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Saturday, 5 July 2014

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Teddy and Izzat at the gate of Angkor Thom


The carving of Apsara at Bayon Temple
I spend two days in Siem Reap, Cambodia at the early month of June 2014 for a holiday. My trip was designed so that I can have the opportunity to visit the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and all of the ancient temples around Siem Reap/ Angkor Thom. I must say that the visit was one of my bucket lists since secondary school, moreover it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and I’m very glad to have covered this one. To be in Siem Reap is an eye opener for me. I never been to this part of the world before and I didn't plan much for the visit merely just a free independent travelers exploring Cambodia. What amazes me was that in Siem Reap and the ancient Angkor district aka Angkor Thom in particular, you can see so many of the ancient temples built dedicated to the Hindu Gods. I thought there was just Angkor Wat here but I’m wrong, and these temples located scattered all over Siem Reap but still resemble the same image and architecture as if it was built by the same group of people, at the same period of time with modern precision and high dedication for their beliefs in Hindu Gods. The stark evidence is that I can simplify the ancient Khmer people do have class and pretty much civilized.

The gate of Angkor Thom
The carving of the temple walls just amazes you especially when you realize of how delicate the details of the stone carving depicting the daily life of the ancient Khmer thousands of years ago. Over here, you can clearly see and understand the Khmer cultures and their ancient life by seeing those wall carvings and stone statues. I can simplify that the ancient city of Angkor was a metropolis during its heyday by just visiting the surrounding temples within the ancient district. The architecture was modern and full of arts for ones to appreciates. The metaphor or best part of understanding about the ancient Khmer culture is that peoples those days celebrates a women's beauty by translated it into an incessant stones carving of the Khmer women's body art or the appreciations of women's beauty . This was done through Apsaras statues and stone carvings with complete details of their daily life even their pattern of the clothes that they used to wear those days. In Siem Reap, the ancient Khmer even built a dedicated temple for women's which I visited in Banteay Srei.

The statue of Jayavarman VII at the ancient bridge of Angkor Thom

Teddy touching the carving walls of the Bayon Temple

Teddy at Bayon Temple - at the back is the carving face of Jayavarman VII
The trip to Siem Reap was conducted with my close cousins. We went to Vietnam before and did discuss about the possibility of visiting Angkor Wat while we were there. The weather in Siem Reap was very hot and you can get sun burn if you are exposed too long under the sunlight here while you discover and exploring the ruins. Warm clothes are very accommodating if you're travelling in this part of the world. However we are also advised by our friend that if we planned for a close visit inside the temples, then a decent attire would be appropriate. Sun shades is a must! The cost of travelling in Cambodia especially in Siem Reap is still quite cheap and affordable. But I would advise if you`re planning for a tour around the Angkor districts then using the Tuk Tuk or auto rickshaw is suffice, because it is way more cheaper than for you to hire a taxi. Nevertheless if you`re looking for a luxury type of transportation, a 4x4 or a cab still is quite cheap for you to rent.

The carving walls of the ancient Angkor Thom complex

Teddy at the gate of Angkor Wat

Teddy in Angkor Wat
On our first day in Siem Reap we went straight away to visit the Bayon temple complex located within the Angkor Thom area. Our first encounter was the narrow gate and short ancient bridge entering the Angkor Thom. The gate was very nice and ancient looking with so many of Hindu God Hanuman statues greetings you along with the head stones of the King Jayavarman VII smiling stone face carvings. The statues and stone wall was carved in detailed finesse which to my view can't be duplicated in such an art by the modern people these days. The Bayon temple complexes were very huge with walled area. I notice there are also a vast pool area with fine detail of pool concept completes with stairs and modern designed for the it's banks. Every pool that we visited around the Angkor Thom temple complexes also just show of how important is the water element to the ancient Khmer peoples those days. At one area there was also an ancient bridge leading to the main palace structure that is still intact and you can still used the bridge today but the pool had already been dried up. There was a big pool that I visited as big as 10 Olympics swimming pools. I have a high respect for the Khmer architect and engineers those days. They tend to do perfect building complexes with fine art details of presentation even for the temple wall completes with decoration. And the structure last up to this day!


