Saturday, February 9, 2013

Angkor Wat

Tuesday 5th February

The next stop on our tour was Angkor Wat and its associated buildings. I had expected that it would be one a number of buildings inside a central enclosure. However  I discovered that it is only one of many temples. All the buildings in the Angkor group are made of stone quarried elsewhere and dragged into place. No mortar was used in the construction of any of these enormous complexes. The temples fell into disuse about 600 years ago and the space was reclaimed by jungle. They were rediscovered in about 1908, and most have been restored to some extent.

Some of the temples are Hindu and others are Buddhist.

The first one we visited was Angkor Thom which means great city and was built in the 12th century. It contains the Bayon which is at the centre and has carvings of Buddha on the face of each tower. It also contains many detailed bas relief - one of people with speared fish like kebabs.
Monkeys are plentiful at Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom with many columns and images of Budda
Bas relief with cooking on skewers and monkeys in trees

Soldiers in warships, fish beneath
Next was the Elephant Terrace which is a 350 metre long terrace with elephant sculptures, designed to be a display and feasting space for the king to celebrate the return of his victorious armies .
Part of the elephant terrace

The final temple was called Pre Rup and was made of a stone which reddish-gold at sunset.  Several of the group climbed up the very steep steps of the temple to watch the sunset, but because of hazy skies it was a bit disappointing.
Pre Rup without sunlight on the stones

Sun setting on Pre Rup
The day was completed by dinner at a local restaurant owned by a friend of the guide Narun. It was a very amusing night as the owner was very tipsy and giggled most of the night. He also decided that Tony looked like Mr Bean – a likeness that had us all puzzled. The food was mostly fairly good, but the service was erratic and quite hysterical.

Wednesday 6th February

The previous day was a great introduction to the magnificence of Angkor Wat which is the national symbol of Cambodia, but the actual temple is truly magnificent.  Its walls are approx. 1000 metres by 800 metres and they are surrounded by a moat 190 metres wide. Entry is via a long stone causeway across the moat. Angkor Wat covers an extensive area and has several buildings. Our  guide grew up nearby and the area was his playground, so his knowledge of it is quite. He has a wide array of facts and figures at his fingertips but they have slipped through mine.

Angkor Wat is a splendid construction with many buildings, 3 levels, many small rooms  and extremely steep stairs. It’s a bit like a maze, but not so bad that David wasn’t able to re-trace his steps to find his lost camera. Fortunately one of the workers had it and David was able to re-claim it for $5.  

A view of the main part of Angkor Wat from inside the main arena

The temple reflected in the lily pond

Another monkey, this one with her baby

One of the high towers, the domain of the monks

View over the inner temple towards the distant front entrance
The next temple was  Banteay Srei,  a small, level citadel of women built in the 10th century. It too had magnificent carvings in pink sandstone, more hard-wearing than the stone in other temples.
Intricate carving at Banteay Srei

More carvings

Mythological figures and more carving

By the time we had finished our visit to these 2 temples we were drooping with the heat and dripping with perspiration. And after lunch there was still another one to go.

We all dutifully trundled off to Ta Prohm or the Jungle temple. This temple has been left in a largely unrestored condition, and the effects of massive tree growth on old stone are everywhere. It’s a really amazing place, probably my favourite.

The effect of tree roots on stone after hundreds of years

That is a giant tree root abov David's head

Two strangler figs, one inside the other

We finished off the day with a trip 9 of us taking a tuk tuk ride down to Pub Street in Sien Reap, the restaurant, and after 5 days of mysterious and varied Cambodian cuisine we all opted for pasta and pizza. Sounds sacrilegious but we really enjoyed it. Our tuk tuk drivers sought us out at the restaurant for our ride home, despite being told not to bother waiting. It’s obviously quite competitive if they would wait 2 hours for a $3 fare.

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