The Temples of Angkor

Welcome to Ankgor Wat

We were told they were stunning, but nothing quite prepared us for the sheer wonder of this place.It is such a vast place, we bought a seven day ticket and there was still so much we didn’t see, apparently it’s the largest place of worship in the world.

Our first day was to the big boy himself, Ankor Wat, looking a little like a mighty ancient spaceship. It was built to represent the Hindu universe with a massive moat surrounding it representing the ocean, the concentric galleries representing the mountain ranges surrounding Mount Meru. The towers represent the mountain peaks inhabited by the Gods. The God’s sanctuary is still hallowed ground, only a few tourists are allowed at one time and you must be appropriately dressed. There are gorgeous carvings everywhere, one of my favourites was the Asparas, the graceful celestial dancers.

Celestial dancer

Next stop was the magical Ta Prohm. This has been left in it’s natural state, partly reclaimed by the huge roots of the cotton wood trees. It’s a wonderful fusion of the man made and natural and the shapes and textures are just fascinating, I was in photographer’s heaven! In certain little alcoves were beautifully dressed buddha statues surrounded by clouds of incense, these are active shrines tended by the buddhist monks and nuns, they’re on hand to decorate you with a woven bracelet and give a blessing.

Mighty cottonwood

Sorry to gush but the next temple was one of the most incredible places I have ever experienced. The old cliche ‘took my breathe away’ was actually accurate. I was busy taking pics of the line of Buddha heads which welcome you in when I looked up to see a high gate with a beautiful Buddha’s face gazing serenely on flanked by two in profile. The temple itself is full of these magnificent heads gazing in all directions, you can get close enough to kiss them!

Serene head

We made the mistake of having an elephant ride around this temple, it was fun at the time but we have since learned that many are cruelly treated (see Matt’s Elephant post)

Next up was the No.1 ‘must do’ when in Siem Reap, watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. We dutifully set the alarm and took a bleary tuk-tuk ride. We picked up a hitcher en route, a guy on a bike who was worried he was late for the sun and grab bed hold of us while we flew along. As it turned out, he needn’t have worried as the cloud was moodily spoiling the sun’s chances. It was still an interesting time, all gathering together like a faithful congregation, sitting in silence and sipping disgusting coffee.

Beautiful Butterfly

Our journey to Kbal Spean also took a little dedication, this was a mighty hour’s tucking followed by a sticky jungle uphill walk. It was lovely to be in nature again and we both realised how much we’ve missed it, the place was full of butterflies which added to it’s ethereal charm. We reached our destination which was a very different experience again, this was not a temple but a series of carvings of Vishnu and chums carved into the rocks in a river bed. It was such a peaceful spot and you could really get a sense of the devotion of those monks who embellished this sacred space.

After Kbal Spean we decided to take in another temple on the way back, Banteay Srei. This was a bit of a mistake as we were hot and knackered by then, it gets ridiculously sweaty, we even found we got prune fingers, like when you soak too long in the bath!  We were amazed to hear that many people do as much as 8 temples in a day, I wonder if they take anything in after the second one. This was a dinky little temple with some elaborate carvings, allegedly designed by gay architects… there was something rather camp about it.

Carvings, Preah Khan

Last but not least was Preah Khan, another wonder where the elements of jungle had been left in. We sat under a shady tree and listened to the tinkling traditional music played by victims of land mines. We took our time to say farewell to this extraordinary place  sitting on the holy water temple, immensely grateful to have had the chance to spend time in this magnificent place.

More lovely pics below:

 

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Dr. Fish and the Tuk-Tuks

Tuk-tuk travel

Tuk-tuk travel

We flew from the sweaty heat of Singapore to… the sweaty heat of Cambodia!  Actually getting used to it now, we walked through Siem Reap airport where a man holding up a sign with my name on it (very exciting) was to be found waiting for us.  He was our tuk-tuk driver.  A tuk-tuk is a small four seater covered carriage pulled by a moped and was to become very familiar over the next few weeks.  Our man piled on all our luggage and we climbed in, we were then driven down to our new home, the Motherhome Guest House.  Our first tuk-tuk ride was a bit nerve-wracking as we witnessed the apparently random driving of the Cambodians, it seems like anything goes, with traffic flowing in all directions at once, narrowly missing each other in a kind of slow ballet.  Someone later described a tuk-tuk as being like a fish with all the traffic like water flowing around it.

View from the guesthouse.

View from the guesthouse.

 We were greeted at Motherhome by the friendly staff offering us cold fruit drinks and blessedly ice-cool towels scented with eucalyptus.  The staff were all beautifully dressed in red and gold tunics or long dresses and were very graceful and helpful.  At over three weeks our stay was pretty lengthy by normal standards, the average time anyone spends here is one point eight days, how they fit everything in is anyone’s guess. We were to visit the temples of Angkor and generally hang out in the city.
Siem Reap is a mainly tourist town aimed at accommodating all the hordes visiting Angkor, it has loads of good restaurants and markets, massage places (including the dreaded Dr. Fish Foot Massage – I tried this but felt like the fish were finding my feet just a bit too tasty! Fran, after persuading me to take the plunge kept her feet in for about two seconds and squeaked loudly, refusing to repeat the experience.)  There is also a night market where you can shop for silks and buddhas when it’s a bit cooler.
Those fish are too hungry!

Those fish are too hungry!

 We went on a trip to the floating village of Chong Kneas.  The huge lake, ‘Tonle Sap’, in the middle of Cambodia is home to several of these villages, when we went the water level was very low and the colour of buttermilk.  We went on a short tour to see the villages and few disgruntled looking crocodiles, finishing up with dinner on an old boat anchored in the lake.  We were hoping for a longer tour to explore the sunken forest a fews hour’s boat ride away but were informed that the forest hadn’t sunk yet as it was still dry season. (News to us – we thought it was rainy, but apparently the lake doesn’t rise until the mighty Mekong river reverses its flow later in the season.)
Girl, wash tub and snake.

Girl, wash tub and snake.

 Other things we did during our stay included a traditional puppet show given by local kids and a cello concert and lecture by the famous Dr. Beat Richner, fundraising for the local children’s hospital.  At the moment in Siem Reap, there is a terrible outbreak of Dengue Fever with many children being affected by this killer disease.
We also visited a modern Pagoda ‘Wat Bo’ near our hotel in the city.  There we met with a young monk who was studying at the buddhist school attached to the Pagoda.  He was a lovely young man dressed in stunning orange robes, he came over to chat with us and practice his English.  We sat in the shade of a tree out of the hot sun and after a while some more monks joined us, one of them, another young man grinning from ear to ear was even trying to chat Fran up much to her amusement! “You very beautiful!”
Monk chat

Monk chat

We’ve had a good time in the city, we even managed to gate-crash the British Ambassador’s reception cocktail party, after being tipped off by an ex-pat in our local bar.  “Just show up with your passport” he said, so we did.  Free drinks around the pool at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, lovely, darling. Adding to the delusions of grandeur was the mistaken feeling of being quite rich, we went out with wads of 100’s in our wallets, but alas 100 riel is  only about 2 pence.
You can imagine you're rich!

You can imagine you’re rich!

Watch out for Fran’s post on the Temples, coming soon…
Gallery pics below: