Phnom Phen, Cambodia to Siem Reap, Cambodia
10.09.2010 - 12.09.2010 30 °C
The Temples of Angkor have been on our list of places to visit for a long time so needless to say we were very excited when we finally arrived into Siem Reap and had 2 full days to explore as many as we could. We decided to go and see Angkor Wat for sunset but unfortunately the clouds came in so instead we explored a small amount of the complex before heading back and preparing ourselves for our 5.30am departure.
The temples span more than 600 years, starting in the 9th century and with each new Cambodian ‘God King’ came more temples and they strived to better their ancestors in size and scale which in the end caused the construction of the world’s largest religious building, Angkor Wat.
The temples surviving today are the skelton of the vast political, religious and social centre of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer Empire with a population of nearly 1 million. The houses, public buildings and palaces of Angkor are long gone as they were made from wood, as the structures of brick and stone were reserved for the gods only.
It was in the 15th century that Angkor was abandoned and left for the jungle to take over, which some of the temples have been left as they were found.
We spent 2 days at Angkor with the first day exploring Angkor Wat, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom and Bayon by tuk tuk’s and a very informative guide which was actually to informative when we have no idea of all the kings that ruled and during what dynasty. An hour lecture on the history of Cambodia and Vietnam also wasn’t needed in the middle of the day.
The second day we decided to go it alone and hired push bikes to get us around and we had probably one of the best days on the trip so far. We re-visited Bayon and Ta Prohm which are our favourites and also explored Ta Keo, Ta Som and Preah Khan.
Angkor Wat was built in 12th century which is the largest monument at Angkor and believed to be the largest religious structure in the world, holding 1 million people which served as a temple and a tomb. The structure of Angkor Wat covering 9 hectares, involved 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants and has more than 3,000 apsaras (goddesses) carved into the walls, each of them unique.
The monkeys jumping around the back of Angkor Wat caught our attention for a little while and they were not on the cute and cuddly side. They knew if you had food in your bag and in Taylor’s case jumped up to his shoulder where he was holding the bag out of reach and ripped the plastic bag apart. The monkey then grabbed their peanut butter sandwiches and devoured them in a few minutes.
Banteay Kdei was a Buddhist monastery built in the 12th century, which is believed to have been built over another temple. The temple was never really finished and due to a rather relaxed attitude when building, the monastery is now mostly in ruins.
Apart from Angkor Wat, the other famous temple is Ta Prohm, the one used in the movie Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie one of our favourite temples. Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarman VII and one of the few temples where an inscription provides information about the temples dependants and inhabitants.
Unlike other temples of Angkor, Ta Prohm has been swallowed by the jungle and looks like how most of the temples appeared when first discovered. Large parts of the temples have been turned into ruins because of the trees roots which are 300 years old. The silk cotton and strangler fig trees start in a crevice as a seed and extend their roots downwards to the soil. Because of this, the roots work their way through the stones causing them to collapse which is evident around the temple. It was extremely weird to see trees growing on top of the temples and this is one place which shows the power of the jungle.
We also visited The Terrace of the Leper King which is another of Angkor’s mysteries as to what its purpose was, The Terrace of Elephants which was used as a viewing stand for public ceremonies and Baphuon, a massive 5 tiered pyramid temple all of which are within Angkor Thom’s complex.
Another of our favourite temples was Bayon which also sits within the city of Angkor Thom and is a temple with narrow corridors, steep flights of stairs and 37 gothic towers with large faces of King Jayavarman VII carved out. Originally 54 towers were built, each with 4 faces but now some only have 2 or 3 faces. The faces were carved to show power and control and from every angle at least a dozen are visible at any one time. The exact function and symbolism of Bayon are still a mystery, especially with its location in the centre of Angkor Thom.
We have experienced some very good selling techniques on our journey but we must say Angkor Wat has topped the list and had us baffled at times with what 3 to 7 years old kids were saying, trying to convince us to purchase things. On the other hand, most were extremely annoying with a repetitive saying of ‘2 for one dollar, just 2 for one dollar’. This saying was though very drawn out and lengthened to emphasis the fact of the word dollar. Everything seemed to be 2 for one dollar. ‘Lady...you buy a bracelet? No thank you I don’t want one. Ok then you buy 2’; 'Lady...you buy a scarf? No I have no money. Ok then you borrow from your husband, he don’t mind’; ‘Mister...you know how to play naughts and crosses? Yes. Ok we play, you lose, you buy’
We could have spent a few more days there, exploring the rest of the temples and taking our time as the afternoon heat was just too much but the 2 days that we had there, we fantastic. Now off to Bangkok....