First the man on the bus collected all our passports, then he quickly left the bus and went to the building on our left. It was just around this time of a day when day becomes night. We were asked to take our luggage and follow another man inside the same building. Inside we saw security gates and X-ray. Individually we put our backpacks on the belt and walked further to pick them up on the other side. The overwhelming feeling was: “not sure why we do it all, but better stay calm, wait and see what happens”. Then we took the baggage and put it back to the bus hold.
And waited. And waited with no information. And waited… did I say we waited?
We started talking with other passengers. And then first lot of passports came. Still no information about the remaining ones. One of the travelers was a big, black guy. He was fighting in Vietnam and now came back to see it once again. He didn’t get his passport back and expecting troubles got restless. Overreacting, but then he was here last time in quite different circumstances… In second sort we got our passports back, but the black guy did not. Now he was really worried. He started shouting he is American citizen and his visa is ok. He tried to speak to our driver but well the driver didn’t speak English. I guess most of the passengers (like us) were suprised to hear him being so worried and his loud manifestation of worry did not help to stay calm.
Finally the guy came back for the third time and the American got his passport back. We were still waiting for something as the bus didn’t even start its engine. After a while group of four girls were asked to come to the building with our pilot. Polish girls by the way. We got to know each other a little better after this adventure.
They were asked to a room on the first floor where a Vietnamese officer in white undershirt was sitting behind the desk. There were some other people there as well. As it turned out there was problem with their visas. The girls did not organize them themselves but trusted their friend to do it for them. So it came out that they had a transit visa not a touristic one – cheaper and valid for only a few days. And so were asked to show the itinerary from Vietnam which they didn’t have and $1000 per person which they did have. It was just the beginning of their trip.
They told us the guy was manifestly waiting for a bribe pushing his accounts book towards them as to signal to put the money inside. They didn’t do it. I remember one of the girls saying “I would give him the money if we were alone. I couldn’t do it in the crowd of other people”. Well there you go…
Finally they came back on the bus and we could start on our way to HCMC. And what happened there I’ll tell you next time…
Of course people who were supposed to pick us up from our hotel were late. We started to think we won’t make it, they forgot about us and we will have to quarrel to get our money back. Very late nonetheless the bus came. We picked up many more tourists on our way and made it to catch the long distance bus to Ho Chi Minh City with a change in Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia). i wouldn’t bet but I think it was waiting for us.
I was very sleepy but tried to stay awake to sightsee and get an impression of the country outside Siem Reap. At the beginning I was failing terribly caught somewhere between sleep and being awake. Finally I pulled myself together and got to know a red haired guy sitting behind me. I think he was from Australia (can’t remember for sure) and had a Cambodian girlfriend. He lived in the country for a while, this not being his first visit here, and absolutely loved it.
We talked about why he is coming back to Cambodia, what he loves most about it, how poor the society is and how it’s all changing. I should have written it all down but there are only few stories that I remember.
One of them is why there is so much plastic and garbage lying around: people in Cambodia are not used to things that do not decompose. For generations they used to throw away things around themselves cos they were organic and would decompose. Now when the country is flooded with plastic – the habit remains and so does the junk.
Also Cambodians are unfamiliar with power (electric current) and often they don’t know which materials are conductors or that they can harm themselves working with power lines without any securities. Crazy things they do because of ignorance, I suppose there is nobody to teach them. This was actually why my new acquaintance was there in Cambodia.
I need to stress that foremost his message was that people are friendly and welcoming (especially in the countryside) and how much they need help with the education, sanitation and medicine.
At Phnom Penh we had to change the bus. There was police pageant with shields separating our bus from the next one and from anyone who might try stealing luggage from the hold. We took our backpacks quickly and were escorted to the other bus that would take us further to Ho Chi Minh City.
Before I describe what happened on the Vietnamese border there is one more thing I would like to describe namely the river crossing. We had to wait – as you can imagine – before getting on the ferry. This is when I saw the famous delights of Cambodian cuisine. Have a look at the pictures! I have to admit I didn’t have enough courage to buy any of them, not because of the disgust but being afraid to ask somebody – I get extremely shy sometimes.
And so, tired but in good moods, we arrived in front of the magnificent Angkor Wat. When Frenchman Henri Mouhot discovered the complex in 1860, the natives of the Cambodian jungle were not sure who had built it. They thought that it could have been built by gods, or even by giants!
