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Absolutely Awestruck in Angkor

CAMBODIA | Tuesday, 15 May 2007 | Views [2770]

Two of the many faces on Bayon, Angkor

Two of the many faces on Bayon, Angkor

Goodbye Laos...Hello Cambodia!

First stop was the poorly advertised but very interactive War Museum. Rows and rows of old tanks, artillery and other combat vehicles and weapons were laid out surrounded by huts with smaller arms and information. The stuff was generally in a poor state of repair, but you could pick up basically anything and have a closer look. In comparison, the Landmine Museum, which was well advertised locally and by Lonely Planet, was a load of superficial, ego-massaging rubbish. Recently located to new architecturally designed quarters, apart from saying how wonderful Canada was for establishing a moritorium to stop the use and manufacture of antipersonnel mines, it poorly displayed and explained its exhibits, and didn't present the ongoing humanitarian issues in any detail... a real let down.

Anything but a let down was the real reason that we were in Siem Reap in the first place. Angkor Wat had caught my imagination since I first read about it in high school and seeing it in person lived up to all my expectations. As such, no matter how hard I try, I have no chance of doing justice to the things that I saw in Angkor in words. Intricate carvings of flowers, animals and the ever present bare breasted Apsara (celestial nymphs) adorn seemingly every wall and pillar of this temple mountain. Massive towers and gopura (gateways) strike skyward covered in naga and a profusion of carved sandstone. A lifesize pair of lions and naga flank every precariously steep stairway. Massive bas reliefs stretching for hundreds of metres with detail to rival the Bayeaux tapestry adorn the lower walls. All this surrounded by a huge tree fringed moat that would make any European castle envious. It would have been amazing to see it all before the Khmer Rouge delt to it, let alone at the peak of its glory in the 12th century. 

Highlights for us were:

Bayon - a royal mountain temple at the core of the 3km2 walled city of Angkor Thom, with more stoney faces than a game of poker. Heaps of intricate bas-reliefs and wee shrines everywhere.

Ta Phrom (the Tomb Raider Temple), a massive monastery which has now only been partially cleared of jungle, leaving massive trees sprouting out of the masonry all over the place.

Ta Keo, who needs a step machine when you have this pile of sandstone with up to 70 degree staircases! Want more of a challenge? Try climbing up and down in a monsoonal deluge.

Anywhere there wasn't a massive bus load of Korean tourists dominating the scene! Despite having the best preserved carvings, Banteay Srei, was a let down for me because of the hordes of tour buses and the fact that the carvings were roped off well back as too many tourists couldn't keep their grubby mitts off in the past.

How anyone could appreciate this place in less than three days in beyond me. I can't wait to come back in a decade or so to see the result of the French effort on Bauphoun to not just preserve it, but restore it to its original glory.

Tags: Adventures



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