Very interesting documentary on Angkor Wat by BBC.
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.
Ta Prohm housed the deity Prajnaparamita, the ‘perfection of wisdom.’ It was consecrated in 1186. Like many Khmer kings, Jayavarman had it carved in the likeness of his mother. The Prajnaparamita statue was surrounded by 260 lesser divinities, housed in their own sanctuaries. Interestingly, the temple was also the headquarters of a vast hospital network created by the good king. From Ta Prohm, supplies filtered out to 102 hospitals located throughout the empire. The Khmer kings seem to have taken the Buddha’s call to mercy into their own hands.
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;
- Phimeanakas or Vimeanakas – temple in the shape of a three tier pyramid build by Rajendravarman and then rebuilt by Suryavarman II, according to legend, the king spent the first watch of every night with a woman thought to represent a Nāga in the tower, during that time, not even the queen was permitted to intrude. Only in the second watch the king returned to his palace with the queen. If the naga who was the supreme land owner of Khmer land did not show up for a night, the king’s day would be numbered, if the king did not show up, calamity would strike his land;
- Baphuon – temple of Udayadityavarman II dedicated to the Shiva;
- Angkor Wat – was erected in 1113 by Suryavarman II and dedicated to Vishnu;
- Thommanon – mall and elegant temple dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu;
- Bayon – dedicated to Buddha was a state temple of Jayavarman VII;
- Ta Prohm – founded by Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university;
- Preah Khan sometimes transliterated as Prah Khan – is flat in design, with a basic plan of successive rectangular galleries around a Buddhist sanctuary complicated by Hindu satellite temples;
- irrigation system of the region based on the great reservoirs;
- East Baray – a now-dry baray, oriented east-west and located just east of the walled city Angkor Thom. It was built around the year 900 AD during the reign of King Yasovarman. Fed by the Siem Reap River flowing down from the Kulen Hills. Scholars are divided on the purpose of this and other barays. By some theories, they held water for irrigation, but no inscription has been found mentioning such a function. Other theories say that barays served primarily a symbolic purpose in Khmer religious life, representing the seas of creation that surround Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods. The East Baray today contains no water; farmers till crops on its bed;
- West Baray – oriented east-west and located just west of the walled city Angkor Thom is the largest baray at Angkor. Its waters are contained by tall earthen dikes. In the center of the baray is the West Mebon, a Hindu temple built on an artificial island;
- 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).
So there we were in the middle of nowhere, jungle on one side, endless rice fields on the other. At least it seemed they were endless as we couldn’t see further that the lights of our taxi reached. The air conditioning in our vehicle was full on and we started to get cold. It was hard to communicate with our driver as he didn’t know English at all.
– Can we turn the air conditioning off?
– Do you mind if we turn off? (pointing at air blower)
– Ok, we will turn it off, just for a second…
And second it was. When we turned it off the damp air and smell in the car were unbearable. So we turned it on again. The driver just gave as a look “I told you so”. After a while, when we already started to yawn, a police patrol came out of blackness. They signaled us to stop. We looked at the driver, he seemed very reluctant, but he slowed down and stopped at the same time reaching desperately for his mobile. This did not alarm me right then. The policeman came over and knocked on the window. The driver didn’t react, he kept searching for a number in his mobile. The policeman knocked again. Now we were alarmed! Thoughts running through my head went something like this: “Who is more dangerous the driver or the patrol??? Are they looking for drugs, money or does the driver not have a license??? Should we run or stay?” The policeman knocked third time and the driver did not even lower his window. Another knock and the driver turned the inside light on. Uff.. this was enough for the policeman waved us away.
Our new friend had GPS on all the way to the city, so we knew how much further we needed to go and if we were on the right track. Everything was alright until the driver turned on road shoulder on the outskirts of Siem Reap. “What the heck?” And there it started again. We asked him what’s going on, as an answer we got only silence. We tried again, still nothing. Then came the tuk-tuks (with the drivers) and told us to get out. We said we wouldn’t we paid to get to the city center and we want the taxi driver to get us there. So it went for at least 10 minutes. In the meanwhile taxi driver (very angry taxi driver) got out of the taxi for a smoke walking to and fro. We said we wouldn’t move and stopped even talking to those tuk-tuk drivers. Bare in mind there was only distant light from a nearby hotel in sight, we were in the middle of muddy shoulder 5km away from city center and very tired. Walking wasn’t an option.
