Sunday, December 19, 2010


Continuing the travelogue, we went sightseeing in Cambodia. This is the longest and the most image heavy post.

Specifically, we went to see the temple complexes at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. What I didn't know is that there are dozens of temples in this area because it was the capital of the Khmer empire for centuries. Angkor Thom means 'Large city' or 'Major city'. The city where one stays is Siem Reap which is a major tourist destination, now that Cambodia is at peace. Cambodia is a very poor country and is mainly agricultural - a major rice exporter. Therefore tourism is a very important part of the economy. The sad part is that most of the investment is by foreign private companies so the profits tend not to get re-invested in Cambodia.
One of our first stops was to see the giant inland lake called Tonlé Sap. There are fishermen who live in floating villages on the lake. However, this is the end of the rainy season so the lake is very high and they stay in the river till the water level drops. Here are some of their boats on the river.
We also stopped by a memorial to the victims of the Pol Pot regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979. One of the killing fields was near Siem Reap and this honors their memory. There is also a bulletin board with photos showing the history of the time and what was discovered after the regime was overthrown.
Enough with the modern stuff, let's move on to the twelfth century. We started at a temple called Ta Prohm. It has two claims to fame. It was featured in the movie Tomb Raider and it is kept in the condition that the entire set of ruins was found in. The entrance is featured above.

There are many interesting tree roots in and around the complex. Sometimes they are literally holding the stones together, and at other times they are driving them apart. We photographed one interesting root structure above. The two legs hanging down look like a human rear end.
This is an example of the tree featured in the movie. A large network of roots hanging down is photogenic. I haven't seen the movie so I can't tell you what the tree was used for.
An important feature of all the temples is the lovely carving that decorates them. Here is an apsara, or divine nymph, dancing. These carvings have inspired a style of costume and dancing that is featured in the area.
The guides bring us to these scenic photo spots. Here is the central temple at Angkor Thom, called Bayon, reflected in a pool. The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many countries are working cooperatively with the Cambodian government on preservation and restoration of these priceless ruins. We saw Germany, France, Belgium, India and other countries' projects.

One of the key features of the Bayon temple are these lovely faces. Here are three in a row. They represent the Boddhisatva Lokiteshwara or the King Jayavarman as the Boddhisatva. Cambodia practices Theravada Buddhism.
This is the entire temple complex at Angkor Wat reflected in a pool. It is huge and this photo doesn't do it justice.

This is another view to show the scale. We are looking from the second level gallery out to the external wall. This level of the gallery has stories from Hindu mythology carved all along the sides. Beautiful carvings.
Here is an example of some of them.
These are women (and men) who dress as Apsara dancers and charge tourists money to get their picture taken with them. A way to make money. I am sure the costumes are quite expensive to create and maintain.
This carving is from a temple called Banteay Srei. It is the only red sandstone temple in the area and is one of the older ones. It is from the tenth century. Some of the carvings, also representing Hindu mythology, look as if they were done yesterday. It is very interesting to hear the Cambodians carefully pronouncing the Sanskrit names and telling us the stories from our own mythology.
Lastly, this is a carving from the only brick temple in the area, called Prasat Kravan. Next time, we'll go to Bangkok, Thailand.

1 comment:

Maven said...

Fantastic pictures! I envy your trip! How is the food? Also, is that a Banyan tree with all the roots?