Cambodia, 9th - 13th February 2007


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Angkor Thom, Cambodia, 9th February 2007

The flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap took about 40 minutes, but it seemed as if we were transported to a different world. We had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport, but had not expected him to be driving a tuk-tuk. (The Cambodian versions of tuk-tuks are more primitive than the Thai versions, and consist of a motorcycle pulling a two-person carriage). Somehow he managed to balance all our luggage and still fit us on board. Driving to the hotel we passed fields with emaciated-looking cattle, people working with hand tools, road side stalls and magnificent new hotels. At one point we were passed by a motorcycle carrying an entire family - two adults and three small children including an infant.

After recovering a bit at the hotel, we had our driver take us to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was a walled city, which originally held more than a million inhabitants, and contained several magnificent temples of varying sizes. It was built in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII who was considered one of the greatest of the Khmer rulers (at least in terms of the number of temples left ehind), and featured many of the four-faced towers of which he seemed particularly fond.

Like most tourists, we entered through the East Gate, where we spent some time looking and taking photographs, before going on. Bayon is the largest of the temples within Angkor Thom, and we spent several hours there, starting at the South gate, and working our way round some of the bas-reliefs before going in. We then went on to Baphuon, which was smaller and closed for restoration, but had an impressive walkway leading to it, and to the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King, which were situated in front of the site of the Royal Palace and served various ceremonial purposes.

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Sara, South gate of Angkor Thom


Stalls outside South Gate, Angkor Thom


Gods pulling Naga to churn ocean of milk, South gate of Angkor Thom


Sara, South gate of Angkor Thom


South Gate, Angkor Thom


South Gate, Angkor Thom


South Gate, Angkor Thom


South Gate, Angkor Thom


Angkor Thom


Buddha, Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Apsara bas relief, Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Sara, Bayon, Angkor Thom


Monk, Bayon, Angkor Thom


Tower with face of Lokeshvara, Bayon


Tower with face of Lokeshvara, Bayon


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Buddha, Baphuon


Walkway, Baphuon


Sara, Baphuon


Bicycle, Baphuon


Sara, Baphuon


Prasat Suor Prat, Angkor Thom


Prasat Suor Prat, Angkor Thom


Tuk tuks, Angkor Thom


Sara, Terrace of the Elephants, Angkor Thom


Royal Palace, Angkor Thom


Sara, Terrace of the Leper King


Baphuon, Angkor Thom


Child, Baphuon, Angkor Thom

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 10th February 2007

Seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat seems to be obligatory for all visitors, even though it requires getting up insanely early: the hotel provided breakfast at 5 a.m., and we met out tuk-tuk driver at 5:30. The sunrise itself seemed a little disappointing to me (though the temple was magnificent), but nevertheless we joined the hundreds of other tourists in photographing it.

We started in Angkor Wat by working our way round the bas-reliefs around the outer corridors, which depicted various Hindu myths, most of which entailed battles between gods and daemons, and also the churning of the ocean of milk. We also saw many images of Devata (a.k.a. Apsara), a female deity with very funky hair, which were carved everywhere. The carvings went from floor to ceiling, in multiple levels, and many had an extraordinary three-dimentional quality.

After working our way round the outer galleries, we went into the temple, through the Cruciform Cloister and Hall of a Thousand Buddhas, and climbed the steps to the second level. Angkor Wat is built on three levels. The steps to the third level were extremely narrow and steep, rising 42m above the second level. About three-quarters of the way up Sara ran into problems, but found it would have been harder to go down again than finish the climb. We spent a while at the top level getting up the nerve to go back down again, though a hand-rail on the other side made it a little easier. We spent four and a half hours in Angkor Wat, and, by the time we left, it was getting very hot and we were tired, so we returned to the hotel for lunch and to rest before heading out again.

