Curiosities in Cambodia, Part 1

For our winter vacation this year, we attempted two Southeast Asian countries in three-weeks! Crazy? Yes. But while it's nearly impossible to even get to know one country in that amount of time, we got a pretty good flavor of Cambodia and Laos, both of which left a good taste in our mouths!

First stop: markets, coconuts, beers, amazing food, and a ton of temples in the Cambodian epi-center of Siem Reap:
Amok--white fish doused in spices and coconut milk, then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked--is one of Cambodia's signature dishes. Heaven in a leaf, I tell you!
Siem Reap's night market is a slicked-up version geared mostly to tourists, but entertaining nevertheless. Here you can purchase your fair share of silks, spices, prints, clothing, lanterns, paper, t-shirts, coconut utensils, and other souvenirs, as well as get a beer or two at the bar, or a 1-hour full body massage for $5 at the "spa!" All in a colorful and quaint package:
The local markets, however, are the grittier, bustling pockets of everyday life, filled with everything from raw meats and fish, fruits and veggies, spices, baked goods, clothing, household goods, beauty salons, flower stalls...you name it, and it can usually be found there!

I'm a sucker for the local markets, so I was happy when we signed up to take a Cambodian cooking class that it included a tour of the downtown market to get explanations on and to purchase our ingredients:
Our instructor, and soon-to-be devoured feast from our Christmas Eve cooking class:
On Christmas morning, Jacob and I headed out on our rented one-speed bikes while it was still pitch-black outside, and rode 6 kilometers out to Cambodia's most famous site, the temples of Angkor. In particular, we wanted to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat, one of the best preserved monuments at Angkor, as well as the world's largest religious structure:
The ruins of Angkor (which was the seat of the ancient Khmer empire) cover and amazing area of over 1,000 square kilometers! It was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, and had over a million residents at a time when London was a little city of 50,000! Today, it's home to the ruins of over 1,000 buildings and complexes which, needless to say, can not be seen in a day or two. In fact, Jacob and I spent 3 days exploring some of the ruins, and barely scratched the surface of the beauty and mystery of the place...
When I was in high school, I remember seeing a calendar photo of an eerie looking place in the jungle with ancient ruins being eaten alive by massive covering trees. I had no idea where that place was, only that I had to visit it one day. That place was Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom is one of the most popular Angkor temples, and one of the best for exploring (not to mention the coolest looking). Left to the clutches of the jungle (unlike a lot of the ruins, which have been cleared away), it looks pretty much how European explorers found most of the ruins at the turn of the century. The trees look amazingly like they're being poured over everything from a large pot in the sky!

We liked Ta Phrom so much that we visited it two days...a lot earlier on the second day to beat the tour groups (definitely worth it)! Oh yeah, and "Laura Croft" was also filmed here...
Our obligatory Christmas photo:
Christmas evening relaxation in our hotel courtyard before dinner...yes, I made Jacob wear the Santa hat as much as possible:
What $10-$15 USD/night will get you in Siem Reap:
For days two and three at the temples, we packed lunches and hired a tuk-tuk (motorcycle with a covered seating area...quite carriage-like) for the day to take us to the places we wanted to go and wait for us! We were able to cover a lot more ground with a lot less sweat!
For way more temple goodness (you didn't think 3 days only produced this many photos, did you?) check out the rest of our Angkor photos on our flickr site...we've got some good ones up over there!

In addition to more temple-hopping, we also got to experience some of the villages, people, and farm-life of Cambodia's beautiful countryside:
Tomorrow, part two of Cambodia...