Behind the first gate we met the American couple from Cambodian border. Their trip was a nightmare. They were charged twice for the visa. First time by some men who met them before the border and second time at the border. They were very abusing and would not give the money back. The American went to Tourist Police and only then got the money back. When they were in Cambodia one of the taxi drivers took their luggage while they were bargaining the price (had ticket for the same bus as we did) and wanted to take off while the girl was inside and the guy outside almost driving over his feet. The girl was scared and wanted to jump out of the car when it stopped. So you see how careful you need to be. make sure you pass the border early afternoon.
The temple is just amazing, has several levels and different dimensions. The temple complex is made of three successively raised, galleried temples. The five towers of Angkor Wat represent the five peaks of Mount Meru, the home of Vishnu. The towers are not the only symbolic elements of the complex. The whole site, in fact, may have been modeled after the Hindu vision of the universe. Moats, called barays, surround Angkor Wat and symbolize the primodial waters at the base of Mount Meru. The complex itself is almost perfectly symmetrical, and may be a kind of astronomy tool. Even the number of windows, pillars, and steps in various parts of the complex may be representative of the number of days in the solar and lunar calendars. The complex faces west unlike the rest of the temples that face east: in the direction of the afterlife in Hinduism.We came across two Buddha statues in robes which are treated as a place of peregrination. Several monks took pictures of themselves and Buddha and
I took pictures of them. The temple is most known for extensive storytelling decoration.
These decorations depict gods, apsaras, dancers, battle scenes, mythological events and adventures, stories from the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, and war scenes featuring the king and the Khmer army.
The five towers can be reached by twelve very steep stairways, were once covered with stucco and gilded gold decorations; the bas relief carvings too were gold-coated. Only traces of these grand decorations remain.
Tony dropped us off at the gate, behind it was a path leading to the jungle and temple of Ta Prohm. We didn’t know what to expect so just in case decided not to wander around. You need to remember that in Cambodia the land mines are littered all over the country, especially in the rural areas. Casualties have reached more than 2,000 annually in the beginning of ’90s, but since then have significantly dropped. So do not go off the path. On our way to Ta Prohm we saw a band consisting of people hurt by explosions. Some of them didn’t have legs or arms. They played music on traditional instruments but I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the music.
As we were approaching the temple we saw a green swamp and some stones lying around. It made me think: “Are there crocodiles here?” In fact there is a whole industry of crocodile farms in Cambodia. In 2010 they bred 283K small crocodiles. You can visit one of those farms just in the outskirts of Siem Reap. I never really wanted to go, not a big fan of zoo’s, farms and so on.
Going further over a bridge we came across a young man drawing one of those popular pictures you can buy from the stalls in Angkor or night market in Siem Reap, defined colors and recognisable temples. It really is a nice souvenir and if you buy it straight from the artist you have a chance to get a better price.
I loved the temple with narrow corridors and open courtyards, with trees, roots and moss getting everywhere. Those trees were really magnificent, tall, thick and serving as a support for different types of creepers. At some point we came across chicken trying to eat a green chili pepper, now we know why the food is so spicy in Cambodia! ( a joke)
I can’t say I recognized the temple as being the scenery in Tomb Reider. Maybe this is because I have seen it long time ago.
When we finished sightseeing and came back to the point where we started Tony was nowhere to be seen. On the opposite side of the road we saw some tables and decided to sit down and drink something different than water while waiting. When we got to one of the tables we saw Tony in a hammock waving at us to sit down. “I won’t be a minute!” (well this is at least my interpretation of his gestures!). We sat down and observed children discussing post cards and something that seemed an important business arrangements. As you can imagine they were carrying baskets of these post cards for trade.
My previous post was about Angkor in general, this one aims at showing you the details that caught my attention in one of its temples. In the meantime I will also come back to our story line. We woke up really late, by that time the receptionist from our hotel was trying to get rid of Tony (our tuk-tuk driver) even though we made an appointment with him the previous night. It was around noon when we finally met him and asked him to take us for breakfast to the place he recommends. And this is how we got to an open air restaurant near Bayon temple eating curry for breakfast. At least P did. I wasn’t that hungry. He remembers it being especially tasty…
Bayon was our first temple and we spend quite a lot of time there. It’s a Buddhist temple located in the center of Angkor Thom representing the intersection of heaven and earth. The most characteristic features are huge stone faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, with one facing outward and keeping watch at each compass point. The curious smiling image, thought by many to be a portrait of Jayavarman himself, has been called the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia.”
