Mary and I returned last night to Boston, a good 28 hours after we left Bangkok. The few days we spent in Chiang Mai were quiet and relaxing after our hard work. We did a walking tour of the city, which included some wats (Buddhist monasteries). There was one really cool wooden one; most are plaster covered. We got a Thai massage at the womenâ€™s prison, where the masseuses have been trained and are earning money to use after their release. We also went to several museums in the area. The north is known for itâ€™s ethnic diversity and is quite different than Bangkok. We did some shopping at the Sunday Night Market: many blocks of people selling everything from TV antennas to clothes, food, jewelry and crafts. We also happened upon what appeared to be a childrenâ€™s dance studio recital.
After a drawn-out overnight bus ride to Bangkok, we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was great to see another country in Southeast Asia to compare with Thailand. Siem Reap is much less developed than Thailand. I assume most of the country is, as well, because of the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s. One day our driver told us that nearly all the hotels have been built in the last 10 years. There is a major construction boom because the ruins of Angkor are gaining worldwide popularity.
The Angkor Empire was at its peak from about 900-1300, with nearly 1 million inhabitants in the area at the time. All that remain are stone temples and religious buildings, because only buildings for the gods were built in stone. We spent three days exploring the temples in the area; they were three amazing, hot, interesting days. Some of my favorite temples were Neak Pean, a temple with five ponds where pilgrims came to wash in holy water; Ta Phrom, a temple that was overtaken by trees and has not been restored (most other ruins were overrun with trees, but some have been restored);
Kbal Spean, where the bedrock of the river that feeds Angkor has been carved with religious figures; and Bayon, the main temple of the city of Angkor Thom, which has 216 faces looking down upon the monument and city.
It was really fun to explore small temples without the hundreds of tourists crowded around the most popular ruins. It was fascinating, too, to see which aspects of the most popular temples draw the tour groups. For example, there were about 500 Japanese tourists gathered in front of a famous bas-relief in the outer gallery of Angkor Wat. We walked about 50 meters to the next carving and there were only 10 people.
The visit to Angkor added another great dimension to the five weeks we were away. After getting back to Bangkok and spending three hours asleep in our hostel, we were back at the airport for our flights home.