Temple of Glory

Trip Start Aug 03, 2008
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Trip End Aug 18, 2009


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

After getting up early to see Alms in Laos, we realize there was no point in trying to get any more shut eye as we had a 10:00 am flight to Siem Reap. The flight we were on wasn't direct, simply because they had to stop to let passengers off but also to refuel the plane.  Keep in mind that total flight time between Laos and Siem Reap was 4 hours, hard to believe they had to refuel.  And so once again, we had one option on how to get to town.  We could either each go on the back of a motorbike or take a van for a little more.  Luckily, with all our luggage Bill didn't opt to go the cheap way and we took the van to town.

Our driver spent the whole time trying to get us to book him for our tour around Angkor.  Bill kept asking him questions trying to get orientated to our new area.  As we got out of the car, Bill asked for his card.  And the driver replied, "You're not going to call."  Bill went to explain that yes he'd check prices to see if he could get something cheaper, but he was a driver that spoke English well and knew the temples, plus, we probably wouldn't go for a long day the first day as I was still sick.  He responded, "Oh, she's sick, here's my card." Bill responded, "I'm alright with you thinking I won't call," and walked away.  Of course, he told me about this transaction later as I was already in the hotel room.

Bill let me take a nap, but when he returned with water and other supplies, he was ready to go get our passes for the temples.  You can buy a 1, 3, or 5 day pass to the temples, and if you buy you're pass after 5:00 the day before, you get those few hours for free as your pass doesn't start until the next day.  Any extra time Bill could have, he wanted to take.  So groggy me gets into yet another tuk tuk to head to the ticket office.  You also have to have your picture taken for these passes and the lines can be long in the morning so it was good to go get it over with as no one was in line when we got there.  So we got our passes and Bill asked our tuk tuk driver, "Where's the best place to see the sunset?"

Before we knew it, he was telling us to go that way pointing to a path on the left side of the street.  Okay, I thought, we walk up a little ways to that point and see the sunset. "WRONG!"  The path kept going and going and going, I was still trying to wake up from my nap.  Though by the time we finally got to the top, I was wide awake so it was a good walk just totatlly unexpected.  Bill also had assumed we just see it in front of a temple not expected a 20 min walk to get there.  We reached Phnom Bakheng temple where there were loads of tourists.  I hadn't expected to see so many at the top of this path, but I guess it is the best place to see the sunset.  We climbed the temple and sat for a bit realizing there wasn't going to be a very colorful sunset.  But we walked around a bit, until I got mad a Bill taking so many pictures, as I really didn't want to walk down the dirt path in the dark with no flashlight.  We did end up walking some of it with it being pretty dark, but we were in a heard of people going down and a few had flashlights so it all worked out.

We decided for our first day to take a tour guide and an ac car instead of a tuk tuk as we knew it was going to be hot.  Bill went to numerous agencies to get one that he thought would take us out in the morning and bring us back to the guesthouse for a break in the day when it get murderous hot and then go back out for round two.  So he found a place that basically said, "You have a guide and a driver for the day, you can tell them where you want to go."  Sounded like it would be good.  However, of course it didn't quite work like that...

It started with the guide telling us that the temples we were picking were too far to go, and we should just go with seeing all the main temples today as we had three more days.  And so, we went with the guided tour our guide was use too.  It also followed by him telling us that it was too far to go back to town for lunch so that we should just eat inside the temple, there's an area with lots of restaurants.  That area turned out to be one restaurant he took us to that had the most average over priced food, we weren't very happy.   And we never went back to town for a break, in fact, we didn't make it back until after 5.  The heat was difficult, but I figured we paid so much for a guide and a car that we should take advantage of it, maybe Bill is rubbing off on me.

