Sni Bong — Dengue Fever

This is Dengue Fever. A pretty awesome underground group out of LA. They sing an eclectic style of music based on the pre-Khmer Rouge 70s era Pop Scene in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The lead singer is the gorgeous Chhom Nimol. She’s a hip little hottie from Cambodia. Most of the lyrics are sung in Khmer.

This song is called Sni Bong. The whole album pretty much grooves right along with this track.

I love this video. It gives you a sense of what Cambodia feels like when you are trekking through the ruins and trolling the bars and discotheques at night in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap or Sihanoukville. I recognize some of the scenery from places that I’ve visited in Cambodia.

The rest of the album is:

1. We Were Gonna

2. Sni Bong

3. Tip My Canoe

4. Tap Water

5. Sleepwalking through the Mekong

6. One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula

7. Excape from Dragon House

8. Made of Steam

9. Lake Delores

10. Saran Wrap

11. Hummingbird

bonus track: Revenge of the Tarantula remix

The whole album is pretty awesome. Like slipping into a different time and place. I can feel Cambodia when I listen to these tunes. It’s a great feeling.

Angkor Thom — The Bayon Temple

Angkor Thom is a huge Complex that includes a series of gates with Buddha facing in the four directions, the Hall of the Leper King, the Elephant Terrace and Bayon. Bayon is the primary temple of the Angkor Thom complex. The first thing you notice when you approach the Bayon Temple is the faces on it’s towers. The 200 faces of the Lokesvara which is (and I’m simplifying the concept here a bit) the Compassionate Buddha. There must be hundreds staring back at you. Looking out in every direction actually. All smiling. Welcoming. Enchanting. Captivating all who gaze upon them. Beckoning the visitors to come for a closer look. The walls of Angkor are covered with bas-relief depicting tales of war and heroism and everyday life of the Khmer. There are also tales from Khmer and Hindu mythology. The walls of Bayon speak to the history and beleifs of the Khmer people. Their mythology. Their lives. Who they were and who they have become as a civilization.

One of the wonders of Angkor Thom is the visitors ability to explore. Angkor Thom is a huge complex with many structures and much jungle territory to explore if you are adventurous enough. It’s as if you are Indiana Jones or Lara Croft in search of ancient treasures and artifacts. Much as Indie and the Tombraider braved the elements, you will likewise battle heat exhaustion, sunburn, torrential downpours, dehydration and most of all the crowds of tourists in order to catch an inspirational glimpse and be awe stricken by these ancient and eternal monuments to Khmer civilization. The best time to view Bayon is early morning. 5 or 6 A.M. As the sun breaks the horizon and turns to gold the beautiful smiling faces on the towers. Sunset is a wonder to behold on the steps of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. These are cherished memories. One will never forget. These are moments and vistas that defy description.  Getting out early will not only let you beat the heat and sun but the thousands of tourists who will be out a few hours later.  2nd best time to catch any of the monuments is Noon when most of the tour groups are taking a lunch break.

Jayavarman VII established the Angkor Thom in the late 12th century. It was the last great city of the Angkorean Khmer. Thankfully, when the Ayutthayan centered kingdom of Siam conquered the area, they did not destroy everything and left us these beautiful Khmer monuments to awe and inspire us for ages to come.

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Temple Club/Apsara Fusion Jam

Same video footage as before. But I felt like adding some modern music. This is Vanessa Mae‘s re-interpretation of Cream’s I Feel Free. Vanessa Mae is a sexy little uber-talented Thai-Chinese Fusion/Classical Violinist. She does some good stuff. Updated, fresh interpretations of classical, folk and pop as well as original work.

Check it out and tell me what you think of this version.

This is the lovely Vanessa Mae:

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The Temple Club and Apsara

The first time I visited Cambodia, I went with a small tour group. I flew alone from Bangkok to Phnom Penh and met up with my guide at the Airport. In Phnom Penh (P-nom Pen), it was me and the guide. He drove me around Phnom Penh. We stopped took photos of the various sites there. The National Museum. The Silver Pagoda and National Palace. Wat Phnom. After my tour of Phnom Penh, I was driven for 4 hours to Sihanoukville where I overnighted. I spent that night with an Irish guy and 5 Cambodian gals drinking beer with ice in a Karaoke Bar that doubles as a Brothel. The next day–early, my guide picks me up at the Inn and takes me back to Phnom Penh for the flight to Siem Reap and my first visit to Angkor Wat and it’s 1,000 Apsara.

