08 July 2015

An Educational Visit to Siem Reap

Once a home-educating family, always a home-educating family.

In a family like mine, even vacation is prime time for learning opportunities, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, is full of chances to learn about culture and history.

About half of the family had been to Cambodia previously, but it was the first trip for five of us.

On our very first day, we were obviously eager to explore the Angkor Wat temple complex. We spent most of the day wandering in and around Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Bayon, Siem Reap

Bayon, Siem Reap

Angkor Thom, Siem Reap

Elephant Terrace, Siem Reap

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap

During our wanderings, we realized that we were somewhat lacking in knowledge about what all of the carved murals and statues were actually intended to represent. Because of this, we were very glad that we were able to visit the Angkor National Museum later in the week. At first, the $12 ticket price at the museum made us a little bit skeptical as to whether it would be worth it, but I was so glad that we went. The museum did a great job of explaining what Hindu and Buddhist statues are found in the area, along with how to recognize depictions of different deities in the ancient art. I now feel pretty confident in my ability to tell a Vishnu from an Indra from a Brahma. We also learned about the origin of the Apsara (in modern times, the Apsara Dance is practically required viewing if you are a typical tourist in Cambodia, although we didn't see it), and we can recognize a Naga when we see one. It was also interesting to read about the history surrounding the revered King Jayavarman VII and his wives and his influence on Cambodian history and religion. (You can tell the quality of the museum when it came to really teaching memorable facts when I tell you that I spelled King Jayavarman VII without even having to Google it!).

Siem Reap Killing Fields Memorial

Siem Reap Killing Fields Memorial

We also visited Siem Reap's Killing Fields Memorial at Wat Thmey, a sober memorial of the much more recent history of Cambodia. There is a building full of the bones of just some of those executed during the Khmer Rouge regime. It was heartbreaking to read the information presented at this memorial, and to see the photos presented from those years in Cambodian history, but at the same time, I'm glad to see a country being honest about its darkest days.

For further resources regarding Cambodian history and culture, we turned to our family library of books and movies. Various members of the family, depending on their interests, read To Destroy You is No Loss or Children of the River or watched The Killing Fields. The youngest few found our book on Silkworms, and read that with interest after visiting a silk farm during our trip.

It's difficult to know how to handle going on a vacation in a country still trying to recover from tragedy so devastating. It's heartening to see the fair trade shops popping up in Old Market alongside the dozens of shops selling identical, mass-produced cheap factory products. When visiting a temple, we walked past a primary school and I saw a small sign on the outside declaring, "The way to a brighter future is the education of children"-- a statement that I agree with, but one that is only partially being fulfilled in Cambodia due to the fact that many children are not in school, instead working to help meet their family's basic needs.

Brass Bangles from Sao Mao

One week isn't enough to learn all about Cambodia's history, culture, and present situation in the world. We barely made a few meager scratches in the surface, but others are more experienced and wiser than we and are impacting Cambodia for the better on a long-term basis. I'm grateful to hear of individuals and companies working to make a difference in their country, companies like Artisans D'Angkor and Sao Mao with their jewelry made out of recycled brass bullets.

We may just have said goodbye with one or two of our number contemplating the possibility of returning someday to work in Cambodia's education sector.
Anonymous said...

Wow! So cool! I'd love to visit and learn someday.

Unknown said...

I think it is always worth it to pay a little bit extra for tours to places like this. In other case, it would just be meaningless. Finding more about the culture and historic details is amazing. Glad you guys had a chance to experience that, and together!! So awesome!

Unknown said...

AMAZING PHOTOS! Cambodia is definitely one place I hope to visit before I die! So beautiful!

Unknown said...

Wonderful piece & great pictures!

Elle Sees said...

what a trip that I know your family will treasure for always! so many amazing experiences! love your tips about attending the museum as well as what you learned.

Daisy @ Simplicity Relished said...

I love your thoughts, Rachel. I've thought about visiting Cambodia many times (and hopefully it'll happen!), and I hope that I'll be able to learn as much as you did. The killing fields must have been so difficult to visit... a friend of mine is now doing Peace Corps in Cambodia and her passion is to help more Cambodians tell their story. Thanks for doing that here on your blog!

Tayler Morrell said...

I would absolutely LOVE to go to Cambodia!

Angela Tolsma said...

I love learning about different cultures and religions! I find guided tours while sometimes expensive is worth it just for the knowledge of the person! Love that you all are wearing matching shirts.

Julia said...

That is fascinating, sounds like such a cool trip! Love all of the pictures, it looks like such an incredible place!

Unknown said...

Yaaaaaayyyy Siem Reap. Oh man, I could have have hooked you guys up with my host uncle who's now a temple tour guide. Bayon is my favorite temple! My boss took a trip last year and brought be back a blessing bowl from artisans d'angkor and it's stunning, I'm so glad you plugged them.

TinseltownMom said...

Seems like such an interesting and educational vacation. So great the kids got to participate as well.

Marina @ Parental Journey said...

Wow, I am jealous, it looks amazing!

Suzanne said...

This looks amazing and interesting. Learning about the history always makes these kind of trips much more interesting.


Anita said...

Cambodia definitely on my bucket list. Great recap of your trip and amazing photos!

Ali Hval said...

That museum sounds right down my alley--I remember taking an Eastern Art History class that touched on Hindu and Buddhist structures and focused a lot on the tiny details and figures that would appear on particular buildings, plus a lot of symbols like wheels and animals. I loved that class to death, so I would definitely pay the $12 to learn even more. Art History gets me going, man.

Happiness at Mid Life said...

So beautiful! I love the group photo on the stars. Thank you for sharing more about Cambodia.


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