Ten Great Discoveries about Singapore & Siem Reap, Cambodia

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During our recent trip to these two enticing places we experienced a number of amazing things and had our eyes opened to sights we will never forget – the glitz and glamour of orderly, polite, uber-wealthy Singapore in stark contrast with the crumbling ruins of mysterious Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia set amid the poverty stricken, red dirt countryside  that surrounds that site.

Sometimes, however, it is the smaller discoveries on a trip that stick in your visual memories and linger in your heart and soul. My traveling companion and I are both artists and I am a writer – we cannot even comprehend how NOT to be visually oriented. We take thousands of pictures; we describe scenes, light, color, people and smells using a different vocabulary known only between the two of us…we store away ambience, mood, a fleeting happening there or a dialogue overheard here that will later fuel a painting or a paragraph in the book I am writing. We absorb everything, keeping it all in the loft of our minds for later use.

Here are ten things both large and small that impressed us, amid the hundreds of overwhelming experiences we had:

1) In the Singapore airport there is a special dimmed area of grouped reclining chairs for the purpose of giving travelers a place to sleep. Such a civilized, valuable addition…

2) In a different area there is a long table, supplied with free paper and crayons, where children and adults can do colorful rubbings of raised designs – perhaps a dozen or so  – in various Singapore-related images. It is easy, it is fun, and for weary travelers it is certainly a welcome change of pace.

3) All over Singapore on various street corners you will notice a lattice-roof area which shelters a sort of courtyard perhaps as large as your living room, with sturdy wires, arranged in a grid, hanging down about 20 inches with hooks on the end, and each hook is numbered. What could this possibly be, I ask ? Well of course these places are there for people’s caged household birds, so that they can enjoy an outdoor afternoon.

4) Do not go to Singapore without eating Chili Crab – it is messy, best eaten outdoors, perhaps at a restaurant along the water. Spend a long, leisurely amount of time for this dinner; it is an experience! Bring friends; keep ordering food.

5) Go to the Marina Bay Sands resort hotel in the city, have a cocktail on the top floor and take in the view, but sneak around to the infinity pool (that is  just for guests) – you must have a good look at it!  The pool is located on the top floor, visually losing its edge as you swim, and the top of this building, at closer glance, is the shape of a long, sleek ship balanced atop a logic-breaking skyscraper in three sections. It is the iconic image one remembers of Singapore.

6) Siem Reap is a short flight from Singapore to the sweltering interior of Cambodia.You are transported to another time and place. Hit your re-set button and dial it down a bit so that you can understand and appreciate the wonderful people there and what their brutal recent history has dealt them. Buy things – they depend upon tourism and they have lovely silver jewelry. Talk with the people – they are hungry for information from the outside world.

7)  If you are not faint of heart get yourself an authentic Cambodia massage. Lovely wafer-thin young women who cannot weight more than 70 lbs will walk on you, pull your limbs until you fear they will come off, bend and twist you like a pretzel and give your muscles a wake-up call the likes of which you have never experienced.

8) The most expensive restaurants in Siem Reap are not necessarily the best – you can have a gourmet Cambodian meal for about $12-15 per person, beautifully presented and delicious. The fruits and vegetables are delightful.

9) Do not spend less than two days touring Angkor Wat – if you do you will miss a lot and you will not be getting all the history and information you need in order to comprehend the vast importance of the ruins. It could not have been possible to construct such an enormous complex of temples and buildings were it not for the 40,000 elephants who hauled the stone.

10) Embrace the immense curiosity evident everywhere you go for the United States. People crave conversation – they want to understand you, where you live, what it is like there and why you came. You will love the people.

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Weekly Photo Challenged – ENVELOPED

tree roots

Enveloped in tree roots: a temple entrance at the mysterious 12th century Angkor Wat, photographed 2 weeks ago in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The 3 days we spent exploring these enigmatic ruins was the highlight of our trip. The tree roots are invasive to such a degree that huge blocks of stone are jostled around like Lego blocks; the tree is peculiar in the fact that it grows from the top down, gaining the moisture it needs from the rocks it crawls upon rather than the ground underneath.

copyright Jo Ann Brown-Scott, 2015

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat…the moat, the mist and the mystery

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Today I am drunk from travel; jet lagged with brain fogginess. My appetite yells HUNGRY at all the wrong times and I am tired when I need to be awake. It required an entire 24 hours of travel to return home to the USA from time spent in Singapore and Siem Reap, Cambodia. I will be like this for a couple days.

My photos prove Angkor Wat was not a dream. I was indeed there, glistening with sweat from the unwavering heat, walking the powdery red dirt path up to the bridge that crosses the ancient moat surrounding Angkor Wat. Then, for several days,  experiencing a silent other-worldly shadow of a former civilization; a place where people lived and loved and laughed; a place where 40,000 elephants walked the same stone paths I walk as they built the city; a place crumbling from the insistent destruction of time and massive trees roots that meander along moving gargantuan blocks of stone as if they were legos. These were a people who appreciated the beauty of intricately carved stone – story-telling daily life in sculpture of meticulous detail – revealing subtle expressions on faces and costumes of fabric, folded and wrapped on dancing women, working elephants and animals, flowers, and gods and goddesses both evil and benevolent of spirit. Constant renovation is a given – it goes on and on  through the donations of other countries who care – as walls continue to collapse and the monsoons roar in hell bent on destruction.

One favorite of mine was a deep, dark stone room whose interior walls are covered in precisely spaced Ping-Pong ball sized holes; hinting that its walls were once embedded with giant gemstones so as to catch the sun’s rays from a tiny slice in the stone and light the darkness with multi-colored reflections.  Then another smaller stone room where we are told by our extraordinary guide, An Rachna of Cambodian Trails, that in spite of what might seem perfect conditions for acoustics, no human voice or music will echo there – but if you thump your chest over your heart seven times the deep heart-sound will indeed “echo” when you stop, seven times, reverberating in various intensities according to the stress level of your soul. And it worked. Angkor Wat is one discovery after another, each raising another group of questions in your mind – what happened here? Why did these intelligent people die? How could the site possibly have gone undiscovered for so long? It is an enigma wrapped in mystery…you almost feel that you know the people after two or three solid days of tracking their lives.

The contemporary people of Siem Reap will welcome you. They have melancholy eyes and joyful smiles. They are kind, helpful and eager to please. They spend time with you in conversations that go deeper than trivial inquiries about how you are today and where you are from – they hang onto your every word with a genuine curiosity about where exactly you are from in the USA and what it looks like there – how do you manage to get all the way up to your mountain home in the Colorado Rockies? What is snow like? They do not want you to leave without keeping the door open for your return. Cambodia is still, quite literally, maimed, mangled and war-torn from the days of the Khymer Rouge; land mines are a large concern, and the unspeakable atrocities toward the Cambodian people are evident everywhere you go. In rural communities fresh well water is becoming less rare thanks to donations from private individuals and countries, but still in short supply. A water well can be purchased for just about $100 and there are many organizations worldwide who will handle a donation for you – one well can supple several families who live near each other. The children are tiny, also in great need of better nutrition, and milk for babies and toddlers is scarce. We were able to spend hours of time driving the countryside, visiting and smiling with families and children, watching them cook lunch for the family along the winding dirt roadside.

This series about our trip to Cambodia in 2015 will continue…..probably for the remainder of my life. I would love to take you along.

Please visit http://www.cambodiantrails.com to learn about guides in Siem Reap.