Cambodia, p1: Angkor

Written by on February 13, 2013 in Asia, General with 2 Comments

Siam Reap, Cambodia is the gateway city to over 1,000 temples in the Angkor region, including the most famous, Angkor Wat, which is said to be the world’s largest religious monument.  This region is where the Khmer Empire ruled from about the 9th to 15th centuries.  A few years ago, researchers concluded that Angkor was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, sprawling across 1,000 square kilometers, supporting ~ 1 million people in the area.  To give you an idea on scope, Tikal, the Mayan city in Guatemala was it’s closest rival in size and was only 100 square kms – 10 times smaller.  How Angkor was overlooked as a wonder of the world is a mystery to me.

Given it’s size and the sizzling heat, we arranged for a tuk tuk driver to pick us up at our guesthouse, rather than renting bicycles.  I love riding in tuk tuks!

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They aren’t very fast, but there’s something about having the wind in your hair and hearing everything going on around you as you’re cruising around towns or villages, but still having a roof over your head so you’re not completely exposed to the sun all day long.  The ride definitely heightens your senses, and makes you feel a little bit closer to the beautiful (or ugly) places and events happening on the road.  Once we got out of Siam Reap, the road towards and between the Angkor temples was very scenic and almost romantic.  Flanked by beautiful trees, farmland and the Great Lake, it seems like time has stood still in this part of the world…apart from the 2 million visitors they get a year .

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Here I try to hide amongst a row of 54 ‘divas’, or nice gods, offset by 54 ‘asuras’, or demons, on the opposite side of the road approaching our first temple, Bayon. Where’s Waldo (I mean me)?

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Bayon is a super-cool temple with over 50 gothic towers that are decorated with 216 smiling but imposing faces staring down at everyone who visits.  Bayon was built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII with faces that some believe were supposed to represent the bodhisattva (or god) of compassion called Avalokitesvara, but others conclude the faces were designed to look like the King himself.

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Almost each and every temple in this area would be a site worth travelling to on its own, so to be able to cruise around in a tuk tuk (some do it by bicycle) and take in 5 or 6 of these amazing creations in the same day was pretty mind-blowing.  And the fact that they are all in such a beautiful natural setting made it that much more spectacular.

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Next up was Baphoun, a very intricately decorated temple in a pyramid shape where we were denied entry because we were wearing shorts.  Are you kidding me?  You’d think that would have been something that our tuk tuk driver, had he spoken English, or even the guy at the front desk of our guesthouse, would’ve warned us about.  I hadn’t even given what I wore that day a second though, other than I wanted to make sure I was dressed for the heat.  Ugh.  Too bad we missed it.   Lesson learned as I’m sure I’ll be visiting a ton of temples throughout Asia.  Pictures from the outside would have to do.

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We stopped for lunch at a little place by the lake and enjoyed some tasty beverages before heading out for more temples that afternoon. Best wishes for you! 🙂

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After lunch we went to Angkor Thom, which was also impressive, and gave us several opportunities to climb for better vantage points.

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Later that afternoon we headed to Ta Prohm, or what everyone there seems to now be calling the Tomb Raider temple.  Ta Phrom is also a UNESCO heritage site and extremely popular due to the overgrowth of photogenic trees in, around and through this temple as it has been left in the same condition it was found.

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Unfortunately we heard that they will be doing more “restorations” which will include the removal of some of the trees and overgrowth, which is a shame.  There were also some amazing and intricate carvings that we learned more about the next day when we hired an English speaking guide.

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We couldn’t stop taking pictures as there seemed to be something interesting to see every few steps!

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Our final stop for the day was at Angkor Wat just before sunset.  Our tuk tuk driver was kind enough to drop us off in the back, which was good as it wasn’t too crowded.

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We made our way through the temple in a hurry, knowing we’d be back for sunrise in the morning.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been so shocked to see so many people there.  Wow.  Way too many people.  I was hoping it would be different the next morning for sunrise, but when we arrived in total darkness at 5am, several hundred people had already staked out their spots.  OMG – so much for an intimate sunrise!

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It was pretty spectacular to be there, though, even if we were sharing the moment with throngs of tourists.

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Angkor Wat glowed in the early morning light for a couple hours and it was amazing to explore as once the sun came up, as the site was so large that once the sun came up, the tourists spread out (or went home to go back to sleep) and we had some semblance of “alone time”.

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One of our favorite scenes we saw repeated in several temples in the complex was the dancing apsaras, which were basking in the sunlight that morning.

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We spent the day visiting some other interesting temples, which were a lot more interesting since we’d hired a guide today who could explain the details and stories behind the carvings and temples.  We learned all about the differences between the Hindu and Buddhist temples, and the mythology, which was fun.

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Vix and Liz did a good job at memorizing the names of all of them, but I was honestly too tired to focus and just enjoyed seeing all the temples…and the beautiful weather.  The one I did remember was the monkey god – only because it’s pronounced New-Mon…as it was Vix’s favorite and coincidentally also her last name (Newman).

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Our last stop of the day was at Preah Khan, another fantastic temple with trees and vegetation growing wild throughout, similar to Ta Prohm.

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Awesome way to finish our visit to the region.  I wish I had a couple more days there, as it would have been nice to take more time…perhaps bike to a few temples, or to enjoy the little town of Siam Reap.  Alas, there’s never enough time…and we had an overnight bus to catch.   A first for all of us, the double decker sleeper bus was pretty hilarious.

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Not the most comfortable, but it got us where we were going and I felt lucky I had a tiny Chinese lady next to me instead of some slimy guy!


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2 Reader Comments

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  1. Herb Glatter says:

    OK, I’m officialy jealous. You live life like no one I have ever met.

  2. DebAdmin says:

    I’m trying 🙂

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