Years later when I lived in London, the BBC aired a documentary featuring the temples of Angkor with computer recreations of what the ancient city might have looked like at its peak. Reality is that by the time Cambodia was safe enough for me to travel, it was also safe enough for tons of other tourists as well. My inner Indiana Jones had to contend with crowds of obnoxiously loud tour groups. Still, that was a minor annoyance in order to explore ancient ruins I'd been anticipating for years.
My friends and I only had a weekend free so we tried to pack in as much as we reasonably could. We flew from Saigon to Siem Reap on a Friday in the late afternoon and left on Sunday. After very long lines to get our landing visas processed and checking into the hotel, our tour guide suggested a buffet dinner and show of Cambodian classical and folk dance.
The 2005 price for dinner and show at Koulen Restaurant was $10 USD. The food was unremarkable, but most people weren't there for the food. This was prior to blogging so I didn't take pictures of the unremarkable food anyway.
According to Wikipedia, Khmer classical dance, is also referred to as royal ballet and court dance because during French colonization it was mainly performed by concubines, relatives, and attendants of the palace. The dancers are called apsaras. Khmer classical dance goes back as far as the 7th century. Apsaras can be seen on various Angkor temple walls. (Keep this in mind because I'll be pointing this out in the next post.) Temple dancers served as entertainers and messengers to the divinities.
During the 15th century, the dancers, priests, and artisans were taken away when Angkor fell to the Siamese (Thai) kingdom of Ayutthaya. But the worst blow was between 1975 to 1979 when the Khmer Rouge killed 90% of all classical artists because dance was thought of as aristocratic. Survivors somehow managed to find each other to keep alive this ancient tradition. (I'll interject here for a little bit in regards to my previous post. I realize that when traveling some people don't want their enjoyment marred by reminders of human cruelty. While that's understandable, for me, sometimes there is no separation. Take for instance the above paragraph. I'm sure for many of the tourists there that night, all they saw were pretty costumes. What I saw was a ancient art form that had to struggle to even survive. Knowing that, did I enjoy the show more than the other tourists? I don't know. But I do know that I appreciated the dancers for more than their pretty costumes.) Apsaras use elaborate gestures and movements in order to tell a story. I think (?) they're performing the Reamker or Ramakerti, the Khmer version of the Ramayana (an ancient Sanskrit epic that's part of the Hindu canon).
Svay Dangkum Commune,
Siem Reap District
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I suggest reading my Cambodia series in this order:
Dith Pran and the Killing Fields Memorial in Siem Reap - Cambodia
Khmer Classical Dance at Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia
Angkor Thom: Victory Gate, Bayon Temple, Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, Prasats Suor Prat, and Phimeanakas
Ta Prohm Chong Kneas Floating Village - Tonle Sap (Great Lake) - Cambodia
For a related post on Cambodian food: Battambang Seafood Restaurant - San Gabriel
1 year ago today, lil' sis made star-shaped cupcakes.