cost $37 US each.
If you are ever in Cambodia be careful to not have any what they call "broken" money. Any US currency with a tear or nick on the edge or marked in any obvious way is considered broken and will not be accepted by the Cambodian agencies, hotels, or restaurants. They are very picky as to the condition of the US currency you use because apparently they have trouble when trying to exchange these bills - whatever that means. Speaking of currency, there is no reason to exchange your US currency for the Cambodian riel. The exchange rate was 4000 riel to 1 US dollar. All the restaurants, hotels, and agencies price their goods and services in US dollars. So take a bunch of $1's, $5's, $10's, $20's, and a few $100's in good pristine US currency and you will be fine. US currency must be the newest style of issue, old bills - bills without the imbedded cloth stripe and color changing water marks - will not be accepted.
The price for the tuk tuk to take us to the 5 Angkor temples was $15 US. This journey took about 6 hours and we left at 9:00 AM. It was hot and humid and 5 or 6 hours walking around old stone temples was difficult. Getting an early start helped a little with the heat but we were both exhausted and ready for the pool by early afternoon.
The first temple we encountered was Angkor Wat (Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត or "Capital Temple").
It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura (Khmer: យសោធរបុរៈ, present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu.
As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture.
It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers.
Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west. Scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.
The next stop was Srah Srang (Khmer: ស្រះស្រង់) which is a baray or reservoir at Angkor. It is located south of the East Baray and east of Banteay Kdei. It was dug in the mid-10th century, by initiative of Kavindrarimathana, Buddhist minister of Rajendravarman II.
It was later modified around the year 1200 by Jayavarman VII, who also added the laterite landing-stage at its western side, probably because the East Baray had been overwhelmed by sediment and had begun malfunctioning. French archeological expeditions have found a necropolis close to it.
At present Srah Srang measures 700 by 350 m and is still partially flooded. As other barays, maybe there was a temple standing on an artificial island in the middle of it, as suggested by finding of a basement.
The landing-stage, opposite the entrance to Banteay Kdei, is a popular site for viewing the sunrise. It is cruciform, flanked by nāga balaustrades which end with the upright head of a serpent, mounted by a garuda with its wings unfurled. The steps that lead down to the water are flanked by two guardian lions.
A 1600 sq. meter cemetery was discovered at the north-west corner of the reservoir. Mortuary jars containing cremated remains and other artifacts dating from the reign of Udayadityavarman II were excavated by B.P. Groslier.
It is common to encounter groups of musicians playing Khmer music on or around the temple grounds. Unfortunately the scars of past political unrest and war are still very evident where many middle aged and older people - mostly men - have severed and missing limbs.
Directly across the street is the entrance to Banteay Kdei. Banteay Kdei (Khmer: ប្រាសាទបន្ទាយក្តី; Prasat Banteay Kdei), meaning "A Citadel of Chambers", also known as "Citadel of Monks' cells", is a Buddhist temple in Angkor. It is located southeast of Ta Prohm and east of Angkor Thom. Built in the mid-12th to early 13th centuries AD during the reign of Jayavarman VII (who was posthumously given the title "Maha paramasangata pada"), it is in the Bayon architectural style, similar in plan to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but less complex and smaller.
This Buddhist monastic complex is currently dilapidated due to faulty construction and poor quality of sandstone used in its buildings, and is now undergoing renovation. Banteay Kdei had been occupied by monks at various intervals over the centuries until the 1960s.
The name Banteay Kdei originates from an earlier name, Kuti, which is mentioned in the Sdok Kak Thom. This stele describes the arrival of Jayavarman II to the area, "When they arrived at the eastern district, the king bestowed an estate and a village called Kuti upon the family of the royal chaplain." This royal chaplain was the Brahman scholar Sivakaivalya, his chief priest for the Devaraja cult.