Bill will describe the temples we saw this day.  Though they were pretty amazing, I just couldn't believe how many of them there were.  I also had heard of Angkor Wat and saw the picture, but I didn't realize it was just one small temple compared to the entire complex of Angkor.  We even saw the temple that was featured in Tomb Raider, Angela Jolie is well liked here as the natives say, putting Cambodia on the map.  The impressive part about that temple is how the trees just grow anywhere along it, many of the other temples also had trees growing, but this one had the most trees surrounding it.   Here's Bill to give the details...

As Michelle stated, Angkor Wat (the famous temple from this area) is only one very small part of the larger ruins of Angkor.  Angkor (Royal City) was the center of the Khemer empire and its capital.  It is situated on a huge flat plane full of rice patties and rivers.  We started out our tour by visiting Angkor Thom, which is a huge complex where the Royal Palace once was.  Their is a moat around the entire structure.  The outer walls measure nearly 3 km (1.8 miles) in length.  It is absolutely massive, it is said that the walls were thick enough to use as a road for elephants riden by the guards.  The bridge across the moat has 56 Gods on one side and 56 Demons on the the other side, representing all the individual states of the former kingdom.  Behind the bridge stands a massive gate that is topped with 4 huge faces, which represent the four characteristics needed to rule.  This gate is still used to let tourists into the Angkor Thom, and there was an endless stream of tour buses, vans, cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, bicycles, and even elephants going though it.  After passing the gate we drove to the center of the complex to see the ruins of Bayon, which is a temple complex at the center of the complex.  Walking up to Bayon, you imedeately notice all the spires with the 4 faces on them.  Again there are 56 represtenting all the kingdoms of the Khemer Empire.  But as you walk into the complex you realize that it is a series of walls carved with scenes of battles and everyday life in the Kingdom.  There are three of these galleries that ring the temple, each built on one level higher.  Finally you get to the main temple and climb up the outside, so you are now looking face to face with some of the faces that sit on spires atop the galleries and looking up at the huge central spire.  It was a very impressive sight.

After spending quite a while exploring the ruins of Bayon, we walked North to a temple that was being rebuilt by the French.  Baphoun, was a huge temple built in the shape of a stepped pyramid.  You could only see the large outer wall surrounding the complex, and the very top of the Pyramid as much of it was being worked on.  But what was unique about this, was the fact that about 5 feet off the ground, there was a bridge running from the gate in the outer wall to the gate at the base of the temple.  Our guide explained that this was to keep the kings out of the mud, but I read in another book, that they used to flood the entire place for a festival during the year, and then that was the only way to get to the temple.  Next we walked to a very steep sided stepped pyramid of Phimeanakas.  This was situated right next to the royal palace, an had a good view out over the area where it once stood.  However, since it was built primarily of wood there is nothing left except a couple of pools used for bathing.  We ended our time in Angkor Thom, by walking out to the Leper King Terrace and Elephant Terrace.  These were a huge elevated terrace that were decorated with decorative reliefs.  These now have a view of the main road, but once had a view out over the main game area, where they would have any number of different contests, including Elephant racing.

Next just outside the wall of Angkor Thom we stoped at the ruins of Banteay Kdei.  These were two large temple complexes that have suffered from the the conversion from Budism to Hinduism back to Budism.  The outer wall all 4 km of it, were topped were once ringed with images of the Buddha, but had all of these chisled out and never replaced, because Hinduism did not last long enough to remove all the references to Buddha and create new ones.  The temple itself was pretty wide open with a number of chambers and spires.  It was interesting to walk around these ruins and imagine how amazing this once was.

Next we went to Ta Prohm, which is the "Tomb Raider" temple.  However, it was used for one small scene, and even then there was alot of CG enhancement.  But anyways it was cool to see how the Jungle had taken over and destroyed these temples.  You can see the trees growing on the walls, the tops of temples.  It was just a very wierd sight.  The temple itself was orginially built as a buddist temple, and had a number over very winding tight walkways around it to various different chambers and rooms.  It was not the sight of some of the others, but the detail in the carvings and the visible growth shows how easy the temples could be lost in the jungle in a very short period of time.