I arrive in Siem Reap and am taken to the Angkor Sokha Hotel. It’s an incredible hotel with 4 bars and a swimming pool with a 20 foot waterfall. I get about 4 hours to hang out and do as I please so I get the hotel Tuk Tuk to take me to the local market. I like to buy a Buddha statue from each country that I visit in Asia. (I must have over 50 Buddhas by now.) Later that night, I’m picked up by the tour guide. We are joined by two German gals. We are taken to a Dinner Theatre and I see my first Apsara dance show. I like to think that I’m an artsy type. I can enjoy a bit of culture with the best of them. The Apsara. I loved it. Absolutely. Beautiful Costumes and gorgeous, spritely Cambodian women dancing and moving about gracefully on stage.

Since then, I’ve seen several iterations and interpretations of the dances. The video shows the Temple Club Apsara show. It last about 90 minutes. I find it fascinating. I can watch it all night. There are many dances showing various aspects of Khmer mythology and life. My favorite, though, is the mermaid dance. It is also called Khmer Classical Dance. Khmer Dance of the Ancient Style is the official Cambodian title.

The Apsara, in mythology, are minor deities who entertained the Gods. They were also caretakers of mythological heroes. Their province was gaming and gambling. So if you wanted to win and win big, you’d better have these gals on your side. They were sky dancers, river dancers. Like the Greek sirens, they lured men to their deaths. They cared for Khmer heroes at the behest of the Gods. They were lovers. They brought with them favor and intrigue. You can read of them in the Hindu texts of the Rigveda and the Mahabharata. An interesting note on costume. The original Apsara of the court danced topless. Unfortunately, they do not use this practice in Siem Reap today.

I’ll be going back to Cambodia in either February or June/July. I have a Sony HD digicam now. So when I go back I’m going to record the Apsara in High Definition. I’ll post it here. You can see here well enough. There are better shows. Better productions of the Apsara. We saw the Cambodian National Opera dancers in an open air theatre on one visit to Siem Reap. There was a Korea/Cambodian friendship Expo in town. My batteries died on me that day so I couldn’t get them on video.

Needless to say, I think this is one of the most beautiful dances that I’ve seen anywhere. I find it utterly fascinating. On my second trip to Phnom Penh, I met a former Apsara dancer. Srey Neang. She had broken her arm and could no longer make the hand and arm movements. She loved seeing the shows and it was nice to have someone to interpret the dance for us.

Apsara dance as seen in Cambodia today is said to have originated during the Khmer civilizations in the 800s to the latter part of the 13oos. At that time, the Khmer were conquered by the peoples of what is today Thailand. Thailand was known as the Kingdom of Siam. Khmer and Southeast Asian cultural experts

Khmer people, in general, love this dance and the stories and mythology behind it. Pol Pot, monstrosity that he was, attempted to end the tradition by murdering all Apsara dancers and teachers. I can’t imagine why someone would want to erase from human memory such a beautiful tradition. The monstrous ideals of communism. Thankfully, it survived. Khmer girls start studying the dance as early as age 4. There are dance troups that girls can join at very young age. Of the shows that I have seen, I would say that the girls on stage range in age from 14 to 26.

Enjoy the video. I have always enjoyed seeing the shows live. I hope this gives you at least a glimmer of the joy that visiting Siem Reap and seeing the Apsara has given me. If you ever get the chance…

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The Children of the Khmer


Cambodia is probably the poorest country that I have visited. It’s much more of a backwater than even Afghanistan. Their only industry is the silk trade. Silk crafts such as scarves, table cloths, clothing, etc. Not much else in the way of industry. Handicrafts such as statuary. Precious and semi-precious gems. Tourism must be one of the, if not the, largest industry for Cambodia. Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Siem Reap are the primary destinations of most tourists. Eco-tourism in the more remote areas for the more adventurous souls. It’s a country stricken with extreme poverty. High illiteracy rates. High birth rates. High crime.

