By now, I am sure that you have forgotten the details of our arrival in Hanoi. To give you just the important facts, I will remind you that we waited for a very long time to receive our visas, even though the group visa application form had been mailed from Israel and it was approved in Hanoi and mailed back to Israel, and even though we all filled out the required forms and attached relevant photos (relevant being the kindest adjective I can think of for passport photos, but I digress.) While all this was happening, I asked if we had to fill out any other forms. I seemed to remember a form that we needed to hand over as we entered the country even though by then we had our visas. At first I was told yes, we must fill it out and so I asked for the appropriate number of forms. Then I was told, no, we really didn’t need it. We all got through passport control and then waited a very long time to have all of the lost baggage forms filled out. Only after that did we leave the airport.
“Well, what’s the relevance?” you might ask. As well you should.
At the time we were leaving Vietnam via the airport at Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)/ Saigon, we checked in at the desk, got our boarding passes and proceeded to security and passport control. About half the group had gone through and I purposely waited to be the last in case there was any problem. It was a good thing. For first one and then another of the people in our group had been stopped and asked for the form that we had never filled out which should have been stamped at entry. Of course the fact that half the group had gotten through without it made me certain that this was not an insurmountable difficulty. One of the passengers was very concerned. “Suppose they never let me out of Vietnam…” Um, right. I said, “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.”
I may have mentioned that my Vietnamese consists of thank you and Pho? (and Pho doesn’t come in handy all that much.) But still I realized that anything is possible if one believes it is. (Well, not anything but this should be). I told all of the people who were not allowed out to come to my line and I picked the kindest looking clerk. I pointed to my yellow hat and said, “I am the leader. We entered Vietnam without filling out any forms, but we all have visas. We have no forms to give you.” I am pretty certain that he didn’t understand one word of what I was saying, but he smiled and nodded his head and he allowed everyone through.
And so finally we were on our way to Cambodia.
Cambodia is an amazing country. If China farms out its work to Vietnam where workers are paid less, then Vietnam farms out its work to Cambodia where there is real poverty. Vietnam is a country on the move. The educational system is constantly improving and children are encouraged to study and achieve. Cambodia is not there yet.
Of course Cambodia is still reeling from its years under the Khmer Rouge when an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians were killed or died as a result of the cruelty of their own people. This was at a time when the entire population of Cambodia was only about 7 million. The country suffered such trauma that it is only this past year that the first trial of a Khmer Rouge officer commenced. There was debate as to whether the trial should be held because of the issues of retraumatizing the population.
But arriving in Cambodia, one sees green fields and blue skies and people with sweet demeanor and once there, one falls in love with the country.
We stayed at the Apsara Hotel, on the main road from the airport to the city, not far from the temples of Angkor. After a lovely dinner in the garden overlooking the pool, we all went to sleep and bright and early the next morning, we headed out to Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat means the temple of Angkor. It is only one of many temples built from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries. It is perhaps the largest and certainly the most well known. In fact, it is the only building that appears on its nation’s flag.
To say that it is impressive is an understatement.
We had a very nice local guide, but he didn’t seem to understand that hearing the story of the Battle of Lanka in excruciating detail was not necessarily our cup of tea. It did, however, provide excellent background for understanding the multitude of bas reliefs that decorated the temple. If the construction of the temple itself had not been impressive, and believe me, it is astounding, the bas reliefs alone would have made the visit mid-boggling. They are intricate and they go on forever.
And here is a look at the intricacy of the construction
It took 37 years to build Angkor Wat– which is an amazingly short time considering its size and intricacy. However, there are some who estimate that about 300,000 workmen were engaged in building it! More info is available here.
Sorry I didn’t get around to Angkor Thom, but that’s for the next time. OK?