Finally one of the drivers said they will take us free of charge to wherever we want to get in the city center and it won’t be a problem. We got to know him later on as Tony, really nice guy with a sense of humor. So we took two separate tuk-tuks and the other couple decided to follow us to our hotel. We liked it, they wanted something closer to the center so they went on. We got a room on the ground floor just behind the reception. It was sooo good to take a shower! But we were starving! On the way to the hotel Siem Reap did not make a brilliant first impression. You could guess it was just after rainy season. There was plenty of dust, the main street was shrunken to a strip of asphalt in the middle of the road and there were guards outside of some hotels. Obviously if there are guards there is something to be guarder from! Tired, hungry and feeling insecure we decided to leave our documents, cash and credit cards in the hotel safe. Smart huh? So we went to the reception:
– Do you have a safe in the hotel?
– What sorry?
– A safe to leave passports? We would like to leave it in safe…
– Oh yes, please put here (taking out two brown envelops)
– But you do have a safe, yes?
– Yes, yes.
We put all the things we wanted to leave in the envelops and sealed them with stapler and waited to see where the guy is putting it, the safe is what we wanted to see. So we waited, and waited until it started to be awkward. He was tossing our envelops in his hands waiting obviously for us to leave. So we went outside the glass door and really slowly started to put on our shoes. You can guess we still wanted to see where he was putting them. But he was waiting. So we moved away behind the tuk tuk parked outside the door and kept observing. Still nothing. Finally deciding it was too ridiculous we made our way towards the center. Atmosphere was amazing. Dust everywhere, little light, people standing in groups on the side of the road, car, motorbikes and tuk-tuks passing us by all the time. We could only imagine that the damage to the roads was caused by the rains. It felt dangerous.
We got to Pub Street. It seemed like all light from the city was condensed in this one street with loud club
music, restaurants and bars next to each other. We were looking for traditional Khmer cuisine. Guess what! You can get everything: Italian, Mexican, Chinese… but not Khmer! We kept walking down the street until we found some stalls with local food, cheap, freshly made just in front of us and tasty. Surprise, surprise we also met our friends from the taxi, so we shared the meal and went together to the night market. For that time we forgot all about our worries, about the hotel, safe and documents, at least until we decided to head back to the hotel. Right then we started to worry again. So we walked as fast as we could to get those things back.
When we got back the receptionist wasn’t there. He wasn’t supposed to be back until 6 am next morning and the night porter didn’t have a key to the safe. We asked the porter to call the receptionist because it was important, he refused (maybe did not understand, I think he did though). We went back to our room and tried to fall asleep. I constructed the plan of action called “what can we do if they steal it all”. No passport, no credit card, not too much cash. Ok, the plan was: hitch hiking to Phnom Penh to the embassy and letting them deal with it. How will we find the embassy, we will use the Internet in our hotel on their cost, they can’t refuse us this. When I imagined the whole journey I fell asleep and was woken maybe an hour later by shouting. At first we didn’t pay any attention, but
those people kept on shouting and we couldn’t fall asleep so we started to listen. The issue was: the hotel overcharged American teenagers and they didn’t agree to pay the bill well just the overcharge). The porter couldn’t do anything about it and the guests were supposed to leave before the receptionist comes in in the morning. They shouted for around 40 minutes. We were certain then we were not getting our stuff back. But I fell asleep short after the fight stopped anyway, I was just too tired. P woke me up in the morning bringing in the envelops from the reception… what a relief…
We got up around 11 am to meet Tony who took us to Angkor but more about it in the next post.
Let me know about your experiences in Cambodia and Angkor if you’ve been there! Any adventures?
Route: London – Bahrain – Bangkok – Siem Reap – Ho Chi Minh City – Nha Trang – Hoi An – Hue – Da Nang – Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok – Bahrain – London
Time schedule: 5th November 2009 – 19th November 2009
Participants: 2 P & Me
Here we are at the Bangkok train station on 6th November 2009 early afternoon. It’s my second time in Bangkok so yesterday – the first day we spent in bangkok, we were able to avoid some of the tourist traps tyros do encounter (more about it in a different post). Nevertheless booking train tickets through the agency seemed easy and very tempting, mainly because we were to arrive in Siem Reap late evening and didn’t fancy walking from one hotel to another in strange city, tired with a heavy backpack. So we bought: train tickets to the Cambodian boarder, bus ticket to Siem Reap and overnight stay in a guest house; in the agency at the main railway station. Of course we overpaid, but well the journey was supposed to be smooth and comfortable.