The Khmer Empire lasted from 802 to 1431, initially under Hindu religious beliefs up to the end of the 12th century and later under Buddhist religious practices. It was a time when temples of grandeur came to be built and reached a crescendo during the reign of Suryavarman II until 1191, and later in the 12th–13th centuries, under Jayavarman VII. Many Buddhist temples were built, including the Banteay Kdei, from middle of the 12th century to early 13th century. Though Jayavarman VII was credited with building many temples, he was also accused of squandering money on extravagant temple building projects at the expense of society and other duties. He built Buddhist temples in which Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara was the main deity. This temple built, conforming to the style of the Ta Prohm and Preah Khan temples in the vicinity during the same period by Jayavarman VII, but of a smaller size, was built as a Buddhist monastic complex on the site of a 10th-century temple built by Rajendravarman. Some small inscriptions attest to the building of this temple by Jayavarman VII and the royal architect, Kavindrarimathana. Jayavarman VII had come to power at the age of 55 after defeating Chams who had invaded Angkor and subjected it to devastation. His "prodigious activity" resulted in the restoration of Cambodia from its ruins. He was chiefly the architect of the rebuilt capital at Angkor Thom and was called a "Great Builder". He was responsible for building many temples, which apart from Banteay Kdei, included the central temple of the Bayon, Prah Khan, Ta Prohm and many others, and also many rest houses for pilgrims. The reasons for building this temple at its present site is not known. However, it is established that the temple is a contemporary of the Angkor Wat as many similarities have been identified between the two, and also with Phimai temple in Thailand. It is reported to be the first temple built by Jayavarman VII in 1181 AD, opposite to the Srah Srang reservoir. In the 13th century, most of the temples built by Jayavarman were vandalised. However, some of the Mahayana Buddhist frontons and lintels are still seen in good condition. It is also the view of some archaeologists that the temple was built by Jayavarman II in honour of his religious teacher. The temple, which for several centuries after the Khmer reign ended, remained neglected and covered with vegetation. It was exposed after clearing the surrounding overgrowth of vegetation in 1920–1922. This work was carried out under the guidance of Henri Marchal (then Conservator of Angkor) and Ch. Battuer, by adopting a conservation principle which was known as "the principle of anastylosis, which was being employed very effectively by the Dutch authorities in Indonesia". It was partially occupied by Buddhist monks till the 1960s. For ten years till March 2002, Sophia University Mission or the Sophia Mission of Japan carried out several Archaeological research at the Banteay Kdei temple. During these investigations, a cache of fragments of 274 Buddhist statues made in sandstone, along with a few metal art pieces, were unearthed, in 2001. Plans to build a storage room to house the statues was also planned.
It is an artificial island with a Buddhist temple on a circular island in Jayatataka Baray, which was associated with Preah Khan temple, built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. It is the "Mebon" of the Preah Khan baray (the "Jayatataka" of the inscription). Neak Pean was originally designed for medical purposes (the ancients believed that going into these pools would balance the elements in the bather, thus curing disease); it is one of the many hospitals that Jayavarman VII built. It is based on the ancient Hindu belief of balance. Four connected pools represent Water, Earth, Fire and Wind. Each is connected to the central water source, the main tank, by a stone conduit "presided over by one of Four Great Animals (maha ajaneya pasu) namely Elephant, Bull, Horse, and Lion, corresponding to the north, east, south, and west quarters....The stone conduits in the little pavilions are fashioned to represent the heads of the Four Great Animals...the only exception being that on the east, which represents a human head instead of a bull's." Originally, four sculptures stood on the floor of the lake. The only remaining statue is that of the horse Balaha, a form of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, saving sailors from the ogresses of Tamradvipa. The temple on the lake was originally dedicated to Avalokitesvara. Willetts believed that "this is Jayavarman as he would have wished to have appeared to his people" Zhou Daguan refers to Neak Pean in his visit to Angkor in the late 13th century.
Across the way is the Ta Prohm temple. Ta Prohm (Khmer: ប្រាសាទតាព្រហ្ម, pronunciation: prasat taprohm) is the modern name of the temple at Angkor. It was built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara (in Khmer: រាជវិហារ). Located approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray, it was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university.
out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors.
The conservation and restoration of Ta Prohm is a partnership project of the Archaeological Survey of India and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap). In 1186 A.D., Jayavarman VII embarked on a massive program of construction and public works. Rajavihara ("monastery of the king"), today known as Ta Prohm ("ancestor Brahma"), was one of the first temples founded pursuant to that program. The stele commemorating the foundation gives a date of 1186 A.D. Jayavarman VII constructed Rajavihara in honour of his family. The temple's main image, representing Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom, was modeled on the king's mother. The northern and southern satellite temples in the third enclosure were dedicated to the king's guru, Jayamangalartha, and his elder brother respectively.
