The One Less Traveled By: a chronicle of my yearlong sabbatical

February 11, 2010, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Now that I’m back on the road (in Argentina), I figured this was as good as time as any to finish recounting my travels in S.E. Asia.  So…. From Vietnam, I traveled by boat up the Mekong River into Cambodia – straight Apocalypse Now style, minus the guns, bombs, drugs, and The Doors.  My first stop was Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s colorful and charismatic capital where I spent two and a half days, primarily just walking about and visiting the Tuol Sleng/S.21 military prison-cum-genocide museum.  Tuol Sleng was a school in the middle of Phnom Pehn that Pol Pot turned into a prison where thousands of Cambodians (and some foreigners, too) were tortured and killed.  Out of those thousands who passed through, less than a dozen were known to have survived.  Most of the “guards” at the prison were young kids, in their teens.  The prison/museum has been left in virtually the same condition as when the Vietnamese army liberated it, blood stains and all.  A very sobering experience.  On the opposite end of the cultrual spectrum, a friend of a friend living in Phnom Penh took me out, along with another friend of his, for dinner at an excellent local joint and for a night of boozing at various types of bars that populate PP, which range from sleek to shady.  All good fun.

The Royal Palace

The riverfront area of Phnom Penh

Tuol Sleng military prison, formerly a school

Classroom turned into a torture room

My next stop was Siem Reap, jumping off point for exploring the Angkor Archaeological Park.  This area is most famous for Angkor Wat, which may be the single largest religious structure in the world, and probably the most photographed building in S.E. Asia (and was also the backdrop for the movie Tomb Raider).  The Park contains dozens and dozens of old temple and palace ruins from the 9th to the 15th centuries, the height of the Khmer Empire.  At the time, Angkor had a population of a million, making it the largest preindustrial city in the world.  Today, the ruins of most interest are spread over approximately 30 square kilometers, though there exist hundreds of ruins scattered over a 1000 square kilometer area.  I spent three days biking around and exploring the main temples — incredibly, there are very few restrictions on exploring the ruins, so I was basically free to wander all around and scramble over them.  Many of the temples are enormous and labyrinthine, making it easy to lose one’s way.  Three days was a lot of time to spend visiting old buildings, but it wasn’t even enough to see all of the main sights.  Enjoy the pictures.

Crossing the enormous moat that surrounds Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

South entrance to Bayon temple

Bayon temple

Inside Bayon temple - one of several concentric passageways

Ta Prohm temple - in front of a silk-cotton tree that has overgrown the temple

Another tree dominating the temple

The faces of Bayon temple

A little buddha somewhere in some temple

Sunset from Phnom Bakheng temple

From Siem Reap, I headed back to Bangkok by bus for a day of getting bizarre on Ko Sahn Road (the backpacker ghetto) before heading back to Los Angeles on a 30 hour journey, which included an 11 hour layover in Seoul.  Made it back just in time for Christmas with the family.


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