Impressions of Vietnam & Cambodia
The Temples and Pagodas of Cambodia:
Angkor Wat, our bucket-list destination is an impressive temple with its many towers and its extensive galleries with walls of bas relief’s honoring long-ago battles and celestial dancers reflecting both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Yet it was just one of many Cambodian temples and pagodas we visited. Six other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are smaller and equally interesting. Ta Prohm, a temple overrun with massive tree roots reminded me of fake ruins on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, while Bantay Srei’s detailed and delicately carved bas reliefs, and carved monkey guards were captivating. The four faces of Buddha at the Bayon Temple were upstaged by two elephants with red blankets, saddles and passengers lumbering nearby. Tickets to all are purchased at a many-windowed ticket office reminiscent of Disney World. The crowds, performances of musicians and dancers, and even a hot-air balloon reflected the Disneyfication of the real thing.
We were even more impressed by the beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas in Phnom Penh and in villages along the Mekong River. The Silver Pagoda on the Royal Temple Grounds with its tiered dragon rooflines gilded with gold and silver, as well as the palace itself were impressive. Stupas, elaborate carved towers for the cremated remains of the dead, were everywhere. Especially impressive was the gold-gilded carvings on a stupa in front of a modern glass building. Every village had its own pagoda with a Buddha facing the river. The village pagodas also had a line of fruit/vegetable sculptures.
The biggest surprise was the vibrancy, friendliness and enthusiasm of the Cambodian people, especially the children, who were everywhere. A visit with elementary school children was a highlight. We demonstrated the diversity of English, with British, Aussie, Canadian and American accents from our fellow travelers and showed the children on maps and globes where we lived. Many wanted to become Doctors.
Motor scooters are the substitute for cars throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia: many more than we see even in DeLand’s Bike Week rally. They are ridden by women, men and whole families. They carry buckets, baskets, and construction materials. Sidewalks are scooter parking lots. Most of the riders wear face masks, not to protect from pollution, but from sun, since white skin is a status symbol.
Throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia, are reminders of French Indo-China rule: yellow buildings with red roofs, which include most public buildings such as schools, city halls, post offices, prisons [including the infamous Maison Central (Hanoi HIlton)] and Phnom Penh’s domed Central Market. French baguettes, pastries, and cafes are other reminders of French rule.