As such, Ta Prohm formed a complementary pair with the temple monastery of Preah Khan, dedicated in 1191 A.D., the main image of which represented the Bodhisattva of compassion Lokesvara and was modeled on the king's father. The temple's stele records that the site was home to more than 12,500 people (including 18 high priests and 615 dancers), with an additional 800,000 souls in the surrounding villages working to provide services and supplies. The stele also notes that the temple amassed considerable riches, including gold, pearls and silks. Expansions and additions to Ta Prohm continued as late as the rule of Srindravarman at the end of the 15th century. After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, the temple of Ta Prohm was abandoned and neglected for centuries. When the effort to conserve and restore the temples of Angkor began in the early 21st century, the École française d'Extrême-Orient decided that Ta Prohm would be left largely as it had been found, as a "concession to the general taste for the picturesque." According to pioneering Angkor scholar Maurice Glaize, Ta Prohm was singled out because it was "one of the most imposing [temples] and the one which had best merged with the jungle, but not yet to the point of becoming a part of it". Nevertheless, much work has been done to stabilize the ruins, to permit access, and to maintain "this condition of apparent neglect." As of 2013, Archaeological Survey of India has restored most parts of the temple complex some of which have been constructed from scratch. Wooden walkways, platforms and roped railings have been put in place around the site to protect the monument from further damages due to the large tourist inflow.
The trees growing out of the ruins are perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ta Prohm, and "have prompted more writers to descriptive excess than any other feature of Angkor."
Two species predominate, but sources disagree on their identification: the larger is either the silk-cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra) or thitpok Tetrameles nudiflora, and the smaller is either the strangler fig (Ficus gibbosa) or gold apple (Diospyros decandra). Angkor scholar Maurice Glaize observed, "On every side, in fantastic over-scale, the trunks of the silk-cotton trees soar skywards under a shadowy green canopy, their long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants." The temple of Ta Prohm was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider. Although the film took visual liberties with other Angkorian temples, its scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple's actual appearance, and made use of its eerie qualities.
The last stop - number 5 - was at Angkor Thom. This is a huge walled expanse with several temples within it. Angkor Thom (Khmer: អង្គរធំ; literally: "Great City") was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.
Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII's empire, and was the centre of his massive building programme. One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city as his bride.
Angkor Thom seems not to be the first Khmer capital on the site, however. Yasodharapura, dating from three centuries earlier, was centred slightly further northwest, and Angkor Thom overlapped parts of it. The most notable earlier temples within the city are the former state temple of Baphuon, and Phimeanakas, which was incorporated into the Royal Palace.
The Khmers did not draw any clear distinctions between Angkor Thom and Yashodharapura: even in the fourteenth century an inscription used the earlier name. The name of Angkor Thom—great city—was in use from the 16th century. The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived. The Ayutthaya Kingdom, led by King Borommarachathirat II, sacked Angkor Thom, forcing the Khmers under Ponhea Yat to relocate their capital southeast. Angkor Thom was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, "as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato". It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000–150,000 people.
The city lies on the west bank of the Siem Reap River, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. The walls, 8 m high and flanked by a moat, are each 3 km long, enclosing an area of 9 km². The walls are of laterite buttressed by earth, with a parapet on the top. There are gates at each of the cardinal points, from which roads lead to the Bayon at the centre of the city.
As the Bayon itself has no wall or moat of its own, those of the city are interpreted by archaeologists as representing the mountains and oceans surrounding the Bayon's Mount Meru. Another gate—the Victory Gate—is 500 m north of the east gate; the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon.
The faces on the 23 m towers at the city gates, which are later additions to the main structure, take after those of the Bayon and pose the same problems of interpretation. They may represent the king himself, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the empire's cardinal points, or some combination of these.
A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower: these have a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right, each row holding a naga in the attitude of a tug-of-war. This appears to be a reference to the myth, popular in Angkor, of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself, would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place.
The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods (the Bayon), or be guardian figures. The gateways themselves are 3.5 by 7 m, and would originally have been closed with wooden doors. The south gate is now by far the most often visited, as it is the main entrance to the city for tourists. At each corner of the city is a Prasat Chrung—corner shrine—built of sandstone and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. These are cruciform with a central tower, and orientated towards the east. Within the city was a system of canals, through which water flowed from the northeast to the southwest. The bulk of the land enclosed by the walls would have been occupied by the secular buildings of the city, of which nothing remains.