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat


Sara, Sunrise at Angkor Wat


Sunrise at Angkor Wat


Library, Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat


Cruciform Cloister, Angkor Wat


Hall of a thousand Buddhas, Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat


Devata, Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat


Bas relief, Angkor Wat


Cruciform cloister, Angkor Wat


Sara, Steps to second level, Angkor Wat


Lions, Angkor Wat


Balloon, View from Angkor Wat


Apsara, Angkor Wat


Buddha, Angkor Wat


Second gallery, Angkor Wat


Second level courtyard, Angkor Wat


Sara, Angkor Wat


Sara, Steps to the third level, Angkor Wat


View from the third level, Angkor Wat


Cloister, Third level of Anckor Wat


Third level courtyard, Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat


Elderly man, Angkor Wat


View from third level, Angkor Wat


Buddha, Angkor Wat


Sara, Cruciform terrace, Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat

Ta Prohm, Cambodia, 10th February 2007

Ta Prohm had a more ruinous look than Angkor Wat or Bayon, though, in fact, this appearance had been cultivated: the temple had been completely engulfed by jungle, and, when the undergrowth was cut back, the restorers had left the larger trees in place so as to keep the Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider feel. It was quite crowded, with many tourists getting in the way of each other's photographs, but was cooler than the other temples and very atmospheric and beautiful.

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Library, Ta Prohm


Sara, Ta Prohm


Sara, Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Devata, Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Sara, Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Ta Prohm


Sara on board tuk tuk, with Bean driving

Preah Khan, Cambodia, 11th February 2007

We decided to hire a guide for the morning of our third day, and asked to see some of the sites that we hadn't yet seen around Angkor. Preah Khan was another large complex, about the same age as Ta Prohm, built by Jayavarman VII to honor his father (he built Ta Prohm for his mother and Bayon for himself). It had long walkways lined with gods and daemons pulling Naga the snake in order to churn the ocean of milk (a common theme). There was an enormous garuda (a mythical man-bird) carving outside the West gate and many more Apsara/Devata inside. Overall Preah Khan was less overgrown than Ta Prohm, but there were still some spectacular Kapok tree roots around the West entrance.

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Preah Khan, walkway to entrance


Preah Khan


Naga the ocean-churning snake, Preah Khan


Sara and Garuda, Preah Khan


Moat, Preah Khan


Preah Khan


Rubble, Preah Khan


Apsara, Preah Khan


Preah Khan


Small girl, Preah Khan


Preah Khan


Sara, Preah Khan


Preah Khan


Apsaras, Preah Khan


Apsara above doorway, Preah Khan


Preah Khan


Preah Khan


Library, Preah Khan

Neak Pean, Cambodia, 11th February 2007

Neak Pean is a small temple on an island in the middle of a large square pool surrounded by four smaller square pools. Also built by Jayavarman VII, apparently it was a site of healing.

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Sara, Neak Pean


Neak Pean


Woman, Neak Pean


Neak Pean


Sara, Neak Pean


Neak Pean


Neak Pean

Ta Som, Cambodia, 11th February 2007

Ta Som was a smaller temple, also built by Jayavarman VII, this time for his wife (or one of them). It featured more wonderful carvings and tree roots taking over. It also apparently played an important role in the first Tomb Raider film.

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Bas reliefs, Ta Som


Ta Som


Ta Som


Sara, Ta Som


Children, Ta Som


Ta Som


Ta Som

East Mabon, Cambodia, 11th February 2007

East Mabon was NOT built by Jayavarman VII, and was actually about 200 years older (10th century). It was built of a different kind of volcanic rock, giving it a yellow-orange colour quite different from the other temples. It also had some nice elephant statues on the outer corners. The layout seemed very similar to Angkor Wat (but not as huge) with three levels and five gopura (towers) on the third level.

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East Mabon


Sara, East Mabon


Sara and elephant, East Mabon


East Mabon


Sara, East Mabon


East Mabon


East Mabon

Pre Rup, Cambodia, 11th February 2007

We passed Pre Rup on the way back from East Mabon and stopped briefly to look. Overall it had a similar appearance to East Mabon, and was about the same age, but smaller and not quite as well preserved. Originally Pre Rup was used as the site for cremations.

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Pre Rup


Pre Rup


Monks, Pre Rup

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 11th February 2007

We returned to Angkor Wat in the evening to watch the sunset from the South Pool. Overall this seemed a much better time of day for photographs since it was less crowded and the light was better, though the down-side was the flowers in the pond had closed up during the day and would not reopen until the morning.

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Angkor Wat


Sara, Angkor Wat


Small child, Angkor Wat

Banteay Srei, Cambodia, 12th February 2007

Banteay Srei is about 32km or a little less than an hours' drive North of Siem Reap and Angkor, but there was a lot of dust and many bumps in the road, so it is not a journey I would recommend making by tuk-tuk. We hired a car for the day.

