Siem Reap

January 10

In the Hands of Touts


After cruising to the Cambodian border in our hired car, we delivered ourselves into the hands of touts, hoping money led the way. We felt a bit like smuggled goods as we were passed from tout to tout and cash was exchanged between them. Amazingly, the connections were clicking like Clockwork Orange..efficient but troubling. Arrival in Siem Reap in the dark, down an alley added to the unnerving passage but out of the blackness emerged Borann L’Auberge da Temple hotel personnel, who grabbed our bags, handed us fruit juice and lead us off to our spacious bungalow.

Starving, we walked along the dim streets (pulling out our small LED lights for direction), and sat right down in the first “romantic” spot we could find. We were underdressed but we owned the moment. White table cloths reflected the lanterns’ glow from the trees of the courtyard.


Sweet memories lingered on the walk to the hotel…until I got food poisoning, flushing away impurities so that I could approach Angkor Wat with a clear mind and purged body. Nothing was going to keep me from my seeing a Wonder of the World, so I girded up my loins and caught our ride early the next morning.

Borann Hotel (L’Auberge des Temples)



January 11

My what Big Lips you Have

Our strategy to approach Angkor Wat – stay ahead of the bus loads of tourists…or at least work around them otherwise you are doomed to view the Wonder of the World along awkward sight lines at skewed angles.

The huge carved heads at the Bayon of Angkor Thom can take your breath away and completely distracted from any alimentary canal concerns.


The bridge across the moat with demons and gods grabbing the body of Naga like tug-of-war contestants and Naga’s many cobra heads rising up above you…all this can hush any inner cynic (even though the whole scene did resemble the state my intestines with demons twisting every which way).

Walking among the massive sculpted heads, one must contemplate the  enigmatic smiles that faced the universe years before Mona Lisa and Angeline Jolie. I was seduced by the carved rock of luscious lips.


Jolie put her lips and other parts of her body into action at Ta Prohm, the temple where trees have sought out rock crevices, squeezing between cut boulders and twisting temple walls. Since both Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider used Ta Prohm as a set, the surge of photo snapping tourists is overwhelming but we did find a niche to ourselves..for a moment. In one small stone room, sound can resonate. Bringing my best Gorilla syncopated chest thumps to the space, learned in the Rawandan Mountains of the Moon, I beat a rhythm to echo through the ages. OK so I may have looked like an idiot but if Angeline can tromp around in lascivious outfits at this sacred site, I could pound my narrow chest with gusto

January 12

Thelma makes an appearance in Preah Ko

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExploring the ruins of Preah Ko, I looked over the shoulder of our guide and was entranced by a little girl doing her addition on a slate while her mom (a temple worker) looked on. Once she had finished, I asked permission to use her slate to draw a cartoon character, Thelma the fish who I drew to life years ago during a Ravenna Creek Daylighting campaign in Seattle. During an academic design charette, I, as resident cartoonist, drew Thelma to life wandering through sloughs, across mall parking lots, down grocery store aisles to reach the Ravenna headwaters.   Now here she was bringing a smile to a Cambodian girl, if only for brief moments until the slate was needed for multiplication again.


Handling the chalk though was a grim reminder of a story from a Cambodian acquaintance at home, who had survived the Killing Fields by making chalk. When offered the job he had no idea how to make chalk…but he was desperate enough to invent a method that used rice water. By ordering the necessary ingredient, rice, he was able to fend off starvation and keep the Khmer Rouge satisfied.

These images disturbed a quiet, sunny corner of the temple.


At Bakong, beneath the guarding stone elephants, a library building was held together with cables secured with Crosby Clips. Probably imitation (the patent ran out years ago) but none the less, Crosby Clip in design. I am sure great grandfather Oliver Crosby would be amused that his industrial product was still in use holding up sacred sites.


Multitudes were crossing the moat at Angkor Wat, and it was easy to be swept up in the frenzy of the mob. We stepped out of the current, and took in the immensity before being pulled back in and then up the steep stairway to heaven and the upper tier. Late afternoon light warmed the swelling female figures in almost every stone niche. Tourists posed for photo-ops, and many subjects also swelled from obesity.


Descending to the sculpted murals that wrap around the temple you can become absorbed in the Mahabharata and Ramayana, Suryavamann leading expeditions or Krishna riding Garuda. Like a large scroll, the story is unveiled in a linear style at the rate determined by the observer’s desire. Some stone shines like copper in the setting sun, touched by devote fingers…or culturally inconsiderate tourists. The moment of judgement by Yama, where the dead are either sent to 37 heavens or 32 hells seemed to parallel Dante’s Inferno in its grim harkening of the afterlife. The horrific images must have provoked nightmarish fevers of self-reflection among the believers. Not to dwell on the macabre, we joined the masses headed out for the sunset photo op.

We found quiet moments on the less traveled north wall and as the light faded we headed to the east side for a more personal appreciation of Angkor Wat’s silhouette set against the reddish hues of crepuscular light. Our guide performed a spontaneous rap song with my cowboy hat on. Walking back in the dark along a ledge suspended between heaven and earth, I heard only cicadas creating a fearsome, throbbing pulse and monks droning chants broadcast from the forest edge.

Candles lit our hotel lobby and bungalow with electricity out, making for one enchanting evening.


January 13

Darkness and the Divine


Stepping quietly with other early morning temple gazers, we moved across the giant stone pavers guided by flashlights towards Angkor Wat. Others moved to spots to catch the rising sun, while we headed further towards the temple steps drawn by faint chanting. Lights out, we sat in pitch dark listening to the four voices and there insistent, repetitive intonations. At first light, the female monks drew away, the spell was broken so we set our sights on the perfect photo op by the pond. The sacred and the profane moments were packed into a very tight schedule.



A museum in Siem Reap finally put things in proper perspective. We might have been in better shape if we had started out here to understand the Hindu cosmology. A great room of sculpted heads and multi-faced Shivas were close enough to allow me to check out the carving technique. A display of period style changes in the sculpting of clothing folds and wraps lent clues for placing pieces in specific eras and locations.



Brunch at The River Garden, and we passed a studio of travelers taking art lessons. Ants were consuming muffins but the eggs and other pastries were delicious. Another gallery #1961 on River Road, showcased a woman’s portraits of herself draped in voluminous yards of red fabric standing in Cambodian fields, and on city streets. A far cry from Pol Pot and the horrors during the Khmer Rouge regime.