This area is now covered by forest. Most of the great Angkor ruins have vast displays of bas-relief depicting the various gods, goddesses, and other-worldly beings from the mythological stories and epic poems of ancient Hinduism (modified by centuries of Buddhism). Mingled with these images are actual known animals, like elephants, snakes, fish, and monkeys, in addition to dragon-like creatures that look like the stylized, elongated serpents (with feet and claws) found in Chinese art. But among the ruins of Ta Prohm, near a huge stone entrance, one can see that the "roundels on pilasters on the south side of the west entrance are unusual in design." What one sees are roundels depicting various common animals—pigs, monkeys, water buffaloes, roosters and snakes. There are no mythological figures among the roundels, so one can reasonably conclude that these figures depict the animals that were commonly seen by the ancient Khmer people in the twelfth century.
Upon arriving back at the hotel, it was time for a long dip in the pool and some food. We met 2 attorneys from Chicago at the pool and had a good conversation about American politics. After the pool it was time for food about 6:00 PM - chicken and fried rice and pork and fried rice - excellent! We split it up half and half. It made an awesome dinner. We were exhausted and had an early day Friday so we called Beth at 8:00 PM via Skype and were asleep by 9:00 PM. The air conditioning make everything tolerable.
Frank had negotiated a car and driver to take us from Siem Reap to Banlung and back with an overnight stay in Banlung. So we left Siem Reap at 9:30 AM for Banlung with our driver Bo. Banlung is the capital of Ratanakiri Province in northeastern Cambodia. Ratanakiri province borders Vietnam and Laos. Banlung is 455 km (283 mi) from Siem Reap and 636 km (395 mi) from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. These are the 2 closest operational airports to Banlung.
The 455 km (283 mi) drive took right at 7 hours and what a drive it was. It was like driving to Las Vegas, Nevada from Los Angeles, California on the Friday of a holiday weekend. The road heads east toward the Vietnam border and is a 2 lane highway through the Cambodian countryside. The car was a Toyota 4 door LPG 4 cylinder. Bo was a fast but safe driver. I say safe because he obviously knew all of the horn signals that let everyone around us know what he was going to do - I think! Anyway, he was constantly honking the horn and it felt like different honks meant different things. It is my opinion that the horn is a vital part of a vehicle in Cambodia. Without it there would be chaos.
Every vehicle is packed to the rafters with people and their belongings. No space is wasted.
Frank never had to tell Bo to speed up - not even once. We were doing 60 to 70 MPH the entire way. I relaxed in the back taking in something akin to Disneyland's "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride". I actually fell asleep for a while and started snoring slightly. Frank almost had the opportunity to tease me about that but I woke up just before the harassment began.
We got a flat tire not far from the Mekong river crossing. Bo had a tire iron but no jack. What is it with flat tires? It seems we get at least one flat tire everywhere we go. The only difference this time is that Bo knew what he was doing and took care of the flat himself without needing our assistance.
We had to stay at a primitive road side store while Bo took the car down the road to find a jack so he could put on the spare tire. While we were waiting we each had a coke that cost a whopping $0.35 US for both. They are kept cold along with ice and other cold goodies in the large orange ice chests pictured below.
A couple came by for ice while we were there and two Muslim girls stopped for refreshments and wanted a picture with the strange looking white giants that were standing there. Keep in mind that it is close to 100 degrees F with around 80% humidity and look how these people are dressed.
The kids knew how to high five but I do not think they had ever seen Americans based on the way they were looking at us and the time it took for them to warm up to us. But as you can see, they finally did. And then it was show time. The owners oldest son began showing off his skills with a homemade hula hoop.
Amazingly, Bo wasn't gone maybe 20 minutes and he showed up with a spare tire semi bolted to the car. It wobbled and vibrated a lot but got us another 15 miles to the tire store in the little town just past the Mekong River crossing.
We crossed the Mekong River and limped into Krong Stung Treng on the Tonle Sekong River just up stream from where it merges with the Mekong River.
It is there Bo found a tire store and purchased a new tire. He said it cost $80 US. Interesting - they put the tire on the rim and put it on the car. They didn't bother to balance the tire, just put it back on the car and off we went.