Banteay Srei was built in the 10th century and was relatively small by local standards, but also absolutely exquisite. It was covered in astonishingly intricate and detailed carvings and bas-reliefs, covering many Hindu myths, and also Apsara and various floral designs, some of which seemed to float above the surface of the walls in an incredible three-dimensional effect. For the main temples, virtually every square inch was covered with carvings of extraordinary beauty. The name Banteay Srei means "Citadel of Women", and it is so-called because it was believed that the carvings were too fine to be carved by the hand of a man and must have been made by women.

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Banteay Srei


Carvings, Banteay Srei


Carvings, Banteay Srei


Carvings, Banteay Srei


Carvings, Banteay Srei


Sara, Banteay Srei


Banteay Srei


Banteay Srei


Three-headed elephant, Banteay Srei


Carved doorway, Banteay Srei


Daemons, Banteay Srei


Three-dimensional carving, Banteay Srei


Banteay Srei


Banteay Srei


Banteay Srei


Banteay Srei


Sara, Basket stall

Banteay Samré, Cambodia, 12th February 2007

On the way back towards Angkor, we stopped at Banteay Samré which was built at about the same time as Angkor Wat, and in a similar style. It was said to be the site of where a melon farmer was appointed by the king in order to guard his melons; accidently killed the king while guarding the melons at night; and was subsequently made king himself by a white elephant.

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Feet, Banteay Samré


Banteay Samré


Banteay Samré


Naga, the snake, Banteay Samré


Carving of musicians and harpist, Banteay Samré


Banteay Samré

Banteay Kdei, Cambodia, 12th February 2007

Banteay Kdei was built by Jayavarman VII and features his favorite four-headed tower theme. However, unlike Ta Prohm and Ta Som, it didn't appear to be dedicated to any particular relatives, but was simply a Buddhist temple. It did feature a stage for musicians and dancers, and had bas-reliefs of musicians including harp players, though later it was used for trials (first one to drop dead was guilty). Overall the layout is similar to Ta Prohm but it is not overgrown except for one particularly large Kapok tree on the way out.

Our guide was also able to explain to us the difference between Apsara and Devata - one of them was depicted holding flowers and the other wasn't, but, unfortunately I forgot which was which.

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Banteay Kdei


Banteay Kdei


Banteay Kdei


Banteay Kdei


Banteay Kdei

Roluos, Cambodia, 12th February 2007

Roluous is about 13km from Siem Reap and is the location of three temples: Lolei, Preah Ko and Bakong. These are older than the other sites we visited - late 9th century - and built mostly using bricks.

Lolei was pretty small and in ruins, but was located next to a functioning Buddhist monastery and town. Preah Ko seemed similar in appearance and layout, but did have some striking statues of bullocks in front of the two sanctuary towers.

Bakong was the biggest, best preserved and most interesting of the three sites. It was built on five levels, with elephant statues on the four corners of the first three levels. As we were leaving, our guide pointed out a "pagoda" next to the site which had originally been used as a Buddhist monastery, but which had been used by the Khmer Rouge as a jail. He told us that after the war the moat had been drained, and many human bones and skulls were found, which had later been used in a memorial.

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Lolei, Roluos complex


Monks, Lolei


Children, Monastery at Lolei


Bullock, Preah Ko, Roluos


Bakong, Roluos


Elephants, Bakong, Roluos


Bullock, Bakong, Roluos


Elephant, Bakong, Roluos


Pagoda, Bakong - Used as prison by Khmer Rouge


Bakong

Angkor Thom, Cambodia, 13th February 2007

Our last morning in Cambodia, we returned to Angkor Thom for one last look. We spent some time looking at the bas-reliefs that surround the outer walls of Bayon, since we had not seen them all on our first visit. These were carved on three tiers, and mostly concentrated on the various battles between the Chams and Khmers, but also featured scenes from daily life such as fishing, hunting, baking, cooking, and, in once case, a woman giving birth.

We then walked through the enclosure of the Royal Palace to get to Preah Palilay. Preah Palilay was a small and lovely Buddhist temple, mostly in ruins and a bit overgrown with trees, but very atmospheric, and also with very few visitors compared to the rest of Angkor Thom.

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Elephants, Angkor Thom


Elephants, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Bayon, Angkor Thom


Preah Palilay, Angkor Thom


Preah Palilay, Angkor Thom


Buddha, Preah Palilay, Angkor Thom


Buddha, Preah Palilay, Angkor Thom


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