We are waiting for the train to arrive, expecting probably something like what you see in the pictures from India. We read in our guide that you need to hurry to get seats as the trains are usually overcrowded. While we are waiting there is more and more people coming. I don’t think we spotted any other tourist among them besides two German guys with backpacks. Finally the train arrives and we are able to get in, interior looks pretty the same as in some old carriages in Poland, P says it might be even better. When we depart most seats are taken but there is no one standing yet. This is of course going to change along the way, there will be youth traveling from school, farmers with their crops, traders offering coconuts to drink and different kinds of food jumping on and off the train. The journey is fantastic. We can’t take our eyes from the view outside the window. Firstly we observe life around the tracks with so many families using the space for their everyday life. Health and safety in Europe would never allow that. We can barely recognize where the stops are, as there are no platforms or signs. The train just stops and people get in. Then we come across group of graduates who have their pictures taken on the tracks. Is that for good luck I wonder… then the landscape changes and we come across rice fields, little cottages between palm trees just next to fish ponds, pastures and stations in the middle of nowhere. It’s the kind of sites you can only see while traveling by land transport. I’m so glad we didn’t take the plane.
A person working for agency was going to wait on us at the final stop to take us through the border and lead us to the bus going to Siem Reap. Sounds good. We had no idea what time it was and it really didn’t feel like a long journey. When we arrived everyone suddenly seemed to be in a hurry. We looked around in search of our guides. It was them who found us and insisted on moving quickly to a tuk-tuk. For those of you who don’t know what a tuk-tuk is: it’s a motor vehicle with three wheels used to transport passengers and goods, called sometimes auto rikshaw. There was an American couple who didn’t know where to go. I tried to help and offer them to come along with us but we got separated by our guides who insisted we move along faster. And so we did. There are plenty of tuk tuks for hire so if you travel by yourself, don’t worry you will be able to hire transport. I tried to assess if you could walk instead of hiring wheels and I think is doable. I recently walked to Dublin Port from O’Connell St in Dublin (so compare it to what you are willing to walk).
Anyway we already had our visas from Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok (tip: if you are taking taxi get the address written in Thain alphabet not Latin), so we only had to fill out immigration cards supplied by our guides. You can get Visa and immigration card on the border. The first one is paid, the second free of charge (in case someone wants to charge you). So this is how it looked like: before the border our guide took us to table under a tent and asked to fill out the cards. We did that and waited for him for a while. He came back with another guy and the four of us approached the border post. Our guide told us he cannot cross the border but the other man will take us across and if we want to take out some money we should do it now, because in Cambodia there are no ATMs and a lot of pickpockets. He kept repeating how dangerous it is and we started to get nervous. It was getting dark by now and plenty of people with all types of bags, cases and carts were crossing the border. We did not know what to believe. We had $ so we didn’t feel it was necessary to take out any money, so we just kept on going. When we got to Thai border a man started to camrecord us, which felt really strange. The thought crossed my mind “is this for ransom purposes???!!!” It was really dark by then. We found ourselves in the stream of people walking in darkness. We could barely catch up with the man who was supposed to take care of us. We walked over a stream smelling of fish and dirt. People were brushing and bumping into us. I was getting more and more aware of the stress I felt… And then there was light. We thought we were already in Cambodia, but this was actually a zone of enormous hotels and casinos with limousines parked outside. Everything was luxurious and glittering, like some other world, Asian Las Vegas type of thing. Now I thought about mob and drug lords, but we just kept on walking until we got to the Cambodian border. You know it’s communist country, so we were treated as all foreigners in communist country, which is something difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Let’s just say people are very unhappy when you disturb their “work” even when this work is supposed to be serving you. Just before approaching the official we met Polish couple traveling to Siem Reap as well. We quickly exchanged experiences and wished them farewell.
When we got to the other side P had to go to the toilet so I stayed with the luggage waiting. The man who crossed the border with us just then told me that the train was late and so the last bus is gone and now we need to pay for a taxi to get to Siem Reap. I got really angry, I said I didn’t care, that we paid for the transport and it’s their problem to provide us with replacement.
He kept on saying: “No buses today”
and I kept saying: “I don’t care I paid!” (believe me I know it wasn’t constructive but I was too tired to care).
So it went until P came back and the couple we met earlier suggested we could share a taxi. Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by taxi drivers, touts, our guide and Polish couple. Everyone wanted to pull us in different direction, shouting and convincing us we should come with him. We couldn’t even talk to each other to decide what we want to do. Next minute an old bus approached us and our guide told us to get in so we can drive away where taxis are cheaper than here. There was another tourist already on the bus reaching his hand towards us.
We looked at the bus, at the guide and decided NO WAY!
So we shared the taxi for $30 (for the whole car). Our guide was really mad that we didn’t do what he wanted. And told us to give back our transit tickets (the ones we got at the agency). We thought “well obviously he needs them, fine let’s get it over with!”. So we took off happy to be on the way, chatting about our trips and places we’ve seen, when suddenly a police patrol started to flash light at us in the middle of nowhere and our driver did not want to stop… but I will tell you all about it in the next post.