This mode of transportation you will only see in Cambodia. It is called a "cgo yong". It is nothing more than a single cylinder engine affixed onto a wooden frame. The name, literally translated, means robotic cow. This contraption doesn't go very fast - maybe 25 MPH tops - but i'll bet it will go just about anywhere especially in the mud. I couldn't help but take a bunch of pictures of this thing because it was so different yet so remarkably simple and useful. I want to take a ride on one the next time I am in Cambodia.
The most popular mode of transportation in Cambodia is the motor scooter. Not motorcycle as these scooters are 100 to 200 cc tops but are used for everything. Apparently, if the scooter is less than 150 cc, a license is not needed to operate it. I don't think it has to be registered either. Of course, no one has insurance unless you run an automobile as a taxi for a large hotel or business. Then and only then is insurance required. I am not sure if any of the tuk tuk's have insurance - I doubt it.
All along the countryside there are houses every 1/4 mile or so. Most of these houses are built on stilts. This is to keep the snakes out of the house, helps keep the floor of the house dry during the rainy season, and provides a shaded work and storage area underneath the house. Many have satellite dishes on the eastern side of the house and even though they do not have refrigeration they do have satellite TV. Based on this I also assume they have electricity although there is no discernable electrical lines running to any of them.
We arrived at Terres Rouges Lodge before dark.
After dinner we soaked in the pool and had a great talk with the husband of the French woman who manages the property. He was born in South Africa and raised in Europe. They moved to Cambodia a couple of years ago and loved it so much the stayed. He is now getting his Cambodian citizenship and they are planning on spending the rest of their lives there.
This is a picture of an elephant saddle at the hotel.
Thursday 4/13 - Southeast Asia's New Year's Eve
In the morning, before sun up, there was heavy thunder and rain. The thunder shook everything. The cups on the saucers on the table in my room were shaking violently and making a lot of racket. This thunder was very powerful and loud. It woke both of us from a sound sleep. Both of us were out and about just after sun up. By then the rain and thunder had stopped. I watched small delta shaped birds feed on insects the rain had driven into the air. We had breakfast at the upstairs restaurant at the hotel then off to by zircon at 9:00 AM sharp. We were on a mission but more importantly wanted to get back on the road to Siem Reap - we didn't want to be on the road after dark.
A little about zircon. It is the oldest mineral on earth, with samples found in Australia that are over 4.4 billion years old. Zircon is one of the most brilliant blue gemstone on earth, and has a higher refractive index than even sapphire, tanzanite or spinel.
Zircon occurs in a wide range of colors, of which white or colorless is likely the least valuable. Blue zircon is one of the traditional modern birthstones for December. Zircon is not well known by the general public. When colorless it is sometimes looked upon as a cheap diamond simulant much like cubic zirconia (CZ). However, zircon is a natural mineral called zirconium silicate and cubic zirconia is a synthetic or synthesized material (man made).
The most popular zircon today is blue zircon, usually occurring with green pleochroism, which can result in interesting teal-like colors. The color of zircons can sometimes be changed by heat treatment. Common brown zircons can be transformed into colorless and blue zircons by heating to 800 to 1000 °C. However, only some brown materials have the appropriate physical structure to turn blue when heated, typically only deposits found in Southeast Asia - which is why most blue zircon comes from the Ratanakiri Province in northeastern Cambodia, where we are, or Burma. In geological settings, the development of pink, red, and purple zircon occurs after hundreds of millions of years. Its color diversity is caused by traces of certain impurities, some of which are radioactive. You can see how zircon is mined, heat treated, and cut in Cambodia by watching the below video.
The crystal structure of zircon has a tetragonal crystal system. Its moh's hardness is 7.5. Its specific gravity is 4.6-4.7, and its density is 4.65 g/cm3 which is heavier than diamond. The natural color of zircon varies between colorless, yellow-golden, red, brown, blue, and green. Colorless specimens that show gem quality are a popular substitute for diamond and are also known as "Matura diamond".
The first zircon store we came across had what we wanted, or so it seemed. Unfortunately, at the end of some lengthy negotiations when I could hear Frank laughing at the guy in that "you got to be kidding me" kind of laugh, the deal fell apart and we abruptly left looking for another place to do business.
The second store was the most expensive place in town. Beautiful zircon but with American prices.
I purchased 192 ct of blue zircon for $1400. One 13.65 ct stone and two 3.2 ct stones cost more than half of the total $837, simply because of their high color quality. The remainder $563 consisted of 172 ct of 2.5 to 5 ct stones. Frank purchased $600 of larger 5 ct quality stones.