A great part of the tourist industry is Siem Reap and the Angkor Temple Complex. Within this complex and in the three major cities of Cambodia, the children are exploited in order to make money off of the sympathies of tourists. It works. These are children of the Khmer. The children of Cambodia. The children of Angkor. Some. They’re simply adorable. You want to pick them up and hug them and make it all better someway. Anyway. Some will annoy the hell out of you. They’ll make you want to scratch your eyes out. Scream at the top of your lungs for them to get away. So many I wanted to adopt. Take home to my Momma or Sister to give them a good home. I have come to believe that every child deserves a good home. Children deserve a chance. These children are severely handicapped. Not physically. Socially. Economically. In many cases, emotionally. They didn’t ask to be born. But birthed they were. Brought into existence in a world of abject poverty and near hopelessness. My heart went out to these children. Many of whom are loving, adorable, huggable. Eminently lovable. You’ll see just what I mean in the above video.

Most, if not all, of the children seen here work from 7 or 730 AM to 9 or 10 PM. I’ve seen some of them out with their mothers begging or selling food ’til 1 AM. Not the life for a child. When do they get to just be children?

Another strange experience for me were the “beggar costumes.” The faux beggars. It must happen elsewhere. But I don’t think they are as brazen as what I witnessed in Cambodia.

Srey Mao and I had finished our day exploring the Angkor temples for the day and headed back to my hotel room. While passing Angkor Wat, we stopped to grab a beer and watch the sun go down over the great temple. As I did, a mother and 3 children approached us looking completely destitute and pitiful. They were filthy. So I bought some food and gave it to the mother. They went off to eat. The sun went down. I continued upon my path feeling good about having done something nice for someone.

I dropped Srey at the Banana Bar on Pub Street where she is manager. Then returned to my hotel. Grabbed a shower. Dressed and found my way back to Pub Street. By this time it was 9 PM. I sat and drank a few beers with Srey. Then walked over to the Temple Club for a few games of pool with the local gals. The Temple Club is one of the best places in Siem Reap to catch a game of pool. It’s also a great place to watch the Apsara Dance. (I will put some videos of this on the blog at a later date.) Each visit to Siem Reap, I find my way to the Temple Club. I love watching those beautiful little Khmer ladies re-enact the dance of the Gods. And I love to play pool with cute little Khmer women. I played pool for an hour or two and proceeded to get fairly well sauced on the old standby Jack and Coke.

Back in Kentucky, I’m a Kentucky Bourbon man. Rarely drink anything else. I’ll hit Jack sometimes in Kentucky. But usually only when I am first returning from overseas. It’s a habit. Overseas. No one knows Kentucky Bourbon. There is one bar that I have found from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur that serves Maker’s Mark and I once found a bottle of Elijah Craig at a liquor store. Both establishments are in Saigon–Ho Chi Minh City. I guess the communists like good bourbon.

At any rate, I finish playing pool and walk over to the Banana Bar to pick up Srey Mao. She and I return to the Temple Club and sit out on the patio.

That’s when I spot her. (Reminds me of Prince and Raspberry Beret. lol)

The little girl from our “sunset and beer” viewing of Angkor Wat. She is cleaned up and changed into a different set of clothing. I just start to laugh. Rolling up directly behind her is her little sister. Finally, here comes brother. By this time, I am laughing loud and hard. I can barely breath. I realize immediately what I’m seeing. What I saw earlier. The scam that these kids mother plays out every day. Srey looks at me like I’m insane and asks what is wrong with me. Why am I laughing? I point out the kids. She sees it and starts to laugh as well. So I tell Srey to call them over. I ask them to join us and I’ll buy them supper. Srey and I start to poke and prod our way around the subject of their little subterfuge. Whose idea is this scam? Why are they doing it? How long?