The magical carving walls of Angkor Wat
The main objective for my visit to Siem Reap was Angkor Wat. I must tell you that the Angkor Wat temple complexes were very huge. They built the complexes on a man made island and I can imagine during its heyday it must be very telling, state of the art and excellent building. To be at the Angkor Wat main gate looking inward was fantastic. Once again the detail of the carving and stones statues was mesmerizing. Not to mention the bridges connecting to the Angkor Wat Island was decorated with the Khmer ancient culture and Hinduism influence from the Ramayana and Mahabharata scripts. You can't help it but to touch the exquisite carvings. However it was very unfortunate to see that most of the Angkor Wat treasures especially the sidewalk carving and walls plus the ceiling all had been stolen by the tomb raider. Cambodia was marred by hundred years of war and instability which creates an opportunity for theft of the ancient arts and during the period of Angkor Wat abandonment, I must say locals probably would not hesitate to take home the stones carving and statues decorations and keep it for themselves. That is what we are missing in Angkor Wat these days. What I love most was the beautiful carving of the Apsaras around the complex. You can even tell how they dances during the ancient Khmer period. It was really beautiful.

Teddy at the main bridge of Angkor Wat complex
What amazes me the most was the detail of the wall carving at Angkor Wat which depicts the story from the ancient Hindu script Ramayana and Mahabharata. It was carved in such finesse and you can't help but be amazed by such detailed long depiction. The carving tells the stories of war fought by the ancient Khmer and the stories of how the earth was formed according to the Mahabharata scripts. You can clearly see how the ancient Khmer lives their daily life's those days through the wall carvings, what happens to the prisoner of war and the fantastic appreciation of women’s beauty. Unfortunately, most of the carving was also stolen by the tomb raiders including the ceiling carving. Such a tremendous lost to Cambodia and modern generation.

The sanskrit writing of the Banteay Srei entrance gate

Banteay Srei Temple

The ruins of Banteay Srei Temple

I think one of the most beautiful temple which I visited in Siem Reap was the Banteay Srei or the temple dedicated for women. The stone carving was more complex with much more detailed decoration which tells of how much ancient Khmer appreciates a women. The ancient Sanskrit words carved at the temple gates just awe you when you touches it. Its written in such a fine presentation as if it was carved out yesterday and you can clearly read the text (if you`re good in reading ancient Sanskrit). The colors of the Banteay Srei building was red brick different from many temples that I visited in Angkor Thom. This got to be the most beautiful temples that I've ever visited in Siem Reap. For all the temple structure, things that dumbfounded me was the way they built the temple rooms/ tower chambers. Like the one that I took below, you can see that the doors were built by a stone and shut closed as if they don't want anyone to enter the chamber. It was sealed as if it contains a treasures or some sort. Such a class the ancient peoples structures! I do notice at some temples that I went tomb raider managed to break the chamber room. I don't have any idea what do they found inside it, but I bet it is precious.


The ruins of Banteay Srei Temple
The Ta Prohm Temple made famous by the Lara Croft film

The main entrance to the Ta Prohm Temple

The ruins of Ta Prohm 
I also visited the Ta Prohm temple made famous by the Tomb Raider/ Lara Croft movie. Once again the temple complex was very huge located very far from Angkor Thom area, but this time in a forested area. The carving of the temple walls was the same, Hindu God elements and the beautiful Apsaras. But I was told that some of the building structures were made for libraries and domestic household use. The temple complex was so huge we even couldn't find ourselves to the main gate that came in before and took a round detour to the main gate. 
Inside of the Ta Prohm Temple complex

The decoration walls of the Angkor Thom complex


The carving of Apsara in Angkor Wat

Bayon Temple

The all seeing faces of Jayavarman VII at Bayon Temple
Later in the evening we went to the Tonle Sap lake and we spend our whole evening there. It was a boat tour and I don't really recommend people to visit the area unless you really want to see how Cambodians lives their life on a lake. The lake Tonle Sap is the main lifeline for majority of the Cambodians for their fish source. But I guess, nowadays the protein sources for the Cambodians have depleted fast and the lake itself was marred by pollution. Just like during Angkor heyday periods where the vast emerging populations just couldn't cope up with the their domestic demand which resulted the dwindling down of the Angkor era. Cambodians also don't go for sea fishing which makes the matter more worse. We saw the floating village and how Cambodians used the lake as their home based. They even have schools and clinics floating on the lake. But not much to see here except a dwindling society that seek refuge on land. On our third day in Siem Reap, we took a bus to Phnom Penh through the country side. I will share my experiences visiting Phnom Penh on my next posting.

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