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Cambodia Adventure 22 February 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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Picatures to follow later, when I have downloaded them to the computer.

I am freely admitting to being a poor blogger over the past two weeks. Partly, this has been because I have been unmotivated. But mostly because I have (yet again) been travelling and seeing a new country. Can you blame me?

Cambodia has been on our (much talked about on this blog) ‘must-see-while-in-the-region’ list of countries since we arrived in Vietnam, but we have in the past always been foiled by prohibitively expensive airline prices, which have made other destinations far more attractive. But having five days off for Tet (Vietnamese New Year), making a nine-day trip feasible was too good to pass up, so we jumped on the wave of expats leaving Hanoi.

Friday

We flew in to Siem Reap on Friday night after work, and stayed at Antanue Villa Hotel. It is a lovely little hotel with our room only two steps from the edge of the pool, and with an amazing special which I found online, it made for a very nice stay indeed. It is also located outside of the main tourist area, about ten minutes walk from town.

That evening, we walked into town, to have a look around. As we arrived after dark, there was quite an ambiance, with fairy lights along the river banks. But I was glad that we had found the hotel outside of ‘Pub Street’, though, because live bands were pumping out such hits as Oh Carol, (Neil Sedaka) which, frankly, I was not sad to give a miss.

Siem Reap in itself is not much to see – it has lots of bars and hotels and fully caters to all the tourists that come to this part of Cambodia to see the Angkor temples.

Saturday

Saturday was going to be our day of exploring the temples of Angkor Wat. A friend of ours in Hanoi had told us about a good moto-remorque (tuk-tuk) driver who was reliable and friendly, and above all, whose English was amazing. We have never really explored an area with a recommended driver before, but Mr. Thy was certainly worthwhile.
He met us at our hotel, and his English was indeed impeccable.

He took us to Angkor Thom first, and was able to tell us quite a lot about its history, which, together with our Lonely Planet, was for us just about the right amount of information before exploring the temples and ruins ourselves.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was the capital city of the Khmer empire, before it was abandoned and moved to its present day location in Phnom Penh. It was at some stage supposed to have housed around 1 million inhabitants, but all that now remains is the outer wall with its five gates, and the temples and palaces that were located inside. The houses that were there for the commoners would most likely all have been wooden, and have since then degraded and disappeared.

The bridges over the moat around the outer wall leading up to the gates into the city are adorned with (once) beautiful statues representing the 54 deities (devas) and 54 demons (asuras) holding the serpent (naga), and represents an ancient myth (the Churning of the Sea of Milk) of their old belief system. The South Gate’s statues are the most preserved and restored, and therefore the most popular starting point into the city. The other gate’s statues have had their heads cut off for wealthy collectors. Looting like this is still a problem in Angkor, especially at the outer temples, and much of the most valuable pieces have been replaced by replicas and the originals stored away in museum warehouses in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.

Inside of Angkor Thom, the first temple we explored was the Bayon.

The Bayon

The Bayon is a structure built in the late 12th Century by a rather extravagant king called Jayavarman VII. It was built at the centre of Angkor Thom city.

The temple is full of faces, all believed to bear more than a passing resemblance of the king himself, smiling a mysterious but benevolent smile in every direction. Wherever you are in or on the temple, one of the 216 giant faces will be looking at you or at least be visible. The temple has 54 towers, which some say represented the then 54 provinces of the empire.

We climbed the temple all the way to the top, and the impressive size of the temple and the amazing state of the faces was a marvelous start to our templing adventure.

Baphoun

This temple, directly northwest of the Bayon, was taken apart and carefully numbered (in an attempt at restoring it), however, the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the records pertaining to the temple, and thus it remained a giant jigsaw puzzle for many decades. They are now trying to reassemble it piece by piece with the help of computers as well as some very patient archeologists.

Unfortunately, it was closed to the public when we were there, so we only saw the outside, and did not have the opportunity to see the big statue of Buddha at the back of it.

Phimeanakas

We walked through the jungle to Phimeanakas, which used to be a royal palace. We shared a coconut at the bottom of the palace, before we climbed to the top of this one as well.

In the grounds of the palace, we saw children frolicking in the pools which still are full of water, and which provided great relief from the heat of the sun. It was fantastic to hear the careless giggles of the children through the ruins of the solemn old structures.

We continued through the forest back towards the main road, and the Terrace of the Leper King.

Terrace of the Leper King

It has been suggested that this structure could have been a royal crematorium, but they are not entirely sure about this. The walls surrounding the terrace, as well as the Elephant Terrace have marvellous carvings in it.

Angkor Wat

After a quick lunch on site, we set off for Angkor Wat. It had been recommended to us to do this during lunch when most of the larger buses with tourists returned to Siem Reap, which turned out to be well worth the suggestion.

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in Cambodia. It is even found on the Cambodian flag, and is extremely closely linked to the psyche and identity of Cambodia as a nation.

And it is indeed an impressive structure and quite a feat of engineering. However, I found that the temple had been talked up so much for me that once I was on the grounds of it, I was just a little underwhelmed by it. I would still not have missed it for the world, though, albeit not my favourite temple on our trip.

It certainly has an amazing grandure, and, had we not been unlucky and seen it during some major renovation work on the facade, it would have yielded some impressive photos. And for being a temple first built in the early 12th Century, it has been amazingly preserved.

As we were trailing along the edges of Angkor Wat to try to return to the main gate via shadows rather than the middle of the walk way in the blaring sun, tourbus after tourbus of tourists came trotting the other way, proving that yet again, we had been lucky with our timing of our visit.

That deserved to be celebrated with ice cream.

Ta Prohm

But my favourite temple of the day was Ta Prohm. It was also built by Jayavarman VII (who had commissioned the Bayon), in honour of his mother. It, however, has been completely overtaken by the forest, and the trees that have taken root all over the grounds of the temple, which in itself is rather large, have infact become so entwined with the rocks that it has both displaced them and is keeping them in place.

Tomb Raider was partially filmed on location in Cambodia, including in Ta Prohm, so there is something quite familiar about walking around in the ruins. We were there at a great time, too, when it was possible to get away from the crowds, and see the place without a million other people popping up in your pictures.

We felt like kids exploring the nooks and crannies of the temple, and had great fun finding picturesque spots to use the auto shutter device on my partner’s camera, balancing on boulders and treetrunks to find the perfect couple shot.

The light in the late afternoon made it all very intense and mystic, and I hope that those photos turn out alright.

Saturday evening

So, our first day of our Cambodia Adventure went well. Our driver, Mr. Thy, had invited us to a party at his friend’s house, because, after all, it was Chinese New Year’s Eve that evening, and his friend’s grandfather had been Chinese, so it needed to be celebrated. So we spent the evening drinking beer (I found myself as the only woman in a large circle of men, with the other women in the house either in the kitchen or watching TV), toasting the New Year and, after a while, some great performances of Karaoke on the TV (after the women had been told to turn off the show they were watching, and clearly enjoying).

There were actually some amazing singers amongst them, so eventhough it was Karaoke in a language we could not understand, it was quite good. We left long before the party was over, though, and even though it was a most random invitation, we are happy that we accepted it, as it turned out to be most enjoyable.

But next on the agenda was sleep, because we still had many more things to do in Cambodia!

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Comments»

1. Lizeth - 24 February 2010

Looking forward to the pictures!
Lizeth


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