So we slowly pull the story out of them. They tell us that their father abandoned them and moved on to Phnom Penh and disappeared. Mom has them dress down in rags to look destitute so they can beg for money. Apparently, Mother can barely write. In typical Khmer fashion she is uneducated. No job. No prospects. It’s either beg or starve. So they ditch their good set of clothes in an alley. Put on rags. Beg for money for food and clothing. Trying to save up money for a simple room to live in.

Honestly, I can’t begrudge that. It may have been an over-dramatization. Even so, these kids were so happy to be eating that I can’t see how it could have been an act. Afterward, I felt so sad for these children that I purchased food for about half the kids on the street. They all shared. No one fought. One little girl came up and held my hand for the longest time. I wish that I had my camera to take a photo. She was adorable. I left that night like most nights in Cambodia with a new appreciation of the life with which I have been graced. Fortune by birth. This old Kentucky boy has traveled to many a place about which many can only dream. I’ve had experience after experience that has enriched my life. Made possible by the simple accident of fate by which I came to be born American.

I know that some of my fellow Americans enjoy poking fun at those who say that America is the greatest nation on earth. But the simple truth is that everyone born in America is blessed. We have the means to lift ourselves up from our modest roots. Our destitution if that is our lot in the beginning. We have the tools to overcome our challenges. Much of the world does not.

To have been born in America is truly a blessing.

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Ta Prohm

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Ta Prohm is magnificent. Walking the path back to this Temple is a journey to the past. You walk down a wide, well trod path through dense jungle. Though the path is full of tourists (mostly Japanese), you still get a sense that you journey towards another world. Another time. At the end of the path, you come upon a stone bridge spanning a moat. An ancient tree has ripped through the middle of the bridge. All of the larger Angkorian temples are surrounded by moats and walls. Some of these larger structures of Angkor seem more fortress than temple. Ta Prohm and the surrounding area was actually built to support some 12,000 inhabitants. This group included the royal family and the royal retinue, priests and guard force and the usual group of royal eunuchs, concubines and servants.

Once across the bridge, you enter the Temple grounds through a small portal. Just wide enough to allow two people side by side. The portal is leaning and looks as if it may not last long enough for you to pass through to the other side.

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Some of the Wats (temples) of Angkor have signs like these that provide the visitor with background information. Many of them are written in English that is so confused and mangled that it’s difficult to determine the intended message. This was one of the more accurate signs that I saw in Cambodia. The aerial photo-map was a great addition. The third picture is the bridge of which I wrote earlier. Notice how the tree has grown through the middle of the moat bridge.

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The West entrance is dilapidated. Leaning to and fro. It was a bit intimidating as I felt as though I were walking towards my imminent death and entombment as the walls look as though they might collapse at any moment. The Wat has been left mostly as it was found. It is a great effect. It is as though you are discovering it for the first time. It’s a little dangerous if you wander from the tourist path, though, as can be seen from the warning in the photo below. I wandered off anyway. It’s more fun and there were fewer of my fellow tourist clogging the way.

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The roots of these magnificent trees wind their way at will in an effort to reclaim the jungle from the grasp of men.

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The Wat is fairly large with many corridors leading you to recently emplaced Buddhist shrines. The shrines are maintained by locals for the most part. You’ll also see some of the poorer local Khmer on the inside. Strategically placed in their attempts to sell small charms or water and soda.

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Above is one of the shrines mentioned earlier. This particular Buddha, I was told, is part of the original Wat. The trees have made the temple grounds their own. Those roots have ripped apart walls that are 12 feet thick. One of the local tour guides said that one of the reasons that they left Ta Prohm as they found it was that to repair it would most likely mean destroying it. My personal opinion is that it would be a great disservice to remove the jungle. This particular Wat is made more beautiful, more majestic with natures touch.

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And, or course, there are always the children. This particular part of your travels through Cambodia will leave you with feelings of great joy and deep sadness. Such overwhelming poverty. Parents and others who use children to earn the families money. Many of these children are so, so cute. That is exactly what the parents and the more decrepit element count on. Empathy and kindness of the tourist leads to many of these children going uneducated. This perpetuates the problem of the lack of education of the majority of the Khmer peoples. It’s a catch 22. Most of the local tourist guides will advise you to not purchase from the local children. Purchase from the souvenir and drink stands in the markets around the temples. Purchase from the handicapped adults that are all around the various sites and in town. But do not finance and encourage the abuse of the children. It’s difficult to follow through on that course of action. Especially when one of these beautiful little children are holding your hand and looking into your eyes like a sweet little angel. My friends and I would more often buy food for the children and let them sit with us and eat. We found that a better way to aid them. It was our own small way of helping.

