Visiting the temples of Angkor Wat
11.10.2009 - 13.10.2009 93 °F
Words like awesome, stupendous, inspiring, spiritual, moving, amazing, remarkable, and humbling, only begin to touch the tip of the iceberg for describing Angkor Wat.
We arrived at Siem Reap, Cambodia via s short plane ride. Given our limited time (2 ½ days) neither of the two other possible options were feasible since one involved 14 hour bus ride from Bangkok and the other was flying to Phnom Penh and then driving 4 hours. The process of getting our visa was quick and simple. We had our passport photos already and only needed to fill out the form and hand over $20 a piece. Minutes later we were out of the airport and saying hello to Mr. How our tuk-tuk driver from The Villa Siem Reap. I'll just mention to any one reading this for a recommendation that Villa Siem Reap was WONDERFUL. You can spend lots of money at any one of a dozen luxury hotels being built at Siem Reap, but this hostel is small, intimate, has lots of character and it's amazingly inexpensive cost doesn't skimp on quality.
This is only $24 per night for a 2 person room! Plenty of space and free WI-FI!
That night we went to a show to see Apsara Dancers. It was a great show and we loved the unusual instruments.
We awoke at 4:30 AM and headed out for Angor Wat to see the sun rise over the main temple. After paying $20 each we made our way to a pond off the causeway leading to the entrance of Angkor Wat. It was pretty dark heading down the long walkway so we followed the other tourists like the blind leading the blind. We could barely see the building outlines but as the sky slowly brightened the lotus-shaped towers of the Wat came into view.
Sunrise was a little muted because of the clouds, but it was still dramatic.
We returned home for breakfast at the Villa and then headed out again with our guide to explore the temples. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century by the Khmer king at that time. It served as the capital city and main temple which was devoted to Vishnu. The Khmer were the dominant ethnic group in Cambodia. The Khmer had built many temples before this one and were skilled in the use of sandstone blocks which were locked together by inserting a tab from one block into the hole of another. They used elephants and pulleys to move the blocks into place. What I didn’t notice from the many photos I’ve seen of the temples is that they are covered with bas-relief carvings. The carvings included the iconic dancing female figures (where the Apsara dance comes from), battle scenes and mythological scenes. One mythology scene we saw everywhere was called “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” which depicted a group of demons and a group of gods wrapping a snake around a mountain which would drain the sea and grant them immortality. This scene was at the Thailand airport as well as carved into a wall at Angkor Wat. Evidently the Thais took many art and mythology ideas from Cambodia.
A modern sculpture of the "Churning of the Ocean of milk" at the airport.
Buddhist Monk at temple.
There are over 1000 female reliefs at the temples.
We were treated to other temple highlights such as the Bayon Temple (this is the spelling at the temple site) which has the famous giant faces made out of large blocks. There are higher and lower towers with the four faces of the Buddha carved into each one. There are 216 faces in all.
After visiting some other carvings and small temples we ended the wonderful Ta Prohm which is famous for the giant tree roots growing on top of the temples. Many parts of the roof had collapsed and it was fascinating to walk among the toppled blocks and wander through tunnels leading to a surprise Buddha statue here and there.
We were totally impressed by how Cambodia is running its tourist service from Siem Reap (a town that has gone from back water to fancy) and would highly recommend that people visit Angkor Wat.
Scenes from Ta Prohm Temple
On our second day we were taken out to Cambodia’s Lake Tonlé Sap to see the floating village. Our guide told us that the lake swells from roughly 2,700 square km to over 16,000 square km during the rainy season (June – October) making it a pretty massive lake. We found out later that the lake is also designated as an ecological hot spot by UNESCO. As the lake expands there is a ferry that runs all the way to the capital at Phnom Penh. As we rode along in the tuk-tuk we saw people living in the river that flowed to the lake. Yes, they were living IN it via houses on stilts. Small kids were in and around the water with little supervision which made us a bit nervous. We came to the lake and took a sputtering old boat out to the floating village. The village consisted of houses, restaurants, businesses, a school and even and a Catholic Church boat! Most of the country is Buddhist/Hindu but some Christian missionaries have moved into the area. The people were busy with fishing during the rainy season and when the water recedes in the winter time they will plant rice. We had mixed feelings about the visit because it many of the people living on the water were Vietnamese displaced by war as far back at the 1920s and again in the 60's and 70's. While some say this is the life they've chosen, we realized as an expat in China told us, "It's only a choice if you know you can walk another path and decide to stay on this one."
Houses set up in the river.
Vietnamese mother and children living on the water.
My favorite shot of the day.
I want to send my thanks to Jean Michel Giraud, my former boss at Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place for recommending I go to Angkor Wat. Thanks a million times over.