Thursday, November 21: The Bassman and Sally’s final tour

We’ve taken more than a few tours during this trip. But you know that; you’ve been reading all of these posts. Each place had a guide:

Bangkok – Moo

Chiang Mai – June

Luang Prabang – Oudune

Hanoi – Sunny

Ginger – Minh (Minny Minn)

Saigon- Thuy, Henry

Jahan – Tri

Phnom Penh – (we don’t remember, and don’t want to)

Siem Reap – Sunny; The Professor (at Angkor Wat)

But today was the final tour. Sunny, our guide here in Siem Reap, picked us up to go see the “other” temples here. While Angkor Wat is massive almost beyond comprehension, and also in pretty good shape for an 800 year old structure in this climate, the other sites are all ruins.

The Bassman and Sally go to temple(s), November 2019

I mentioned that Angkor Wat was less crowded than we expected, perhaps just because of its scale. But the sites today were more crowded. There were allegedly more than 1,000 temples in the Siem Reap area. Most of them were abandoned over the centuries. We went to visit a few of the more interesting ones (1).

Tourists?, November 2019

And as always, there were monks. And tour groups.

Miles of smiles, November 2019

The architects were pretty amazing. They would design these structures with repeating elements – figures, towers, columns – that visually line up. This helps to create the beauty that must have once been here.

Angelina was here, November 2019

One of the ruins, Ta Prohm (the so-called Banyan Temple), was used in a scene in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. There’s a scene where she stands by a particular root system, and there were hordes of women lining up (2) to have their picture taken where Angelina Jolie stood.

After we finished the temples, we asked Sunny to drive us through Siem Reap proper. We have a walking tour of the city scheduled on Saturday, but weren’t sure if it was worthwhile. So we drove around for about 15 minutes and decided we would cancel the tour. The rest of the day was in the pool, lounging in the shade, eating a couple of meals and watching another sunset from the bar.


(1) According to Sunny.

(2) It wasn’t really a line, more of a mob crush. Sort of like getting on the subway at rush hour. We didn’t even think about getting a picture.

Thursday, November 7: Cruise to the caves

Thursday started early. Really early. While we’ve had to set alarm clocks any number of times on this trip to ensure that we got our included-in-the-price breakfast before a morning tour, today we were to see the monks walk asking for alms. And provide them with said alms. This is an 800 year old tradition whereby devotees and now tourists place sticky rice in bowls carried by the monks. This provides food for the monks (although they have other food as well) and, at least for the devotees, shows respect for the monks.

A young monk collects sticky rice from Sally, November 2019

So we arose at 5:00, met our host at the front of the hotel at 5:30, and sat on cushions he had placed along the street in front of the hotel with bowls of sticky rice. We had to don sashes properly wrapped around us. About 40 monks passed us in four or five groups (1). While I got the picture above, I was mostly busy digging handfuls of rice out of my baskets to drop into the bowls carried by the monks. Also, it was still before sunrise, and pretty dark (2). Most of the images I shot didn’t come out.

By 6:15 we were back in our room house. Sally went back to sleep, while I caught up on the blog.

Taking the kids to school, November 2019

We had a late breakfast and then I walked into town to see what it looks like during the day, with no guide, and no night market. It’s a pretty sleepy town. There are extremely few regular cars here. Traffic in town and the surrounding area is dominated by motorbikes and tuk tuks. The tuks here are different than those we saw in Thailand. At least in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, they are used for short trips and mostly by tourists. Here they’re a major form of transportation, and so they are bigger and more robust.

Our Captain & crew, November 2019

Our main activity for the day was a river cruise on the Mekong. We really had no idea what to expect other than sitting in a boat all afternoon with our guide and having some snacks while we looked at the scenery and made of couple of stops. I think we were both a bit afraid that we would be uncomfortable in the hot sun and bored. It turns out we were anything but uncomfortable, and we weren’t bored either.

The Mekong Queen, November 2019 (3)

The boat was a big surprise. It was extremely long and narrow for its length, and setup up to accommodate maybe six guests. We, of course, were only two. There were two king-sized day beds separated by a bar and serving station. We were outnumbered by the waiter, the captain and our guide.

Dove Mountain, November 2019

The scenery was beautiful. We’re just at the end of the rainy season, so everything is still lush and green. And with the boat moving and creating a breeze, and being shaded from the sun by the roof and some clouds, the temperature was about perfect.

Whiskeytown, November 2019

We made two stops. The first was a little village where they distill whiskey, which was cute. The second, our endpoint, was a cave where 2,000 Buddhas sit looking down (4).

River life: even monks have to work sometimes, November 2019

Along the way we saw that the Mekong is still a river where some people have not moved into the 21st century.

Stairway to wisdom, November 2019

The last stop was a pair of caves which rise above the river which house hundreds (5) of Buddhas, reportedly placed there by local villagers over hundreds of years. The lower cave is a couple of steep flights up, and the upper cave is a couple of hundred steep steps up.

Billions of Buddhas, November 2019

We just visited the lower, which contains most of the Buddhas (6).

Afternoon catering, November 2019

The cruise home was peaceful. In fact, the current was strong enough that the captain slowed down so we wouldn’t get home too early – this was supposed to be a sunset cruise. But we enjoyed our afternoon snacks (7). Unfortunately, the sky clouded over before sunset so it just got dark.


(1) There are more than 1,000 monks in Luang Prabang.

(2) 1/13s, f/1.8, ISO 3200 dark.

(3) Not really it’s name, which was written in Lao script. Which I can’t read.

(4) Buddha’s eyes are almost always shown looking down as he meditates.

(5) Our guide said there are thousands. I’m not sure that’s true, nor am I sure about the provenance of the statues. The information I can find all seems pretty sketchy.

(6) Apparently the local villagers are no more energetic than we are.

(7) There was enough food that Sally didn’t need dinner.