Quotation from Maurice Glaize:

Ta Prohm should be visited either in the afternoon or the early morning, and crossed from west to east according to the itinerary that we have traced on the plan. This precaution will prevent the visitor with limited time from becoming disorientated, due to the relative simplicity of a clearly marked route. In contrast, those who wish to spend several hours exploring the monument will find here the potential for an adventure – but without danger of ever getting lost, since the main axis is clearly defined from place to place by an uninterrupted line of rooms and vestibules, almost always made inaccessible by their collapse but providing nevertheless a good point of reference. We would advise, however, not to wander but with extreme caution in the areas of crumbling vaulted galleries remote from the normally frequented passageways.

Maurice Glaize was the conservator of Angkor from 1937 to 1945. His book, The Monuments of Angkor Group, was published in 1944. It is still used by thousands of visitors each year as a guide to the Angkor Temple Complex.

Kbal Spean

This is Kbal Spean otherwise known as the Valley of a Thousand Lingas. This video is of the bridgehead of the Stung Kbal Spean. The river is sacred to the Khmer peoples in the same way as the Ganges is sacred to the Hindu people of India. To arrive at this site, one must trek through a well worn path through the jungle for about 45 minutes. This was a bit of an arduous journey as much of it is uphill and the Cambodian summer was already upon us in late May. Average daily temp was around 90 degrees. If you go, don’t forget to grab a bottle of water or two for the trek. It will take something out of you trekking through that jungle. The water will save you.

Even with the heat, it was exhilarating to finally make it to Kbal Spean. I had tried to get out to see this site the last two times that I visited Angkor. For whatever reason, I could never quite make it. It was well worth the journey. I only wish I had a digital camcorder that could do the place justice.

After climbing through the jungle and hills, you come upon the site in this video. After that you follow the river down to a larger waterfall. In between the bridgehead and water fall there are thousands of linga and yoni carved into the river bed. There are also Hindu motifs of animals, humans and Gods. Because the Khmer consider the Kbal Spean sacred, it’s waters are believed to have healing properties. People were bathing in the waterfall or collecting water in bottles to take home or to loved ones to cure their ailments and injuries. One Khmer fellow was taking the water home with him to have his sick cow drink. One humorous note was the arrival to the scene of a British Doctor who was horrified by the fact that people were bathing in the water. He took great pains to warn everyone to NOT drink the water as it is supposed to be heavily contaminated with parasites. He would not step foot into the water. Of course, he arrived after I had already immersed myself in the waterfall.

Below are several pictures taken of the area.

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These are the paths and hills through which you must trek to reach Kbal Spean. We came upon the butterfly nest at the beginning of the trail. The mushroom looking rock is sacred to the people of the area. Monks and locals come here to cast off evil spirits. Newlyweds will come here to enhance their fertility. The area is said to have great powers.

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Above you see Shiva. He is the destroyer in Hindu mythology. The god who brings about the destruction of the Earth so that Vishnu can re-new it. Most of the Temples in Cambodia are consecrated to Vishnu. Many have been re-dedicated to Buddha or serve dually as Temples to Vishnu and Buddha. Jayvarman VII mixed Hindu mythology into the work in all of his Temples to Buddha. It was a way to get the people to buy into the new Buddhist theo-philosophy that he brought with his reign. Very similar to how Christian rulers adapted pagan symbolism as Europe was converted during the reign of Constantine. In the river, you can see the “linga” of the rivers name. Thousands of those linga are carved into the riverbed of the Kbal Spean. This was started by King Suryavarman I sometime in the 11th or 13th Century in order to ensure the fertility of the Khmer Kingdoms.