Four of the city’s five gates sat on axis with the temple, and the walls of the city substituted for the enclosure walls normally found at Khmer temples. The walls sit at such a distance from the temple that the temple seems to rise abruptly from the ground like an artificial mountain. In fact, the temple was intended to evoke the form of Mt. Meru—the cosmic mountain at the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In keeping with this cosmic symbolism, the plan of the temple is based on a ‘yantra’, a symbol used by Tantric Buddhists as the basis of mandala diagrams that represent the layout of the universe.
Long walls covered with collection of bas-relief scenes of legendary and historical events are another reason to visit the temple. The bas-reliefs on the southern wall contain real-life scenes from the historical sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham. It is not clear whether this represents the Cham invasion of 1177AD or a later battle in which the Khmer were victorious.
The Chams on the run. A three-level panorama of Jayavarman VII’s victory over the Chams.
Linga worship. Worshippers bow before a linga (Hindu phallic symbol associated with Shiva). The revered object was probably originally a Buddha, but later altered by a Hindu king.
A naval battle. Some of Bayon’s best-carved images, this section depicts scenes of a naval battle at Tonle Sap Lake and images of everyday life by the lake.
The Chams are vanquished. Scenes of the defeat of the Chams on the shore, coupled with more images of ordinary life, such as a chess game, a cockfight, and women seeling fish.
Military procession. This section, which includes elephants being led in from the mountains, is unfinished.
More military procession.
Civil war? Here groups of people confront each other, leading some scholars to believe it depicts a civil war.
The all-seeing king. This interesting panel shows an antelope being swallowed by a giant fish and a prawn among smaller fish and includes an inscription proclaiming that the king will seek out those in hiding.
Victory parade. A procession with the king carrying a bow.
A Khmer circus at the western corner or the northern wall. A strong man holds three dwarfs; a man on his back spins a wheel with his feet; above is a group of tightrope walkers. The royal court watches from a terrace.
A land of plenty. Rivers teem with fish.
The Chams retreat. This narrative takes up most of the north wall.
The Chams sack Angkor on the east wall. This panel depicts the war of 1177, when Angkor was defeated and pillaged. Above war scenes, despairing Khmers are getting drunk.
The Chams enter Angkor. Another meeting of the two armies before King Jayavarman’s victory depicted in panel
The ground floor of the temple, called also inner gallery, reminded me of a labyrinth full of mystery. The contrast between light and darkness was striking. Narrow passages, mythological reliefs, pillars all made me feel like being on a quest to find a treasure of long forgotten civilization. I know too much Tomb Raider (even though I don’t really like this film). We also came across a few monks who seemed to be sightseeing just like we did. In the sanctuary located in the central tower you can see statue of Buddha where worshipers leave burning incenses and offerings.
When I was in elementary school I remember receiving a book from my Mum as a birthday present. It was called “Strange Worlds Amazing Places” published by Reader’s Digest (polish edition). I think this was the first book that made me want to see distant lands. Beautiful pictures encouraged my imagination. I traveled before I got this book, seen a lot of Europe & USA mainly. This book allowed me to dream further that civilization known to me. And so I came across Angkor for the first time that I can remember.
The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from piles of bricks to the well maintained Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture. Before getting to Cambodia I was
convinced the whole area was called Angkor Wat and didn’t consist of more than 3 to 4 temples, this only means I didn’t do my homework and read more about it. Later I found out that Angkor Wat is only one of the temples on 400 square km site where the capitals of Khmer Empire were once located – please note plural – capitals. Over five centuries Khmers were major power in south-east Asia. Each emperor added splendor to Angkor building magnificent temples, reservoirs or terraces:
Bakong now called Roulos – finished in 811 was a state temple of king Indravarman, dedicated to Shiva;
Preah Ko – built around 880 by the same ruler in memory of the royal ancestors;
Lolei – dedicated in 893 by Yasovarman I to Shiva and to members of the royal family;
Phnom Bakeng – located atop a hill is nowadays a popular tourist spot for sunset views of the much bigger temple Angkor Wat;
Pre Rup – temple’s name is a comparatively modern one meaning “turn the body”. This reflects the common belief among Cambodians that funerals were conducted at the temple, with the ashes of the body being ritually rotated in different directions as the service progressed;
Terrace of the Elephants – is 350m long part of the walled city of Angkor Thom, it was used by Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to view his victorious returning army. It was attached to the palace of Phimeanakas;
Do you remember Mortal Kombat & Mortal Kombat II? I always thought at least one of them was filmed in Angkor but in fact for both pictures were taken in Thailand. Although the Temple of Ta Prohm was used as a location in Tomb Raider. There were of course other films made there, among them The Killing Fields (1984), In The Mood for Love (2000), City of Ghosts (2002) and Two Brothers (2003).