Photos by Amanda Nguyen, (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) Student Correspondent CET Vietnam, Fall 2018
As part of a curriculum focusing on development in Southeast Asia, we were able to visit Siem Reap, Cambodia to witness development and Southeast Asian history firsthand for a weekend. During our first night, we watched a show by the Phare Circus, where performers use theater, dance, and modern circus to tell uniquely Cambodian stories. Proceeds go to Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO school that offers a free and formal education, professional arts training, and social support programs to local communities.
Our second day was filled with tours of beautiful temples, delicious Khmer food, and many learning opportunities. The first location we visited was Angkor Thom, the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. Entering the city, we crossed a bridge that was lined with statues of demons on one side and with statues of gods on the other, both lines holding a Naga, a seven-headed serpent. After the abandonment of the city, thieves would lop off the heads of figures to sell. Thus, many figures we saw had new reconstructed heads.
The first temple we visited inside Angkor Thom was the Bayon temple. The temple is known for the 216 large faces on the temples towers facing each direction, representing the bodhisattva of compassion and King Jayavarman VII of the early 13th century.
The second temple we visisted, and my favorite, was the Ta Phrom temple. After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, the temple was abandoned and neglected for centuries, resulting in many trees to grow within temple structures.
The interior of the temple is in the process of being restored, as many roots of trees are causing stuctures to fall. Lining the walkways, many fallen bricks are classified by different numbers so that those restoring the temple know where to put them.
We visited Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious monuments in the world, during sunset. Its grandeur and incredible classical Khmer architecture has made it the symbol of Cambodia, even making an appearance on Cambodia’s national flag.
During sunset, the sun illuminates the Northeast and makes the buildings look like they are made from gold.
On our second day, we took a boat to visit Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Southeast Asia.
Floating villages line the canal leading up to the lake and on the lake itself, depending on the natural resources that the lake provides. We visited a school for the Vietnamese children, where we made donations of toys, notebooks, and pencils.
We had free time during the afternoon, where many of us wandered the markets at the center of the city. The streets are lined with Tuk Tuks, a main way of transporation for travelers. A must-visit spot is Blue Pumpkin, CET Vietnam’s Program Coordinator’s favorite ice cream store.