After arriving in Siem Reap we transferred to the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort. The resort is lovely and would be our home for three days as we explored the ancient community of Angkor Wat. The hotel is open and airy filled with teak wood, beautiful grounds and luxurious rooms. After relaxing in the bar for an hour we called it an early night as we had a full day ahead of us.
We rose early and after breakfast headed out to Angkor Thom. The ancient city of Angkor Thom means “Great City” in Khmer and was founded in the 12th century. The temple complex is four square miles and surrounded by a large moat and has five entrances that lead up to the Bayon Temple that is located at the center of the complex. Here you will find intricately carved sculptures that reflect the glory of the Khmer Empire. Our exploration included the Banyon Temple as well as the Elephant Terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King. These terraces were elaborately decorated nearly life sized images carved into the sandstone walls and were used by the Khmer kings to inspect the troops, welcome dignitaries and view various parades and processions.
A short drive away from Angkor Thom is Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is truly a temple within the jungle. Built in the late 12th century, Ta Phrom was a Buddhist monastery and university that at one point was maintained by over 80,000 attendants including 18 high priests..Ancient Banyan and Kapok trees are one with the ruins and really evoke the feelings of what 19th century explorers must have experienced when visiting Cambodia. Movie goers can get a glimpse of the complex as the film Laura Croft Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie, was filmed here.
After lunch at the hotel we continued our journey to Bantey Srei. This remote temple complex is also known as the citadel of women and was founded in the second half of the 10th century. The exquisitely carved red sandstone complex contains ornate shrines dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction.
After leaving Bantrey Srei we travelled about 30 minutes to ODA Village. ODA Village is a school which houses 33 students, both boys and girls, ranging from 6 to 16 years old. AMA Waterways proudly supports and sponsors them. ODA Village was founded by a man named Leng. As a child he witnessed his father being killed by the Khmer Rouge. He was fortunate to be reunited with his aunt and uncle but witnessed so many orphans and starving street children. In an effort to give back he founded ODA. ODA stands for Opportunities of Development through Art. ODA currently has seven locations and helps underprivileged children attend government schools. Their goal is to develop children’s confidence, provide computer training and teach English to children from remote areas that otherwise would not otherwise have the opportunity.
As we arrived we were treated to a play out on by the students followed by a tour proudly led by the students themselves. The twenty girls share one room and the thirteen boys share the other room. The rooms are remarkedly organized and the beds made. The older girls take care of the younger girls and the older boys take care of the younger boys. In addition to their studies the children help cook and do laundry. There is a study room and a computer room as well as a room for the kids the paint and draw. It’s amazing that with all of the struggles and tragedy the everyone has hope for the future and works hard to achieve success.
After a full day we decided to explore a little more of Siem Reap and had reservations at a restaurant called Touiche. The restaurant picked us up at the hotel to take us to the restaurant. It’s a good thing they did. While the restaurant was close the roads were dark, narrow and really bumpy. It was another wild ride! The restaurant was fabulous. It was family owned restaurant that was started about eight years ago. The open air building was intimate and the atmosphere was relaxing. We sampled a number of appetizers including the spring rolls and a beef and bean dish . Our entrees included Amok fish, chicken curry, fresh salmon and Khmer steak. The food was simply amazing.
After dinner we called it an early night as the next day we would experience Angkor Wat at Sunrise!