As soon as the deal was consummated, we were headed back to Siem Reap. There was no way we wanted to be on the road after dark. To make matters worse, it was the Cambodian New Year's Eve. We had no idea how New Year's is celebrated in Southeast Asia but we were about to find out.
Bo stopped along the river where there were a bunch of food wagons. We all ate some sort of noodle dish with pork rinds. It was spicy and grave Frank a little rush but only for a few minutes. After eating it was non stop back to Siem Reap.
We were tired from our journey but after soaking in the pool and eating we decided to go to town for one beer and celebrate the coming New Year. Based on the lunar cycle, in 2017 the New Year's holiday fell on Friday 4/14, Saturday 4/15 and Sunday 4/16. We had no idea what we were in for when we went to town on New Year's eve. We had seen all of the preparation for the New Year and thought it would be interesting to see how the celebration unfolded. After talking to Beth via Skype, around 9:00 PM, we walked to Pub street to get that beer. While we were having our beers we could see people were everywhere and they all had water cannons and talcum powder. There was a big commotion going on in the street and we stopped on the sidewalk to see the excitement. There were two Cambodian girls also watching from the sidewalk half in and half out of the bar. They were all dressed up and obviously trying to stay out of the commotion as well. They were hiding behind Frank so as to not get wet. I was taking pictures of the motorcycle on display at a bar. Frank wanted me to get a picture with them to show how tiny they were compaired to us. Frank is on one knee here. While they were posing with Frank one of them got hit with some talcum powder.
She talked Frank into buying her a bottle of talcum powder from a street vendor that was right there and the war was on. She squirted her friend with the talcum powder because she was laughing at her and some how Frank and I eventually ended up in the middle. Frank managed to get his hands on a water cannon and the next thing I knew we were being doused by water cannons and got drug into the middle of the street with the rest of the partying crowd.
This must have lasted for a couple of hours as we walked up and down several streets with loud music playing and water flying everywhere. The streets looked like it had been raining all day but it hadn't rained that day at all.
We finally walked back to the hotel soaked to the bone and covered with talcum powder. It was a fun night and was unlike anything we had ever seen or experienced before. We needed to get some rest because we were traveling to Phnom Penh the next morning.
We had to be at the Siem Reap "International" airport by 10:00 AM to fly back to the capitol city of Phnom Penh. The driver was late and we were getting anxious. The driver showed up about 45 minutes late but with Frank reminding the guy we were late and he needed to hurry up, we still got to the airport with time to spare.
After the 45 minute flight we got a taxi (Mr. Lee) from the Phnom Penh airport to the Sun & Moon Urban Hotel. This hotel is located right in the center of town, is 9 stories tall, and has a salt water pool and dining area on the roof. Frank had made arrangements to meet with Frank's brothers wife's brother, Mr. Heng (he goes by Heng). We will meet for something to eat at a little dinner house not too far from the hotel.
We got our rooms, took a short swim, then a short nap, and Heng picked us up at the hotel in his Lexus - nice car. We drove to the River Restaurant not too far away. We had a great dinner and conversation with Heng. Thank you Heng for a wonderful dinner. We decided to walked back to the hotel after dinner. It turns out it was only 4 or 5 blocks away but we were exhausted and after walking a few blocks in the heat, even at night, we had had enough. We made a B line for the hotel and directly to our air conditioned rooms to watch some TV and get some needed sleep.
We got to sleep in today. We were up and at the hotel complementary breakfast at 9:30 AM - it closed at 10 AM. We had a great breakfast - buffet style - and there was a lot to choose from. After breakfast we were off to the temple a couple of blocks down the street. We thought we were going to the Palace but that ended up being something like 10 blocks away and was too far to walk or even take a tuk tuk in the heat.
So we ended up spending a couple of hours visiting Wat Ounalom on the shore of the Tonle Sap river.
Frank wanted to tickle the laughing Budai's belly for good luck.
Frank joined one of the prayer sessions for a few minutes and was deeply moved.
You could pay to bathe Buddha. In April and early May, people in Cambodia and across the world celebrate Vesak in many different ways. They are bound together by a special commemoration honoring the young Gautama. One particular ceremony during this festive time is called "Bathing the Buddha”. To bathe the Buddha is to pour scented, blessed water over an image of an infant Prince, in this case a statue, who has his right forefinger pointed upwards and left forefinger directed downwards.