We ended the day by going to see Angkor Wat, the most famous of them all.  This complex, is the largest religous building in the world.  And was built as a Hindu monument (probably why they did not have time to replace all the buddhas just deface them) speciffically to Visnhu.  The name is Budist, because it was renamed when Budism took over again.  Anyways the temple is at the center a huge spire, covered with 7 headed snakes called Naga's.  Then there is a wall ringing that with 4 more towers.  Outside of that there is another wall with 8 more towers.  All getting smaller and lower to provide the dramatic effect that is Angkor Wat.  Beyond this wall at the front there are two more galleries of carvings and small pools for holy water.  This courtyard was a very nice change from all the other buildings, as it was larger and had a very Romian feel.  Beyond this you were outside the inner temple complex.  There were a pair of libraries overlooking the reflecting pools that once sat outside.  Though these pools are only small lilly ponds now.  Then further out you get to the protective outer wall that has a gate for the king elaborately decorated in the middle then a pair of gates for commoners on either side, and further out, it even had a pair of gates for elephants.  Outside this wall again there was a large moat with a decorative causeway crossing it.  Overall, outside of not being allowed to go the the central tower, because of work that was being done the place was absolutely incredible.

The after spending a long, hot day with the tour guide the day before, we decided to beat the heat and the crowds (or so we thought) and head out early in the morning to see the sun rise over the main temple in Angkor Wat.  Waking up early and riding to the ruins in a tuktuk, it was quickly apparent that we were not going to be alone.  When we got to Angkor Wat the place was absolutely crawling with tourists.  In fact there may have been more there than the night before.  We quickly found a spot and sat down to enjoy the sunrise, something that we do not regularly get a chance to see.  While the sunrise was not spectacular it was an impressive sight, as the ruins went from shadows in the dark, to the outline of temples, to full blown sun and the temples in all their glory.  In the end it was worth getting up at 4:30 in the morning, I believe even Michelle thought so.

Next we had our Tuk Tuk take us to Preah Khan which was another of the large temple complexes that made up the capital of Angkor. Like all the other temple complexes this one had a large square wall around the complex, and the temple inside was in the shape of a large plus along the points of a compass. In the center there was once a spire though not very large, that had been collapsed by the jungle. The rest ruins were in pretty good shape with a number of the carvings on the wall still very visible. Looking down the long length of the temple it looked like an endless string of doors until the day light on the far side was just a small dot. The courtyards created by the plus shape were filled with a number of small Chedis some of them in good shape others reduced to a pile of rubble. After exploring this temple for over an hour we headed back out the gate to our Tuk Tuk , and asked him to bring us to the next temple. We went around the corner, a distance that seemed to short, and he stopped again. As we walked up to the temple Michelle said, "I think I have seen too many temples, because they all look the same." She decided to sit in the shade of a tree while I explored. I had to agree the temple had same shape and was decorated in a very similar fashion. When I got to the center of the long corridor that made up the plus shape, I realized that this was in fact the same temple we had just been to. Our driver had just drooped us off at the North Gate, where the first time he dropped us off at the East Gate. Needless to say, we had to stay a while, because Michelle could not stop laughing at me.

After clearing up the fact that we wanted to go to the next temple with our driver, he took us down the road and we stopped at the small shrine of Neak Pean , which was a Chedi that was sunk into the middle of a shallow pit, with stairs around it. Outside this central area of the shrine was four pools to be used by people to get water for their worshiping ritual. However, the four pools were dry, with thick patches of grass growing, and the center area around the Chedi was completely flooded.

