Arial view of Angkor Wat

looking toward the west
 Frank and May's Personal Site
 Cambodia  - Page 1 of 3
  
 ~  Posted March 20, 2002  ~
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Going on a vacation may be a temporal experience...

but the memories you make on the trip will last you a lifetime !

 
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February, 2002

The Kingdom of Cambodia (also referred to as Khmer or Kampuchea)

Our 4 day journey over the Chinese New Year holidays started with a direct flight to from Taipei to Phnom Pehn's Pochentong Airport.  Upon reclaiming our luggage, we strolled beneath the blazing sun over to the domestic airport nearby.  After an hour's wait, we boarded a propeller aircraft for a 40-minute flight to Siem Reap (about 190 km. from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Pehn.)  

And so our adventure began...

 

Angkor

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer empire during 802-1431 AD.  A succession of 27-40 kings were said to have ruled what is now Cambodia, parts of Thailand, Burma and Loas.  Between the 9th and 13th centuries, five of these Khmer rulers are credited for building over 50 important monuments that are spread over 40 kilometers within the town of Siem Reap.  In total, the 100 or so temples are the sacred remains of what was once a much larger administrative and religious center, bearing grand witness to a glorious past... Angkor, the largest religious monument in the world.

Most of Angkor was abandoned in the 15th century, and the temples became cloaked with forest.  This ancient site became the source of scholarly interest in the late 19th century, after the publication of "Voyage Siam et dans le Cambodge" by French naturalist Henri Mouhot.  Efforts were undertaken to clear away the jungle vegetation that threatened to completely destroy the monuments, and restoration continues today.

 

As prearranged, we were greeted at the Siem Reap airport by a driver holding up a sign with our names.  The cold towels and air-conditioned car were a soothing dose of comfort.  In less than 20 minutes, we were in central Siem Reap, and we checked into the beautiful old Grand Hotel D'Angkor, which had worked its way back towards its former glory.

Those of you who read my "Ruin Sorbees" forward, will understand why communicating with room service proved to be totally confounding and hilarious (we had a similar experience).  Their service was nevertheless impeccable, the food very yummy, and we enjoyed every minute of our stay.  Here's a picture of the hotel.

If you're ready to roll on the floor laughing, read the "Ruin Sorbees" funny by clicking on the underlined link.

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After a leisurely stroll in the town's old market, followed by a relaxing swim in the hotel pool, we stuffed ourselves silly with a scrumptious dinner at the Khmer-style restaurant in the hotel.

The next morning at 8:30am, our personal guide, Ly-Heng promptly met us at the lobby.  He was friendly, spoke fluent English and knowledgeable as well as accommodating.  He also doubled as our personal photographer.  We rode along the dusty roads in a private car, and within minutes, were at the gateway to the archeological site, where we stopped at the roadside ticket office to purchase our "THREE DAY PASS" for US$40 each.

The following shots are just some of many we took (a few of the *good* ones were scanned from postcards).

 

Angkor Thom

Our first stop was the Gate of Angkor Thom, built by Jayavarman VII from the late 12th century to the early 13th century, shortly after Angkor had been conquered and burnt down by the Chams.  This inner royal city was built as a quadrangle and bordered by a 100-meter-wide moat and an 8-meter-high wall.  Angkor Thom is geometrically oriented... it covers an area which is an exact quandrangle.  The sides of this quandrangle run exactly in North-South and East-West directions.  A gate opens exactly in the middle of each wall, connecting the royal city with the outside through a bridge over the moat. We entered from the South Gate to be greeted by a row of demons one one side, gods on the other, and a huge, magnificent face directly in front of us.

 

South Gate of Angkor Thom

Bayon Temple

Once inside the gate, we drove to the Bayon, one of the largest and most famous temples in Angkor Thom.  Bayon Temple is considered to be an architectural masterpiece.  The apparent chaos of its dark rooms and interconnected galleries is dominated by gigantic stone faces.  Its design (with 54 towers, each carved with 4 faces... one for each of the cardinal directions...  you do the math for an estimate of how many!) contains 3 levels, narrow pasageways, and incredible bas-reliefs.  The Bayon is not to be missed!  There is something mystical and welcoming about this place... faces almost everywhere you look, smiling gently and serenely.  It is well worth spending hours (if you have the time) wandering throughout, soaking up both details and the immense whole.

 

The Bayon Temple

The stone-jigsaw countenance of the Bodhisattva Likesvara looks down with a benevolant smile on tourists, pilgrims and archeologists alike.

     
   

His lens fell off!

 

 
 

Entrance

Sanctuary window

One-eyed smile

 
     
      
 

Terrace of the Elephants

Our next stop was the Terrace of the Elephants (end 12th century - Buddhist), over 300 meters long.  The facade of this huge terrace is carved with elephants, horses, lions, garudas, sacred geese and naga balustrades.

 
Three-headed elephants flank the stairs
 
 
Beautiful carvings all along the terrace

 

  

Terrace of the Leper King

Right around the corner is the Terrace of the Leper King (also end 12th century - Buddhist), so called because a few of the Angkor kings had been known to have contracted the disease.  It has dramatic bas-reliefs on both its interior and exterior walls as shown on the right.

 

 

Angkor Wat

Built in the first half of the 12th century by Suryavarman II, the Angkor Wat Temple was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Visnu, and later came to be used as a Buddhist temple.  We arrived ready to explore this Wonder of the World, but weren't prepared for the size of it all!  Before we could even see the famous towers of Angkor Wat, we had to walk a long causeway across the moat (where children bathe and play) to the entrance tower.

Halfway through the main causeway towards the entrance tower

From the entrance tower, another long causeway led us, raised above the buildings and ponds at ground level, to the temple itself.

 

 

 

Once inside, we walked the passageways trying to take in the many aspects of the structure.  All around we saw carvings of seductive maidens, apsaras (celestial nymps), dancing bare-breasted and in diaphanous skirts.

 

Corridor

Apsaras -- This design
 is at least 800 years old.

 

Click on shot to see what

 
this dirty old man is up to!
      
 

Then up steep, steep stone staircases we went until we reached the top level, where the bats have also found a quiet home.  Much to my horror, one pooped on my head... oh YUK!... I keep telling myself that it's a sign of *good luck* !?!

Going back down was intimidating, but luckily we found one staircase with a handrail... what a relief !

 
 
 

 
 

A treacherous climb!

Almost there!

At the foot of the tower

A scary descent!

 
      
 

We went back again in the afternoon to stop at the moat for a picture of the entrance tower reflected on the water (great light as the Wat faces west).

 
      
 

 
      
      

Ok, are you still with us?  This is just the beginning of the tour... Here, we've covered only parts of  the first day and a half.  Check out the next 2 pages to see more interesting highlights of our Cambodian adventure... it only gets better !  

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