We had fun and tried to be respectful of the religion and customs.
Leaving the temple we walked across the street to the rivers edge. We admired the two horsemen statue.
Finally overheated, we walked back to the hotel.
While at the pool we met an old guy named Mike who was staying at the hotel to get away from the week long New Year's celebration in Pattaya, Thailand where he lives. Apparently in many cities throughout Southeast Asia, during this week, you cannot leave your house without getting soaked and dowsed with powder.
The interesting thing is that back in the day Mike was one of the producers of the Benny Hill Show in Europe. He had some interesting stories to tell about Benny Hill and all of the European bands he used to go see that eventually became famous in the USA like Pink Floyd, Genesis, and others.
We spent most of the rest of the evening in our rooms and only went out for a short time to find some dinner - our last dinner in Cambodia. We ate at a traditional street cafe and had some local food. It was actually pretty good and consisted of chicken and pork and rice with vegetables.
That evening we hung around the 9th floor pool area and had a couple of drinks. The ambiance was like a 5 star Las Vegas experience with the lights on the horizon all around, a soft breeze, warm as opposed to hot, the LED effect lighting changing colors to the music, people eating and partying at the outdoor restaurant, and the background music loud enough to be heard but not annoying - it was like being in a movie - in a dream. We absorbed the atmosphere for a while and toasted to once again having a great ending to another adventure. It was already time to prepare for the long travel day home so off to our rooms for some TV, air conditioning, and sleep.
We didn't have to be at the airport until 6:00 PM. We slept in, had a late breakfast, and visited the pool one more time. Then we hung out at our rooms until check out. Check out was at 12:00 noon but the hotel staff let us have a 1:00 check out. We did not want to go outside and get all sweaty so we waited in the air conditioned hotel lobby for a couple of hours. The hotel wanted too much money for their taxi to take us to the airport and the hotel lobby was more comfortable than the airport. Frank finally got hold of the taxi driver Mr. Lee and he came and picked us up around 3:00 PM.
Our flight arrived on time and we were off on a 2.5 hour flight to Hong Kong, China.
A short layover in Hong Kong and then off to Los Angeles, California USA. The trip from Hong Kong to LAX only took 12 hours of flight time where we were traveling 700+ MPH at times. It was a comfortable flight because no one was in the center seat in both Frank's or my rows. We both had window seats - as usual.
The oddest part of the trip is when we arrived in Los Angeles the pilot said "if you want to have the correct time you can set your watch back 15 hours". That meant that we had arrived in Los Angeles 3 hours before we left Hong Kong. Twilight Zone man!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Cambodian people, across the board, were extremely friendly and helpful. We felt safe and welcome in this far away land even when traveling off the beaten path and between cities.
All of the accommodations we had were more than acceptable with some being down right awesome.
The Angkor Wat temple complexes were supprisingly clean and a pleasure to visit. Even the barays or reservoirs at Angkor appeared to be clean and did not have a fowl oder.
Little rain during the low months (low tourism) and fewer people. We cannot imagine what it looks like during the high season when there are a lot of tourists. There seemed to be a lot - crowds - of people everywhere during the low season. However, lots of Cambodians visit the temples during the New Year season.
With the exception of the Temples and the Angkor Wat area, in all of the city streets, there was garbage and trash in concentrated piles along the streets. Phnom Penh was the worse but the smaller cities were not much better. All the small streams that flow through towns would be clasified as poluted by US standards, at least in the dry season when there is less water circulation. Piles of trash setting in the hot sun for days and/or poluted water produce odours that are hard to ignore. Everywhere we went we encountered areas where we had to hold our breath and move on quickly. How anyone could eat at some of the outdoor cafe's in the city was beyond our capacity to imagine simply due to the ever present stench of rotting garbage.
It is my understanding that 80% of the cars in Cambodia are purchased used from the USA. So, except for the finest hotels, transportation is via a used vehicle or tusk tuk which is a motorcycle driven carriage.
During the low months (low tourism) it is hot - very hot. 90 to 100 F with high humidity during the day and only slightly cooler at night.
All in all we had a good trip, a good time, and may return some time in the future.
More adventures from Frank and Mark:
Ay Caramba Colombia - Emeralds
South America - Peru - Bolivia - Brazil - Colombia - Machu Picchu - Puma Punku