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The little girl in this pic was standing on the side of the road on the way back to Siem Reap. I stopped to take pics of the water buffalo and she just stood there smiling that big smile at me. So I gave her some candy and took her pic as well. She was certainly a cute little thing.

Coming soon: Exploring Ta Prohm…

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little sales girls of Cambodia

Outside every temple and every sight of note and on any street that a tourist or backpacker travels in Cambodia, you’ll be bombarded by touts and hagglers and salespersons of all ages. The beggars are always out in great numbers as well. Sometimes it is a pain. Other times, it’s heartbreaking. Sometimes, it’s fun. You’ll get a guy or gal who puts a new twist on things.

Then you have Spider Girl. She was absolutely adorable. I wanted to adopt her and send her home to live with my mother or sister. She was sweet and not overly pushy and cute as a button. She smiled shyly at you and almost pleaded for you to buy “some cold drink” from her. After all, you are “very hot, Mister.” Spider Girl stations herself right outside Angkor Wat from sun up to sun down selling water, Coke, Sprite or a cold beer. Anything to quench your thirst after a few hours spent wandering among the ruins of Angkor in the 90 to 100 degree heat and sun of an average Siem Reap morning or afternoon.

I rode up to Angkor Wat in my Tuk Tuk with my driver and my camera at the ready. Jumped out of my ride and swiftly headed for the great Temple built by the Jayavarman VII–the buddhist Prince who transformed Cambodia into a single empire by defeating the Chams and uniting the Khmer under the Ankgorean banner. But before I could get across the street Spider Girl was on me. “Mister! Mister! Buy cold drink from me! Buy cold drink from me!” My answer is always maybe. Maybe. Often when coming upon the temples of Ankgor, you are surrounded by 10 or more young kids trying to sell you everything and anything. Post Cards. Water. Beer. Bracelets. Guidebooks. Cokes. Fans. Statues of Buddha of all shapes and sizes. Paintings of Angkor and Apsara. They tout and sell everything.

The salesmanship and savvy of some of these kids amazes me each time I visit. They’ll ask you what country or state you are from and name the capitals and any manner of interesting trivia about your home. They’ll tell you how “handsome ” or “pretty” you are. They talk to you about anything that might keep you around long enough to make a sale. The really small ones will hold your hand and look into your eyes and make you fall instantly in love with them. They speak pieces of several languages. I watched one little gal who could not have been more than 8 or 9 years of age talk to tourists from Sweden, Japan, Germany and America and communicate with them in their own languages. Not fluent to be sure. But enough to communicate and make a sell. Unbelievable. There exists a devilish combination in some of them. Adorable. Angelic looking. Intelligent. Savvy. Street smart. And manipulative as Bill Clinton on his way to the Whitehouse. lol

You have to look on these scenes and grudgingly admire the survival instincts and entrepreneurship of these children of Cambodia. You can’t help but fall in love with them.

Near the end of the video, one of the boys in the crowd asks me about my Buddha tattoo. The whole time that I was in Asia, people were fascinated by that tattoo. Complete strangers would reach out and touch my shoulder. People would wai (a short bow of respect) to it. Endless questions as to where I had it done. Why I had it done. Unlike Muslims, no Buddhist was offended by my tattoo. They were genuinely thrilled and fascinated by it. It was quite strange the first time a hand reached out from a crowd. Not to hurt or steal or even sell me something. Merely to touch the Buddha on my shoulder. Whenever I would rest, children would come up to me and rub my shoulder and stare at it. My tattoo is modeled after a painting (below) that I purchased in Vietnam. That painting in turn is very similar to the Buddha/Jayavarman VII hybrid that is ubiquitous in Cambodia. So the Khmer people of Cambodia have a special affinity for that image and especially admired the tattoo. As for me, it enriched my Asian experience and made my visit all the more enjoyable.

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Angkor Wat

This is a video I made of Angkor Wat and some of the surrounding Temples and Terraces while I was there in September. Angkor Wat has something like 1200 bas relief Apsara carved on it’s massive walls. The Apsara are angels in Hindu mythology. They entertain and in some cases protect and even marry Gods and Mortals. They are said to be as captivating and desirable as the Sirens of Greek Mythology.