The last temple we saw on our brief morning tour was called Ta Som , which was another temple that has had minimal restoration done to it. Essentially all that has been done is vegetation that is not a tree has been removed. Some of the trees in the courtyard are being removed. But overall any tree on the temple has been allowed to stay to show just how the jungle advanced on to the temples. This complex was a cross between Ta Prohm , because of the maze of collapsed section of the temple and Preah Khan because the layout was similar but on a smaller scale. It was amazing to see just how the trees can grow in any small crack between the blocks and then have their roots spider across the building. We spend the rest of the day lounging around in the restaurants on Pub Street. A great name for a street, especially in a country where you can not pronounce most of the names correctly. The idea of the street is also good it is like a large food court and at night the police block the street off to prevent cars and tuk tuks from taking over making it a great place to hang out. The problem is that the food was over priced and not that good. We tried a number of different spots while we were their: Cambodian, Mexican, Irish, Italian, and even a burger joint. But realistically none of the meals were that good especially considering the fact you were paying western prices.

The story from this street would have to be the night that we took our half day Tuk Tuk tour, I pursaded Michelle to get Cambodian Barbecue. Essentially you order a meat or a couple of meats and cook them on a metal cone over an open fire. The cone has a few small holes in the top of it and that is where the meat is cooked at the top of the cone. The bottom of the cone is rounded back up to form a pan that catches the juices from the meat. In this area, water is poured and vegetables and noodles are put in the water to make a soup to go with the meat. It is a very interesting looking method of cooking an entire meal.  However, overlooked by me in my desire to try this out, was the fact that it was rather hot and humid. So sitting around cooking your food was a very hot endeavour. To make matters worse all of the smoke from our table seemed to blow directly into Michelle's face. Other tables had theirs going straight up, but not our table. It was an interesting experience, but I think I will leave the cooking up to the professionals in the future.

Our last day in Siem Reap, we again went to the ruins of Angkor. We wend to see Srah Srang , which sounded interesting and looked big on the map of the ruins, however it turned out to be little more than an elaborate dock in one of the reservoirs throughout the complex. Next we went to Pre Rup , which was a different style of temple complex. Rather than being a large spread out complex like many of the others we visited, this was more of a large pyramid with five large stupas on the wall where you enter. It was a pretty interesting place it was definitely from the earlier style as there was not as much decoration, and the stone work was much rougher. The next temple we went to go see was East Mebon , which was once set inside a huge reservoir and was an island in the center. So it rises up on a small hill above the surrounding rice patties that have replaced filled in the area that once was reservoir. There is a matching on on the other side of the city of Angkor called West Mebon , that one is only accessible by boat, as half of the reservoir still exists.

After seeing these ruins and feeling like there was little left we wanted to see in the main sight of Angkor, we headed out to Banteay Srei (Women's Temple) which is a very small but elaborately decorated temple about 30 km away. This temple is better preserved than most of the temples at Angkor, and the carvings on the temple wall are still very easy to make out. It was also a good place to look and see the general layout of how the temples are made as it is all cleared and you can easily look out over the entire complex.

We finished the day off by going out to a floating village. There is a large lake in the center of Cambodia, but as the country is mostly flat there is a huge area on the side of it that is probably better described as a flooded marsh than a lake. There are almost no waves because the vegetation stops most of the currents like that. There are areas that are cleared out like roads for boats to run and one large peninsula sticking out into the center of this area. Out from this there are any number of floating houses that are all around just off these main boat channels. These houses are sometimes a houseboat, other times two nearly sinking boats tied together with a shack built on top of them, other times a collection of oil barrels floating with some manner of a structure above it. It was interesting to see, there was a school house out near an important intersection of channels. Small boats with women and children race around carrying various goods. Then there was the places that are their to attract tourists with their fish farms (an open topped box sunk into the river with fish packed in so tight they can hardly move). They spoon some food into the box and the fish rush to the surface in one writhing mass. They also had alligator farms, which were similar to the fish farms, but wit a dry spot for them to sit and stare at you. When you first look, they all look fake just sitting and not moving. But then there is movement and you realize that it is a huge pile of alligators stacked three or four high.

The next day we left for Bangkok, but that is a story I will let Michelle tell.

Bill and Michelle
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